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Libraries, literatures, and archives


Libraries, Literatures, and Archives

Not only does the library have a long and complex history and politics,
but it has also an ambivalent presence in Western culture—both as a site of
positive knowledge and as a site of error, confusion, and loss. Nevertheless,
in literary studies and in the humanities, including book history, the figure of
the library remains in many senses under-researched. Hence, this collection
brings together established and up-and-coming researchers from a number
of practices—literary and cultural studies, gender studies, book history, philosophy, visual culture, and contemporary art—with an effective historical
sweep ranging from the Classical era to the present day.
In the context of the rise of archive studies, this book attends specifically
and meta-critically to the figure of the library as a particular archival form,
considering the traits that constitute (or fail to constitute) the library as
institution or idea and questions its relations to other accumulative modes,
such as the archive in its traditional sense, the museum, or the filmic or
digital archive. Across their diversity, and in addition to their international
standard of research and writing, each chapter is unified by commitment to
analyzing the complex cultural politics of the library form.
Sas Mays is Senior Lecturer in Cultural and Critical Theory in the Department
of English, Linguistics, and Cultural Studies at the University of Westminster,

London. His overall research concerns mediations of cultural memory through
technological and archival forms, from the textual to the visual and the analogue to the digital.


Routledge Studies in Library and Information Science

1 Using the Engineering Literature
Edited by Bonnie A. Osif

6 Digital Scholarship
Edited by Marta Mestrovic Deyrup

2 Museum Informatics
People, Information, and
Technology in Museums
Edited by Paul F. Marty and
Katherine B. Jones

7 Serials Binding
A Simple and Complete Guidebook
to Processes
Irma Nicola

3 Managing the Transition from
Print to Electronic Journals and
Resources
A Guide for Library and
Information Professionals
Edited by Maria Collins and
Patrick Carr
4 The Challenges to Library
Learning
Solutions for Librarians
Bruce Massis

8 Information Worlds
Social Context, Technology, and
Information Behavior in the Age
of the Internet
Paul T. Jaeger & Gary Burnett
9 Perspectives on Information
Edited by Magnus Ramage and
David Chapman
10 Libraries, Literatures, and
Archives
Edited by Sas Mays

5 E-Journals Access and
Management
Edited by Wayne Jones

Previous titles to appear in Routledge Studies in Library and Information Science
include
Using the Mathematics Literature
Edited by Kristine K. Fowler

Global Librarianship
Edited by Martin A. Kesselman

Electronic Theses and Dissertations
A Sourcebook for Educators: Students,
and Librarians
Edited by Edward A. Fox

Using the Financial and Business
Literature
Edited by Thomas Slavens


Using the Biological Literature
A Practical Guide
Edited by Diane Schmidt

Electronic Printing and Publishing
The Document Processing Revolution
Edited by Michael B. Spring

Using the Agricultural,
Environmental, and Food Literature
Edited by Barbara S. Hutchinson

Library Information Technology
and Networks
Edited by Charles Grosch

Becoming a Digital Library
Edited by Susan J. Barnes
Guide to the Successful Thesis and
Dissertation
A Handbook for Students and Faculty
Edited by James Mauch


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Libraries, Literatures,
and Archives
Edited by Sas Mays


First published 2014
by Routledge
711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017
Simultaneously published in the UK
by Routledge
2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN
Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group,
an informa business
© 2014 Taylor & Francis
The right of the editor to be identified as the author of the editorial
material, and of the authors for their individual chapters, has been asserted
in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and
Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or
utilized in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now
known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in
any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing
from the publishers.
Trademark Notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or
registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation
without intent to infringe.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Libraries, literatures, and archives / edited by Sas Mays.
pages cm. — (Routledge studies in library and information science ; 10)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
1. Library science—Sociological aspects. 2. Library
science—Philosophy. 3. Information science—Sociological
aspects. 4. Information science—Philosophy. 5. Critical
theory. 6. Libraries—Philosophy. 7. Archives—
Philosophy. 8. Literature—Philosophy. 9. Books and reading—
Philosophy. 10. Collective memory. I. Mays, Sas, editor of
compilation.
Z665.L583 2014
020.1—dc23
2013028320
ISBN: 978-0-415-84387-4 (hbk)
ISBN: 978-0-203-75323-1 (ebk)
Typeset in Sabon
by Apex CoVantage, LLC


