The Museum of Dead Genres is the youngest of our national treasures, but its collections are no less celebrated for their recent acquisition. Flanking the
entrance are marble friezes of Abridgement and Redaction. Abridgement is shown
extracting a luminous kernel from the volumes of a beleaguered scholar, his
mouth slack with awe at the feathery essence of knowledge. Redaction wields an
instructive finger over the open storybook on her lap. Her audience of children
is too rapt to notice her other hand, which discreetly deposits the ragged pages
of the imprudent and injurious within the folds of her peplos.
In the Arcade of the Ancients, vitrines preserve the epics of dead
civilizations. Stone pillars yield to paladins guarding the distressed planks of
the Hall of Heroes, where illuminated verse testifies to the deeds of knights
and saints. Toward the center of the complex, visitors may view the masque, the
closet drama, the pentameral tragedy and comedy. Most opt to follow the
reflective arrows bordering the Exhibition Stage into the Age of Print.
The Father of the Printing Press is portrayed as Janus. One face regards the
text on the First Page, hoisted in triumph. The other grimaces behind a
blindfold etched with letters from every known language. Patrons experience the
same duality as they proceed past the two-faced colossus to witness the fruits
of his innovation: Ęthe pamphlet, the newspaper dispatch, the serial novel and
history, the biography, the dictionary, the encyclopedia. Mechanical fingers
flip pages at the rate of two per second while blinking screens tabulate the
months, years, and lifetimes an average reader would need to process the
separate and cumulative contents of each exhibit.
Blinded by such profligacy, visitors rest their eyes through a series of dim and
increasingly illuminated corridors until they reach the Threshold of the Modern.
Here, early scientists wrangle unruly pages onto recording cylinders, data
tapes, and pocket discs. But portability is no match for proliferation until The
Advent of Redaction, where the first entrepreneurs recognize the value of
condensing. Via computer simulation, the first prototype is recreated, capable
of reducing one volume to a single page in a mere 90 minutes. There is often
laughter at this point in the narrated tour, as current advances have reduced
the process to only a half-percent of known originals.
Visitors emerge into the botanical garden, where tableaux represent the wonders
of the contemporary world. With the industry nationalized, all may benefit, from
the smallest town to the largest city. Teacher and pupil sit at either end of a
wireless transmitter, awaiting instructions on the most relevant parts of a
lesson. Another transmitter presides over the handshake of two legislators as
they avoid an impasse through the judicious delegation of fact-finding. A writer
humbly extends his finished manuscript toward the Muse, visible from every
corner of the indoor park, her enormous monocle poised benevolently to dispense
scrutiny and discretion.
The last exhibit is a room of empty vitrines. The designers had a two-fold
purpose in its inclusion. First, the cases represent those sources -- gradually
but steadily decreasing -- that have yet to be quantified and processed. Second,
after braving thickets of prose and verse, statistics and punditry, patrons are
invited to contemplate the clarity of emptiness, a horizon we anticipate with