We’re quite accustomed now to seeing the book variously declared as dead, dying, on life support, or simply not returning calls. At if:book, we take perverse pleasure in delving back through the archives of various futurists to see just how far back these clarion calls go. The oldest last rites for the book we have found so far come from French author Octave Uzanne, who wrote about the book’s imminent demise at the hands of sound recording (at that time on Edison’s wax cylinders). This was in 1894.
The piece appeared initially in its native language in the book Contes pour les Bibliophiles (Stories for Bibliophiles) and subsequently republished in what has been described as a fairly dodgy translation in Scribner’s Magazine. The translation of Uzanne’s article gets a little heavy and takes ages to get to the point, but there’s plenty of gold once you start digging.
“Notwithstanding the enormous progress which has gradually been made in the printing-press … it still appears to me that the art … has attained its acme of perfection, and that our grand-children will no longer trust their works to this somewhat antiquated process, now become very easy to replace by phonography, which is yet in its initial stage, and of which we have much to hope.”
Particularly fascinating is Uzanne’s assumption that technology will bypass the need for anything remotely resembling ‘publishers’.
“… as for the novel, or the storyograph, the author will become his own publisher. To avoid imitations and counterfeits he will be obliged, first of all, to go to the Patent–Office, there to deposit his voice, and register its lowest and highest notes, giving all the counter-hearings necessary for the recognition of any imitation of his deposit … Having thus made himself right with the law, the author will talk his work, fixing it upon registering cylinders. He will himself put these patented cylinders on sale; they will be delivered in cases for the consumption of hearers.”
In a world of LCD vs eInk, epub vs Kindle, DRM, international rights negotiations, and pricing stress, it’s nice to know that at least our visions of the future have hardly changed at all.
“’Your dream is most aristocratic,’ interposed Julius Pollock, the humanitarian; ‘the future will be more democratic. I should like to see the people more favored.’”
Yeah. Me too.
The whole article has been loving recreated by eBooks@Adelaide.