Raymond Kurzweil is famous for declaring that he wants to stay alive long enough to be a beneficiary of what he calls The Singularity. If he can just hang on until the great synthesis of humans and machines, he can live forever. He will have made the cut.
But there is another cut. I thought about the other day when someone told me I should read Leslie Fiedler. (Forgive me I can’t remember who. I am still using organic memory and frankly it’s crap. At least mine is.)
Fiedler was an American academic who dared take popular culture seriously when this was a great violation of intellectual orthodoxy. There is lots to like about Fiedler’s work (one of his essays is called “Fiedler on the roof”) and I am astonished (and, yes, ashamed) that I am only now hearing about him.
I went to Amazon to buy one of his several books and only one been digitized. Fiedler didn’t make the cut. It’s not an irreparable difficulty. One of these days we will have everything online. (Of course we do now, but Google Books is only showing snippets and previews.) But Fiedler is plenty obscure as it is. Not being available in digital format is a problem.
This may some day be an important categorical distinction: those who didn’t make the digital cut or the singularity one, those who made the first but not the second, and those who made both.
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To digitize an older book that is still under copyright requires an amendment of the original contract. If neither the author nor the author’s agent is on the case, it won’t happen. And even when it does, the author won’t be able to determine the price (hence you can buy a paperback copy of the recently digitized The Future and Its Enemies for less than the Kindle edition–not my call).
It’s not surprising, then, that the Fiedler book that has been digitized is not his most famous or influential but his most recent.