Showing posts with label Borges. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Borges. Show all posts

12.11.11

A Few Favorites: Books, Instant Books, and Libraries

“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”  -- Jorge Luis Borges

I had asked my sixth graders, whom I meet faithfully every Saturday to work on writing and reading comprehension, to write an essay about a favorite thing, a wished-for happening, and one place they would like to visit. My hopes? That they would tie the pieces together and craft a five-paragraph essay.

Here's what I wrote as my students composed:
My favorite thing is a book; my wished-for happening is to have any book I ever want or hope to read at my immediate disposal; and my favorite place is a library, of course. It is a miracle of free association that my "three" cohere. I didn't begin it this way. Nor intended it. So, since this is a timed piece of writing, I may as well trust the process.
First, books. Books comfort me. I won't even mention content, for now. The form is important only to the extent that it helps me reach the content. Even a book nestled in the 01000100s of my iPad comforts me. Since purchasing an iPad several months ago, I still find it a delight to load up the Google Books app and add classics from the seemingly endless supply of out-of-copyright books. Lest I deceive you into thinking I only love digital books, let me remind you that I used to have a sizable library which I had to give up when I moved to space-deprived New York City. What is it in a book that is so great? It's the option I have to dip into words, without which, I would be lost in an already feeling-kinda-lost world.

To end the misery of finding an out-of-print gem is a great wished-for happening. Have you ever stumbled upon a book you would like to read but your local library does not have a copy and Amazon's used marketplace lists it at a price more than you are willing to spend? If I had a superpower it would be to summon at my fingertips any text I want to peruse at any time. Imagine Google Books if it were a realized reality.

I agree somewhat with Borges who said paradise is like a library filled with an endless array of books. I should qualify this wish, however. I do not envision a Borgesian library of books filled with every possible letter combination. To me, this would be hell. To search through endless mismarked copies of Hamlet in the hopes of finding the ur-text is a maddening enterprise, which is why Borges has a few of his library travelers sprawled on the floor dead  dead of exhaustion? Dead after searching aimlessly for an ur-text. No. Sir. Not that my paradisaical happy place must have the "great books". It must be replete with Barbara Cartland as well as Homer's lost epics. I prefer a bad book, a good book  even a book like Finnegan's Wake  which is bad and good at the same time.
I'm not sure such a reader exists, or will ever exist.

Certainly, the fantasy I have described here is long in coming. And to think that it could be foreshortened by a dystopian regime akin to Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 is a disastrous thought. I would like to think ideas and philosophy will be continued to be vouchsafed by man's pen -- whether it is n the guise of a keypad or a voice dictation service, doesn't matter. I shiver at the thought that ideas are written only to appease: this would be the Huxley imagined nightmare. The Orwellian nightmare is farcical -- for hasn't Big Brother been shown to be inept? If the Bradbury nightmare is the most plausible then I must add a fourth wish: to hope, beyond hope, that I can memorize, commit, vouchsafe, one book to memory. The problem is I am stuck in the choice. I wouldn't know which to choose; instead, Montag's firemen would find me like they found the madwoman who burned herself up with her cherished books. For me, though, they won't burn me up, instead, they will laugh.
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21.10.10

5 Provocative Texts for the Precocious Adolescent Reader

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Lolita
Vladimir Nabokov
The novel tells the story of Humbert Humbert, Lolita, the girl he travels the country with, and the mysterious Quilty, a man who is on their trail. Or is he? The piece reads in three parts. One part paean to language, two parts mystery, and three parts obsession. I suggest reading the novel with The Annotated Lolita: Revised and Updated at your side. You’ll need it to look up odd flower names, arcane historical references, linguistic puzzles, and Lepidoptera. Good luck.

When I read it I was a junior in college on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. What can I say? I love to mix the sacred with the profane. Lolita is the best book to read to help one overcome adolescence, so you may want to save it for last, but it is the best book of the lot. So, I place it first.

31.8.10

Photo: Library of Babel

Photo of the interior of New York University's Bobst Library - taken from a few floors up.
Being inside the Bobst Library on New York University's campus can feel a little like vertigo - especially if you are looking down.
Bobst Library, NYU
People say walking the upper floors of the Bobst Library  the main college library at New York University surrounding Washington Square Park  grants a feeling of vertigo. It's true. Also, I get a feeling I am inside the infinite library written about Jorge Borges's short story "The Library of Babel".

21.5.10

“A Mere Labyrinth of Letters”: Preoccupations of Librarianship and Epistemological Conjecturing in Borges’ “The Library of Babel”

An illustration of the Library of Babel by Erik Desmazieres 
Librarians share two major philosophical preoccupations:

  1. The idea of a total library
  2. The futility of such a library.

Librarians are “total” in their desire for a perfect, or a complete library, but, unfortunately, the totalitarian nature of librarians has fossilized the notion that if it isn’t in the library then it doesn’t exist. The "if it is not in the records it does not exist" idea is as old as recorded history. The promise of complete, total, accessible knowledge (the first preoccupation) is shadowed by the librarian's futile wading through miles and miles of totality (the hell) to search and find that one piece of totality that one is looking. The total nature of the catalog is supposed to mirror precisely what is on the shelf. But the maddening job of the cataloger is to constantly check the catalog against what is on the shelf and fix any errors; this process has the hope of finish but is bound to be endlessly nonfinished. Librarians spend hours cleaning records, assigning call numbers, shelving books in an endless cycle of return. This nature of librarianship is actually not only the preoccupations of Library Science but of Western Philosophy in general.  Ever since the philosopher Thales posited that there must be something material that underlies all existence — we will forgive him for positing water — philosophers have searched for a univocity, or an absolute to explain that which undergirds reality. Of course, the philosophical search comes short. There is a futility in this search (think of Adam futile search to name all animals or Aristotle's futile search to give names to everything) although it does not cancel out the desire to search. That, my dear, is the paradox of the quest.