The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age. Sven Birkerts. Faber & Faber.

The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age Book Cover The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age
Sven Birkerts
Faber & Faber
December 1994

In The Gutenberg Elegies, nationally renowned critic Sven Birkerts powerfully argues that we are living in a state of intellectual emergency – an emergency caused by our willingness to embrace new technologies at the expense of the printed word. As we rush to get “on line,” as we make the transition from book to screen, says Birkerts, we are turning against some of the core premises of humanism – indeed, we are putting the idea of individualism itself under threat. The printed page and the circuit driven information technologies are not kindred – for Birkerts they represent fundamentally opposed forces. In their inevitable confrontation our deepest values will be tested.

Birkerts begins his exploration from the reader’s perspective, first in several highly personal accounts of his own passion for the book, then in a suite of essays that examines what he calls the interior life of reading.” Against this, Birkerts sets out the contours of the transformed landscape in his highly provocative essay “Into the Electronic Millennium” and in meditations on CD-ROM, hypertext, and audiobooks, he plumbs the impact of emerging technologies on the once stable reader-writer exchange. He follows these with a look at the a changing climate of criticism and literary practice. He concludes with a blistering indictment of what he sees as our willingness to strike a Faustian pact with a seductive devil.

Sven Birkerts is the author of three books of criticism, most recently American Energies: Essays on Fiction. He has won the National Book Critics Circle Citation for Excellence in Reviewing, a P.E.N. Spielvogel/Diamondstein Special Citation for The Electric Life: Essays on Modern Poetry, and Lila Wallis-Reader’s Digest Foundation and Guggenheim fellowships. His essays and reviews have appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The Atlantic, Harper’s, and The New Republic.