Mediamatic Magazine Vol. 8#1 Dietmar Dath 1 jan 1994


Holbrook Jackson, The Anatomy of Bibliomania, Faber & Faber, London 1930

What a magnificent piece of mental distortion, achieved by playing antisound from within and without.


Cover of "The Anatomy of Bibliomania" -

Now we finally know that we have been waiting for this book, because now it is here. Beforehand, we could not have expected it. But nevertheless, we were waiting: waiting for Holbrook Jackson to give us footnotes. What we used to call `text' reveals itself here as being merely footnotes serving other footnotes. For those among us who still believe in dialogue, this will be a major downer which will leave them crushed and smiling, accepting the fate of being a `Book-Hunter', a clan or tribe of people living through sleepless nights while being watched by the likes of Holbrook Jackson.

When Jackson deals with Books in general, we become aware of the fact that books have always read themselves, even long before structuralism educated our taste buds: Microcosms that Outlive Monuments, as Jackson puts it. We are to understand the reversibility of the irreversible: the secret of books (which they themselves could not grasp) has been the fact that we may understand the text now, but read it later (or even never).

Too much is not enough, as Jackson's inquiry into the artificial rarefaction of some books shows. The story of William Beckford who printed a total of twenty-five large paper copies in addition to the ordinary edition of his book Vathek is quite educational and may be used by future generations as a prime example for how to deal with the misfortunes of distribution of exquisite data.

Jackson opens windows by slamming doors, thus he reveals The Pleasure of Books as being both self-consuming and self-sufficient (as many media or their primitive predecessors, those so-called living systems): We may not all be bibliophiles of genius, all illustrious; still less, all serene and rich in books, with time and capacity to enjoy them; but we are as sufficient as we are various, and know our own food.

Brew me a brew that drinks itself before my own eyes.

As we all know, a space is constituted in the praxis of living of the observer whenever he or she performs a distinction. What, then, is a library? Where does storage room leave the realm of architectural functionalism? Where do you locate yourself in it?

Do you have to make a decision to make a distinction? Do you have to determine which book you wish to read in order to read any book at all? Not anymore, this is the Age of Active Ware: We are as various as our books and or love of them; and a piece of arras is composed of several parcels, some wrought of silk, some of gold or silver, or embroidered of divers colours, all to serve for the exornation of the whole; or as music is made of divers chords an keys, harmonies and cacophonies, a total sum of many small numbers, so is the pleasure of books in its greatest corporeality, a library (whether big or little), of several unequal books and the faculty variously to relish them. (Jackson)

What is the use of mania in this pattern? Mania produces consequences, while words never listen and teachers never learn. Overlapping neurotical phenomenal domains exchanging data and constituting `symptoms' not as `signs' but as `sounds', intersections of a greater structure which is neither one nor many but a type area (Jackson) making it unnecessary to determine what is type and what is area.

No, this is not a book. It only looks like a book from the inside, but if you manage to get out of it before it eats you, you realise it is everything else but a book. Your mind becomes the moss which grows upon its trunk and the insects which feed upon it, as Jackson politely warns us. He rages and roams, he gets to our theme, and we lose it. He gives advice on reading many books at once, allowing no digression from digression.

Digressive writing is not to be mistaken (as we untrained readers frequently do) for fuzzy discourse. Digression is the only way to escape the `description' of archives as being results, and enter their processuality, which left me breathless, of course. For want of a better definition, this could be described as encountering a work of art which is all speed and no movement. Again and again I witnessed, through the eyes of Jackson Holbrook, the phylogenetic structural drift of late and ever later textuality, learning about reading on a journey, reading at the toilet, reading at mealtimes and reading in bed. Do we need this? One might ask. Well, it certainly does not need us, and this is a rare demonstration of grace. We need not evidence but puzzling evidence! Something that pushes us into hydraulic discomfort, while we observe the actions of the `Polybiblous', about whom Jackson does not give away too much information. In the end (which is a misleading term here, since the end is not even `Parting', about that Jackson has quite disturbing, yet friendly, ideas), another very beautiful question is asked: And what else should we demand of a book that is a book? If you think you have the co-ordination, figure out the door that imprisons one of the `eternal' libraryos smallest emissaries.