Book­keeping: 10 contradictions of the book as commodity form

Jack Henrie Fisher

There is an irresistible urge to disavow the book as a commodity. The book is repeatedly imagined as the anti­modern and a­-capitalist object par excellence, precisely that thing which must stand outside of the debasing transactions of the market. At the same time, the book, in many cultural historiographies, is imagined at the very origin of capitalism: as the prototype of the industrial commodity and as the mechanism for European capitalist enterprise in the fifteenth century and beyond.

I want to illuminate this insistent contradiction through a series of ten lucid episodes, in which the book as commodity form appears to both resist and accelerate the logic of capitalism: of efficiency, surplus value extraction, divisions of labor in production, etc. The book confounds these logics and is foundational to them at the same time, and this double capability qualifies the book as an exceptional object, crucial to, but also outside of, the matrix of economic procedures by which capitalism organizes life.