13
Jan 05

Defaced

The Brown Wedge • 975 views

Defaced

I’ve always been in two minds (ha ha Janus-faced) about writing in books. On the one hand I’m suspicious of the fetishism of trying to keep a page clean, rather than treating a book as a machine for thinking (and for living, which is pretty much the same thing), as an external harddrive for our own memory. But I abhor writing in library books, which makes them a machine for not reading, as it becomes impossible to read without reading the marginalia, or to scan a page picking up only what’s been underlined by someone smarter, or dumber, or just with a different agenda to your own. I’m intrigued by the possibility of palimpsest, of rewriting the text, and of layering your own revisionings on each visit to a book, and fascinated by the chance to confront your own earlier thoughts as alien and obscure: why did that matter then? Who was I? Yet it can be shaming and embarrassing to do so. No really, what was I thinking? So I rarely mark up books unless I am working on them for a particular project, and with deadlines looming, it’s become a necessary shortcut for my current project. But on picking up my copy of Dialectic of Enlightenment (the new & improved translation, in a beautiful Stanford UP edition) this morning, to be confronted with the ugly scrawl of pencil underlinings, I felt an intense sense of melancholy. I’d forgotten they were there, and it felt as if I had vandalised my own possessions.

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