Bookshelf, Faculty News

Sven Birkert's New Book Garnering Attention

A new book by Sven Birkerts, director of the MFA in Writing Program at Bennington College, is receiving warm attention. Changing the Subject: Art and Attention in the Internet Age, published by Grey Wolf Press, which focuses on the effect of digital culture on our ability to engage with our world, and the fate of writing in such a context, has been reviewed in the Chronicle for Higher Education, New Republic, and the New York Times Book Review.

Writes J.C. Hallan in the Chronicle:

An essayist and critic who runs the much-vaunted low-residency M.F.A. program at Bennington College, Birkerts is the author of the now 20-year-old The Gutenberg Elegies, a volume widely regarded as the most elegant articulation of the angst we all felt as the digital invasion began its assault on literature… Now, Birkerts offers a follow-up, Changing the Subject, a finely wrought and well-titled companion volume that fears the same dreadful end, but tacks from literature to consciousness, knowledge, data, and information.

In The New Republic, Jeff Nunokawa notes the nuance of Birkerts’s account of the effect of new technologies of communication on the web’s influence on the intimate spheres of our lives:

Birkerts’s critique is compelling in large part because it is moderate. What he asks us to admit is what any honest, reasonable and reasonably sensitive observer of the digitalized ways we live now must admit. Whatever gains the Internet has provided have come at a cost.

And in the New York Times Book Review, Tim Parks notes the power of Birkerts’s attention to the quotidian:

Since Birkerts’s core interest is attention, attention as a prerequisite both for creativity and any enjoyment of another’s creativity, many of the pieces are presented as dramatizations of his own attentive, cogitating mind... The intention is always to give us a sense of the power of language and literature to sustain the self and ­create “meaning,” while constantly warning us that all this is under threat from “the tidal inrush of digitized living.”