Although I agree with Alan Kaufman that for longer works the paper-based book remains a perfectly adequate purveyor of text--I don't own a Kindle and still can see no reason why I should, given my habits as a reader--and that Google Books, so far at least, is more annoying than useful, his lament over the demise of "book culture" nevertheless seems excessively dolesome. The resistance to the electronification of writing is likely to continue into the foreseeable future, and probably will get even more rancorous as the process intensifies, but I can't see how Kaufman's sort of stamping of the rhetorical feet is going to convince many people to join it.
The book is fast becoming the despised Jew of our culture. Der Jude is now Der Book. Hi-tech [sic] propagandists tell us that the book is a tree-mudering, space-devouring, inferior form of technology, that society simply would be better-off altogether if we euthanized it even as we begin to carry around, like good little Aryans, whole libraries in our pockets,downloaded on the Uber-Kindle.
This would be offensive if it weren't so silly. Perhaps Kaufman would find fellow-travellers in the teabaggers, who similarly seem drawn to inane Nazi analogies and also apparently regard any change as evidence of tyranny.
But even less convincing is the nature of Kaufman's defense of the physical book:
To me, the book is one of life's most sacred objects, a torah, a testament, something not only worth living for but. . .something that is even worth dying for. . .The world is moving to embrace the electronic media as its principle mode of expression. The human has opted for the machine, and its ghosts, over the haptic companionship and the didactic embodiment of the physical book. . . .
Kaufman's reason for finding books "sacred" is that, well, they're books. Kaufman aspired to publish his words within the "appropriate temple" of the book, but why it is either especially appropriate or constitutes a temple is not explained. Kaufman seems to assume we all know a book is special, a bastion of culture, but for myself, when I look at a modern book I see some strips of paper, not always of the best quality, glued between two pieces of cardboard, not always that securely. Kaufman is offended by the notion that a book might be reduced to its "utility as a medium for language," but for those of us who value books primarly for the words contained therein, for the verbal compositions they make available, what else besides their utility brings them into existence in the first place? If books should be saved only because they are "cultural artifacts," then I, for one, feel no particular urgency to save them. I'm interested in books because they enable the reading experience, not because I want to contemplate them as artifacts.
I also agree with Kaufman that "publishers. . .are producers not of books but money, while books have become simply another vehicle, along with the Washing Machine and the iPod, for generating capital." But this hardly seems a state of affairs that lends itself to the preservation of the book as Alan Kaufman has known it. Publishers aren't going to become less philistine, and why we would want to entrust the survival of books to such people is manifestly unclear to me. If anything, the corporate capitalists are going to have less control of e-printing, so the rational response to the problem Kaufman identifies is to encourage respect for the written word online and in e-publishing, not to undermine the potential of these media by associating them with Hitler.
I suppose if you think that "Not since the advent of Christianity has the world witnessed so sweeping a change in the very fabric of human existence" as that ushered in by the "hi-tech revolution"--an outburst of hyperbole even the loudest cheerleaders of that revolution themselves would no doubt hesitate to venture--then the resort to the over-the-top analogies in which Kaufman indulges in this essay might seem justified. If you think that trading paper technology for that of cyberspace means human beings are turning over their lives to the "machine," a declaration that "I will fight it" might seem a heroic sentiment. But surely a change that substitutes pixels on a screen for print marks on a page isn't going to transform "the very fabric of human existence." At the most, we might ultimately witness some dimunition in length of some texts--which for many kinds of writing, for example academic criticism or history or narrative reporting, won't be such a loss at all. The idea that accessing a text by "electronic" means will turn us into compliant subjects of a fascist e-regime, however, just seems weird. Kaufman and his fellow resistance fighters both attribute a totemic status to the printed book and regard pixel-based display of text with a horror that is finally inexplicable to me.