Google Books will not digitize French literature, french president Nicolas Sarkozy announced today.
"We won’t let ourselves be stripped of our heritage to the benefit of a big company, no matter how friendly, big or American it is,” Sarkozy said.
So France will fund and thus control its cultural digitization project.
This refusal to let french literary treasures swim amongst Google's classic books with no obvious distinction; naked for the entire world to judge impartially, seems arrogant and cowardly. The idea that French literature should only be doled out, beautifully packaged, by the French government seems limiting and could prevent future digitized generations from accessing some of humanity's greatest works as easily as I can today by visiting my local library.
In today's physical libraries, Victor Hugo and Pieter Hugo may stand side by side. Most libraries don't have a room dedicated to french literature and so french greats may be stumbled upon by innocent seekers. If French works are absent from the world's largest and possibly most efficient digital library, would not that be a loss for the French and the rest of us, in the end?
I love the aesthetic considerations that are a French obsession and surely play a role in this decision to keep digitized literature in French hands.
But, would it not be better if Sarkozy's government funded a French-controlled cultural collection and at the same time turned a blind public eye to whatever Google is doing and future plebeians across the globe might still stumble upon French literally grandeur?