The Future of the Book of the Future

NB: Paper Cut Flophouse was a group blog that ran in the late aughts. Most posts were written by two contributors: me, using the pseudonym Roman Briton, and my friend Pompeston, the mastermind of the endeavor. This is a cross-posting of a post I originally wrote for PCFH; here’s a link to the original.

The first to go will be the editors, although this won’t happen immediately; the end will be a slow decay, not unlike the legend of the frog ignorant of its own boiling. Editors will, with all the best intentions, stop making it to the ends of manuscripts; then they’ll drop the skimming of sample first chapters; and then, finally, realizing that it is not only possible, but preferable, to conduct their business without the distraction of print at all, the editors will no longer even bother with pitch letters. The only employees remaining at the publishing houses who actually consider the words contained inside the objects those houses produce will be the typesetters, who will no longer be native speakers, necessarily, but rather the cheapest purveyors of this service, depending on the strength of the dollar and other sundry global market forces: one day the typesetters of diet books in English may be Bangladeshi, vice versa the next; Argentinians will typeset Danish poetry; Ethiopians, Mexican political tracts; and so on. Once the agents realize that the editors are no longer reading, they shall follow suit, and instead will only pitch the works of their most attractive clients with the sexiest-sounding ideas. Hard on the heels of the agents will be the writers, who never much liked the grunt work of stringing sentences together anyway, greatly preferring to lounge around fashionable saloons, or their own living rooms, complaining to friends and strangers and colleagues and pets alike about the monumental and laborious difficulties of their chosen trade. Writers shall, instead, simply cobble together documents as random collages of appropriated texts, cribbed willy-nilly from their own correspondence, the stories they wrote in graduate school, the essays they wrote in college, various novels of yesteryear that may or may not have entered the public domain, maps, weather reports, stock tickers, and the Bible. Soon the only professionals remaining in the publishing world who still read books—actual, physical books; books from beginning to middle to end—will be the critics. They will rant and rail, vent and brickbat, sputter and spleen at these paper gallimaufries, but the newspaper and magazine owners of the world will discover, through scientific polls, that not a soul cares for the book reviews anymore, preferring, instead, to spend their valuable time ingesting interesting new facts, such as how fighting crime can aid the shedding of pounds, how renouncing freedom can lead to a pointier chin, a more savage nose. The critics will throw up their hands in submission and willingly dance on the grave of literature, but no one will notice, because their employers will have long since moved on to more promising schemes, like investment real estate and amateur pornography. The interesting facts still printed in the newspapers and magazines will blur around the edges, fray at the seams, then finally explode in a colorful, lusty, mouthwatering display of mixed metaphors. Without fiction still extant as its natural counterpoint, the word “fact” will come to mean “something extremely delicious that maybe you can buy right now with money.” The word “truth,” lacking novels to tell deeper versions of it, will evolve until it means “attentive ladies offering extraordinary special massages for discerning gentlemen.” Dictionaries—the books still referred to as “dictionaries”—will entirely consist of advertisements for call girls; grammar will slink off to the dusty cemetery where propriety, etiquette, socially progressive taxation, high-fiber diets, spelling, and whalebone foundation garments lie waiting for its arrival; and the streets and alleys of the cities of the world will be full of joyous humanity and all the naked alphabets and ideographic systems of all the human languages, rutting continuously and without shame, letters and fluids and ink strokes and dead skin shedding into the gutter like so much unnecessary baggage, like the struggle to find the right word, leaving only, in its place, a magnificent collage.

(See also: “End of the World of the End,” Cronopios and Famas, Julio Cortázar.)