Screens, Research and Hypertext

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The Book as Fetish

Or, valuing books you've learned nothing from.

I mean, fine. Nearly every book in this picture is out of copyright, so you can grab them for free from just about anywhere on the internet. Trinity’s rare and valuable books aren’t shelved in the touristy parts of the library.

Dreher’s photo and tweet are book loving as performance art.

It’s 99% of what passes for erudition on Quillette and the rest of the “Intellectual Dark Web.” Nor is it an appeal that’s limited to right-leaning pseudo-intellectuals. You see it in the avalanche of “You’ll pry my books from my cold dead hands” reactions to Marie Kondo.

It has ever been thus. Today Dickens is part of the canon—whatever that means—but in the middle of the 19th Century, his novels were paid-by-the-word middlebrow entertainment, each installment eagerly awaited by fans and endlessly dissected in parlors and private letters.

It was Lost but for the top-hat and corset set.

Critics were skeptical. They worried about the corrupting influences of novels, particularly on the working classes.

The working classes, too, were thought to be easily corrupted by [redacted], either because they would be led by it to dream above their status, or, in the case of young men, that they might wish to emulate a criminal lifestyle.

That's Kate Flint, writing of the Victorian era. The redacted bit is "'trashy' fiction." Swap in "gangster rap" and the line could have come straight from Tipper Gore.

Add "woke cultural studies" and you're what passes for erudition among conservative commentators.

For more context

When reading a book is the wrong way to interact with it.

What to read next

If you can say it in a tweet, is it really worth saying?

Other items of interest

Reading a book isn't curling up with it in the corner of a fancy library.

I learned to do research in a third-generation office chair.

Texts might be the least important part of scholarship.