"What is it about a book …?" Representations of the physical book in selected works of Jorge Luis Borges, Ray Bradbury, Mark Z. Danielewski and Umberto Eco.
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This dissertation examines the depiction of the physical printed book in the work of four modern authors. The project's starting point is an appreciation of the remarkable capacity of the traditional printed book for survival in the face of competition from electronic textual media. Before examining our texts relevant theoretical and philosophical ideas are proposed, briefly described and evaluated. These provide a context for critical insight. The rationale for selecting our chosen texts is also explained. There is also an indication of themes, such as the burning book, which recur, variously treated, in the books under consideration. The chapter on Ray Bradbury engages with science fiction: a genre, it is argued, which celebrates the physical "thing". Bradbury, through his representation of people becoming books in Fahrenheit 451 (1953), also prompts discussion of animist principles – the capacity for inanimate objects to possess souls. Other genres, particularly that of detective fiction, come to the fore in examining two novels by Umberto Eco. The idea of the detective's clue, it is proposed, is again fundamentally concerned with the physicality of things. Eco also provides a focus for discussion, ranging from basic allusion to more sophisticated notions of intertextuality, of the literary potential of, books within books. Jorge Luis Borges is introduced both as a major influence on Eco and Mark Z. Danielewski and, antithetically, as one whose principal concern is with the abstract conceptualised book, rather than its paper-and-ink counterpart. Finally, Danielewski's House of Leaves (2000) is represented as a book which, with full knowledge of the capacities of electronic media, chooses to celebrate the potential of the traditional book. A Conclusion suggests that the physical book's staying power is connected with its capacity to reconcile apparently contradictory binary elements. This richness and strength is abundantly reflected in the works under discussion.
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