14 February 2015

The Library

As I unpack boxes of books I reveal an archaeology on my life. I remove the collected works of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle, and uncover there the gift offered me by Kenneth Bloom when I had a parentally designed cosmetic surgery to remove birth mark growths from my lips. And though Kenny was an object of some ridicule in my social group, he was also the only one of them to acknowledge my recovery. I read the book from cover to cover.
            In another box is the complete set the works of Edgar Allen Poe, a gift from the Goldbergs on the occasion of my Bar Mitzvah fifty five years ago. How did they know I would major in English when I had informed every one else that I was enrolling in a pre-med program at whatever college accepted me. This years before I had any notion of what college to which I would even apply. I read most of Poe though not in that particular connection.
            There were boxes filled with my immersion in Terry Eagleton’s wide-ranging discussion of Marxism, of literature and culture, from whose influence I have never swerved very far. And then there is the accompanying volumes of Karl himself, specifically Capital, Volume I, which I studied with Michael Harrington at the New York Marxist School, and from which one night I walked the night John Lennon was shot; the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, the Communist Manifesto and The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon; all works from which I have drawn in my thinking and my writings. In the boxes and now on the shelvers are the books by those who developed from those of Karl Marx; George Lukacs, on the historical novel, Trotsky on literature, Hegel on the arts, Pierre Machery on literary production; and of course, of Walter Benjamin, and the many works of Raymond Williiams, including his trilogy of novels concerning the working class Welsh. And there are more.
            There were the thick tomes of literary theory that decentered me from my stance in New Criticism by the French Continental Philosophy: Jonathan Culler and Harold Bloom, Jacques Derrida, Pierre Bourdieu and Michel Foucault. And more.
            I unpack a voluminous collection concerning the work of the American philosophical tradition, starting with the Puritans and Perry Miller’s two-volume study, The Puritan Mind, and the work of Thoreau, Emerson, Whitman, books that I have had to repurchase when the originals I originally owned began to fall apart, and from which I have never departed. And more.
            And works I bought to fuel my political awareness and rage, books, too that have begun to come unglued, like Naming Names by James Weinstein, and Democracy is in the Streets. Books that situated me in my time and defined for me the time in which I made a definition for myself. And more.
            There were boxes filled with the works of Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan, D.W. Winnicott and Adam Phillips, works into which I dove to pull out myself. Or to create myself, I was never quite sure in which activity I might have been engaged. And more.
            And the dozens of biographies and autobiographies that I have read over the years. Why do I read them? What did they offer me? And more.
            Alberto Manguel, in his book The Library at Night, that sits comfortably on my shelf, says “The fact is that a library, whatever its size, need not be read inits entirety to be useful; every reader profits from a fair balance between knowledge and ignorance, recall and oblivion.” I stand before my library and I am comforted. There are books I do not recognize.

            And I haven’t yet opened the boxes of novels into which I poured my hopes and dreams. Or shelved the books I have soon to purchase.


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