Keyhole, Threshold, Breach ?️

Han’s Hyperculture ends with

The human of the future will most likely not be crossing thresholds, his face contorted in pain. The human of the future will be a tourist, smiling serenely. Should we not welcome that human as homo liber? Or should we rather, following Heidegger or Handke, remain a homo dolores, petrified into a threshold? In his Phantasien der Wiederholung, Handke writes:

When you feel the pain of thresholds, then you are not a tourist; the crossing is possible.

Hyperculture, p. 83

Oh, there in the how-long-from-now human future, these threshold-crossers, their dispositions, their expressions. Are they in pain? Are they joyful? Are they free? Are they sorrowful? Are we them, and they us? Hyperculture, published in German in 2005, then in English in 2022, hints at cultural accelerationism, and I truly have not resolved how I feel about that. Like, it’s going this way, so let us cut out the lollygagging. I admire, and also sympathize with, the sorrowful threshold-crosser more than with the tourist, perhaps because I have known them, or have believed sites harbor something not available in the same ways with the hyper-/siteless. Something elemental.

I suspect I’m not the only one.

And yet. The serenely smiling tourist, being-in-the-whizzing-flatlands-or-whatever, maybe is more carefree-casual than free, per se, liber leaving room for nuances, and maybe the smile, then, is from the prevailing winds at sea combined with flacid risorious muscles. “It looked like a smile.” And, too, smiles have been known from time to time to shield sorrows. I don’t know. I am not looking for trouble. But sitting with the puzzle, Han’s questions, and enjoying the time they take to think through—this puzzlement is its own kind of tourism, I suppose.

With this point about the sorrow known by threshold crossers, Mieville’s The City and Eht Ytic (2009) comes to mind, and especially the contingencies and strangely doubled boundaries of cross-hatched zones (notably not contact zones, despite their co-occupancy and shared coordinates) and the breach, who are able to exist across the dimensions. With cross-hatching and the breach, I am more or less satisfied with these models for a both-and response to Han’s questions: yes, to the tourist smiling serenely, but yes, also, to the sorrowful capacity of the human who still carries a key to a home that is no longer, or whose shoes carry imprints of pebbles underfoot whenever ago. The both-and, liberdolores, the breach, in an indefinitely cross-hatched and continuously redistricted world makes for a more interesting human, and a more openly possible future.

What in the Antilibrary Grumbles?

In The Object Stares Back (1996), James Elkins writes

In my living room there are two large bookcases, each one eight feet tall, and they have about five hundred books between them. If I step up to a shelf and look at the books one by one, I can remember something about each. As a historian once said, some stare at me reproachfully, grumbling that I have never read them. One may remind me vaguely of a time when I was interested in romantic novels. An old college text will elicit a pang of unhappiness about studying. Each book has its character, and even books I know very well also have this kind of wordless flavor. Now if I step back from the shelf and look quickly across both bookcases I speed up that same process a hundredfold. Impressions wash across my awareness. But each book still looks back in its own way, answering the rude brevity of my gaze, calling faintly to me out of the corner of my eye. At that speed many books remain wrapped in the shadows of my awareness–I know I have looked past them and I know they are there, but I refuse to call them to mind. (73-74)

I read this in the hallway of Rackham Hall yesterday where I sat for ten minutes–not staring back, ironically–as ENGL328 students filled out end-of-semester course evaluations. But what was on my mind as I read this was the workshop I was scheduled to lead at noon today for EMU’s Nelson Faculty Development Center, a workshop titled, “How to Curate a Digital Antilibrary: An Introduction to Google Reader.” The antilibrary comes from Taleb’s characterization of the unread portion in Umberto Eco’s personal collection of 3,000 books. Those unread items project felicitously some horizon of possibility. The antilibrary is not antithetical to the library; it is its premonition, its ghost from the future.

I can’t decide about the relationship between Taleb’s conception of “unread” and Elkins’ idea here that even those books that are technically unread (whatever that means) are well-enough known to grumble for their having been neglected. At first I thought, Elkins has no antilibrary. But that’s not quite right.

Instead, his books are always a little bit read: read through their titles, through an author’s or publisher’s reputation, through a book jacket, or even more fundamentally (as objects) through an assumed to be recognizable materiality. These are bound, shelved books, after all. Consequently, they never rightly, properly fit in the antilibrary, do they?

Elkins takes a hypothetical step back: “I know I have looked past them and I know they are there, but I refuse to call them to mind.” This refusal is a curious game, striking for its thin, wispy relationship to rapid cognition, or thin-slicing. The refusal is a sort of will to indeterminacy, to unknowing, to disassociation. And I guess that’s what I’m thinking about now, having read this, having talked earlier about digital antilibraries: the persistence of an antilibrary requires one part a refusal to look at what is already in the collection, one part embrace of the potentialities in the nearby-but-unknown, and another part thrill in expecting a future in which those materials-awaiting will still be there for taking up.