Virtual Codex Synopsis

Virtual Codex Synopsis

Johanna Drucker

Robertson Professor of Media Studies
University of Virginia

Drucker began her talk with a question. "How do people who design electronic books think about the book?" she wondered aloud. When e-books were introduced some 20 years ago, their creators and marketers thought to improve upon what they deemed the terrible drawbacks of the paper book. However, they conceived of physical books as artifacts without accounting for their functional aspects. Past appropriation of the book as a metaphor has been too literal and reductive. As a result the book has been conceived of as inert, static, stable, linear, fixed, finite. Such a narrow description begs the question - What actually constitutes a book? More specifically, what features of traditional books can inform the creation of electronic books?

To begin to answer these questions about books' conceptual and physical parameters, Drucker considered the features of traditional books and e-books that overlap. These include bookmarks, annotative spaces, table of contents, and indexical search capacities. Moreover, lectronic books are not without their unique advantages. These can include supplementary material. They provide live links to archival sources. E-books refresh daily. And, multimedia can be embedded in the electronic space. However, as long as we rely on visual cues, or the traditional way of thinking about the book, certain expectations will continue to problematically guide e-book design.

The space of codices provides a more satisfactory template for virtual books. Codices' artistic interventions go against the bound, finite, notion of the traditional book. This approach to e-book design is decidely architectural. In doing so, we can reconceptualize the electronic space as dynamic, interactive, mutable and linked.