On 14-15 May 2015, the first of twinned symposia, “Books and/as New Media,” was convened at Harvard University. Co-organized by Deidre Lynch (Professor of English, Harvard University) and Tom Mole (Director, Edinburgh Centre for the History of the Book), this symposium featured six leading scholars who traced articulations, re-imaginings, and redeployments of the book in the face of changing media ecologies.
That authors might experience ‘afterlives’ after their deaths, and that literary works might experience ‘afterlives’ after publication, is a familiar concept. Biographies, studies, and museums; sequels, revivals, and adaptations: authors and their texts might be revisited and ‘resurrected’ in many ways years after their physical and popular demise. Yet, the rather disconcerting thing about the ‘Ghostly Afterlives of Walter Scott’ with which Professor Toremans is concerned, is that that they occurred during Scott’s lifetime. These ‘afterlives’ took the form of pseudo-translations; works which claimed to be translations of novels by Scott, yet were entirely original compositions. In exuberantly claiming Scott’s authorship, such works subjected Scott to an act of authorial ventriloquism, rendering him responsible for writing events, characters and subjects in which his pen had no part.
I have never been ashamed to embrace the often turbulent digital culture of the 21st-century twenty-something. Nearly every day new technologies are introduced, aiming to ease the burden of living in a technology-saturated world; and more social media tools are created to help the lonely pseudo-adult connect to the outside world from the comfort of her desk, couch, and occasionally — as I’m brave enough to admit — bed. Out of the mess of fan blogs, gossip headlines, and pictures of cats, there sometimes emerge genuine communities, such as networks of enthusiasts passionate about their particular field, using popular web platforms to collect, document, and archive the objects of their own passion. As Zadie Smith wrote in her second novel The Autograph Man, ‘the collector is the savior of objects that might otherwise be lost’.
Heddon and Myers introduced the audience to the Walking Library project by referencing examples of literary figures who took books as companions on walks in the past: John Hucks and the poems of Thomas Churchyard; Samuel Taylor Coleridge and a book of German poetry; John Keats and Dante’s Divine Comedy. The Walking Library thus follows in a long literary tradition of the side-by-side practices of reading and walking. These practices beg the question: what does it mean to take a book on a walk? What do literary companions contribute to a journey? And how might location and mobility affect both the act of reading and one’s hermeneutics of reading?
Do you own an interesting collection of books or print ephemera? Enter to win a £500 prize, plus an allowance of £250 to acquire a book for the University of Edinburgh’s Special Collections!