The Electronic Labyrinth

The End of the Book

In Of Grammatology, Jacques Derrida equates the culture of The Book with logocentrism, the belief in a signifier which is both outside of structure, and hence beyond scrutiny or challenge, and at the very centre, providing it with a central point of reference that anchors meaning. God, Man, the Imagination--these are only some of the names which the west has ascribed to its need for a transcendental signified which would fix truth to some point outside of language. Logocentrism has "always assigned the origin of truth in general to the logos; history of truth, of the truth of truth, has always been [...] the debasement of writing, and its repression outside full speech" (3).

However, for Derrida, the epoch of The Book and its logocentric suppression of the free-play of signification, that is of writing itself, "seems to be approaching what is really its own exhaustion" (8):

The idea of the book, which always refers to a natural totality, is profoundly alien to the sense of writing. It is the encyclopedic protection of theology and of logocentrism against the disruption of writing, against its aphoristic energy, and [...] against difference in general. (18)

The End of the Book, like the Death of the Author, is the conceptual analogue of the End of the Printed Book. These historical shifts have been concomitant with, and indeed have paved the way for, the advent of electronic hypertext. They signal not simply the demise of the bookmark industry or relief from the dangers of papercuts, but a way of thinking about the way we organize, conceive and imagine the world in which we live. To think of the world not as a Book but as a hypertext is to conceive of it as a heterogeneous, mutable, interactive and open-ended space where meaning is inscribed between signs, between nodes, and between readers, not enclosed between the limits of a front and back cover, or anchored to some conceptual spine called the author.

© 1993-2000 Christopher Keep, Tim McLaughlin, Robin Parmar.
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