Avatars of the Word– O’Donnell– 1: Plato’s Phaedrus

June 21st, 2010

“A drug of ambiguous power may heal or poison.”
– highly paraphrased Derrida

O’Donnell, J. J. (2000). Avatars of the word: From papyrus to cyberspace: Harvard University Press.

A point that O’Donnell raises early in this text is the public-vs-private setting of the pre-Gutenberg writer, who wrote, copied, and distributed his texts in hand-written manuscript form. “There was no divorce between private and public” (11). In this way, the writer was quite in the public, as opposed to the printed book one now buys off the shelf, which has no physical tie to the author; although penned by he or she, it has gone through an editor, and an elaborate printing-publishing-packaging-distribution process. With the arrival of printing, the idea of the “author” was born: one who sits alone, working through the manufacture of the text and then turning it over to a publisher. Read the rest of this entry »