Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Three.



Threatening to fall off the map is the city of Cheltenham.


I think that if I could tell you what it is that intrigues me about this detail, it would go a long way towards making some of the theoretical points I am forever deferring in the writing of this blog. There is a map of England and Wales at one inch to a mile, a beautiful object in and of itself – printed on cloth in the nineteen-twenties – a work of great accomplishment, of self-assured technocratic will to knowledge, and then there is that little bulge in sectors E/F-14 of sheet 92: Cheltenham protrudes eastward, into the uncharted void. And to be sure there is nothing unconventional about this, it’s just commonsense applied to cartography, but still it tickles me. What does it mean to imagine oneself or see one’s community represented in that space, at the very edge of the map; what does it mean to go over the margin.

On a very concrete level this blog is a map of my interests, some of which are very marginal indeed. And then on each blog anniversary I get to talk about my second-hand books acquisitions for the past twelve months, which are another such map – random, idiosyncratic, and yes, marginal. Blogging itself is about writing on the edges of the public conversation, but the aptness didn’t occur to me until later. When I started this tradition I just wanted to indulge, share my excitement of a fresh visit to the Wellington Downtown Community Ministry Book Fair.

That’s where I got sheet 92 of the Ordnance Survey of England and Wales of 1918, in an undated edition published by authority of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. Such an exquisite little object. And priced at $2, like almost everything else in sight on the day at TSB Arena. A most democratic approach to discarded knowledge.


The loot from each fair tends to have a theme, but not so this time. I guess it’s got to the point where I’m mostly building on the existing collection – New Zealand social history, old feminisms, pre-cyberpunk science fiction. I always seem to go back to those.


So much to love about this railway magazine from January 1934, not least the cover design. I hope my antiquarian interest in such things never comes across as a knowing appreciation of things that are cool. Quite frankly I loathe retronauts and everything they stand for, and it’s not a nod to the hauntology of it all either, although I’m certainly closer to that sensibility. I just think that all of these documents still have a lot to say, things that matter in the present. They trace genealogies of knowledge, aesthetics and thought. They contain concrete ways of thinking that deserve to be examined and grappled with, even, where appropriate, salvaged.


Pocket size Penguin and Pelican books hark back to a time when speculative fiction and criticism alike were affordable, portable and marketed to a mass public, and I’m always on the lookout for those.





You need more space on the shelves to build a comparable library of works of a local bent, but that’s no reason not to do it.




And hey, look, my very own copy of The Quest for Security.


Speaking of my adoptive country, I nabbed a rather formidable gazetteer that predates Maurice Shadbolt’s by a decade.


Also in 1962, this classic’s outsider’s view (another favourite genre) reached its fifth edition.


Sometimes a great find leaves me a little sad. I wonder for instance what motivated the owner of many of Joanna Russ’ finest books to get rid of them on the year that she died.



But life goes on, and indeed I never leave without a few books for children, especially of the instructional kind


or aimed at adults so that they can then go teach the children


or, most ominously of all, that teach children to teach themselves.


Speaking of which, as soon as I’m finished teaching myself Italian


I’ll be able to have a crack at a few more languages.


And I could go on. This was the year when I found two more This Is New Zealand books by the wonderful Sheffield House, as well as this, and, in Italy, a monograph on Socrates portentously entitled ‘He drank the hemlock to create modern man’ that turned out to include a little paper bust of the philosopher that you could send back to the publisher to go in the draw for the Golden Socrates prize competition (closes: June 1973). I like that books can still surprise you with things like that.




This may also be the year that I finally buy myself a Kindle-like product, because after all it’s not as if I am greatly prejudiced against electronic books, or can’t see the use. It’s just that I persist in finding the old kind so much more interesting and provocative. A book is an object that creates a friction, that weighs you down, that slows you down – not unlike culture, history, memory. It should have physical characteristics that match that.

