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De File
Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
Cake Taken
Every now and then professors in my building will place stacks of books they no longer want in the hall outside their offices with a "Free" note attached to the box or the wall above. Being the sort of person I am, I scour these piles for something worth taking. Surprisingly, I don't end up taking that many. My interests apparently diverge rather sharply from that of my colleagues who prune their libraries. Today I had confirmation of this distinction when I walked by a newly set out box of books that contained a copy of Djuna Barnes's Nightwood -- which, to be fair, might have been rendered extraneous by a newer edition -- and three books of theory: Jane Flax's Disputed Subjects: Essays on Psychoanalysis, Politics and Philosophy; What's Left of Theory?, a collection of essays from the English Institute featuring Michael Bérubé, Gayatri Spivak, Michael Warner, Jeff Nunokawa, and Jonathan Culler; and Judith Butler's The Psychic Life of Power.

I could never imagine giving these books up, even if I had multiple copies, which, in the case of those last two books, I now do. I like to lend books to students, but have learned never to lend my sole copy, since I often do not get books back for a long time, if ever. It's also handy to have books you use regularly at both home and work, as I do with some of my Karl Marx and Walter Benjamin texts, so that they are available for consultation or spur-of-the-moment photocopying. So I will gladly keep What's Left of Theory? and the Butler book, which derives from the material she taught in the seminar I took with her, here in my office. The thing that puzzles me most about these discards is that, while those last two don't appear to have been touched, the Jane Flax book was clearly read carefully all the way through, because it is underlined and annotated with plenty of marginalia. Why would anyone give away a book so vigorously personalized?

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Current Location: 85721
Mode: itchy with a "B"
Muse: the tree being blown against my window

7 comments or Leave a comment
From: batdina Date: May 22nd, 2006 08:30 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
well, I think I can see giving up the Barnes ... assuming it was a dupe, but the others? not so much.

and having left the academy in any strict sense a very long time ago, I still pick up theory on a regular basis.

and like Kim, I have buttloads of books that they'll take from me once I'm dead, and not a moment before.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: May 22nd, 2006 09:41 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Precisely. One wonders. . . Actually, I don't wonder. I know. But that's a tale for another time and place!
From: batdina Date: May 22nd, 2006 11:04 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
so when are you all here so you can tell me that tale?
icetulip From: icetulip Date: May 22nd, 2006 08:44 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Even though I don't have an extensive library of theory and academic texts (yet), I regret loaning out personal (non-academic) favorites, such as Olivia Judson's Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation - it's a really fun evolutionary biology book that treats sexual selection and animal behavior in a digestable, popular format. I loaned that out to a classmate, and never got it back. Lesson learned. Who was it that said "Neither a borrower nor a lender be"?
hollsterhambone From: hollsterhambone Date: May 22nd, 2006 09:05 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I never lend my books unless I am okay with never getting the lent books back. Basically I say "loan" but what I really mean is "gift." And I hardly ever lend. Ever. I'm covetous. I'm sure that's a deadly sin?

That's an odd act--getting rid of books that have been heavily annotated. Sometimes I look in Bookman's for heavily annotated texts, just so I can have something interesting to read while I'm reading.
jakemacalister From: jakemacalister Date: May 22nd, 2006 09:52 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I have a strict policy about lending as well. I haven't lost any books as yet (knock on wood). I have HAD to fight with students to get my stuff back especially if they had made copious notes in the margin (another point of piss-off). I still have my expensive Faerie Queene and Tragedy of Miriam out because the student is working on her project paper. Also, most of my Queer Theory books get borrowed a lot which makes me happy but nervous about the returns.

I have felt as you when I have been lucky enough to go through Prof's books. When my advisor retired, I was allowed to go through his castoffs before anyone else which made me feel honored.

My friend Mindy and I had this conversation I love books that others have written in because it's like reading over their shoulders. She hates books that others have written in or owned because she wants it all fresh and new (virginal?)

Yet, some books NEVER get loaned out especially books from my project papers.
From: bobo_amargo Date: May 22nd, 2006 11:27 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Happy v. Unhappy Families?

Though I no longer know what can and cannot be "done" (as Henry James would use the word) in the humanities in academe, I know as sure as the phallicized nose on my face that you can't just yet set Judith Butler out with the "trash" without speaking volumes: you're in the business of making a gesture. By the Freudian rule of negation, your psychic life is firmly in the grip of the power of the theory you resisted, but never exorcised.

I'll never forget the drabbest thing I ever heard Donald Davidson, whom I generally found immensely charming and sophisticated (and, it goes without saying, as brilliant as his world-renowned reputation made him out to be), say. "Some folk seem to believe that there's some specter of anxiety that permeates philosophy. Ha, ha. Maybe. I never felt any." (Of course, he said this without mentioning Heidegger's name, a preterition that made the designation all the more clear.) Not unlike G. W. Bush's response to the reporter who asked about the state of the domestic economy: "Laura and I are doing fine!"
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