Highlighted Selections from:

Kindling, Disappearing, Reading


Wu, Yung-Hsing. “Kindling, Disappearing, Reading.” DHQ: Digital Humanities Quarterly. 2013. Web. http://www.digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/7/1/000115/000115.html

p.1: That the very name "Kindle" should occasion parallels between e-reading and book burning, that Jeff Bezos should claim unobtrusiveness as the device’s exemplary feature, and that Amazon’s unannounced deletions of Orwell’s 1984 from thousands of Kindle libraries should meet with such ire, makes visible the two ideologies of reading — on the one hand, the invaluable (because ephemeral) force of reading and on the other, reading as a relation of ownership and agency — that stand in both an uneasy and profitable tension for Amazon and its reader-consumers. -- Highlighted mar 14, 2014

p.1: My point in examining the Kindle’s remediation of reading is to interrogate it, on the one hand, as an instance of subject formation in which Amazon has invested rhetoric, time, and money, and, on the other hand, to treat the reception of the device as an index of the tensions that continue to underlie the relations between print and digital spheres. I therefore include the ways in which self-identified readers return Amazon’s address, and suggest that their comments often turn that address on its head. For the responses of Kindle readers — proponents as well as fence-sitters and detractors — constitutes a discourse on disappearance, a troping that reveals just how literally the material impact of reading is registered. This discourse emerges out of a series of moments, and in constructing from them a biography of the device I argue that what Kindle-reading has come to mean is marked in no small way by readers’ refusal of Amazon’s vision for reading. When readers turn to Fahrenheit 451 to describe parallels between Kindle-reading and book burning, when they object to the exclusivity of Stephen King’s Kindle novella, and critique the deletions of Orwell’s 1984 from thousands of Kindle libraries, their prior investments in reading inflect their response to the device. Kindle-reading has therefore generated a possessiveness about reading. -- Highlighted mar 14, 2014

p.2: a logic that the Kindle’s aesthetic presupposes a view of reading as a disappearing act. -- Highlighted mar 14, 2014

p.2: While the good faith of Bezos’ comments remains uncertain at best, and while some of the changes in the later Kindle editions have reconfigured its design, it’s important to note that his remarks align reading with form and its erasure. Over the course of the Kindle’s history Amazon has continued to idealize this sense of disappearance in a way that echoes the familiar saying that one is lost to the world when reading a good book. From this point of view, one that Amazon has made profitable, plainness of design aligns the Kindle with this elusive immateriality. -- Highlighted mar 14, 2014

p.2: that an "aura of bookishness" makes the Kindle "less of a whizzy gizmo than an austere vessel of culture" [Carr 2011]. -- Highlighted mar 14, 2014

p.3: The notion that the Kindle’s speed of delivery serves reading confers some of that loftiness onto the device, softening the consumerist logic that equates an Amazonian subject’s desire with need. If the Kindle exceeds the material limits of reading it does so by insisting on the value of remaining attached to them. -- Highlighted mar 14, 2014

p.3: Even a report that the design team had chosen "Kindle" because it was "memorable and meaningful in many ways of expression" could not dissuade posters on forums and message board discussions from asserting that the origin of the Kindle’s naming lay in the novel’s dystopic milieu [Herdener 2008]. Implicit in those conversations was the suggestion that the institutionalized book burning in 451 had an analog in the virtuality Kindle books occupy: thanks to that association, the Kindle’s naming acquired a graphic ideological tenor, one made excessive by virtue of the material act described. Taking Bradbury’s novel as the Kindle’s eerie precedent thus enabled readers to articulate their unease, and in so doing, generated a resistant understanding that reading 451 on a Kindle would constitute an act of supreme irony. -- Highlighted mar 14, 2014

p.3: When Ray Bradbury pronounced at BookExpo 2008 that "there is no future for e-books, because they are not books" his comment fueled a reading that had already intertwined the Kindle with the novel [Wolfe 2008].[10] The author’s quip that e-books "smell like burned fuel" predicted doom for the Kindle in the fiery terms 451 sets out, but it also resonated with a metacritical impulse that readers on Amazon forums — where both Bradbury and the Kindle have a loyal and close following — were articulating. -- Highlighted mar 14, 2014

