Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Stunned by a Paragraph II


From The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel


But at night the atmosphere changes. Sounds become muffled, thoughts grow louder. "Only when it is dark does the owl of Minerva take flight," noted Walter Benjamin, quoting Hegel. Time seems closer to that moment halfway between wakefulness and sleep in which the world can be comfortably reimagined. My movements feel unwittingly furtive, my activity secret. I turn into something of a ghost. The books are now the real presence and it is I, their reader, who, through cabbalistic rituals of ­half-glimpsed letters, am summoned up and lured to a certain volume and a certain page. The order decreed by library catalogues is, at night, merely conventional; it holds no prestige in the shadows. Though my own library has no authoritarian catalogue, even such milder orders as alphabetical arrangement by author or division into sections by language find their power diminished. Free from quotidian constraints, unobserved in the late hours, my eyes and hands roam recklessly across the tidy rows, restoring chaos. One book calls to another unexpectedly, creating alliances across different cultures and centuries. A ­half-remembered line is echoed by another for reasons which, in the light of day, remain unclear. If the library in the morning suggests an echo of the severe and reasonably wishful order of the world, the library at night seems to rejoice in the world's essential, joyful ­muddle.



Read "Stunned by a Paragraph I"

2 comments:

Bear Me Out said...

It is good "to rejoice in the world's essential, joyful ­muddle." But it took me a few seconds to move beyond "my eyes and hands roam recklessly across the tidy rows, restoring chaos."

Alas, for roving, reckless hands!

Donald said...

Reckless, roving hands do indeed have their place. Amen to the joyful muddle they help maintain!