For Cassie


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Contents

List of Figures
Copyright Acknowledgments
Preface
Acknowledgements
Introduction: Unpacking the Library

xi
xiii
xv
xvii
1

SAS MAYS

1 Index

20

GEOFFREY BENNINGTON

2 ‘Under a Heap of Dust They Buried Lye, within a Vault
of Some Small Library’: Margaret Cavendish and the
Gendered Space of the Seventeenth-Century Library

40

EMILY BOWLES

3 Outside the Archive: The Image of the Library in Hitchcock

56

TOM COHEN

4 Reading in the Library of Catastrophe: W. G. Sebald’s
The Rings of Saturn

80

RICHARD CROWNSHAW

5 Agendas and Aesthetics in the Transformations of
the Codex in Early Modern England

97

ELIZABETH EVENDEN

6 Magical Values in Recent Romances of the Archive

115

SUZANNE KEEN

7 Classifying Fictions: Libraries and Information Sciences
and the Practice of Complete Reading
MICHELLE KELLY

130


x Contents
8 Autobiobibliographies: For Lovers of Libraries

150

MARTIN MCQUILLAN

9 ‘That Library of Uncatalogued Pleasure’: Queerness,
Desire, and the Archive in Contemporary Gay Fiction

164

KAYE MITCHELL

10 The Archive, the Event, and the Impression

185

SIMON MORGAN WORTHAM

11 Cataloguing Architecture: The Library of the Architect

202

ANDREW PECKHAM

12 Reading Folk Archive: On the Utopian Dimension
of the Artists’ Book

224

DAN SMITH

13 The Archive and the Library in V. Y. Mudimbe’s The Rift

239

WENDY W. WALTERS

14 Digital Libraries and Fantasies of Totality

257

ANDREW WHITE

Contributors
Index

276
281


Figures

3.1 Tobin’s library (Alfred Hitchcock, Saboteur)
3.2a Santa Rosa’s Free Public Library
(Alfred Hitchcock, Shadow of a Doubt)
3.2b The stack of first editions circled with the cord
(Alfred Hitchcock, Rope)
3.2c Scottie visits the Argosy Book Shop
(Alfred Hitchcock, Vertigo)
3.2d Cary Grant looks into the liquor cabinet
(Alfred Hitchcock, North by Northwest)
3.3a Norman’s leather bound diary
(Alfred Hitchcock, Psycho)
3.3b The fly on Norman’s hand in the police cell
(Alfred Hitchcock, Psycho)
3.3c The attack on the Schoolhouse
(Alfred Hitchcock, The Birds)
3.3d The evacuation of the eye socket and the home
(Alfred Hitchcock, The Birds)
3.4a Tracy is chased through the British Museum
(Alfred Hitchcock, Blackmail)
3.4b Tracy descends past the head of Nefertiti
(Alfred Hitchcock, Blackmail)
3.4c The dome of the British Library
(Alfred Hitchcock, Blackmail)
3.4d The reading room of the British Library
(Alfred Hitchcock, Blackmail)
3.5 Marks and gashes atomise the sky
(Alfred Hitchcock, The Birds)
3.6 Hitchcock’s interrupted reading on the Underground
(Alfred Hitchcock, Blackmail)
11.1 O. M. Ungers’s desk in his Studiolo
11.2 Fachhochschule Library, Eberswalde, corner detail

57
59
60
60
61
62
63
64
64
65
66
66
67
73
75
205
209


xii Figures
11.3

11.4
11.5

Bradenburg Technical University Information,
Communication and Media Centre, Cottbus,
façade (late afternoon)
Baden State Library, Karlsruhe, Reading Room
‘Model crates 2002’

211
215
217


Copyright Acknowledgments

Ch.1 This text originally appeared in Geoffrey Bennington, Legislations:
The Politics of Deconstruction (London: Verso, 1994), and is reproduced
with permission of the publisher.
Ch. 4 Excerpts from The Rings of Saturn by W. G. Sebald used in the U.S.
with permission of The Wylie Agency LLC. All rights reserved. This chapter
is a development of a section of Richard Crownshaw, The Afterlife of Holocaust Memory in Contemporary Literature and Culture (Basingstoke, UK,
and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), pp. 41–60, and is included here
by kind permission of the publisher.
Ch.12 Some material in this chapter was published as chapter 2 of Wendy
Walters, Archives of the Black Atlantic: Reading Between Literature and
History (London and New York: Routledge, 2013), and is included here
with the kind permission of the publisher.
Ch.14 This chapter significantly revises some material that first appeared
in Simon Morgan Wortham, Derrida: Writing Events (London and New
York: Continuum, 2008). It is included here by kind permission of Bloomsbury Publishing PLC.


