On the Shelf

The accidents of naming and alphabetization have made some strange neighbours on my bookshelves.

I have often wondered what Julian Barnes and Roland Barthes have to say to one another as they are waiting to be read.  Perhaps they discuss the rhetoric of love in postmodern literature, or maybe they just make cynical jokes about poor J. M. Barrie, who happens to sit in the unfortunate place between them.

Don DeLillo might have it worse though, perched precariously between Gilles Deleuze and Jacques Derrida.  Just think of the endless theorizing he must endure.  I wonder if he has anything to contribute to a debate on the nature of philosophy.  Maybe he just plugs his ears and tries to keep writing.

I imagine that Annie Dillard does a fair amount of ear plugging herself.  I have no idea how else she could sit next to the interminable Charles Dickens year after year.  No matter how much she writes, could she ever feel anything but lazy next to his incomparable production.  She probably wishes that he would just go sit beside Stephen King.  The two of them would be a match made in mass publishing heaven.

Then there is C. S. Lewis and Emmanuel Levinas.  Is a conversation between the two even imaginable, or does Levinas spend all his time looking the other way, trying to convince Claude Levi-Strauss of how problematic his essentialist anthropology really is, leaving C. S. to converse with Matthew and the other myriad Lewises.

Edmund Spencer and Art Speigelman also make an interesting pair.  I am imagining Renaissance romantic epic poetry depicted with cartoon cats and mice, or the holocaust told through the structure of a formal story cycle.  Both might have something to recommend them, but I would not look for a collaborative work any time soon, not until you can imagine a market for that sort of thing.

Nor, I think, will there be any such joint work forthcoming from Oscar Wilde and Charles Williams, though they are not perhaps so different as they might seem at first.  There is something that Williams would approve in the figure of Dorian Gray, for instance, at least to my mind, but it is probably not enough to compensate for their fundamental moral and theological differences.  Still, I would make a point of reading anything the two of them managed to create.  There would be nothing else like it in the world.

All of this makes me a little hesitant about the idea of publication, however.  What if I get set beside someone impossible?  Would I have to listen to some adjective-abusing genre novelist for all time?  Would the genre novelist have to listen to me?  I should probably check and see who my neighbours might be before I venture to send anything to a publisher.  It could save me an eternity of grief.

1 comment
  1. Curtis said:

    I think this is one of the most lively posts you’ve made Luke, and Ironically I can see you and Jordan, albeit on a very short alphabetical library discussing the placement of books together, as you sit on a shelf side by side.

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