Let’s reflect upon the relation between the Great American Novel and its physical properties. As I’ve said throughout the semester, Moby-Dick is a whale of a book. Melville remains keenly aware of its dimensions and uses puns to comment on the scale of his ambition, and the magnitude of the themes addresses. For the first time ever, this semester I read a commercial (rather than scholarly) edition of the book–an edition from 1930 (published during the “Melville Revival”). It includes drawings from the artist Rockwell Kent. Have a look at the link at the bottom of my post for pics. For me, this created an experience unlike any I’ve had before. I was reading a book that had a historical appearance and importance in reviving the study of the book. This was a new kind of “physical.” In all cases, one has a long-term relationship with Moby-Dick. One does not consume it in one sitting, but as a long meal.
So, I’d like you to think more generally about the relation between the physical books you’ve been reading for this class (Moby-Dick and/or the one you are currently reading for your separate paper). Question: In what ways is the art of that Great American Novel linked to the physicality of the book? Is there a real difference between text as data on a screen with a scroll-down function, and text that is carved into place as words on a tangible page? What happens to page counts and how do they impact the reader differently depending on the interface? Does the difference matter? Can digital texts still be “monumental”? “Maximalist,” as their authors intended them to be?
As children of the digital age, you’ve thought about these questions. Some worry about this; some don’t. What I am asking for here is a consideration of how this applies to the Great American Novel (the ones we’ve read precede the digital era). Perhaps a good analogy here is a rock album, like Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon” cut in 1973 (smack in the middle of the LP vinyl era). It’s got two sides and a story-telling/thematic sequence in place for the listener to process the music in the grooves, with certain pauses in place. Then it’s digitized in 2000. Same thing?
Please reflect on this question in 100 words. Your blog posts are due this Thursday by 3:30 pm.