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Preface

The object of this collection is ambivalence of the figure of the library, considered as the institutional form of the collection, ordering, and dissemination of texts, broadly thought, within cultural and critical practices of
various kinds in early modern to contemporary Western, and non-Western
culture. In this context, the library has been taken as a place of security—
a site for the collection of knowledge which remains stable, codified, and
determinate, but on the other hand, and at the same time, the library may
also appear as a complex, problematic, and recalcitrant object. As such an
ambivalent object, situated between order and disorder, the library may
appear within or between a series of oppositions: between the maintenance
of ideas and the mere accumulation of physical material, between imaginative or intellectual freedom and the ideological constraints of collections
policies, between private ownership and mass dissemination, between taxonomy and miscellany, and between the past and the future. The library may
appear not only as a place of memory, security, and knowledge, but also of
loss, trauma, and indeterminacy. Indeed, the library, considered in terms of
such ambivalences, has been an object of attention within a number of practices, disciplines, and areas of cultural study including, and other to, those
of book history, librarianship, and the professional practices of archiving.
Hence, the purpose of this collection is to stage a productive confrontation
between these disciplinary analyses and those of post-structuralist humanities, in order that the possibility of an ensuing dialogue might mutually
enrich an understanding of the historical and contemporary forms of the
accumulations of inscribed memory.


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Acknowledgements

This book results from a long process of gestation, development, and formal finalisation. Its origins are located in a colloquium that the editor of
this volume organised at the University of Westminster, titled ‘Literature
and the Library’, as part of the English Literature Colloquium series of the
Department of English, Linguistics and Cultural Studies, in the Faculty of
Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Westminster in 2006.
Thanks should be given, then, to the original speakers at the colloquium,
Gary Hall, Suzanne Keen, Colbey Emerson Reid, and Dan Smith; to the
supporting members of the department, Alex Warwick and David Cunningham; to Marq Smith and Jo Morra, for their contribution to the discussion; and to the Westminster Estates and Facilities staff who managed
the event.
Since that time, the development of the book was protracted by a
number of issues: the discompaction of some potential, but apparently
committed contributors; shifts in understanding of the technological, cultural, and political conditions of textually mediated knowledge, which
required further essays to be included or existing essays to be modified;
and the exigencies of life. In the period up to 2013, energies were required
by events brief and protracted, of personal, historical, and institutional
kinds—where there were sudden accidents and belated recognitions of
long-running programmes; where relationships were formed, dissolved,
and reconfigured; and where there were deaths, births, and survivals. In
this context, let me thank Rosalind Mays and Colin Duly, for their support and generosity in adverse and better times, particularly in the final
stages of editing. And let me thank, between the origination and finalisation of this collection, for the birth of my son, to whom this book is
dedicated, with my endless love.
Amid this scene of transformation, and given the protraction of the editing of this volume, I would also like to thank the early contributors to this
volume for their patience and dedication, and to thank all of the authors
included for their place in this text—because the process of collation and
editing has been one that has positively developed my understanding of


xviii Acknowledgements
the field of study under consideration in this book. I hope that this collection is as thought provoking and productive, and results in as many realisations and disagreements, for its readers, because it is designed to open
a continuing time and space of protracted and productive contestation in
which the past, present, and future of the library may be both thought and
practiced.


