Ode to the Library Museum

Erica X Eisen at The Paris Review:

In the Chester Beatty Library, there are books made entirely of jade. There are picture scrolls featuring calligraphy by the brother of the Japanese emperor. There are papyrus codices that constitute some of the few surviving texts of Manichaeism, a religion of darkness and light that rivaled Christianity in scale until its last believers died out in fourteenth-century China. There are Armenian hymnals, Renaissance catalogues of war machines, and monographs on native Australian fauna. There is all of this and more—thousands and thousands of other works diverse in period and place of origin, waiting for human eyes. And yet as I walk through the galleries, as I survey the cases of books safe behind their glass, it occurs to me that if a book is a thing meant to be read, then in a certain sense, these objects have lost their function to all but the scholarly epigraphists, backs bent in the private study room. And yet far from becoming something less because of this, the books on display have become something more.

Can we recover a physical literature? Can we recover a literature that is not merely read but felt? The library museum gestures at just such a possibility.

more here.