What kind of commodity is a book? The average novel is not a commodity in the way that, say, Coke is a commodity, because the word ‘book’ implies a variety of distinct products – there are currently several million separate titles in print – whereas Coke implies uniformity. With a book, too, there is presumably more room between articulation and reception, more space for the consumer to construct meaning, and each book product contains a distinct symbolic content. ‘Books’ are not just books; the word stands in for an assemblage of separate entities, and variety in content leads to complexity of ordering and distribution, and in turn to special technologies for stock control and consumer profiling. Moreover, books cannot move easily across borders due to linguistic and cultural differences that impede easy dissemination. Coke is Coke wherever it goes. Barring a few basic changes to its packaging and design, the content is the same, whereas books require translation and what Eva Hemmungs Wirtén has termed ‘transediting.’1 Notwithstanding all this, isn’t Coke itself a complex carrier of different symbolic material, and isn’t its meaning as a product something that varies with consumption? And can’t the ambiguities of a literary work be reduced to insignificance in certain circumstances, its meaning turned into the embodiment of a singular ideology? Moreover, isn’t there a global network of readers of English-language literary works that makes transediting largely unnecessary, as communities across the globe access the newest Salman Rushdie title with relative ease?
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