Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Deja fu {deja lu II}

The idea had been to write a short essay on: can you tell a man from his books? It soon became permutations of sub-questions, such as separating possession from reading, which led to a stodgy outline.

The plan is to leave the "references" where they are but to work up the ideas in stages, adding in the links from Deja lu as and when. None of this is going to be original: it has all been done before a thousand times, but I want to run through it myself, adding as many links as possible. What seemed wrong was to expect to be able to do it in one go, from a basic outline: why not in comfortable stages? We have the technology.

Here, all I plan to say is I came across a hardcopy of the May 2003 The Atlantic Monthly, Hitler's Forgotten Library, while doing yet another severe cul of newspaper cuttings: a sort out. I don't want to become like that interesting guy in the TV progamme about New York, on BBC a week ago. The authorities had to come into his apartment to throw away his papers and magazines because they were, they considered, a fire risk. The tristesse comes in imagining someone coming into your own place, after you are dead, and throwing it all away anyway. Why not do it yourself, so that what is left is a representative sample of who you are. It might give someone who had a feeling to do so, an easier way to figure who you were. This means, at my stage in life, getting rid of many books that I have till now clung on to like this man clung to his papers and mags. In the process of boiling eveything down, you are asking yourself the old questions : What really matters to me?; What really matters?.

See it? He was asked whether the floor-to-ceiling collection was a family thing. No. The answer was, rather, in the simple statement: {paraphrased} "You don't know when you might want to read something." He didn't strike me as being mentally ill. Gentle, reserved, lucid. The lady in charge of the disposal job, clearly chosen for her sympathetic way with hoarders, did not condemn him for his eccentric behaviour. She seemed quite interested in this particular type of human behaviour. I've been reading about the history of reading and writing! Imagine hoarders when all they had were little clay tablets. Was Moses a hoarder? Did he get the Commandments muddled up? Did he misplace the one's he really wanted?

A short-story or short film worked up in my mind as I watched the programme. I felt perfectly in tune with the old fella. I knew exactly how his mind worked, and saw that the removal men just didn't get it: they probably read a little, but were people who didn't values words highly, or see their significance in the way that he did. They could see he had an overwhelming need but not exactly what it was: to be able to suddenly say: "I need an article on this subject I have started thinking about" and find something, somewhere, just right, to help him. I wonder if he ever wrote anything? I would really like to know who he is, if he's still alive.

Even people who an afford to buy many books to form personal libraries keep some cuttings and magazines. This man formed a library solely of newspapers and magazines, probably because he couldn't afford to do it any other way.


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