Distributed and Conditional Documents: Conceptualizing Bibliographical Alterities
To conceptualize a future history of the book we have to recognize that our understanding of the bibliographical object of the past is challenged by the ontologically unbound, distributed, digital, and networked conditions of the present. As we draw on rich intellectual traditions, we must keep in view the need to let go of the object-centered approach that is at the heart of book history. My argument begins, therefore, with a few assertions. First, that we have much to learn from the scholarship on Old and New World contact that touches on bibliography, document studies, and book history for formulating a non-object centered conception of what a book is. Second, that the insights from these studies can be usefully combined with a theory of the “conditional” document to develop the model of the kinds of distributed artifacts we encounter on a daily basis in the networked conditions of current practices. Finally, I would suggest that this model provides a different conception of artifacts (books, documents, works of textual or graphic art), one in which reception is production and therefore all materiality is subject to performative engagement within varied, and specific, conditions of encounter.
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