Almost two years ago, Tim Carmody published an article in The Atlantic titled “A Bookfuturist Manifesto.” In this article, Carmody reflects on the term “bookfuturist,” defining it as “a kind of aesthetic and culture of reading, literacy, history, in connection with (only rarely in opposition to) other kinds of media culture.” He goes on to define a bookfuturist as someone willing to tinker with technology while experimenting with literary form.
The bookfuturist ideal is pitted against what Carmody calls a “bookservative,” a person who sees new technology as “an unmitigated catastrophe that threatens to destroy humanist and democratic culture.” Bookfuturists are not willing to see new technology as destructive, but they are not “technofuturists,” or those who believe that technology will help us triumph over the social, political, or cultural problems we face. (This is an overly optimistic view, and one that is very popular and seems to dominate the discussion, according to Carmody.)
At the end of the article, Carmody clarifies the bookfuturist position. It is a position I endorse:
Bookfuturists refuse to endorse either fantasy of “the end of the book” – “the end as destruction” or “the end as telos or achievement” as Jacques Derrida would have it. We are trying to map an alternative position that is both more self-critical and more engaged with how technological change is actively affecting our culture.
We’re usually more interested in figuring out a piece of technology than either denouncing or promoting it. And we want to make every piece of tech work better. We’re tinkerers. We look to history for analogies and counter-analogies, but we know that analogies aren’t destiny. We try to look for the technological sophistication of traditional humanism and the humanist possibilities of new tech.
I like the idea of bookfuturist artists and writers getting together to try new things. Probably most of them will fail. But that’s OK. That is part of the point. Hopefully, we’ll see more experimentation as new technologies come and go.