In "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," Walter Benjamin provided thought-provoking insights into the way that lithography, photography, and cinema changed the nature of art and our perceptions of it. Among other considerations, he noted that the efficient mass reproduction of works of art affected notions of authenticity, the author, and the response of the viewer or reader. In many ways, the advent of the Internet causes us to review his arguments and expand on them in light of this new, digitized, decentralized, and diffuse method of reproducing works of art, including literature. Among the first online collections of great literature have appeared the collected works of Cervantes. In addition to the textual questions posed by the novel itself, such as who is the author, or perhaps more precisely, where or what is the author, and what is the text, the various cybereditions of Don Quijote create even more layers of distanciamiento artístico. There are additional questions of authorship: who are the authors/editors/compilers/web designers who post the text to the Internet? What are we to make of the opportunities for readers to be converted instantly into writers through guest pages, feedback forms, and such. Moreover, exactly what is a text in cyberspace? Are e-texts the same as printed texts in every respect? How do hypertextual annotation and other accretions of the Internet change the way we read a text? At heart, these are not so different from the questions that Cervantes himself forces us to consider in Don Quijote. The Internet has felicitously added several more layers of textual undecidability that mesh perfectly with the doubts, confusions, and paradoxes of the original.
Document Object Identifier (DOI)
Stroud, Matthew D. “Authenticity, Authoriality, and the Nature of Electronic Texts: Don Quijote in the Age of Digital Reproduction.” Neophilologus 87.4 (2003): 563-73.