by Emma de Vries and Yra van Dijk | Leiden University
Anyone interested in the topic of book presence in a digital age, finds this interest exquisitely served by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst’s S. (2013). Too exquisite, perhaps, not to be suspicious. Too exquisite, moreover, not to take such suspicion as the driving force of this chapter. The work appears a most felicitous offering to the curiosity about the question whether the book continues or ceases to play a role in the history of cultural forms. Contending efforts at saving and destroying are the motor of the story of S, which unfolds through a concatenation of images of creation, communication and expression. These evocations are textual, but material too. S is a sealed cardboard black box. The slipcase is the only element that names S as the box’s title, Doug Dorst as its author, and J.J. Abrams as its ‘ conceiver’. Inside is a book that pretends to be library copy of an annotated edition of V.M. Straka’s 1949-novel Ship of Theseus. On almost every page of the book the margins are covered in penwork, a multicolored whole of questions, facts, guesses and hypotheses, academic annotations, personal and random associations. It is through making these notes, that (former) students Jennifer Heyward and Eric Husch accidentally meet, intentionally fight and flirt, and naturally fall in love. They hide the thus appropriated book in the most public place of all: the library itself. An irony enforced by the fact that the reader can purchase a mass produced copy of their secret book with ‘handwritten’ notes for a mere 21,99 dollars. This tension between the private and the public is mirrored in their textual criticism. While Eric and Jen find each other and themselves, they set out to search for author Straka and his translator Caldeira, whose identities are as unknown as their love story, which Eric and Jen discover in the coded footnotes of the book.
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