Friday, January 07, 2005

Of Books and Bourgeois Morality

Yesterday I complained about people who mark up books that don't belong to them. Tony Flood adds:

There's another problem with these people: they annotate the book and then they return it, which not only annoys others, but also renders their droppings unavailable to serve their own future readings. (I mark up only those books that I intend to keep, [and also own?] so that my marginalia might one day benefit me.) If these vandals believe they are somehow enlightening other consumers of the now-defaced copy, "morally obtuse" doesn't quite describe their character.

BV: Tony notices a twist I hadn't thought of, a sort of paradox: one who annotates a book that in two weeks will be returned to a library is engaged in a curiously self-defeating enterprise. After all, we underline in order to find quickly key passages later on. And we annotate to preserve our thoughts for later use. Of course, for a cretin to mark up a book and then not return it would be even worse. Too much of that goes on as well.

I was talking to a librarian at a university library recently. He argued for closed stacks for several reasons. One was that browsers will pull a volume from the shelf and more often than not put it back in the wrong position.

Then there was a Marxist student I once had. A book I had ordered for a course was expensive so he proposed that people steal it. I got a kick out of that. For a Marxist, the present is crap and morality a sham, mere bourgeois ideology. So we may do anything we want now, from stealing books to murdering political opponents. After all, the end justifies any and every means. But after the revolution, we will be in paradise, and everyone will suddenly behave wonderfully toward everyone else.

It is a bit like this. A young man is engaged to be married. But despite his engagement, he can't keep his hands off other women. Nevertheless, he and his bride think that the mere sliding of a golden band over a finger will suddenly transform a Don Juan into a faithful husband.