In an 1840 essay titled “The Book Lover,” the French writer Charles Nodier catalogues the new characters of the “age of paper.”
Notable among them are the bibliophile and the bibliomaniac, distinguished from each other as selection to accumulation, order to disorder, care to neglect, and minutia to mass. But the distinctions Nodier charts are precarious; he concedes that frequently the bibliophile becomes a bibliomaniac “when his mind deteriorates or his fortunes increase—two grave afflictions suffered by the best of men.”
The binaries Nodier charts – and their precarity – resonate in our own “digital age,” in contemporary attempts to differentiate collecting from its pathologized forms, particularly hoarding. This Reading Group will be dedicated to literary and visual texts that grapple with the resemblances between collector, artist, poet, and other hallowed figures and their less admired or established doubles: hoarder, bibliomaniac, ragpicker, gleaner. We will examine the material practices and psychic mechanisms that define these identities and authorize distinctions between them, as well as the diverse historical contexts from which they emerge. An ongoing theme will be the antithetically conjoined relationship between hoarding and wasting. More broadly, our readings will propel discussions about the relationships between objects and narrative.
Readings include works by Bruce Chatwin, Rachel Cusk, E. L. Doctorow, Gustave Flaubert, Charles Johnson, W. D. King, Marilynne Robinson.
The Beyond Bibliomania reading group meets on the first Tuesday of the month, October through May, from 5:30-7pm at the library.
Please note the December meeting will be held on the last Tuesday of November.
BK = purchase or borrow book
PDF = pdf of reading will be circulated
WEB = url of reading will be provided
*VIRTUAL MEETING* Tues, October 5 | Bibliomania Through the Centuries/Materiality and Measure
[WEB] Jean le Rond D’Alembert, “Bibliomania,” in Encyclopédie
[PDF] Gustave Flaubert, “Bibliomania: A Tale”
[WEB] John Ferriar, “The Bibliomania: An Epistle to Richard Heber”
[PDF] Walter Benjamin, “Unpacking My Library: A Talk About Book Collecting”
[PDF] Dante, Inferno 7, Mandelbaum translation
Tues, November 2 | Collector/Fetishist
[BK] Bruce Chatwin, Utz
[PDF] Jean Baudrillard, selections from The System of Objects
[PDF] Sigmund Freud, “Fetishism”
[PDF] Emliy Apter, “Fetishism in Theory: Marx, Freud, Baudrillard,” Feminizing the Fetish. Psychoanalysis and Narrative Obsession in Turn-of-the-Century France (Cornell University Press, 1991)
Tues, November 30 | Bibliolage and Collections of Nothing
[BK] William Davies King, Collections of Nothing
[PDF] Jonathan Culler, “Junk and Rubbish: A Semiotic Approach” Diacritics, 15.3 (Autumn 1985): 2-12. (Review of Michael Thompson’s Rubbish Theory: The Creation and Destruction of Value)
[PDF] Raymond Malewitz, “Misuse: From Aesthetics to Practice,” The Practice of Misuse: Rugged Consumerism in Contemporary American Culture, pp. 1-41.
Tues, January 4 | Beautiful Contingency
[PDF] Adam Phillips, “Clutter: A Case History,” Promises, Promises
[PDF] Virginia Woolf, “Solid Objects”
[PDF] Bill Brown, “The Secret Life of Things: Virginia Woolf,” Other Things (Chicago, 2015), 49-76.
Tues, February 1 | Archive Failures: Labor, Preservation
[BK] Bohumil Hrabal, Too Loud a Solitude
[PDF] Bernard London, “Ending the Depression Through Planned Obsolescence”
[PDF] David Boarder Giles “The Anatomy of a Dumpster: Abject Capital and the Looking Glass of Value.” Social Text 32.1 (2014): 93–113.
[PDF] Ilya Kabakov, “The Man Who Never Threw Anything Away” (Moscow, c. 1977)
Tues, March 1 | Waste Not! Resourcefulness: Moral and Sacred
[BK] Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping
Optional extra texts:
[PDF] Sarah Wasserman, “The Disorder of Things: Marilynne Robinson’s Transient Women,” The Death of Things, pp. 175-198.
[WEB] Michelangelo Pistoletto, Venus of the Rags, 1967 sculpture
[WEB] Song Dong, Waste Not (2005 installation at BTAP)
[PDF] Samantha MacBride, “The Immorality of Waste: Depression-Era Perspectives in the Digital Age.” SubStance 37, no. 2 (2008): 71-77.
Tues, April 5 | America’s Most Infamous Hoarders
[BK] E. L. Doctorow, Homer and Langley
[PDF] Charles Johnson, “Exchange Value”
Optional extra reading
[PDF] Scott Herring, “Collyer Curiosa,” The Hoarders, pp. 19-50.
[PDF] Lauren Berlant, “The Promise of Exchange Value” Cruel Optimism, pp. 36-43.
Tues, May 3 | Beautiful Ruin
[BK] Rachel Cusk, Second Place
[PDF] Patricia Yaeger, “Editor’s Column: The Death of Nature and the Apotheosis of Trash; or, Rubbish Ecology” PMLA, 123.2 (March 2008): 331-9.
[PDF] Francesco Orlando, “What This Book Is About,” Obsolete Objects in the Literary Imagination: Ruins, Relics, Rarities, Rubbish, Uninhabited Places, and Hidden Treasures, pp. 1-17, 226.
Rebecca Falkoff (Ph.D. in Italian Studies, University of California, Berkeley) is a scholar of twentieth and twenty-first century Italian literature and culture. She has taught courses in Italian Studies and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley, Northwestern University, and New York University, and leads discussion groups at the Center for Fiction in Brooklyn. Her publications include Possessed: A Cultural History of Hoarding (Cornell University Press, 2021) as well as essays on illegibility, new materialism, Primo Levi, and Elena Ferrante.
She is currently working on a second book project, Modernity in the Air: The Rhetoric and Biopolitics of Nitrogen Capture in Italy, which will examine the ways in which fantasies of abundance fostered by industrial chemistry informed discourses of nation and race, gender and sexuality in modern Italian literary and visual texts.
Online registration will open to Athenæum members on Wednesday, July 28th at 8am. If you have any questions, please email email@example.com.