Introduction
Unpacking the Library
Sas Mays

CONTEXTS AND TERMS
This book is situated at the intersection of two academic domains that have
traditionally been separated: on one hand, post-structuralist cultural theories (or what has come to be termed more broadly ‘critical theory’), and on
the other, the professional practices of Libraries and Information Sciences
(LIS). The need for a dialogue between these domains has been asserted in
Gloria Leckie and John Buschman’s introduction to the edited collection
Critical Theory for Library and Information Science (2010). Here, critical
theory appears as a necessary supplement to LIS on three key counts: first,
the problematic disciplinary isolation of LIS as a practice-based activity;
second, the lack of a strong tradition of meta-theoretical discourse in LIS;
and third, its lack of critical engagement with contemporary sociopolitical
issues, such as the demand that libraries function according to neoliberal
economic imperatives. Indeed, Leckie and Buschman argue that because the
localised practices related to the development and management of textual
collections are located within wider ideological and economic structures, it
is imperative for LIS to theorise its relationships to, and its evaluation of,
such contexts.1
This collection stands in some relation to this demand for interdisciplinarity, by thinking that critical theory has something to offer to collections
practices. Yet such claims should be tempered in a number of ways. First,
it should be recognized that the professional practices of archiving have,
in some instances, already developed a sense of their own meta-theoretical
frameworks or have developed a critical relationship with post-structuralist
or postmodernist discourses. Such work should be recognised as a positive
resource for critical theory.2 Second, critical theories have often been remiss
in addressing the practical issues of collections practices, particularly as they
are conceived in LIS, even at the very moment that physical books and the
forms of their collection are invoked within such theories themselves. This
is a point that I discuss via Roland Barthes in the second, central section of
this introduction.


2 Sas Mays
Nonetheless, although it may be true that there has not been a consistent
attention to the kind of issues encountered by collections practices in critical
theory, various critical-theoretical discourses have engaged specifically with
issues concerning textual collections in a number of ways: through problems of taxonomy, for example, or of material accumulation. In this sense,
post-structuralist critical theory has been concerned with matters of practice, just as the seemingly merely practical activities of LIS have developed
theoretical frameworks. For this reason, we should no doubt be suspicious
of any too simplistic sense that the difference between critical theory and
LIS amounts to one between the theoretical and the practical. We might
certainly acknowledge that the emphasis of each domain has tended toward
one side of the polarity of theory and practice, in the context of the difference between, say, theories of taxonomy as they relate to shelf classification
and practices of taxonomy as they relate to theoretical discourse. Yet the
difference between critical theory and LIS may be thought of less as a matter
of essence and more as a matter of disposition, in which each activity has in
fact encroached on the other’s territory, if, often, in ways peculiar to their
own institutions and traditions. Hence, this book includes essays from the
disciplines of book history and LIS, yet it is also keen to show that even
the apparently most ‘theoretical’, deconstructive discourses are nevertheless
engaged with the practical issues of textual collections, just as much as
book history and shelf classification are engaged with wider cultural and
epistemological issues. Hence, Libraries, Literatures, and Archives aims to
contribute toward the developing dialogue between critical theory and LIS
by engaging with the representation of books and collections within literary and cultural texts through a number of critical perspectives across the
humanities—architecture, book history, film theory, libraries and information sciences, literary theory, philosophy, and postcolonial theory.
What these perspectives share, as the title of this collection suggests, is an
overriding concern with the complex relationships between material textual
holdings and the wider cultural practices and understandings within which
they are enmeshed. In this sense, the central term refers not only to literature
in the conventional sense of imaginative fiction; it also encompasses the ways
in which different cultural practices—architecture, for example—produce their
own meta-discourses as writings and that thus gesture toward their accumulation and collection in paper-based archives including libraries of various kinds.
Equally, cultural practices may reflect, consciously or unconsciously, on the
nature of such texts and holdings, and thus produce a literature of the library.
In this sense, cultural practices are not only generative of textual materials: they
also develop traditions that are themselves partly recorded as texts of various
kinds. Thus, as the final term of the title suggests, cultural practices not only
gesture toward particular libraries or ideas of libraries but also toward more
general considerations of technological-institutional forms of memory, and
thence to general theories of ‘the archive’, for example, as the overall system
that governs the production of knowledge in a given historical epoch.3


