Enfilade

Thoughts on Paper: A Blog and a Book

Posted in books, resources by Editor on March 14, 2013

Those of you taken by the materiality of paper may be interested in Lucy Vivante’s blog posting from 15 January 2013 on Paper and Watermarks, in which she interviews Neil Harris and Peter Bower. And if the distance between those traditions of making and our own dependence upon screens leaving you feeling elegiac, you might have a look at Ian Sansom’s new book. -CH

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Ian Sansom, Paper: An Elegy (London: Fourth Estate, 2012), 224 pages, ISBN: 978-0007480265, $25.

The history of civilization is bound up with — and bound in — the history of paper. Paper is the technology through which and with which we make sense of the world: knowledge and information is arranged in words, images and numbers on paper; values and ideas are exchanged and transmitted by paper. The making of paper, the trade in it, the use of it, brought about a new era in human civilization.

That era is coming to an end. In 2010, Amazon announced that for the first time it was selling more e-books than paper books. According to Nicholas Negroponte, founder of MIT′s Media Lab, the paper book has five years left to live before becoming extinct. The world we know was made from paper: yet everywhere you look, paper is dying, its influence literally disintegrating.

In Paper: An Elegy Ian Sansom traces the history of paper-making from the 7th-century Chinese workmen who made paper from the inner bark of plants and trees, to the 17th-century vatmen and couchers who dipped and shook and dried paper moulds to make folios and quartos, to today′s billion-dollar paper industry; from papyrus to e-books. Both a cultural overview and a series of warm, personal meditations on the history and meaning of paper in all its forms – as both a means of communication and as an artefact in itself – this book is a lively valediction to the paper it′s printed on.

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