As Edward Tenner writes with respect to the summer Rare Book School at the University of Virginia:
While the demise of printed books may be exaggerated—or so I argued here—the sense of crisis that began in the 1980s had a paradoxical effect on book studies. Once the printed object was no longer indispensable for the transmission of texts and images, it started to take on a new interest as a physically unique object, especially from the time before mass production when every copy of every book was different.
Is the Rare Book School just a tenuous survivor of a dying medium? I prefer to consider it, to the contrary, as part of the vanguard of neo-analog culture.
I appreciate Mr. Tenner’s thoughts and his coined term of “neo-analog culture.” As physical books move away from being vehicles of information to unique objects waiting to be discovered, I would like to understand the true motivation behind the rediscovery of the analog printed object through the push-back of digital media. Bibliophiles have always put a great value on rare editions of books—more as an artifact to be collected. But, what is described in the source article is more akin to a cultural study of human interaction in the form of the hand-crafted printed object. Is the motivation sentimentality? Nostalgia? Historicism? A pursuit of authenticity?
Is it a far more authentic experience to read the analog form of a book than to read its digital version on a Kindle or my NOOK Color? Is the digital medium of electronic publications nothing more than a simulacrum of the analog physical experience? As Michael Suarez, who runs the school, states:
I actually think that the digital is making us much more aware of the form of the printed book. And so I think this is a moment of rare opportunity, rather than a moment of great crisis.
Does absence beget presence? As Mr. Tenner implies, this push towards the printed object goes beyond the saving of a dying medium. It indicates a cultural shift. But, if this neo-analog culture is to be sustainable, its goal needs to be objective experience, not subjective. Otherwise, it will just be an exercise in kitsch.