FYI France

File 3: Ejournal and archive

by Jack Kessler,

February 15, 2009 issue. This file presents an archive copy of the issue of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which was distributed via email on February 15, 2009.

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Versions of the following have appeared online regularly, since 1992, as a feature of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which is distributed for free via email every month except August. Ejournal subscriptions may be obtained via email request to:

Here this file is one of a number made available -- hopefully attractively, all in one place, and relevant to libraries and online digital information work in France and Europe -- as part of FYI France (sm)(tm), an online service to which anyone can subscribe for 12 months by postal mailing a check for US $45, payable to Jack Kessler, to PO Box 460668, San Francisco, California, USA 94146 (site licenses also are available): please write your email address on the front of your check. And you can pay via PayPal, on the FYI France homepage:

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Victor Hugo e-booked, pace Jeanneney...
la lutte continue1...


I am just now reading 1793 by Victor Hugo, digitized and presented by Google Inc. on the Internet: Hugo-sur-la-toile -- the old écrivain engagé / enragé, nowadays branché too -- and it feels familiar...

It has a title page --

-- and it offers page numbers, and imprint information, and a table of contents, in all cases early digital's Age of Incunabula doing better than early printing's Age of Incunabula sometimes did. No, a reader cannot "savour the aroma" of the binding, on this digitized & Internetted version; but then the college-era book bindings in which I first read Hugo's text offered a "peanut-butter & sweat" aroma I'd rather not remember...

And the calf-bound volume I could afford nowadays, for taking out to read beneath the apple tree, certainly would be cheaper -- even in some preciously and expensively-"rare" edition -- than the $500 plus $75 per month iPhone on which I am enjoying Olympio's digitized prose now.

But also on this little iPhone thing I can expand the text, with a twist of two fingers on its little magic screen, up to sizes more legible than most print text, accommodating a pair of eyes grown rigid after 60 years of service -- much of that time spent squinting at tiny fonts on yellowed pages of peanut-buttered paperback printed "books".

Some e-book readers let you change the background colors, even: Victor Hugo, mise en page against a chartreuse background -- or lemon, or taupe if you must, or maybe soft light pink for Les Misérables. Although I could use a pair of more-nimble fingers, for doing all that "twisting".

And of course my little iPhone "holds" lots of books: hundreds of them, if I'd like -- maybe even thousands -- or nowadays even many millions, if you count all the books it now at least is possible for me to reach and to read, out there on the Internet, from 'neath my iPhone-enabled apple tree.

And using Hugo's text now is an information-access dream, on this iPhone thing: by hitting a few buttons I can look up French words in online dictionaries, view old photographs of Hauteville House, research obscure Vendéen Revolutionary events, write this note... then simply click back to Hugo's text...

"Old wine in a new bottle" -- the best of the many metaphors for our digital "age of access" -- there are so many things a reader can do now, online-and-digital, with a favorite old text, which could not be done before, from markup to annotation to online research to apple trees.

Even locating and obtaining the text used to be so difficult, for so many: "search and retrieval" used to be more laborious matters of space & time & physical effort -- and not all of us had well - stocked libraries near at hand, or even nearby bookstores. Nowadays, though, any reader who cares to can find and read the elegant French of Hugo's 1793, from Urumchi or Lhasa or rural Botswana, via her cellphone.


What is missing, though, is the unity in Hugo's text: it can be difficult keeping that together, in the act of reading it via e-book, with all this networked/digital flitting around... The reader of an e-book may be stimulated, by all the new digital tools and tricks, or she may simply be distracted.

Victor Hugo, like most masterful writers, used his words to create an entire universe. Once entered into that universe, the reader is surrounded by it, becomes part of it, she is "in" Hugo's imagined recollection of 18th c. France, savoring its sights and sounds and smells and passions.

But the reader's new smartphone capacities to, for example, receive and send a text message, can break the magic -- the interruption can transform us into a sound-bite culture, perhaps, at least make us short-attention-spanned and superficial. With all this inter-connectivity, maybe truly "the world is too much with us", as another old 19th-century poet put it.

