Libraries, Walks, Classes
It is Sunday again. The peepers are singing in the woods, and I am packing my library.
If you’ve never read Walter Benjamin’s essay “Unpacking My Library”, you are in for a real treat.
I am unpacking my library. Yes, I am. The books are not yet on the shelves, not yet touched by the mild boredom of order. I cannot march up and down their ranks to pass them in review before a friendly audience. You need not fear any of that. Instead, I must ask you to join me 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 me among piles of volumes that are seeing daylight again after two years of darkness, so that you may be ready to share with me a bit of the mood—it is certainly not an elegiac mood but, rather, one of anticipation—which these books arouse in a genuine collector. For such a man is speaking to you, and on closer scrutiny he proves to be speaking only about himself.
Packing my library is a painful exercise that arouses a certain melancholy. Each box feels like a living tomb. How am I supposed to put Virginia Woolf in a box? Henry Miller, Nabokov, and Philip Roth ended up together. That seemed easy enough. I kept Theodor Adorno far away from Benjamin, for my own sanity. I put Henry James in with Ann Lauterbach. Hannah Arendt has three boxes of her own, enough room for solitude to think and write. Emily Dickinson is enjoying the company of some wildlife books on flowers and birds. Rousseau is reading The History of the Whip, and I am letting John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, and Plato have it out on their own. Thomas Bernhard is with Ingeborg Bachmann, because that’s a conversation I want to hear, and Franz Kafka is writing a play with Bertolt Brecht.
I was reminded this week of the Borges essay, “The Library of Babel.” Another lovely read for your afternoon if you’re in a bookish mood.
Our libraries are so to speak prisons where we've locked up our intellectual giants, naturally Kant has been put in solitary confinement, like Nietzsche, like Schopenhauer, like Pascal, like Voltaire, like Montaigne...
And if you rather wander through some digital stacks, you can always look through Arendt’s library online here.
I hope you have a lovely week. Links to another walk and class on Origins are below.
Walking Tour of Hannah Arendt’s NYC
I am leading one more in-person guided walk of Hannah Arendt’s New York City on April 24th for the Goethe Institut.
May class on Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism
I am teaching Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism this May on Sunday afternoons from 3pm to 6pm EST. Join me from anywhere in the world to read Arendt’s masterpiece!