14 February 2011

The Perverse Library

Craig Dworkin's brilliant new project, The Perverse Library (Information as Material), arrived by post a few days back, and the timing couldn't be more perfect as I face the daunting task of packing my own library for a weekend move.

The book begins with the essay "Pinacographic Space," a Benjaminian reflection on the library and its uses, including the following speculative gem:

"As the library reaches after that phantom shelf, accumulating and aggregating, it extends not only its conceptual scope but its volumetric expanse as well. The collateral effect of the concept of a library is architectural colonization. Left unchecked, a library will venture wall-space in an horizontal sprawl and a stratifying climb. It will annex any likely surface and even essay a stake to entire rooms. A library is print in its gaseous state, filling every available space and then increasing pressurecompressing, rotating, double-shelvinguntil, according to the constant required by Boyle's Law, either the current container breaks, loosing books onto new shelves and stacks, or else the volume stabilises, stabilizing volume."

Dworkin recounts a conversation with a colleague (who, upon investigating Craig's library claims, "This is a very perverse library...Very perverse") in order to meditate on what might truly constitute a perverse library (rather than, say, perverse content). His opening gambit is a rumination on the possibility that the library is defined more by its exclusions than by what's on the shelves, making it a kind of micro-canonical argument by association: "The Perverse Library, accordingly, argues for a particular canon. An architectural plan, it maps a set of shelves rather than exhaustively cataloguing every printed possession."

And Dworkin provides such a plan by presenting two separate possible libraries: "A Perverse Library" and "The Perverse Library," each a carefully selected glimpse into his own shelves, selected by a criterion left to the reader's imagination. I found myself examining the list exhaustively in an effort to create a possible taxonomysomething that might betray the commonalities of this seemingly arbitrary bibliography. Which got me thinking that, as organizational strategies go, even the stack on the desk betrays a kind of discrete series, if only as evidence of one's current obsessions.

While there's a lot to think about here, I admit that my favorite moment is Craig's brave admission to huffing binding glue (an activity for which we apparently share an enthusiasm!):

"I am particularly drawn, with a sort of morose delectation, to a certain British binding glue, brittling even when it's new, which fumes in a deliciously overwhelming aerosol of kerosene and industry: first, a fugacious heady hydrocarbon rush of sinus linings flushed, mucus and natural oils vaporized in the vacuum flash of a chemical desiccant, and then, a long finish leaving the tingle of brain cells dying out along the fringes of the temple."

Essential for anyone interested in the possibilities of the archive...

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