Friday, December 03, 2010

Pulled from my shelves #11: “I cannot sleep unless I am surrounded by books”

I dream of bookstores. I dream of finding the perfect bookstore, the oneric storehouse of all the volumes which I knew existed just beyond my fingertips. As I travel and explore corporeal bookshops, I always compare them (unfavorably) to my bibliophillic dreamscapes.

Certainly there are a few stores which hint at the possibilities like déjà vu or a faintly remembered conversation: Montreal's The Word, Vancouver's Pulp Fiction, Halifax’s John W. Doull, Bookseller and Washington, D.C.'s Bridge Street Books all suggest the ante-chambers of my imagined bookshops, but even these are merely appetizers for my yearned-for main course.

Jorge Luis Borges famously said that "I have always imagined that Paradise will be some kind of library" and while I agree with him; bookstores haunt my dreams. It not unusual for me to dream of nondescript doors that open onto disheveled stacks and shelves, piles of maps and chapbooks, garret rooms of obscure titles and rarely-seen folios. While Borges believed that "I cannot sleep unless I am surrounded by books,” I often dream that I am surrounded by books.
But the bookstores in my dreams are not filled with the stock of your average retailer. Instead they inevitably contain eccentric books I’ve heard of but never held (Luigi Serafini’s Codex Seraphinianus for example); fantastic tomes mentioned in literature (Silas Haslam’s History of the Land Called Uqbar for example); and implausible volumes (hoped for collections previously unpublished work by Italo Calvino for example). All of these volumes are gathered in impossible bookshops which stand around the corner of my own daydream streetscapes.

Parasitic Ventures Press’s Lost Book Series has published 5 of those impossible texts – each tantalizingly out of reach. The series includes Edward Gibbon’s The History of Democracy in Switzerland (destroyed after poor reception on initial drafts), William Shakespeare's Love’s Labour Won (a known, but unfound sequel to Love’s Labour Lost); Confucius’s The Book of Music (a lost member of his “6 books” now claimed to be completely fanciful); T. S. Eliot’s Literature and Export Trade (edited into an unrecognizable shape) and Mikhail Bakhtin’s The Bildungsroman and its Significance in the History of Realism.

Bakhtin’s volume is the triumph of the series. At the outset of World War 2, the manuscript of The Bildungsroman and its Significance in the History of Realism safely existed in 2 copies. Knowing that the working copy of the manuscript was safely protected at his Moscow publish, Bakhtin repurposed his copy as cigarette paper, and dutifully smoked his manuscript. Unbeknownst to him, his Moscow publisher Sovetsky pisatel – and the only extant copy of the manuscript – was destroyed in the siege of Moscow.

Of course, the ironic thing about dreaming of bookshops and impossible oeuvres is that it is impossible to read in dreams. In dreams books are merely the shells of themselves; the point to “bookness” but do not hold the texts for which my mind searches. In our oneric nighttime escapades, we may be able to accomplish any myriad of impossible feats but we cannot read. Text is just beyond the threshold of our minds’ eye. (the next time you recall your dreams, try to focus on any text you encountered)

Parasitic Ventures press hasn’t performed an unlikely feat of literary archaeology in republishing these lost classics however. The books are blurred beyond the threshold of readability. You can polish your glasses, or tease out the range of your bifocal vision as much as you’d like; the texts are nothing more than horizontal layers of smoke.

The Matrix may be able to cast us into convincing landscapes but its ability for detail only reaches to a minimal level; text floats in a grey shifting field. Newspaper headlines may be needed for a realistic street scene, but the articles under those headlines are washed out.

Parasitic Ventures press has plucked a talisman from my dreams, a symbol of the limits of my own subconscious and given it form, taunting me with the physical reminder that my dream volumes will always remain unreadable.

Author of five books of poetry (most recently the visual poem suite silence), three volumes of conceptual fiction (most recently the short fiction collection How to Write) and over 150 chapbooks, derek beaulieu’s work is consistently praised as some of the most radical and challenging contemporary Canadian writing. A collection of his critical writing entitled "Seen of the Crime" is forthcoming from Snare Books. He is online here. You can read "Nothing Odd Can Last," from How To Write, here


Natalie said...

you should go to Powell's Books in Portland...

Esspweb said...

Well Natalie you are right.