On Categorization and Labeling

I am working my way slowly through the different sections of the Institute’s archive, which have names like “The Body,” “AIDS,” “Sebald,” and “Museology.” Lise, the director of the Institute of Cultural Inquiry, handed me a stack of books on trauma, and said, “We can just put those in with memory – they really go together.”

Her statement made me laugh, but it also spurred me to think a bit about the function of labels, categories, and reference subjects in the context of the archive. Sometimes when I am catalogueing or inventorying books, the rigid part of me becomes frustrated that there aren’t always neat, exact categories for each nonfiction book. I fantasize about the best, most efficient manner of organizing all of the information, if (for example) the entire archive were digitized and Kindle-accessible. However, the physical nature of the archive embraces and exploits the odd intersections and fuzzy barriers between the different subjects.

I remember reading the preface to John Fante’s Ask the Dust, in which Charles Bukowski writes of going to the downtown Los Angeles public library and pulling books out at random. He happens upon Fante’s novel, and it changes the course of his writing. It is only because the library is physically accessible to him that he can so serendipitously explore literature.

I wonder if Bukowski would ever buy a Kindle.

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