L’art de voyager entre le temps

September 10, 2012 § 2 Comments

I write this blog post with the sincerest hope that many of you have read at least one book from The Magic Treehouse Collection.  If not, then I can’t quite say I would recommend doing it now as they are directed at elementary school students.  Yet, if you have the pleasure of reading with the enthusiasm of a fifth grader or have a great imagination then you will appreciate the quasi-science-fiction premise of the series.  In the books, two children have a magical treehouse (high brow, I know) that sends them back to different historical periods (All are strangely alliterative, like Dinosaurs before Dark, or Mummies at Midnight, or Voyage of the Vikings, you get the idea).  Being a student of history, I would never be able to pass up such an experience of going into the past.  Whilst the future is tempting, I am not sure that I could return to the present without being all giddy and eager to share what the future holds, which would surely make me sound like a lunatic.   After all, let’s be real, I’m sure that once the Time Traveler in H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine finished his story, his buddies must have jumped to conclusions about his opiate usage rather than his scientific breakthroughs.  Yet my resolution to travel backwards leads me to ponder what period I would visit…

While prehistory would be incredible, I feel it might be lonely.  While the Middle Ages would be eye-opening, I imagine it would be smelly. And while the Age of Enlightenment would be very thought provoking, I feel it would be too argumentative.  So I would look to something that hits closer to home.  This summer I had the opportunity to work at the Rare Books and Special Collections Division at the Library of Congress, working on one   of the most important collections of illustrated books, the Lessing J. Rosenwald collection.  In this collection ranges everything from Galileo to William Blake to Picasso.    While I worked with German incunables, my eye always wandered to the collection of early 20th century French artists.  In Paris at this time, all of the great artists like Matisse, Rouault, Braques, Picasso, and more began to create what are called livres d’artistes.  These were books that experimented with printing, binding, paper-making, and type-setting techniques.  With my magic treehouse I would no doubt place myself in the midst of this artistic culture.  What were these revolutionary artists like in person?  Probably somewhat moody and eccentric, but that would at least allow me to place a personality and face behind an artist.  As I looked through their books, I felt as though I was turning through the pages of experimental art forms as well as a desire to reevaluate what constitutes art.  To sit in the “penny-university” cafes and listen to these men would be a dream come-true for a literary Francophile like myself.

Too bad Woody Allen partially stole my thunder on this one: See Midnight in Paris.  Sadly I can’t claim copyright infringement on dreams.

-Kevin M.

Digital Collections of the Library below


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