Wednesday 20 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).


CCW said...

I have to agree Ben. Though I don't have the Ency of Christ., or the TDNT, I do have Luther, Calvin, and Augustine, with Anselm in the wings and thinking about getting the Summa, because I find the integration to be simply indespensable in terms of research. Plus, at this point in my life, I can't see talking my wife into a 4th version of the CD.

Mark Stevens said...

Well, I will have to make do with my old set for now. One hand holding them open and the other trying to type!

ben, does the 25% cover the CD or just base packages?

Ben Myers said...

Hi Mark. Yes, for the time being it's also an additional 25% off the CD.

andrewbourne said...

Can I say neither

Terry Wright said...

Nein, nein, nein! Books are not there to absorb rain, wine or coffee! And neither are books to contain mortal scribbles.

A friend of mine borrowed a book from me, but returned it with a kebab stain. A kebab stain!

Anonymous said...

Nice poem. I feel the urge to go read a book.

kim fabricius said...

Caption for the photo:

Observers from Bob Jones University are disappointed to discover that the Woland Hypothesis (see Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita) looks to be correct: рукописи не горят ("manuscripts don't burn").

Greg Clarke said...

He he. I have this photo hanging in my office, ordered directly from the Imperial War Museum.

hangulmalmotayo said...

Does the digital edition have as many typos as the print edition? I've read through the first six volumes of the print edition and, to my dismay, have found typos all over the place--ranging from mistranslations of the Latin and Greek to a misspelling of Luther as Lather.

I love the books, but they would be a lot nicer without all those typos!

roger flyer said...

I am a lapsed Latheran. I no longer get lathered up over faith and theology. I like to think I have a little, I don't know...Je ne sais quoi.

Anonymous said...

Ben, what do you think about the typos? Is it standard for a work this big to have a fair amount, or is it a significant mark against this edition?

John Hartley said...

"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."

When I'm reading Barth for pleasure,
I prefer to get his measure
in a solid chunky text
that I can smell and heft and flex:
and if I wish deface with scribble,
leave out in the rain, or dribble
spat out crumbs and coffee stain,
and then abandon on a train?
For by its weight it comes up trumps,
and lifts me from scholastic grumps.

But for my work I fear I've grown
to love the text that now I own:
the Logos version of Karl Barth,
with special features, oh, so smart!
Referring back, no need to flick
through countless pages - point and click!
Enough of this vain epithet,
for back to work I now must get.

Erin said...


Amongst theologians in the last century
There is one, a great deal, who has meant to me.
but he wrote so much
his work I can't touch
without selling a lung or a kidney.

thank God for libraries!

roger flyer said...

So glad to see these young theologians writing poetry or limericks.

Antonio Manetti said...

A suggestion:

An electronic book is not the analog of the print version but a new thing, with the potential to present information in a unique way. Right now, it relies on the conventions of print media, but one hopes that authors and publishers will eventually exploit its latent capabilities, just as film directors learned to transcend the conventions of theater.

Anne Camille said...

I have no comment on Barth's works, in either print or CD form, but I LOVE that photograph. Thanks for sharing.

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