I am startled by the power, creativity and freedom that imagination gives us access to. Startled not so much because through imagination we can escape reality, but mainly because it functions differently on all individuals but it gives us all the possibility to experience events and emotions, or to explore territories that are normally impossible (or just hard) to reach in our ‘real’ life.
In this sense I really liked Woody Allen’s latest film “Midnight in Paris“. It had the same old Allen structure but it didn’t have a ‘punch’, therefore I wouldn’t say that it was a great Woody Allen film. But I loved how Allen used the possibilities that the film medium provides to follow his dream and ‘transport’ himself back in time so that he could enjoy ‘in vivo’ the company of his cultural heroes, people like Elliot, Hemingway, Picasso, Lautrec, etc. How liberating is that?
It is in this very same way I am amazed by all kinds of imaginative people, be they artists, scientists or whichever tag one may carry. I find it absolutely inspiring how they let themselves loose in their personal strands of thought to explore and hopefully communicate their interests and fascinations.
Sometimes, via their travels in their wonder-worlds, we get to understand some things or some people better. This is how I felt about a book I read a few years back, “The Paper House” by Carlos María Domínguez. This book was given to me by my dad, a true ‘bookophile’.
I’m not sure I remember the story correctly but what has stayed with me is that it is a short story Domínguez came up with about a book collector, named Carlos Brauer, who accidentally destroys the taxonomy index of his collection. Losing this key ‘navigation tool’ for his collection has a mirroring parallel effect on Brauer himself and his ability to keep an order in his life and to maintain a sense of self. By losing his taxonomy ‘manual’ Brauer therefore progressively loses his ability to keep his interests distinct from his actual self. The endless options of categorizing his interests now live only inside his head and inevitably he and his collection become one, they have a common and inseparable life.
To illustrate the inevitable collapse of any useful distinction between the person and his interests, the author makes his main character, Brauer, build a shelter out of his very own books to live in, as a last resort. In his delusion Brauer sees this solution as his only way to “protect” his collection and his sanity, which are ultimately one and the same thing. His books become the bricks and insulation material that make up his home. Weather and time give a physical appearance to the psychological conditions that now dictate their common fate.
The book I think suggests that a collection without a taxonomy system is to a collector what life is to all of us without access to our thoughts and love(s). For anyone who has been close to a book lover can feel very touched by the struggles of this man to care, protect and keep control of his world. For anyone who has felt at any point that they are losing their references in life, this character’s misery is suffocatingly real. By no means do I think this book to be a masterpiece, but it is a short and sweet story.
My immediate response when I read it, if I remember correctly, was feeling for the condition of the books more than that of the man. It surprised me that the book ‘stayed with me’ till my emotions went out to the man. Which means, that my first reaction was to hold the man responsible of his own fate and see his books as victims. Only later, when I had finished with being a reader of the book and I had become a ‘carrier’ of the story, did I see the collection as a material manifestation of a person’s endless journeys in his inner precious wonderland.
Having been given this book by my ‘bookophile’ dad I have always wondered if this is how he feels. I could not remember the name of the author or the title of the book till now that I googled it, but I could remember this: an intimate, silent and secret relationship between a book lover and his books. Of a father and his children. A story that makes a collector’s feelings your own and hopes to make you see more of the man amidst his collection. Cunning….