Books, Before and After Modern Science

Posted: May 30, 2017 in Uncategorized

It might be well to compare what the notion of the book meant to Galileo, compared to what the book became in the days after Descartes. Who could fail to see the enormous sea-change that the institution of the book underwent in just a generation or two?

Galileo on books

Here are clips from the film, Prospero’s Books, I may not have time to show in class. It is a cinematic adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, directed in the style of the great Venetian colorist painters. I hope to show here that the book, in the age of Galileo, experiences a last burst of color, before the rise of the black-and-white Cartesian diagram. The film is incredibly lush and sensual, in a variety of ways, and may not be suitable for all viewers. Decide for yourself.





  1. Katherine Worms says:

    I enjoyed seeing the contrast of very artistic books from Galileo’s time to a much more logical format a couple generations later, especially seeing the books of Galileo’s time through the lens of that film. Although one is more artistic than the other and the books of Descartes are composed of the “necessary” there is still beauty in both. Beauty, to me, comes from either extreme end of the spectrum of fully understanding something, to not at all. There is beauty in the unknown, but also beauty in the complete knowledge of something. The beauty in the unknown stems from mystery, whereas the beauty in the known stems from appreciation. I can look at a piece of art and not know what it means at all and enjoy it. I can also look at a drawn out mathematical proof where I know the meaning of all of the symbols and enjoy it because I realize the work necessary to put all of those pieces together (another comparison would be when we talked about commodities when reading Boorstin vs. Biagioli). My biggest issue with the style of book after Descartes is the idea of something being “necessary.” As if removing that last “burst of color” made something more crucial than the reality, it just transitioned the reason why someone might enjoy it.

    • Brian Kubarycz says:

      I don’t know that I would call Descartes diagrams beautiful. They strike me a clunky and didactic, not so very different from the sort of block prints you would see in school primers from Puritan New England. As we shall discuss so enough, didacticism and aesthetics may well be inimical to one another. If anything, I might confess that Descartes books, in terms of both diagrams and proofs, offer a feeling of satisfaction or approbation. This, in fact, is what is meant by the word ‘necessary’ – not a sense of urgency, but rather a sense of incontrovertibility. Descartes apodeictic proofs show that the answer to a problem must be x, and no other number.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s