An Impossible Library

I’ve finally sat down with the final of Damian Murphy’s (widely-available) books, The Star of Gnosia, and the opening narrative, “The Imperishable Sacraments,” has already successfully returned me to a place that I find inspiring, rewarding, and in a way, like a home I forget that I miss. Detailing a few days in the life of an aimless gnostic wandering around and barely surviving in what seems to be an old city, the details that spark the most interest herein are when Murphy brings up impossible books. To illustrate the most vibrant example of this, allow me to quote below:

[…] There existed, deep within the hallowed halls of her own concealed church, a third order of the holy book. These consisted of texts which she had only encountered in dreams. They appeared upon the shelves of a particular bookstore, which, as with so many places which are located behind the veil of sleep, was arranged differently every time she found it. The shop would appear only after intensive, nearly desperate, searching. Once inside, it could not be mistaken for any other place; it was immediately recognizable despite its ever-shifting architecture.

There, she found books which she would have killed to hold within her hands if only it were possible. A book of palindromic poems by Jean Cocteau entitled The Mirror of Hesperides; James Joyce’s Abaddon, a vast and nearly fathomless tome following Ulysses and Finnegans Wake; a slender volume by Andre Gide in which the perverse adventures of an amnesiac are recounted in a series of seemingly unrelated vignettes; a deliciously neurotic narrative by T.S. Eliot, alternately titled The Rites of Babel and The Frayed Threads of Knossos. Anything might be found in this place, and yet the books which appeared there were invariably of a particular flavor, a particular essence, they bore a sacred character which bound them all to the hand of a single, nameless author.

Encountered this outside of my own lived experience, I wonder how many other folks with initiatory aspirations (those dedicated to the nature of the quest) might share similar dreams.

In 2017 I wrote of something similar, of having dreams of a bookstore over and over again, never the same, but always desperately desired, and always containing treasures I can’t even imagine in the world at large. I have had dreams again, as of late, but this time of libraries that contain these impossible volumes.

The way I evaluate a used bookstore I’ve never been in before is twofold: first, I am dependent upon labyrinthine organizational structures that I could never hope to truly understand, imperfections in shelf labels, a general refusal of being able to find a particular title one is looking for. Secondly, the bookstore will forever hold a place in my heart if, within its rows of shelves, I can encounter a book that strikes me as utterly important to own that I’ve never before even heard of. As someone who spends way too much time researching “things” that might appeal to my singular interests, the experience of finding something that seems to satisfy these drives that I have not formerly encountered in research is what continues to fuel my inherent drive.

Relatedly, becoming somewhat dissatisfied with my own library (in consideration of the excess therein), I undertook a project. The project has involved the beginning stages of separating books that are important to me as objects contra books that contain information I am interested in. Books that I have held on to for “information,” or even fictional or poetry books that I’ve enjoyed but hold no “aura” with whatever specific edition/copy of the book, can and should be replaced or discarded. Anything that I could find an electronic copy of (pdf, epub, mobi, whatever) that I held no material attachment to went into my “to sell” pile. The purging successfully eradicated 1/3rd of my library, which was the intention. It also had the added bonus, perhaps, of cohesively unifying my library into an even more esoteric presentation that before. There were some exceptions of course, as (for example) many of Bataille’s primary texts are available electronically, but even being contemporary TPB editions, those are words I do best with as printed matter.

I can’t claim to be heading anywhere with this rambling, other than to remind myself of that motivation across the board that has driven my existence such far, the thing that gives me true pleasure and meaning, the idea of the quest, continuing to search for something impossible. I feel like it behooves me to address these considerations regularly, especially when I start growing bored in whatever it is that I’m doing with my life, or forget why it is that I’ve chosen to do certain things.