Book Fair 2022: Is everything the way it was then?

Book Fair 2022

The 46th edition of the Buenos Aires International Book Fair has just closed its doors. Without a doubt, it will be remembered as “the Return Fair”, “the Return Fair”, “the Fair of multiple reunions” after two years of absence due to the Coronavirus pandemic. But once it has closed, its stands have been erected and with its sights set on the next one, it becomes essential to try to review some of the things that happened in these restored fair days, not only as a balance but, fundamentally, in order to sink in something more tooth to reflection about what is happening and -above all- what could happen in the coming years with this event in light of the critical processes that its excluding protagonist is going through: what for centuries we have called ” book”.

the public again

The recent edition of the Fair has confirmed –although with some significant changes worthy of attention- the solid and faithful bond that has linked it with its public for more than four decades. In effect, the slightly more than a million visitors that this new edition received and that maintains the usual number of attendees, once again confirms the commitment and, why not, the affection that the Argentine public feels for this one that has always been for publishers their biggest “party”.

Beyond the successful promotion policies aimed at certain specific audiences even before its opening, it was clear that the link between visitors and the event was, at least in this respect, in good health. In the particular case of this edition, perhaps it should be noted the large proportion of adolescent and young people who passed through its corridors and at times overflowed its stands and some of the presentations in which this segment felt invited. Beyond this data and in the face of the usual massive influx of public, there will always be ambiguity -increasingly relativized, however, by the profile that mass cultural expressions have taken in these times and not only in our country- around the status indeed a reader of his competitors. Or, even, of the real effect of “reader hotbed” that it would effectively generate among those non-reading visitors after they have left the premises. In relation to this point, it is still pending for specialized researchers to systematically probe the arcane subjectivities of the lovers of this massive cultural event in order to learn more deeply why some of its practices and patterns of cultural consumption circulate. On the one hand, and as a hypothesis, it could be conjectured to what extent attending the Book Fair is not also being the protagonist of an immersive practice in which, like the visitor to the neighboring Van Gogh exhibition, he experiences, each time moreover, an immersion in a preponderantly sensory experience, in this case, that of the atmosphere of the book and its various epiphenomena, many times not exactly bookish. On the other hand, and as the tip of a ball of yarn for a more comprehensive reflection, it could be useful to discuss the idea of ​​the writer Mario Vargas Llosa, who was also one of the focuses of attraction that this year’s Fair had. The Nobel Prize for Literature, when giving an account of a “civilization of the spectacle” postulates, in a critical way, of course, “… that of a world where the first place in the current table of values ​​is occupied by entertainment, and where having fun, escaping from boredom, is the universal passion” (Vargas Llosa, Mario. “The civilization of the spectacle”, p. 33).

politics again

In the same way, the present edition of the Fair has been reconfirmed -as it has been happening for years-, as a privileged setting for political exposure in some of the forms that it has been assuming in these times. Thus and once again, its opening act was once again the epicenter of another ambiguity: that of the mutual empowerment that said staging generates between the organizers and the press. As on previous occasions (and as happens in other events similar to this one, such as the Rural Exhibition, the Idea Colloquium or the television awards ceremony), it is difficult to define which of those terms is the defining one for the act opening of the Fair continues to become more of a political fact than a cultural one. The assignment (and for the first time having mediated a payment of fees for it) of the responsibility of the opening words to a figure like that of the writer Guillermo Saccomano, as well as the tone and content of the speech delivered (in addition, disconcertingly provocative for the editorial corporation) reconfirmed that this scenario continues to become, like so many other times, one of the main news items in the Politics section or on the front pages of the newspapers. In the same way (although as a diametrically opposite expression of the crack that assists us) and almost at the close, it was possible to verify -as it happens every year for so many- the level of attraction in the public that the presentation of the book of one of the politicians with greater expectations of the moment aroused. Whether through an accusatory speech by the editors as exploiters at the service of big capital or the insult of the Fair as a purely commercial event (words more; words less, those of Saccomano), or through the presentation of a deputy with pretensions presidential elections jumping and shouting wildly before their predominantly young followers, this edition also expressed the ratification not only of its status as a transparent window from which to observe some of the practices that have been commonplace in the different expressions of the political arc. Along with this other ratification, the editors and cultural professionals also leave us with the need to reflect on the very status of this event as a cultural one.

The book still

Replacement for publishers of the always healthy ritual that the Fair has imposed since 1975 and with it the possibility of making the relationship of its authors and their objects with their real or potential readers closer and more palpable, the serenity of the closed doors of the enclosure should enable a new time to reflect in depth on the meaning of the book today and, in a deeper way, on the links between the public and this artifact that knew how to occupy, until not many decades ago, a central place in the universe of culture. As Bhaskar and Phillips state: “From the end of the nineteenth century onwards, successive technological innovations have given rise to new media, which have competed with the book as functional elements of the general ecosystem of communication and entertainment, and have done at possibly lower cost, […] books are no longer the only or even the most powerful communication mechanisms for a wide audience” (Bhaskar, M. and A. Phillips. “Book and publishing fundamentals. Manual for this 21st century”, p. 17) .

If today no one doubts the radical transformation that the book has been evidencing and, through it, the publishing industry (which the pandemic has undoubtedly come to boost exponentially), then perhaps it is time to rethink and why not to postulate the way in which the book is staged and how, from it, it “dialogues” with its audience. If there is full consensus in relation to the fact that in our days the transformations in the modes of production, putting into circulation and consumption of cultural goods have also given rise in the case of the book to a hybrid formula between the analogical modes of the past and those of a present virtuality that still does not know its future configurations, perhaps we are facing a time when it becomes crucial to ask about the viability of a fair format that gives more account of that past than of the hybridity that characterizes the present. Some of this was pointed out to us by Manuel Gil, who in light of the pandemic and with the intention – rarely seen among editors – of contributing to reflecting on and conceptualizing his own practices, questioned the idea that “if a fair it does not generate emotions, the public stops attending” (Gil, Manuel. “The impact of Covid-19 in the world of the book Characteristics of an unconventional crisis”).

So, as in that time when there was talk of the death of the book, Umberto Eco continues to shed light with his question “will this kill that?”. Rather, it is about daring to define a little more what that “this” would be like.

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Book Fair 2022: Is everything the way it was then?