Return to the Infinite Library (Notes)

Where I attempt to extend some Tweets into a longer piece.

From Jorge Luis Borges, "On the Cult of Books". Photo CC-BY Ernesto Priego, translation copyright Eliot Weinberger, 1984

“A book, any book, is for us a sacred object”

-Jorge Luis Borges, “On the Cult of Books”, 1951

I grew up in a house full of books. The more books we had access to the more books we knew we did not have. We were very privileged to have that kind of scarcity. My parents’ material wealth was their personal library, and their inheritance was a love for reading and a love for books (and other published, printed stuff).

One book leads to other books; other books to even more books. It never ends. Libraries and the Web are gateways, maps, templates, enablers. Growing up with scarcity of information (because reading a book was a means of realising how many other books you had to read) made me seek libraries like shelters.

I suppose nowadays it is possible to love reading without having to love the ‘physical’ artifacts that used to be equated with books. Print does not equal reading now. A book is more than the material device in which one reads. I do most of my reading on screens these days, and as a student I could not afford to buy many books. Libraries and the Web kept my hunger satiated. At the same time, libraries made me perpetually hungry for more information and more books.

I have started buying printed publications again, and I have been thinking again about what it means to be a reader, what the function of libraries and book shops and printed matter is in a time in which digital information is semi-ubiquitous.

I don’t like not knowing. Recently I have been thinking it must have something to do with growing up knowing there was always something you *had* to know and that you could miss out on. Life becomes an endless research exercise, an ongoing process of discovery, compilation, organisation and sharing of resources for later reading.

I wonder what it would be like to take access to a wealth of information resources for granted.

I think of Borges, blind, and his love for writing and reading, in the middle of an infinite library.

Would the “total” library exist if all of it could be read?

Or is the very “essence” (excuse the term) of book loving and collecting defined by the limitations to have it all?

What is curation if not, also, a way of reading a collection (a universe) and organising it in a way that it is accessible to the human mind?

Is curation a kind of reading and writing based on preexisting materials, a creative act humbled by the overwhelming amount of work that has already been done by other people?

I am aware these questions go in different directions. These are notes on scraps. I send them out before they disappear.