Charles River

Charles River
Upper Limit Cloud/Lower Limit Sail


"Messianicity is not messianism ... even though this distinction remains fragile and enigmatic." (Jacques Derrida)

Monday, November 22, 2010

On Libraries

A library is useful to a writer only insofar as it lacks discernible utility.

In addition to whatever it has of the needful – the research texts, the books one teaches, the responsible range of volumes which cover one’s chosen field – it should also contain a collection of the odd, the eccentric, the offbeat, the undervalued, the curious, the weird, and the totally indulgent and utterly useless.

Only in this way can it fulfill its true mission, which is not to be a summum bonum of knowledge, a repository of all things written, but to exist as a kind of commons for encountering the random, the chanced-on, the unlooked-for – whatever can spark the surprise of intervention. Which is also what goes by the name of grace.

Foucault, commenting on "The Library of Babel," by Borges, praises the idea of “the great, invisible labyrinth of language, of language that divides itself and becomes its own mirror.”

And in his magnificent elegy for Duncan, Palmer writes: “Send me my dictionary./Write how you are.” What else is a dictionary for a poet but a grimoire, a book of spells by which a world might be conjured and the dead come to visit us again? This is the very essence of the library -- a vast whispering colloquy of ghosts, attendant.

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