Visible Language Series Lecture

A Brief History of the Spectre of the Internet and the Death of Writing

Listen to the lecture. (mp3)

In the age of Google, blogging, and the e-book, many fear that reading and writing are swiftly passing away. We fear more than the disappearance of pen and paper per se; it's the loss of cherished practices and long-established mental reflexes that disturbs and confounds.

On Wednesday, April 20, 2011,  the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology presents "A Brief History of the Spectre of the Internet and the Death of Writing" at Harvard’s Geological Lecture Hall (24 Oxford St., Cambridge) at 5:30 PM, with a reception to follow at the Peabody Museum (11 Divinity Avenue).

Twitter, the telephone, the penny dreadful, even the printing press itself—each in turn has been seen as an agent of decadence and cultural death, as the harbinger of the turn from civilization to barbarism. Of course, new ideas and genres have frequently been the target of religious and political censors determined to stem the tides of change. But bemoaning the rise of "printed poison" or the decline of attention spans is a move distinct from censorship. By examining instances when the death knell of reading and writing has been tolled in the past—in the appearance of new and lighter forms of journalism, in the rise of penny dreadfuls and comic books, in the appearance of the telephone and its promise to supplant literary experience—we discover that fear of literature's end is inextricably bound up in modernity's habit of creative destruction.

The speaker is Matthew Battles, the author of Library: An Unquiet History.




Detail from cover of Spring Heeled Jack, illustrated "penny dreadful" ca. 1890.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011: "A Brief History of the Spectre of the Internet and the Death of Writing"

5:30 PM Geological Lecture Hall, 24 Oxford St., Cambridge, followed by a public reception at the Peabody Museum, 11 Divinity Ave., Cambridge

Information: 617-496-1027 

See more about the Visible Language series.