Introduction 3
Although the terms archives and libraries are sometimes used interchangeably, or in more or less metaphorical ways, it is important to note
that such terms may not, of course, be synonymous across different practices. For example, where libraries are thought in terms of the collection of
imaginative literary texts, such accumulation also requires non-imaginative
writings—catalogues and indices, as well as ordered records of acquisition,
maintenance, dissemination, and destruction. Such records of institutional
transaction, the sense in which the professional practice of archiving defines
the term archives, may thus not be equated with libraries as such, at least
insofar as they are defined by their content collection.
What then does it mean, in the title of this book, to refer to ‘libraries’?
The term in part designates particular, empirical, or historical instantiations
of textual collections, traditionally comprising scrolls, tablets, codices, and
other textual forms. Yet, as much as the term implies differences between
such institutions that might be specified historically, geographically, and
technologically, it designates a set of institutional forms brought together
by their function; that is, there is also a shared, generic character. Likewise,
if the term the library can refer to a specific architectural, institutional collection or set of collections of texts, however dispersed, it can also refer to
a generic set of characteristics shared by different libraries based in the idea
of ordered accumulations of texts. We might say, pragmatically, that there
are particular libraries and that there is an idea of ‘the library’ in its generic
sense. However, just as we have to problematise the difference between theory and practice, in terms of a simple opposition between critical theory
and LIS, we need also to problematise this apparent difference between the
empirical and ideational. Simply put, specific conceptions of libraries partake of a general idea of the library, as much as generic conceptions of the
library are formed within specific historical and cultural locations in which
there are forms of libraries. Indeed, generic conceptions of the library are
always specific to general discursive frameworks that are themselves historically, culturally, and politically located.
Thus, the question of what it means to refer to libraries, or the library,
should also be rephrased as a matter of historical situatedness. This collection is focused, although not exclusively, on codexical forms and on libraries
considered in their traditional senses as the place of the accumulation, ordering, and dissemination of such paper-based texts.4 There might appear to be
a difficulty with this focus, given that this is a time when traditional forms
of writing and storage seem to be in a process of destabilization, transition,
or displacement, conditioned by the apparent ascendency of digital forms
of textual inscription, accumulation, and transmission. Both the positive
and negative dimensions of an end of the paper-based codex, and its forms
of collection, have been variously argued through elsewhere, just as there
have been many affirmative and negative valorisations of digital forms of
writing and accumulation more generally. Equally, between these positions,
there have been calls for hybridised forms of publication and storage that


4 Sas Mays
would combine both paper-based and digital modes.5 What this scene of
contestation should be taken to indicate is that both libraries, as institutional
and cultural forms, and concepts of the library, as themselves institutional
and cultural forms, have always existed within historical and technological processes, despite relative periods of stasis. Specific collections of texts
based on changing technologies of inscription and taxonomical systems
have partially accumulated, periodically stabilised, decayed or dispersed,
and reemerged in other collections, just as generic ideas of the library have
been subject to their own mutational existence. Indeed, in this sense, an
original or final form of the book or the library has never been constructed,
and never will be: textual forms, and their forms of collection, are always
embedded in processes of transition.

THE BOOK AND THE LIBRARY IN RUINS
If libraries, and the library, have always existed in processes of transition,
such processes have concerned, particularly since the Renaissance, the wider
ideological and economic structures of capitalism. Indeed, understanding
the contemporary situation of capitalism is precisely Leckie and Buschman’s
requirement, with which we began. In order to provide some coordinates for
thinking about books and their collection in the historical and contemporary
scenes of capitalism, I would like now to discuss a number of analyses from
Roland Barthes, Walter Benjamin, and Jacques Derrida, precisely because,
in their complexity, they come to indicate and underscore the transitionality
and complexity of libraries, and of the library.
In his essay ‘From Work to Text’, Roland Barthes describes two ways of
thinking about writing. On one hand, the text is understood to be characterised by an endless process of signification that cuts across and transgresses the
boundaries of literary classifications such as genre. These kinds of classifications are, for Barthes, signs of the bourgeois desire for order, regulation, and
the circulation of determinate commodities. On the other hand, and against
such determinacy, the text is said to transgress the form of the work, an object
of authorial property attached to the material form of the book and its traditional mode of collection. As Barthes puts it:
the work is a fragment of substance, occupying a part of the space of
books (in a library for example), the Text is a methodological field.
The opposition may recall (without at all reproducing term for term)
Lacan’s distinction between ‘reality’ and ‘the real’: the one is displayed,
the other demonstrated; likewise, the work can be seen (in bookshops,
in catalogues, in exam syllabuses), the text is a process of demonstration, speaks according to certain rules (or against certain rules); the
work can be held in the hand, the text is held in language, only exists in
the movement of a discourse (or rather, it is Text for the very reason that


