Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch

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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?
Tags: academy, everyday, theory

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