Poet, essayist and novelist Codrescu (Whatever Gets You through the Night: A Story of Sheherezade and the Arabian Entertainments, 2011, etc.) examines the oft-sensationalized “death of print” and redefines its place in the bigger picture of literary history.
Part cultural critique, part portrait of the artist as a young literary revolutionary, the author’s latest is a mature look at the rise of e-printing from the vantage point of someone who has already experienced, and survived, a number of technological revolutions. Codrescu recounts his growth as a writer, from his childhood in Romania to his tenure as a professor at LSU, tracing his journey through the “archives” of his life, which frequently spill over into footnotes. These footnotes go on for pages, offering insight into autobiographical and historical information that literally surrounds the primary body of text. Readers may ruminate on the footnotes as a simultaneous representation of old-fashioned marginalia at its finest and a Wikipedia-like informational hall of mirrors. Or, thin on patience, they may ignore them altogether. Codrescu’s self-proclaimed “referential injoking” may try that same patience, but what elevates the author’s argument is his understanding that what technology has actually defeated isn’t writing or publishing (if anything, there’s more of both of them than ever); it’s “the flaws, the failures, the typos, the sweat, the traces of the human on the material,” the works and remnants that ground a text in a real, flawed world. The pixelated kingdom, Codrescu observes, is highly ordered and smudge-free, occupying neither space nor time, like a virtual vapor that leaves no sensual trace for future generations of scholars and readers to study and treasure.
Longtime fans will naturally savor Codrescu’s idiosyncratic ambling and real-life reflections. New readers will find philosophical nuggets after some digging.