Monday, April 9, 2018

Marginalia

By
Kathryn A. Kopple







Libraries are predicated on a silence of a specific kind, and not simply the absence of  noise.  Libraries are places of quietude. The "Library Quiet Policy" of Kenyon College provides the following Introduction:   "... we affirm the principle that libraries need especially quiet, comfortable, well-lit places for reading, writing, and contemplation."  A library may be far removed from a monastery but a cloister still.  A good bit of writing about libraries involves readers' enthusiasms (one would go so far as their passions).  Reading may be a passion but contemplation belongs to the mind.  At the library entrance, we are asked to check our coats, bags, and bodies at the door.

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Another kind of library is less rigorous when it comes to conduct, but no less conducive to the rigors of thought.  Poe's "book closet," for example.  The library as "closet" serves the writer well, conjuring a dark, closed space (suitably oppressive thanks to additional touches of murk and gloom.)  In this closed-off place, every attempt is made to distinguish and confuse the library "closet" with a somewhat more regal closet--or, "boudoir."  No matter, the issue at hand is secrecy, not intimacy.  A person must live in a world of high-stakes secrecy to be able to hide an object of inestimable value in plain sight.  Words carry terrible consequences, and an unfaithful reader is the most dangerous sort.  The book closet is rife with games, puzzles, and intrigue--and through it all Poe manages to serve up a lesson or two, advising his readers that a job brillantly done deserves far more than a merely just reward.

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It has been said the human in us craves stories, which makes us natural readers.  Narrative animals.  Perhaps then, the library--with its quietude--is as Kafka would have it a kind of burrow.  We settle in with our work, continuously tunneling our way through the stacks, thwarting off any threat of an ending.  This interior library, like the burrow, is by whim or magic or necessity unfinished (in other words, infinite).  The point of constructing the library is not to finish but, as Kafka repeatedly urges us, to keep going. 

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