Introduction 5
it knows itself as text); the Text is not the decomposition of the work,
it is the work that is the imaginary tail of the Text; or again, the Text is
experienced only in an activity of production. It follows that the Text
cannot stop (for example on a library shelf); its constitutive movement
is that of cutting across (in particular, it can cut across the work, several
works)’.6
The book, held systematically in ‘catalogues’ and physically in ‘bookshops’,
is not only placed, as a commodity, within the market: it is also represented in
‘exam syllabuses’, and it is thus implicated, for Barthes, within the dominant
education system. It hence gestures toward the role played by realist literature
in the French state education system, and in the bourgeois legal system, in the
short essay ‘Dominici, or the Triumph of Literature’. As Barthes argues in this
piece, a peasant farmer, Gaston Dominici, is wrongly convicted of the murder
of Sir Jack Drummond and his family by ascribing to him spurious stereotypes garnered from literary texts. Such fictional texts, shared by the court
officials through their education, operate as a common understanding for real
human psychology, and are deployed as part of the official legal process in a
way that is clearly socially divisive and repressive.7 Barthes’s discussion thus
involves the not only the bourgeois education system that privileges such literary works and their psychological and ideological values, but also issues
of national canon, and the libraries in which such canonical texts are conserved. Yet if this reminds us of the ideological dimensions of textual culture,
Barthes’s comparison of the text and the book also enables further questions
to be raised: should we not consider the book and its forms of collection as
complex things, rather than merely as the normalising classification of commodities, and consequently, should they not be understood to be conditioned
by the complex and transgressive character accorded, by Barthes, to what he
calls the ‘text’?
It is precisely the complexity and ambivalence of the book and its collection which is raised by Walter Benjamin, in his 1931 essay ‘Unpacking
My Library’. Benjamin begins by asking that the reader ‘join [him] in the
disorder of crates that have been wrenched open, the air saturated with the
dust of wood, the floor covered with torn paper, to join [him] among piles
of volumes that are seeing daylight again after two years of darkness’, prior
to the moment when the books are ‘on the shelves’, and are thus ‘touched by
the mild boredom of order’.8 Thus far, there seems to be some comparability
to Barthes’s association of shelf order and classification with stifling norms,
yet Benjamin complicates such an association in reference to ‘the confusion
of the library’ and ‘the dialectical tension between disorder and order’.9 As
he also says:
Every passion borders on the chaotic, but the collector’s passion borders
on the chaos of memories. More than that: the chance, the fate, that suffuse the past before my eyes are conspicuously present in the accustomed


6 Sas Mays
confusion of these books. For what else is this collection than a disorder
to which habit has accommodated itself to such an extent that it can
appear as order?10
In this context of the problematic relationship between opposites, it is
hardly contingent that Benjamin should, apparently without cause, as he
says:
put my hands on two volumes bound in faded boards which, strictly
speaking, do not belong in a book case at all: two albums with stick-in
pictures which my mother pasted in as a child and which I inherited.
They are seeds of a collection of children’s books which is growing
steadily even today, though not in my garden. There is no living library
that does not harbour a number of booklike creations from fringe areas.
They need not be stick-in albums or family albums, autograph books or
portfolios containing pamphlets or religious tracts; some people become
attached to leaflets and prospectuses, others to handwriting facsimiles
or typewritten copies of unobtainable books; and certainly periodicals
can form the prismatic fringes of a library.11
Benjamin’s albums, indicating something about the familial and, indeed,
gendered milieu of books and knowledge, appear outside strict classification, and, hence, partially outside the remits of (the body of) the library
proper. Yet, in their ubiquity to ‘any living library’, they are also within it.
They are both internal to and transgressive of the library in classificatory
terms. In their liminality, which is also somewhere between text and image,
these quasi-books from the fringes of the library thus represent something
of an objectification of the complexity of the book and the library in general
that Benjamin posits in his essay.
Benjamin’s liminal book-like object, acquired through inheritance, appears
to contrast with the essay’s otherwise preeminent concern with the financial acquisition of books, their collection in a private library, and the sense
of subjectivity which may be constructed through such possession. Yet, as
Benjamin says, ‘a collector’s attitude toward his possessions stems from an
owner’s feeling of responsibility toward his property. Thus it is, in the highest
sense, the attitude of an heir, and the most distinguished trait of a collection will always be its transmissibility’.12 This sense of responsibility engages
with capitalism as a system that emphasizes the construction of individuality
through property ownership, if in a way that is designed to develop (and
problematise) some kind of redemption from its bourgeois character. In this
regard, one of the central metaphors which determines Benjamin’s thought of
the relation between the ownership of books and subjectivity in ‘Unpacking
My Library’ is, I think, provided by Hegel’s articulation of the supremacy
of Prussian capitalism, of its bourgeois culture, and of the laws regulating
the relation between the individual and the state, in the Philosophy of Right


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