Before Jacques Derrida died, he used to teach a yearly seminar for grad students at New York University, which I managed to sit in on in the late 90’s. It was completely over my head, but it was an intellectual roller-coaster that I will never forget. I could barely remember where I lived after listening to him for a while. One of his later books, Paper Machine, deals largely with paper and books.
Included in the book is an interview, where he was asked to what extent paper functions as multimedia, and how paper has influenced his work. Derrida responds:
Seeing all these questions emerging on paper, I have the impression (the impression!–what a word, already) that I have never had any other subject: basically paper, paper , paper. It could be demonstrated, with supporting documentation and quotations, “on paper”: I have always written, and even spoken, on paper: on the subject of paper, an actual paper, and with paper in mind. Support, subject, surface, mark, trace, written mark, inscription, fold–these were also themes that gripped me by a tenacious certainty, which goes back forever but has been more and more justified and confirmed, that the history of this “thing,” this thing that can be felt, seen and touched, and thus contingent, paper, will have been a brief one. Paper is evidently the limited “subject ” of a domain circumscribed in the time and space of a hegemony that marks out a period in the history of a technology and in the history of humanity. (p. 41)
Although he wrote this in 2001, it is remarkable how prescient he was, given the recent revolution in ebook readers: the Sony reader, the Kindle and the Nook.
Derrida, Jacques. Paper Machine. Trans. Rachel Bowlby. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005.