One Man's Trash

I had determined to begin my dissertation in earnest today, rather than blogging it a piece at a time in the hopes that each night some little Dissertation-Elves might come and cobble it together whilst I slept. I have written on encyclopedism, novels, Tristram Shandy, Clarissa, Tom Jones, and The Female Quixote; I have engaged Marshall McLuhan on generic mediation and considered the rise or emergence narratives of McKeon, Warner, Hunter, and Watt (for most of these I might as well just have read Reeve's Progress of Romance). I have noted that most leave Tristram out of their theorizations or give it little attention, despite the depth of that work's involvement in novelistic discourse. I have considered the roles of bastardry, inheritance, and gender in the generic formulation and posterity of the novel. And as soon as I opened Word to put virtual pen to paper, I fell subject to the Stooges Syndrome--everything trying to cram its way through the door at once, preventing anything getting through at all. All I have to do is everything; but where do you start a circle?

As if in sympathy with my state, Word began to crash. And crash, and crash, and crash. So while I wait for my computer to slog its way through a complete scan in search of a virus that probably isn't responsible, I thought I'd offer a note on the above--a picture of one volume of an incomplete set of the Complete Works of Charles Dickens that I rescued from the street this weekend. I have recovered fifteen volumes of at least twenty, and though as you can see they're mostly in a fairly sorry state I couldn't bear to see them hauled off to the dust-heap. The set is by Colonial Press, Inc., out of Clinton, Mass., and could be from sixty to more than a hundred years old. Colonial doesn't exist anymore, and their demise largely withered the town of Clinton, but the press was at one point one of the largest on the East Coast and was apparently the first to put the Warren Commission Report into public hands.

I am no Dickens scholar, whatever the MLA might reflect, and if I get a chance to read for pleasure again in my lifetime I'm not sure that Dickens will be the one to whom I look to fill the hours. I understand there were some interesting things written after 1900; I remain skeptical, but I think it might be worth investigating.

The question, then, is why did I bother to dedicate precious shelf-space to approximately 800 cubic inches of tattered Victorian literature that I might never get around to reading? I think it's both because I naturally (by which I mean inexplicably, as opposed to normally) like old books, and know that if I DO ever read them, I won't require the latest greatest aspiring-to-be-definitive editions. I won't require publishing histories, critical essays, or celebratory introductions. I'll just be able to go the shelf and pull down a nice piece of fiction unadulterated by my professional interests and undiminished by what here and there amounts to substantial foxing.

I think that sounds lovely.

1 comment:

Daveybot said...

It's all about the joy of the artifact - One always has to remember the important distinction between a story and a book. One is the reason you buy an artifact, the other is, of course, the artifact itself. And old things acquire a patina and texture which can, of course, be really lovely. (though 'mould' is an interesting exception, of course!)

My guess is you'd still have picked up those books even if they were printed in Hungarian - you're just a sucker for antiques.

So don't worry about justifying Dickens - enjoy the pages no matter their content!