A spatulate depression, part III: A coda on library spaces

Okay, this is my last time paraphrasing that passage from Nabokov which kicked off this series of blog posts.

I could also distinguish the glint of a special puddle (the one Krug had somehow perceived through the layer of his own life), an oblong puddle invariably acquiring the same form after every shower because of the constant spatulate shape of a depression in the ground. Possibly something of the kind may be said to occur in regard to the imprint we leave in the intimate texture of space.

Nabokov is writing about a fictional character, but I’ve been arguing that all of us, living and dead, real and fictional, leave these kind of impressions in the world through words, images, deeds, artefacts – the kind of things which it’s a library’s job to help members of the public find and use as they see fit.

In my previous post, ‘The Mission of the Librarian’, I used an essay by the philosopher Ortega y Gasset to suggest that librarianship itself was, like the other professions, one of these puddly spaces, slowly etched by our peers and predecessors, which we get to fill with our own daily life and action.

Usually I’m more excited by librarians than libraries. Politicians like cutting the ribbons on big new builds of steel and glass, but what interests me is what services you can provide when there’s zero budget, zero resources, the politicians disapprove, and all you really have is your own imagination and initiative. I really like that R. David Lankes sometimes asks if librarianship has a future separate from libraries themselves – and I pushed pretty hard for Auckland’s librarians to go off-site and offer their services in other spaces, like comic book stores and even bars.

A hongi with the Rebel Alliance
Distinctively geeky, distinctively Kiwi – Auckland Libraries staff in a comic book store for Star Wars Day

BUT…I have been thinking about library spaces too, since I last wrote.

I’m currently working on a couple of projects that provoked this.

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A spatulate depression, part I – Speaking with the dead and distant

Since my series of posts on Key 23 and the Nth Degree – really about personal commitment and library work – I’ve been digging a little deeper into my thoughts on these issues. If it all gets too heavy, jump back into my blog archive and read something fun about roller derby, or something about drinking your way to better librarianship. Ka pai?

One of my favourite novels is Vladimir Nabokov’s Bend Sinister. I guess it’s a pretty minor work of his, and I only ever picked it up because I liked the goofy, almost Hitchockian cover of the Penguin paperback.

Vladimir Nabokov, Bend Sinister
Vladimir Nabokov, Bend Sinister

The book’s about Adam Krug, a philosopher from an Eastern European country which is under a totalitarian regime. He fights the tyrannical dictator Paduk at great personal cost, building to a bizarre climax in which Krug is saved from a moment of grief and rage thru a bit of metafictional deus ex machina. It’s really not the best thng Nabokov ever wrote. It’s kind of M. Night Shyamalan for the Times Literary Supplement set, but I still love it – and partly for that cheat ending, which includes the narrator (Nabokov himself?) uttering the lines:

I could also distinguish the glint of a special puddle (the one Krug had somehow perceived through the layer of his own life), an oblong puddle invariably acquiring the same form after every shower because of the constant spatulate shape of a depression in the ground. Possibly something of the kind may be said to occur in regard to the imprint we leave in the intimate texture of space. Twang. A good night for mothing.

I love that whole paragraph. It’s so perfect, right down to that mad ‘twang’ and reference to Nabokov’s lepidoptery, it sets me on fire. [Pale Fire?] It’s something that you’d never, never say in real life – it’s the essence of wanky literary-speak – and yet, it has a poetry. The vision of the puddle, the imprint in the ground, filling with water – seeing this on the page, knowing it to be a trick of words – to me it’s the essence of why we read. To see that constant depression filled once again with a glint of life.

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