Hello. This is my first post since mk was gracious enough to allow me to contribute.
A few loosely connected thoughts on collecting…
Walter Benjamin writes in “Unpacking my Library” that the true mark of an inveterate book collector is the failure to read those books that she collects. One does not purchase a book with the intention of reading it… rather the collector seeks to save the book as an object, to care for it and protect it, for “the true freedom of all books is on his shelves.” By collecting, one gives the book a new life, one redeems and renews the weary object: “to renew the old world — that is the collector’s deepest desire when he is driven to acquire new things.”
Though I understand and share this collector’s streak, I unfortunately do not have the fiscal resources to hunt down the rare books and records of my dreams (i am not fanatical enough to go hungry for records). Yet today, while packing up my library (i am in the middle of moving) i was struck by a collector’s remorse — perhaps a guilt — seemingly absent in Benjamin. After picking up a copy of Being and Time, I was overwhelmed with memories of the books I had read in college, books whose thoughts seem so distant and buried in the past to me now. When will I ever have the time to reread Heidegger when there are so many other books to read now, so many other philosophers and artists and musicians to discover? Unfortunately, the absorption of philosophy and art is not akin to collecting… when is it one is truly finished with a thinker on the level of Heidegger? When can one lock up his corpus in one’s memory as in a glass case, content that his thought is secure from the passage of time?
One of my greatest anxieties as a student has always been that there is too much still to read, too much left to be discovered. Clearly, this can be a blessing, the thought that one will never exhaust the storehouse of history and culture — the wonders truly never cease — yet it is also overwhelming and frightening; when can one finally rest, comfortable that one finally “cultured,” “educated” or, at the very least conversant? Now I am starting to worry more about the endless list of things i have forgotten, relics of culture and thought indeed safe and sound on my shelves, quantitatively and objectively there in my collection, yet never again to be recalled in thought.