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By Joseph Rosenblum
As the PageTurned
In paradise there are no books. Words and images are unnecessary because one can apprehend immediately without intermediate signs. So Dante tells us in the "Paradiso," where Beatrice and the other spirits read his mind and where Dante himself, as he ascends, develops the ability to understand intuitively. Thus in Paradiso 22:145-150, astronomical perplexities are instantly unknotted for him. In heaven, Dante writes, "we shall witness what we hold in faith, / not told by reason but self-evident, / as men perceive an axiom here on earth" (Par. 2:43-45).
For some of us, who have been surrounded by books since birth and who have spent a substantial part of our waking hours reading them, it is difficult to imagine an afterlife without books, just as it was for C. S. Lewis to imagine a heaven without one's beloved cat or dog. Much more unsettling, because more immediate, is the prospect of the book's becoming an "obsolescent technology" (in the words of inventor, entrepreneur, and futurist Raymond Kurzweil) right here on earth. Reading the now-fashionable obituaries for the book is rather like being told that our sun will burn out and grow cold, not in the unimaginable span of millions of years ("Really? Now where's the sports page?"), but sometime in the twenty-second century. Meanwhile, bibliophiles can take consolation in the prodigious output of books about books. If the future of the book is uncertain, the history of the book is enjoying a rich and unprecedented flourishing.
While the study of the book has a long history, its modern phase may be dated from 1958, when Lucien Febvre and Henri-Jean Martin published "L'Apparition du livre" ("The Coming of the Book: The Impact of Printing" 1450-1800, 1976). Febvre and Marc Bloch were the founders of the French Annales school, which concentrated on mentalites, the way that individuals and groups thought and the forces that shaped a particular intellectual milieu. Since the appearance of Febvre and Martin's work, traditional ...