p.3: His insistence on keeping his works only in print was explicable, as one poster wrote, "since KINDLE implies the onset of burning," and to that extent the novel "should be the poster child for the anti-e-reader movement" [McMillan 2010]. On this view the privilege 451 accords to books has everything to do with their physicality, and Bradbury’s hostility towards the Kindle, understood here as a dystopic end to print materiality, is justifiable. -- Highlighted mar 14, 2014

p.3: Rendered a virtual analog to the Book People Montag meets outside the city, the Kindle becomes in this account a book partisan, a savior, even, for books in hiding. In one exchange readers took this line of thinking further still, suggesting, interestingly, that a comprehensive digitization of books, had it occurred, would have pre-empted the scenario Fahrenheit 451 imagines. Digitization would have made Bradbury’s firemen unnecessary because there would have been "…no chance of self-doubt and hiding books in ventilation shafts," or, more radically, "F-451 could not have happened" with "no story line" to propel it forward [Cook 2010]; [BobLenx 2010]. That both assertions speculate about a past that did not occur — a past in which the firemen, fictional or not, never existed — testifies, I think, to the posters’ imagination of reading in a world of Kindles. -- Highlighted mar 14, 2014

p.3: For all the protesting on Bradbury’s part, Kindle readers considered, queried, ventured opinions about, and debated the work the Kindle might do (or not do) for reading by citing the novel as the Kindle’s metaphorical ground. That this gesture anchored the Kindle in fiction, that a literary representation of a dystopic future should frame an understanding of the device, produced no qualms: readers were willing to assume the link between device and text, and thereby granted 451 an explanatory authority. That authority generated much of the conversation about information control and censorship, and turned the world Bradbury represents into a likely model for the unforeseen consequences of Kindle reading. Bradbury’s vision of a world forced to accept book burning in the name of civility and peace should, these posters argued, force Kindle owners to think about the security of reading in the digital moment.[13] -- Highlighted mar 14, 2014

p.3: If discourse on the Kindle saw readers reaching for Fahrenheit 451 to understand their newly mediated relationship to reading, the reception of the novel on Amazon found in the novel’s cautionary rhetoric a coherent view of the shape and fate of reading in the Kindle age. The novel, to put it another way, provided readers with an analogy for anxieties about the Kindle’s capacity to make print obsolescent, to make its disappearance a reality. -- Highlighted mar 14, 2014

p.5: The overwhelming sense that the Kindle had stripped ownership from the act of reading returned with greater force six months later, when copies of Orwell’s 1984 disappeared from several thousand Kindles in July 2009. In the sixteen discussions on Amazon forums alone Kindle readers took to the boards, writing to one another and to Amazon in ways that for the most part mirrored media coverage of the incident. Like that coverage, Amazon reader discourse regarded the deletion as an unjustifiable outrage, one that for many warranted a boycott of the company. Even in the wake of Bezos’ apology, which observed that the copies had been illegally published before calling their removal "stupid, thoughtless, and painfully out of line with our principles," readers urged a return to books and the view of reading implicit in that return [Bezos 2009].[22] That call for a return emerged, in other words, as a refusal of Amazon, and a critique that the company had, in its failed remediation of 1984, revealed its indifference to the readerly subjects constituted by the Kindle -- Highlighted mar 14, 2014

p.6: The perceived discrepancy, a kind of aporia illuminated by Kindle libraries suddenly bereft of their copies of 1984, prompted readers to discuss what Amazon could or should do to acknowledge and remedy the situation even as they struggled to account for the intrusion in the first place. In all the furor, however, the novel’s presence was unremarkable, appearing primarily as an iconic analog for Amazon’s dystopic conduct. Caught up in the conversation about an ownership undone, Amazon readers remediated 1984 in the light of their Kindles, doing so by targeting Amazon as a direct and literal referent. If King’s fictional Kindle led readers to comment on the corresponding desires Amazon constructed for them, the erasure of 1984 made drawing the parallels between Big Brother and Amazon a fitting, if not necessary, response. In this instance, Kindle-reading had shifted the dynamic through which texts, themselves no less made than things, articulate and critique the conditions of their production. For the turn to analogic reading that these Kindled texts have inspired has as its focus what it means for reading to be so newly mediated. -- Highlighted mar 14, 2014