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.
Like the blind monster of industry I sat with my back against the mountain. The ancients have long said the mountain unites the earth and sky and withstands even the erosion of time’s shores. Yet the master who understands the ways of the universe can move the mountain with the tip of his finger.
To hell, we have said, with enlightenment–settle instead for conquest. It is not enough for moles with dynamite to object to snow-covered peaks … May the mountain be tested! The shoulders of Atlas drip with the blood of sacrifice and patiently we are borne. But how much longer until that silent arm will bear us no longer?
Evening is a time of remembrance when memory wrests itself from the grip of light (i.e., the concept); truth abandons its deplorable readers so that their lives might be touched instead with beauty. To what future do we look when we are called by the voices of our own commands, driving us to the labor of hands we have never known—and who we have never been—throwing brick upon brick. Bab-el. But only caution, not language, is scattered “to the winds”. The future, we are told too, inexists. This “abyssal time of life” is an “adventure” that only the sea-faring explorers (and not the cartographers) could have known—it is they who could look across the ocean into the world’s end and dive into it full-speed-ahead. “Time is an arrow” shot from the bow of a blind huntsman who couldn’t give a damn where it might land. So there is a song that says “if at all God’s gaze falls upon us, it’s with a mischievous grin”. Perhaps the sky can smile … for those who care to look.
There are those who think the future is a mirror and when, like the small child who has not yet grasped the laws of optics, they reach toward the world contained therein, they find themselves barricaded in themselves by nothing more than an indifferent ray of light. The plane surface is infinite. Their own reflection can only laugh—a cruel, silent, unforgiving laughter amidst the rhythm of fists beating against the glass.