In Defense of the Memory Theater;

I am in no position to end with prognostication, to predict how all this business will turn out, or to recommend particular policy directives and consumer rules-of-thumb. The companies will have their way, of course; as the filmmaker Chris Marker once put it, I bow to the economic miracle. But I can end with a vision, and it can point to a posture.

Picture a library, in flames, overlooking the city in ruins below—the Library of Alexandria under Caesar’s assault all over again. Books by the thousands audibly crinkle as they incinerate, disappearing for all time, never to be read again and, in a generation or two, never to be remembered. They are all irreplaceable; their loss is exactly incalculable. They are now good only to fuel the fire. As bystanders, we’re consumed by horror. We imagine ourselves as the books, the books as ourselves. Everything is lost with them. Right?

Or, on the other hand, might we instead laugh and cheer? It wouldn’t be the first time at a book-burning. Why not? Isn’t there also comedy—a divine comedy—in what freedom would follow the immolation of civilization’s material memory? We have only ourselves again, ourselves and our God. Perhaps these flames might go by the name of progress.

This little bit is right in the middle, the fulcrum on which the essay turns. Worth reading, if you’ve been thinking about the future of books, not that it answers any questions. And there are links. I found all kinds of new things to read, and to think about.

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