In the mid-1960s, the paperback book became the object of intense intellectual debate in France, welcomed by some as a vehicle of cultural democratization and denounced by others as a vector of consumerist commodification. The debate was symptomatic of a wider crisis in print culture, whose centrality was called into question by three developments: the growth of an audiovisual mass culture; the challenge of experimental fiction; and the critique of the book as a model of knowledge in philosophy and literary criticism. Within these contexts, the paperback was construed as both the nemesis and the saviour of the traditional book. Its chief opponent was Hubert Damisch, whose phonocentric critique of the technological mediation of culture betrayed an anxiety about the impact of such mediation on the status of traditional cultural arbiters. For Maurice Blanchot, however, the identification of the paperback with technological mass culture as opposed to a traditional print-based high culture obscured a more fundamental opposition: that between an establishment culture of assimilation and the radical contestation of art. Often expressed in the imagery of fire, it is ultimately the complex confrontation between culture and art that is revealed in the ambivalent response to the paperback.


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pp. 539-556
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