Similar to Olivia I found Sven Birkert’s reflections on reading and the digital to be flawed. One passage that I was drawn to in particular details the ways in which a novel affects the reader’s everyday life: “While I am reading a novel, one that reaches me at a certain level, then the work, the whole of it—pitch, tonality, regard of the world—lives inside me as if inside parentheses, and it acts on me, maybe in a way analogous to how materials in parenthesis act on the sense of the rest of the sentence.” By using the form of the novel exclusively to make this parallel Birkert ignores the fact that a multitude of digitized texts can affect the reader in a similar way. Just as the words of a novel can “live” within the reader and inform the way he or she views the world this is also true when reading an e-book, an online article, or even a post on social media. The interface is irrelevant; ultimately, what matters is whether or not the words touch the reader.
Birkert’s heavy use of analogies and rhetorical devices circumvent this very argument. This passage continues with a descent into lyrical language that almost reads as a piece of creative writing in itself: “I watch people crossing the street at an intersection and something of the character’s or author’s sense of scale—how he inflects the importance of the daily observation—influences my feeling as I wait at the light.” These few sentences, which could easily appear in a self-conscious postmodern text such as Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler struck a chord with me as a reader. Although I read Birkert’s article online this passage will still stay with me and perhaps affect how I view the reading process.
Applying the question “What does ‘the digital’ do to ‘the text’?” to this problem, I believe that the digital gives the reader additional avenues and therefore more opportunities to allow an author’s words to contribute to his or her outlook. By extrapolating from Birkert’s analogy and applying it to the digital realm, the reader can pick and choose which words from which source speak to him or her rather than being constricted to the novel.