Thursday, 1 November 2012

This is not the end of the book, discussion between Jean-Claude Carrière and Umberto Eco

This is a book discussing the future of the book. Jean-Philippe de Tonnac (writer and editor) is interviewing Jean-Claude Carrière (writer, play- and screenwriter) and Umberto Eco (no need for introduction) on the future of the book in this digitalised world we are living in.  A philosophical discussion covering also other art forms. I myself can feel that there is no future for the paper book, but these two are still optimistic. Let’s hope that they are right. The book is written as a play write with dialogue and each session cover a subject. It is difficult to make a summary, but I would like to share with you some quotes from the book.

Under the title ‘Do we need to know the name of every soldier at the Battle of Waterloo?’ they discuss the unbelievable amount of information that is available on the net. Do we know what we can trust these days? Are the things you are reading true? JCC – But what does memory mean, now that we can access anything about anything, totally unfiltered – an infinite amount of information at the click of a mouse? What is the sense of the word ‘memory’? One day, we’ll be constantly accompanied by an electronic servant able to answer all our questions, including the ones we haven’t even formed. What will be left for us to know? Once our prosthesis knows everything – absolutely everything – what will we need to learn? UE – The art of synthesis. JCC – Yes. And the act of learning itself. Because you can learn how to learn. UE – Yes, learning to handle information whose authenticity we can not longer trust. This is clearly a major challenge for teachers School kids and students use the Internet to search out the information they need for their homework, without knowing whether that information is accurate. And how could they? I encourage teachers to set their students the homework of finding ten different sources of information on a certain subject and comparing them. This requires them to exercise their critical faculties with regard to the Internet, and to learn that they can’t take it all at face value. 
Under the title ‘All the books we haven’t read’ the discussion turns to if we really have to read all the important books. If not, which books do we need to read? JCC – One day, about twenty years ago, I was taking the metro from Hotel-de-Ville. There was a bench on the platform, and on the bench was a man with four or five books piled up next to him. The man was reading. The trains were coming and going. I watched this man, who was taking no notice of anything but his books, and decided to wait for a while. I was fascinated. In the end I walked up to him and we had a brief conversation. I asked him in a friendly way what he was doing there. He told me that he arrived at eight o’clock every moning and stayed there till noon. He went out for an hour to have lunch. Then he returned to his bench and stayed there till 6 p.m. He finished with these unforgettable words: ‘I read, I’ve never done anything else.’ I left, feeling that I was wasting his time. Why in the metro? Because he wouldn’t have been able to sit in a café all day without eating or drinking, and he obviously couldn’t afford to do that. The metro was free, warm and he wasn’t in the least bothered by all the comings and goings. I wondered then, and I still wonder now, whether he was the perfect reader, or utterly perverse. UE – And what was he reading? JCC – It was very eclectic. Novels, history books, essays. It seems to me that he was more dependent on the fact of reading than actually interested in the material. It has been said that reading is an unpunished vice. This example shows that it can become a perversion. A fetish, even. UE – ….But let’s keep on exploring this theme of the books we haven’t read. There is another way of encouraging people to read, as imagined by the author Achille Campanile when he tells the story of how the Marquis Fuscaldo became the most educated man of his time. The marquis inherited a massive library from his father, but had no interest in it whatsoever. One day he happened to flick through one of the books and found a 1,000-lire note between two pages. Hoping to repeat the experience, he spent the rest of his life paging through every one of the books he had inherited. And thus became a fount of knowledge Just shows that the decision on what to read is a personal one and one can’t say that any of the choices are right or wrong. So keep on reading and hopefully our times are not the end of the book.

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