Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Bookstore with Just One Book

The Guardian carried an article the other day by Alison Flood about a bookstore in Japan that stocks and displays only one book at a time - and I couldn't help thinking about McLuhan's observation that new technologies turn outmoded technologies into art forms.

This has always been one of my favorite of Marshall McLuhan's discoveries.  In his day, the impact of motion pictures on the theater, once a mass medium, now the "legitimate," i.e., culturally elite stage, was a prime example.  As was penmanship, once a necessity, converted by the typewriter into an admirable talent.   And, of course, poetry, in Homer's time a pneumonic necessity, had since the invention of easy writing with the alphabet long since become a high-art form.

Examples abounded.  In my Digital McLuhan, I offered some of my own.  Delicatessen, once treated with spices and preservatives natural and artificial to preserve the meat, became in the age of refrigeration something to be sought after for its taste.   And speaking of cool, the convertible car, once driven so the driver and people in the car could be physically cool, was transformed by air conditioning into something driven to look, i.e., be culturally, cool.

Which brings us to the bookstore in Japan, which just opened this past May.   Japan has long been known as a place in which single paintings are hung a wall, so they can be admired without competition, and eventually replaced by another painting.  Under the pressure of the Kindle, which makes a myriad of books all but instantly available, the printed book has now become something more than it once was - an object to be displayed, like a work of art, before it is read.  The Kindle, in other words, has turned the printed book into an art form - at least, in Japan.

For further application of McLuhan's thinking to our current age, see

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