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La Fin Des Livres   By: (1848-1926)

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The End Of Books

A prognostication from the past


In 1895 Octave Uzanne and Albert Robida published, in France, Contes pour les Bibliophiles ("Stories for Bibliophiles"). The eleven stories in Contes, all revolving around books (or at least printing) are interesting, bizarre, weird... one could go on in true Fanthorpian fashion. But even better than the stories are the illustrations by Albert Robida.

Robida was born in 1848 and died in 1926. During his lifetime he reportedly drew 60,000 pictures and wrote and/or illustrated over 200 books. His first published work came out in 1866, and he appeared in "La Vie Parisienne," as well as journals less well known to the world outside France. One of his works, La Guerre au XXe Siècle (1887) is of some interest in the field of science fictional treatments of future wars, and is the subject of current papers and a critical edition by I. F. Clarke in Britain.

Robida is forgotten (or was never known) in America, but in France he is remembered. His sketches and caricatures, particularly of humorous and satirical visions of what lay in the future, were decades ahead of their time. Disney adopted some of his drawings as backgrounds for their views of the future at a pavilion at Epcot, and web sites attempt today to bring some of his best work back into circulation.

If Robida is mostly forgotten, Uzanne can be truly said to have vanished from the cultural consciousness of the world. Yet he was well known as a writer and critic of his day, and some of his works command high prices from rare book dealers. One presumes that much of his work was more bound to the circumstances of the current day than were the drawings of Robida, whose art has a certain timelessness to it (even where it graphically predicts a future that demonstrably did not happen).

What follows is one of the pieces from Contes. Writing and drawing in 1894, Uzanne and Robida give us predictions of a post literate society. Music and speech are everywhere! Newspapers are forgotten, and news presenters are valued for their emotional tone instead of the accuracy of their reporting. Recordings combined with cinema present costumed drama and humor in the home. (This is 1894, remember; Edison had truly just begun to produce his films.)

Printed books are over and done with! They are no longer needed. As some companies (Hidden Knowledge, for example) begin to create electronic books that will never be published in printed form, we need to remember... it was all predicted more than a hundred years ago. self caricature of Robida and Uzanne


London. Bibliophiles and scholars, inspired by a lecture at the Royal Institution, in which the eminent physicist Sir William Thompson discussed the life and death of the sun, convene after the lecture at a gentlemen's club and discuss what they think the future will hold.

James Wittmore considered the rise and fall of continental powers. Julius Pollok predicted the futures of foods and the eradication of hunger; a green Eden that humorist John Pool laughed at as contrary to the rule that one must devour or be devoured. Arthur Blackcross decried the miserable state of current painting and sculpture, but predicted that in the future it would become great, done by a small number of talents, with color photographs and photoengravings satisfying the masses.

But what of the future of books? The narrator argues that Gutenberg's invention will soon disappear. Reading causes lassitude and wearies us tremendously. Words through the speaking tube, however, give us a special vibrancy. The gramophone will destroy printed works. Our eyes are easily damaged, but our ears are strong.

But, his listeners object, gramophones are heavy and the cylinders easily damaged. This will be taken care of; new models will be built which will fit in the pocket; the precision of watchmaking will be applied to them. Devices will collect electricity from the movements of the individual, which will power the gramophones... Continue reading book >>

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