Narrative vs Database + Ebooks

According to Lev Manovich in Language of New Media , “if new elements are being added over time, the result is a collection, not a story. Indeed, how can one keep a coherent narrative or any other development trajectory through the material if it keeps changing?” (Manovich, 196)  because we are able to continue editing webpages ad infinitum , they become more akin to databases (which simply store information without offering direction) rather than narratives (which only offer information in a precise progression in order to attain certain ends).  One directs attention, while the other feeds and informs attention that has already been directed.

As for the book this website addresses, Black’s Picturesque Gide to the English Lakes, because it is a guide, it naturally houses a number of structured information. It does not tell a story, nor does it contain “an actor and a narrator” (Manovich, 201). This lack of attributes Manovich assigns to the checklist of what constitutes a narrative annuls the possibility of this book being considered as such. It does, however, contain an archive which, like the databases Manovich describes, is in constant flux. The archive (the library which houses it) is in flux because material is constantly being added/removed/edited, however because the book I am working with is a scanned book, uploaded to be as close to the original as possible so that others may experience it without physically holding it, fluctual material (within the content of the book) would defeat the intent of authenticity.  Because of its online status, information can be added without harming the faithfulness of the files to the physical book. It is a piece of data within the larger database of the library, and it can be searched for, accessed , and related to other pieces of data which pertain to the Lake District.

According to John W. Maxwell in E-Book Logic: We Can do Better, “putting a wrapper around the content makes [the e-book] into an object that can be sold” (Maxwell, 39).  He implies that e-books have existed and have been available for decades, but that because of the layout of the web, they were not seen as books. Now, by toting them as such, a ‘new’ market, one that Amazon is embracing fully, has been opened.

Earlier today, I happened across a friend who asked the following question on Facebook: “has anyone ever come across this? You order an ebook off of Abe Books and the seller emails it in a .txt file format. How is that an ebook?”. Clearly, according to him and his conceptions of what the book should be, just the text is not sufficient to be considered as such. He expressed real anger at this and declared himself wronged by the seller. This is reminiscent of Drucker’s observation that people expect more than just text from an ebook. They expect the page to flip, the ability to interact with the text, the appearance of a static, physical book upon an electronic screen. The facebook friend was fixated on the “iconic metaphors of book” (Drucker) Drucker mentions.

When it comes to scholarly books, like those that have been assigned to this class for its final project, interactivity is important. It is important that we can easily access and interact with the text, something that was impossible for this particular guide before the creation of this website–as it was hidden within password protected archives that were impossible to access by anyone without access to Simon Fraser University’s library–and that the materials we do interact with come as close as they possibly can to the physical copies of the book contained within the library. It is relevant that we have the option to see an entire index of the book and that we can flip and move around the text as we like. In this way, we can still study the books without compromising what is left of precious physical books that have now become fragile.

  • Lev Manovich “Database” from Language of New Media Cambridge Mass: MIT Press, 2001. 194-207
  • John W. Maxwell, “E-Book Logic: We Can Do Better” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada 51.1 (2013): 29-47
  • Johanna Drucker, “The Virtual Codex from Page Space to E-space” A Companion to Digital Literary Studies Oxford: Blackwell, 2008

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