Most of my favorite quotes in Derrida’s Paper Machine come from the first full chapter, “The Book To Come.” (The title is also the title of a book by Maurice Blanchot, and a chapter in that book, which is largely about the poet Stéphane Mallarmé.) Samples:
A question trembling all over, not only with that which disturbs the historical sense of what we still call a book, but also with what the expression to come might imply—namely more than one thing, at least three things:
1. That the book as such has—or doesn’t have—a future, now that electronic and virtual incorporation, the screen and the keyboard, online transmission, and numerical composition seem to be dislodging or supplementing the codex (that gathering of a pile of pages bound together, the current form of what we generally call a book such that it can be opened, put on a table, or held in the hands). The codex had itself supplanted the volume, the volumen, the scroll. It had supplanted it without making it disappear, I should stress. For what we are dealing with is never replacements that put an end to what they replace but rather, if I might use this word today, restructurations in which the oldest form survives, and even survives endlessly, coexisting with the new form and even coming to terms with a new economy—which is also a calculation in terms of the market as well as in terms of storage, capital, and reserves.
2. That if it has a future, the book to come will no longer be what it was.
3. That we are awaiting or hoping for an other book, a book to come that will transfigure or even rescue the book from the shipwreck that is happening at present.
This – especially the first part – is one of my favorite moves, that of the LONG historical perspective, coupled with that critical sensibility, borrowed from Ferdinand de Saussure’s structuralist linguistics, that multiple terms coexist but change and shift in their relative values and significance as they jostle against one another. Linguistic change is never a straight substitution, but a high-friction accomodation to the new. In fact, so is most cultural change — the distinction isn’t between live and dead, or even (entirely) high and low, but between forms that are residual, dominant, or emerging.
But this position, which could just make for a tidy deflation — we’ve seen all of this before — is joined to an acknowledgement that what we are experiencing is a shipwreck. It’s just not (or at least not only) the shipwreck we think it is:
Now what is happening today, what looks like being the very form of the book’s to-come, still as the book, is on the one hand, beyond the closure of the book, the disruption, the dislocation, the disjunction, the dissemination with no possible gathering, the irreversible dispersion of this total codex (not its disappearance but its marginalization or secondarization, in ways we will have to come back to); but simultaneously, on the other hand, a constant reinvestment in the book project, in the book of the world or the world book, in the absolute book (this is why I also described the end of the book as interminable or endless), the new space of writing and reading in electronic writing, traveling at top speed from one spot on the globe to another, and linking together, beyond frontiers and copyrights, not only citizens of the world on the universal network of a potential universitas, but also any reader as a writer, potential or virtual or whatever. That revives a desire, the same desire. It re-creates the temptation that is figured by the World Wide Web as the ubiquitous Book finally reconstituted, the book of God, the great book of Nature, or the World Book finally achieved in its onto-theological dream, even though what it does is to repeat the end of
that book as to-come.
These are two fantasmatic limits of the book to come, two extreme, final, eschatic figures of the end of the book, the end as death, or the end as telos or achievement. We must take seriously these two fantasies; what’s more they are what makes writing and reading happen. They remain as irreducible as the two big ideas of the book, of the book both as the unit of a material support in the world, and as the unity of a work or unit of discourse (a book in the book). But we should also perhaps wake up to the necessity that goes along with these fantasies.
Two fantasies! Both generative! Both probably unavoidable!
This is why Derrida is so good.