Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Infinite Library

This was originally posted on my other blog, Notes on Books and Other Things, on January 12, 2013. That blog still exists, but I'm trying to condense all my blogs here because I like this one best and it makes sense to me.
I should probably tell you why this blog is located at, why it is my infinite library, and what an infinite library is.

I don't have all the answers. That's what an infinite library is not.

In fact, my infinite library is very different from other infinite libraries. It's a concept that was introduced to me by a professor from Germany who taught a course called Modernism and Beyond in European and World Literature to me when I studied abroad at Universiteit Maastricht in the Spring semester of 2012.

I liked this professor because he knew we would not like everything we read in his class, and he did not ask us to like it or even try to like it--he only asked us to try to appreciate it and learn from it, and to try to understand why we did or did not like each book we read. What all did we read? Gosh... DemianNadjaTo the LighthouseHeart of Darkness, "The Wasteland," "Waiting for Godot," Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man... perhaps something else. That sounds comprehensive to me. Perhaps I'll talk about those books later. Demian in particular changed the way I look at the world, and it was fantastic. I regret that the books were provided by the school and I did not get to keep my notes.

In any case, the professor presented in passing an idea he called the infinite library, and which I have probably revised since hearing it. This idea is the biggest thing I garnered from this class, and has changed my world view more than anything we read or anything else we talked about. I vaguely remember him crediting this idea to T.S. Eliot, but have found nothing to support that. There is apparently an infinite library concept introduced by Terry Pratchett, but it is rather different insofar as I can tell. The infinite library as I think of it is this:

When you are born, your infinite library is essentially empty. It is an infinite room full of infinite shelves full of no books at all. From that point on, every single thing you hear, taste, smell, read, touch, or experience becomes a book in your infinite library--but each book is not free-standing. Oh, no! Each book is affected by every single other book already in your infinite library, and as your infinite library grows, everything you experience thus become deeper and more multi-layered and more meaningful, more connected. In the physical world, a poem is the same every time someone reads it. The words stay the same in spelling, meaning, order, and juxtaposition; the punctuation is constant; the number of lines is unchanged; and so on. But the infinite library is another matter! In the infinite library, every time you read the same poem, an entirely new book is added to your infinite library, because it was an entirely different experience for you. Even if nothing else has changed, the second time you read it you already know how it is going to end--and more than likely, other things have changed. You may have undergone more and more varied struggles, you may have fallen in love, you may have read another book--and so this new experience of reading it is separate from the first and any other previous times you may have read it.

This can be applied to anything, not just literature--when I rode carousels as a child it was for the novelty alone; now it is for the novelty as well as for the nostalgia, and when I do I think of the carousel I rode in Paris and how it was next to a beignet stand and it was a foggy day; how all the horses on the Disneyland carousel are white so children don't fight over them; how Griffith Park refuses to accept help to refurbish their carousel; how I used to be a member of the Santa Monica carousel when I was very little, and once met Sean Penn and his kid there; what my own carousel would be like if I had one--you can have your very own for just over five hundred thousand dollars! (I know, I know... I can't afford that either)... and so on.

Anyhow, that is that. I don't know how much I'll talk about the infinite library on this blog, but I talk about it a lot in real life, so there you have it.

Happy New Year!


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