Postmodern Alice 1 – Images and Conversations

What is the use of a book without pictures or conversation? This is the first sentence uttered by Alice in the incipit of Alice in Wonderland. This is the thought running through her mind, and it is in her mind that all her adventures take place:  they make up a dream (“a curious dream” as she will define it at the end of the book, a curious midsummer dream) consisting of moving images and conversations, as in a film. The differences between the two forms of imagination are indeed really slight: it has often been observed that a film, for many aspects, is nothing else than a dream shared in the big dark cinema hall, and the coincidence between the publication year of The interpretation of dreams  and the birth of cinematography (1899) is considered by many as something more than sheer chance. Cinematography and psychoanalysis are among the two most characteristic expressions of modernity and, in Alice, they have found endless experimentation opportunities.

But the intermingling between images and conversations also and especially marks modernity as embodied in television, particularly in its most contemporary format: the reality show. If the reason of the success of films lies, as a famos director states, in the fact that “they are like real life, without the boring parts”, the secret of reality shows is that they are like real life including the boring parts;  in fact, a reality is as much successful as it focuses on the insignificant images and inane conversations of the characters, whose hackneyed vicissitudes turn into into marvellous adventures just because they reach millions of people through the deforming mirror of television, giving everybody the illusion that it is possible to do like Alice does: to cross the “mirror” of the television screen  becoming protagonists of that world in which rules equal and opposite to those we are used to are in force.

And isn’t this model, allowing everybody – setting aside their talents, gifts or capabilities – to find a huge audience in front of which to show off their ego, the same model around which the worldwide success of instruments like blogs first and social networkings then has developed? What is Facebook, the most important phenomenon of web 2.0, if not a book with images and conversations? But there is a crucial difference between Facebook and the reality show: in the latter case, millions of spectators are merely passive and motionless like the prisoners in Plato’s cave; in the social networking they become active protagonists of images and conversations, like both the characters of the shakesperian dreams and Alice herself.

Above all, the idea with which Alice presents herself to the readers prefigures the form of contemporary communication that is now supplanting paper books, something the little girl cannot stand: the ebook. Indeed, on April 1st 2011, Amazon declared that for every 100 paper volumes to be sold, there were 105 of them in Kindle electronic version. This was an exponential growth, which took place during just 4 years and tripled, according to experts, from year to year. These figures regard all the purchased ebooks and not to those freely downloadable. And such a success is destined to further grow, considering that Amazon launched its e-reader, Kindle, only in 2007. In the USA, the relevant online store offers, at present (June 2011), more than 950.000 titles.

But what is exactly an ebook? An ebook is an electronic text “in digital format that mostly preserves the structural and representative elements of the object book. Therefore, the electronic book presents, from the visual point of view, the same graphic structure of a paper book (cover, title, consistent pagination etc.) and it shows a similar overall unity with regard to form and content. Moreover, the digital book, though losing paper’s tactile materiality, offers peculiar representational solutions, as, for example, the creation of literary hypertexts – characterized by the possibility of a reading that is non-linear, personalizable and linked to digital sources external to the book – as well as the implementation, within the ebook itself, of multimedia elements  (audio texts, videos etc.)”[1] Therefore the two Alice books are virtually already ebooks (it’s not by chance that one of the very first applications for iPad was the transcription of Alice’s adventures) also from the structural point of view: indeed, as the multitude of literary, theatrical, film and tv adaptations had already proved before the arrival of ebooks, the possibilities of a personalized reading that they offer thanks to their picaresque, episodic, non-linear structure are endless.

Transalation by Silvia Monti from Marco Minghetti’s Alice Annotata – 1 (Immagini e Conversazioni):

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