So there are downsides, trade-offs, to our current Reign of the Smartphone with its Internet Global Reach, now increasingly encompassing "texts" qua e-books. We trade access for understanding, perhaps, or maybe just for enculturation -- and in adopting world culture we lose our own, very possibly, which unified works such as Hugo's once helped us define.

Or perhaps there is something more universal, more global, in Hugo's writing than any of us ever suspected -- even Hugo même -- per Barthes, perhaps it is we the readers who are discovering these new "global" universals now, in Hugo's old "national" texts, using our new digital and Internet tools. Deconstructing and reconstructing... fashioning new 21st c. digital phoenixes, from the ashes of old 19th c. bound & printed texts...


To those of us who remember, and were impressed by, the fulminations fulgurants against all of this, penned by the former BnF président Jean-Noël Jeanneney --

-- there is both irony and inevitability here. The new technologies truly are impressive: all sceptics should try them --

  • Google Book Search,
  • iPhone's app Classics, from Apple's AppStore via iTunes
  • Project Gutenberg,
  • plus many / countless other approaches, now, in "e-books"...
  • and grab a Kindle from, or at your local library, and try one of those too...

-- so one irony is that most of the sceptics have been wrong about the appeal and practicality of the e-book phenomenon -- the things are very appealing and can be very practical, in fact.

Inevitability, too, has received a twist: not only has the technology developed rapidly, with increasing masses of online text appearing daily in increasingly user-friendly formats, but new cooperative ventures and financing structures have muddied what just a few years ago was a simple contrast between Old & New -- between Print & Digital -- increasingly now it appears the one may in fact support the other and vice versa, instead of being a formerly much-feared "replacement" by one while the older medium simply "withers away". On verra...


And, very interestingly, turning to the "international politics" and "défi américain" of all this which also so concerned the BnF's Jeanneney, the new Europeana may improve upon what has been provided in e-book access so far... another irony, as so many of the most outraged sceptics until now have been European... But via the excellent search engine finally (?) available at,

-- one now can get to Gallica, for instance, to view and read the BnF's wonderfully-illustrated,

    PARIS. -- Impr. J.CLAYE. -- A QUANTIN et Cie, rue Saint-Benoît.

-- lacking the "historical introduction and English notes" of the version cited originally here, and their biases perhaps, but with comparable text in Hugo's French... and if the text is tough to see you can "zoom" it... and with great pictures, in this one...


So, where will it all end, with e-books?

Maybe it won't. Maybe we are both preserving the bound and printed objects, and perpetuating and far more broadly disseminating the "texts" they contain, both to the great benefit of future generations, at last.

Such anyway is the aspiration, and the dream, of most involved in these efforts, I believe: also the economics -- lots more stuff will get read, and purchased, perhaps for less $ per unit but in far more "economies of scale" units, by lots more folks in lots more places this way.

Read differently, however... But maybe that's just because, per both Jeanneney and his own critics, also per Barthes, readers in Paris and Oxford and Urumchi, & Lhasa & rural Botswana, all read the same text differently, or so in fact it is to be hoped.


Jack Kessler,





      FYI France (sm)(tm) e-journal                   ISSN 1071-5916
            |           FYI France (sm)(tm) is a monthly electronic
            |           journal published since 1992 as a small-scale,
            |           personal experiment, in the creation of large- 
            |           scale "information overload", by Jack Kessler. 
           / \          Any material written by me which appears in 
          -----         FYI France may be copied and used by anyone for 
         //   \\        any good purpose, so long as, a) they give me 
        ---------       credit and show my email address, and, b) it 
       //       \\      isn't going to make them money: if it is going 
      		  to make them money, they must get my permission 
      in advance, and share some of the money which they get with me. Use 
      of material written by others requires their permission. FYI France 
      archives may be found at 
      (BIBLIO-FR archive), or 
      (PACS-L archive), or
      or . Suggestions, reactions, criticisms, praise, 
      and poison-pen letters all gratefully received at .
              	Copyright 1992- , by Jack Kessler, 
      	all rights reserved except as indicated above.




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