Thursday, 21 May 2009

Comparing the new Barth edition: print or digital?

Now that the new edition of Church Dogmatics is out, some folks have asked me to compare the print edition with the Logos digital edition (I’ve posted on both the print edition and the Logos edition – if you’re interested in the Logos edition, for a limited time you can also get a 25% discount via the F&T discount page).

Although I’m not normally a technophobe, I must admit I have generally resisted the use of digitised books (except in the case of journals, which I only ever read online). I suppose I’m too addicted to the sheer exquisite materiality of books –

a coil of slyly shifting scents,
a finger’s papery caress,
the rasping breathless flutter of the page,
sinking down deep in that delicious inkiness,
all smooth and slow and seeping.
Now spent and finished, but still there,
(this is no one night stand,
no quick embrace erased before the dawn,
no scribbled thank you on a pillow note)
occupying space, etched indelibly on your beechwood world,
a solid smiling thing, waiting dustily to outlive you,
to be at last discarded, lost, forgotten,
found again.

Sorry, I’m getting quite carried away... In any case, the new print edition of the CD is lovely. So it has come as a surprise to me to discover that I’ve actually started to prefer the Logos edition – at least for research and writing. It all started when they kindly sent me their new Mac engine: now, you can use Logos with a nice Mac aesthetic and functionality. So I’ve been using Barth’s CD in Logos for all my recent writing, and it has already started to feel indispensable.

Here are some of the reasons why it’s so good for research: unlike the new print edition, the Logos edition also displays the German pagination; when I hover over one of Barth’s many biblical references, there’s a pop-up of the relevant passage; when Barth cites a text like Calvin’s Institutes, his reference links directly to the passage in Calvin; when I double click on any word, Logos brings up a relevant text on that word (e.g. if I double-click the word “nominalism” in Barth’s text, it immediately brings up the extended Encyclopedia of Christianity entry on nominalism; or if I double-click a Greek word, it brings up the relevant TDNT entry); and when I cut and paste a passage into a Word doc, it automatically generates a footnote with the reference. These features are so nice, so intuitive, so useful that I already wonder how I ever managed without it. (The search capacity in the Logos edition is also very good, although it can’t really compete with the monumental search capacities of the big online Barth database: if your library can afford a subscription, this database is the Barth research tool par excellence.)

I love books. I’m still addicted to the physicality of the book, and committed to its ontological status as a non-virtual object. When I’m simply reading Barth for pleasure, I would always prefer to sit in a chair with a text that occupies physical space, an object that I can bend and smell and handle and scribble in; a vulnerable object, so easily damaged by rain or wine or coffee, yet strangely resilient nonetheless. But for research, I’ve really grown to love – and to depend on – the Logos edition.

And since I’ve been waxing eloquent about books, I’ll leave you with my favourite bibliophile photograph: a photo taken in 1940 of the bombed library at Holland House in Kensington, London. This is what libraries are all about (click the image to enlarge).

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