The Daughter of the Great Library
Shortly after his death in 1994, almost the totality of volumes that comprised a body of around two thousand books and which took him sixty years to collect, gradually disappeared. Titles and topics ranged, as I remember, from Eastern and Western philosophies, theology, ancient civilizations, puppetry, drama, art and psychoanalysis. The latent pathos of its progressive disappearance prompts today a response after all these years as to what the collection meant and currently means by revisiting the volumes that remain as a brief section and sample of the whole library, as a fragment and a part, as the daughter of the great library.
I remember past experiences with the lost books. I remember past experiences with these remaining volumes. I remember walking and wandering through corridors stacked with them in old wooden libraries and grey metal shelves, as our house and the domestic space with its common areas and rooms was conditioned and even shaped by the notorious presence of all those neatly-cluttered shelves. I remember stumbling or searching, passing and thumbing, and the sense of wonderment and fascination when looking at the grainy black and white photographs of rehearsing actors and vehement directors on the stage; the pallium’s drapery, intricate and rich, of classical antiquity’s Greek figures and statues; the saints, martyrs and patrons of early Flemish paintings with their lusciously cracked pale skins and long limbs; the Balinese masks, all the books’ spines and Oscar Wilde’s hands. I remember the sense of awe and even shock when gazing at those firstly seen uncanny gestures and body raptures of people in trance or under the influence, “psychotropic trances“ he would say, “the experience of magic and divinity” he would add. Dans des cas d’hystérie collective particulièrement prononcés (autrefois appelée «possession») la conscience et les perceptions sensorielles ordinaires semblent subir un éclipse. Book as Object, Book as Image, Book as Text, a combination and permutation of all of them.
Weeks after his passing away all books and shelves were stacked in one single room. I remember going through the neatly-cluttered old wooden libraries and grey metal shelves. I remember hiding, I remember keeping, I remember stacking. A Streetcar Named Desire. Long Day’s Journey Into Night. The Complete Works of Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde: Stories, Plays, Poems and Essays. Diccionario Manual Griego Español VOX. Hellas: Land und Volk der alter Griechen. Hamlet and Oedipus. What Happens in Hamlet? The Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English. A worn-out-duct-taped Nouveau Petit Larousse. J’aime le Théâtre. L’Homme et ses Symboles. Le Rhinocéros. Le Miroir de la Magie: Histoire de la Magie dans le Monde Occidental. Dance and Drama in Bali. The Ignored Presence of God. Man’s Search for Meaning. La Música Callada. El Libro del Té. El Hombre que Sabía Demasiado. And then, the room was empty and almost the totality of volumes that comprised a body of around two thousand books and which took him sixty years to collect, finally disappeared.
Later in time, in an attempt to trace the whereabouts of all those books, even if they were various, even if they were scattered or separate, I’ve asked her many times who has them, where are they and many times I’ve been given the response: I don’t remember.
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The Daughter of the Great Library is rooted in accounts on personal history, experience, memory and imagination. Its title is a historical reference to the remnant which under the same name existed as an extension of the Library of Alexandria after its sack and destruction. It oscillates between notions of impermanence and cycles, absence and uncertainty as opposed to evidence and legacy with a futuristic take of what still remains, as a rich trace and vestige and as ground for research, experimentation and play. Book as Object, Book as Image, Book as Text, a combination and permutation of all of them.