Saturday, January 19, 2008

virtual libraries and french literary criticism

Just finished the awesomely clever-clever, witty
How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read by Pierre Bayard ...

far from being a naff "self-help" "make-good" type book, this is a witty and ingineous dissection of the different ways society reads, avoids reading, and discourse about books - it could well apply to the way the scientific community works on reviewing papers too (indeed he talks about academics reviewing each others academic books). and to films, and music and so on.

each time you choose a book, you leave out 18M other books - in your life, you read a small fraction (infinitesimal ) of the available literature of the world. When you skim, you make rapid interpolations and extrapolations. once you finish reading a book, your memory plays tricks. You may remember reading books you have not read and don't even exist - indeed, I was disappointed that his discussion of imaginary books cited
I Am a Cat by Soseki Natsume, which actually does exist, rather than creating a fake book for the purpose - especially since he deliberately gets several details of other books (and films) such as The Name of the Rose and The Third Man subtly wrong to prove a point about imperfect recall, and "desired" or even "screen memory books".

everyone, especially geeky nerdy computer scientists with a literary bent, should read is a hoot....ever so slightly cynical (all the examples are chosen to maximise relevance to a general argument, but then the argument is claimed to apply to everything when only extremum example are used - clearly the "norms" of reading and of virtual, screen, private, shared and other types of libraries are not the same as the extremes.

Also, annoyingly, he uses several arguments which are extremely clearly illustrated more amusingly in the Library of Bable by Jorge Luis Borges (indeed, whose is namechecked by Eco since the blind monk in the Name of the Rose - jorge of borgos- who is the crucial part of the argument about talking about books you havn't read (Aristotle's lost volume of poetics on comedy, of which Wiliam of Baskerville deduces the existence and content, and then debates with jorge, who is blind so hasnt read the book for decades and only, possibly falsely, recalls the contents).

Other Lacunae exist, where, if this was a paper submitted to a scolalry journal, I would have to ask for minor revisions...

I give this a SB++

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