Packing my Library

10 07 2010

This is probably the worst time to start a new blog and that’s why I’m doing it. It’s doing things the hard way.

We’re packing up our home and getting ready to move 800 miles to Nashville after living in State College, PA for the last 10 years. I’m surrounded by boxes, rolls of tape, and a metric ton of assorted knick-knacks I haven’t seen or thought about in what seems like ages, even though it’s only been 3 years since our last move.

The deepest impact so far is coming from packing up my books. I maintained a pretty impressive library of high-falutin’ German literature books and a fairly-good-sized-for-graduate-school library of books on theory, mostly psychoanalysis from my old homeboy Lacan and those who came later and Frankfurt School, Benjamin (probably my favorite of all) and Adorno, a mish-mosh of postcolonialism, and a healthy dash of Foucault. Less remarkably, they haven’t seen much use in the last few years and with each one, I blow off a cloud of dust and whisk away the spiderwebs.

This feels really, really real now. It feels significant, in a way. I was reminded, as I was putting a copy of Benjamin’s Arcades Project into one of the boxes of the essay he wrote, “Unpacking my Library” in Illuminations:

Every passion borders on the chaotic, but the collector’s passion borders on the chaos of memories.

For Benjamin, he was unpacking his books from wooden crates, allowing them after 2 light-less years to once again see the light of day. The disarray and chaos crystallized for him into a whole meaningful arrangement of ideas about what it means to him to be a book collector and on what the relationship is of the collector to the thing collected and, well, you get the idea. It was moment of chaos, but order was formed out of the disarray, even before they were put on shelves.

I’m not comparing myself to Benjamin by any stretch. I’m just reflecting now on what it means to be boxing my books up after they actually have been sitting on shelves, unused long enough to gather an inch of dust and spiderwebs. This manipulation of them is the first they’ve had in a good long while. But as I put them down to sleep in their cardboard coffins (more like mass graves, I just need a little lye to throw on them), I remember how much I loved them (and I still do). Even writing this, this inspiration, immediately leapt into my head as I went through the process, my thoughts lingering on all of the Benjamin I read over those early years of grad school and how much, in retrospect, I really enjoyed being that person.

I’m not that person anymore, but that person is still around in me. I enjoy who I am now, too, of course, but it’s just different. I think at the time I felt more sophisticated than I do now, divorced as I was from the concerns of the everyday, from having to deal with diapers and daycares and parenting and cooking healthy but delicious dinners, but really I was just insulated from it. It’s very clear to me that I’m a different person now than I was 6 or 7 years ago, but then, that’s the reason for this move. It’s time for us to shuffle off into a new life and packing and the resurgence of the memories of who I was and who I’ve become and who I will be are what give this moment some significance for me. Without this move, I might’ve missed it. It’s a good time to reflect.

We’re saying goodbye to a lot of things, but this has been the week for that. How terrible it was that we had to say goodbye to our 15 year old Schnauzer, Pirate, last Thursday when he passed away. Our hearts are broken over that and part of this move feels like we’re leaving him behind. We’re saying goodbye to a lot of places we adored, to the birthplace of our children and to a community that we had become a part of. The realization I’m coming to is that we take a lot of that with us still.

It’s been suggested that I part with some of the books that I won’t use. I’ll probably never admit again to not using these books, though, even if they just sit there for long periods. I’m promising myself now to look at them more and remember, once they are unpacked again in a few months. I’d rather sell the Harry Potters out there. I like my make-me-feel-smart books and I’ll keep them, thank you very much.

And welcome to my new blog. I’m pretty sure this will be the only post with Benjamin or Frankfurt School or anything that artsy-fartsy for a while, but figured I’d get it out of the way. It’s part of who I am.

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