Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Museum of Forsaken Books

To begin with I want to not forsake a certain book by an uncertain author. Though there are reasons to assert that Pierre Bayard is behind How to Talk about Books You Haven't Read in much the same way he is behind Comment parler des livres que l'on n'a pas lus?, there are also reasons for me to confine my discussion to the book Bayard's translator, Jeffery Mehlman, has created, chief among them that this is the book I have access to at the moment, the book I am able to read and to comment upon in a way that suits me. A sucker for fidelity, I quote passages as if to say, "Thank you for these words." I am happy with them. My "poetics of distance" (p. 29) my readerly distance, thus stands aloof from Bayard's, the putative author behind Mehlman's work, though I too insist on my own "reasonable distance" (p. 31) from the work under commentary. I risk being "lost in the details" (p. 29) but I contest lostness. I contest any preliminary injunctions against attentiveness, or any decision that these printed words of Mehlman's are to be exculpated from "what is interesting about a text" (ibid.). These words are culpable, I assure you.

"Our relation to books is a shadowy space haunted by the ghosts of memory, and the real value of books lies in their ability to conjure these specters" (p. xxi). Conjury. What kind of swearing is Mehlman's text? A swearing to? With? For? A forswearing. A forswearing of the physically addressable. To conjure the spectrality of the manly garden–or is that the manly library?–is to forswear explicitly addressable memory, or, better, to forswear any act of translation between the manly and the natural, to forswear cartography. In the museum of forsaken books there are no reference librarians, only piecework catalogy with no connections to ()readers. Thankfully Mehlman's book is in no danger of finding itself in the museum of forsaken books.

"The museum of forsaken books" is found in the world of phantom creation, screen creation. It is not a token of inventiveness, but it does re(as)semble an inventive reading, the shadow of a reading, the mereness of a reading and more, a screen inventiveness that we could mistake for an inventive reading of Mehlman's unreliable author's text if only we weren't so enamored of the words themselves. We could lose ourselves here, or a few phantom hours, around the corner from the horologist's workshop, the horologist who gives us these hours on loan.

Mehlman's Bayard more than invents. He reads. He reads Wilde and Valéry as agreeing that "to read well is to turn away from the book" (p. 177). I read disastrously, circling in on the book, circling patiently until the final plummet. Sit a while on a granite bench. It could be at the lip of a deep well, or in the hallway of the museum of forsaken books, at the side of a fountain. Manly gardens, womanly gardens: these are places of turning into.

It is only the forsaken book that addresses "timeless questions" (p. 54). Like the forgotten book, the forsaken book has no place in memory, except of course on the shelf in the museum of forsaken books, which, it must now be confessed (conjured), cannot be located, except, could we retrace our steps, by reference to the horologist, who will soon demand his due. Such memory as we find in those halls is piecework, naturally. "While reading is enriching in the moment it occurs, it is at the same time a source of depersonalization, since, in our inability to stabilize the smallest snippet of text, it leaves us incapable of coinciding with ourselves" (p. 55). How many hours elapse before it is realized that reading itself is on display? Or is it merely a display of reading? We trust the custodian of these halls to sweep away our most prosaic thoughts, but we don't speak his name, as if it were engraven in immemory and therefore had no call to be spoken. It is whispered that even the brooms are gravid with details.

The displays in the museum of forsaken books are the mirror images of Mehlman's "falsified remnants of books" (p. 56), only there aren't even the ghosts of falsified remnants to be reflected, and the museum of forsaken books is anything but a hall of mirrors. The inner paradigms of the museum, pace Mehlman's unreliable author (p. 85), communicate, if labyrinthianly: they are paradigmatically alongside one another, while paradigmatically communicating through doorways which are in fact their raisons d'être, passageways. Out in the inner courtyard the gardener bends the vines of openness, practicing the new curatics, new incubations. It's okay to wave to the gardener.

This is a wave:

But the images and fragments of text that are the stuff of our inner books are so singular to each of us that only through an indefinite extension of time might two inner books find communion–for to do so is to achieve a melding of two people's private worlds. In the slow-motion existence Phil [Connors] is living, language is no longer an uninterrupted and irreversible flow, and it becomes possible, as in the scene of the toast to the groundhog, to stop every sentence and examine its origin and value, connecting it to the biography and inner life of the other.

Only such an artificial halting of time and language would allow someone else to reproduce the texts buried within us; in real life, these texts are caught up in an irresistible movement that transforms them constantly and renders all hope of overlap impossible. For if our inner books, like our fantasies, are relatively stable, the screen books about which we speak endlessly are perpetually being modified, as we shall see, and it is futile to imagine we can put a stop to their metamorphoses.

(pp. 108-109)

Somewhere in the adversarial process, the process that led me to take refuge on this bench, I realized that the author called to be acknowledged in his fragility, in his uncertainty. He spoke in the voice of a carillon, or, when the chimes have wandered on and the courtyard is empty, the voice of a lost timepiece, a timepiece restored. Without so much as a word the horologist announced that his hour had arrived.

Labels: , ,

posted by Fido the Yak at 1:08 PM.


Post a Comment

Fido the Yak front page