There is another idea I’ve been playing with in these anniversary posts: that writing doesn’t take time, it makes time. Of course I need to keep telling myself that in order to justify the whole enterprise, since this elaborate hobby is something I have no business finding the time for, but when I look back on a year of these posts I can at least see where some of that time went, and then it looks like something that might not otherwise have been there – if not quite a body of work, at least the concrete trace of a discipline, or possibly a habit. I tried to give it a visual representation below, inspired by the widget over at Poemas del río Wang’s. Clicking on each image will open a post from the last twelve months.

A diary of course will also do that, expand time by allowing you to walk back through it. And I don’t have anything whatsoever against diaries, but how I know that I’m not keeping one is that along with the 47 posts this past year there have been 572 comments, and other forms of engagement through social media and conversation for which I continue to be both delighted and grateful. That there are people that choose to spend time here is still the single thing I value the most, so thank you all for sticking around.


How to Make Love Liveblogging the Apocalypse (7): Combined and/or Uneven The Looting
Our Memory Is a Never-Grey Wall True Names Temple Grandin
Liveblogging the Apocalypse (6): The Triumph of Death This Is New Zealand - American Edition About Postmen
On the Art of Making People Disappear The Deep All Spoons Are Level
Laconia The Shallow The Election
At Sea if:city You Are Not a Gadget
I Write Because I Don't Want to Die War Is Hell (for other people) What Do People Do All Day?
His Journey The Quest for Security Palombella Rossa
On Not Writing Slow Time Toy Story
European Monsters The Museum of You (4): Favourite Things Golden Days
The World Will Be Tron More Than Able The History of Her Blood
The Immortalist In Order of Disappearance Death or Lentils
It's Just a House Landscape with the Fall of Icarus F-f-f-falling
Work-Slash-Life The Lives of Others The Two New Zealands
I'm on a Plain Books in Homes I'm on a Plane
The Questions Asked Two.







15 comments:

Philip said...

That Italian Conversation Simplified looks a bit padded - doesn't it work any more if you just shout a lot and wave your arms about?

Reminds me of the various foreign-language books scattered through my childhood homes. One was a Teach Yourself Italian with helpful phonetic renderings: scusi was rendered skoo-zee, which was of course utterly hilarious. Another was German in three months, about which I recall only that the introduction advised consulting a native, which surprised me because I hadn't realised before that natives could be white people. We also had a couple of children's books in Dutch, one called Het Feestvarken about a pig's birthday, and another called Roodkapje which was Red Riding Hood. If I still had those I think I'd send them to you.

Anyway, happy anniversary and here's to many more.

Word Verification: kitterio, an Italian litter tray.

merc said...

And I thank you.

wv, comical, I kid you not.

George D said...

The trend towards the 'retro' or even 'the past' is a profoundly destructive one in so many cases. By doing so, we distance ourselves from the similarities with the past, and make it much harder to tease out those differences. A wholesale embrace that seeks to pull out something gone is a dangerous one.


I persist in finding the old kind so much more interesting and provocative. A book is an object that creates a friction, that weighs you down, that slows you down – not unlike culture, history, memory. It should have physical characteristics that match that.

As someone of no fixed abode, moving house, city or country with regularity in the last decade, this physical weight has been particularly present. I acquire, then set down.

A local city also threatens to fall off the map; liminal, and its future represents the possibilities of the product of labour - both of the physical kind, and of the kind that was physical but has been expropriated in the promise of future protection and return.

Giovanni Tiso said...

That Italian Conversation Simplified looks a bit padded - doesn't it work any more if you just shout a lot and wave your arms about?

The book originally came with a '12-inch double sided disc', which sadly wasn't preserved. No gesticulation there either however I presume. Perhaps Italian conversation books should come with puppets.

(I enjoy reading these. The dialogue is generally excellent, if a little Pinteresque. For instance I think you could construct a decent one act play around the lines "They detained me nearly two hours" and "You are walking more slowly than I like".)

Robyn said...

This post reminds me of one of my favourite things - going into a second-hand bookshop and browsing through the New Zealand travel section.

Happy third! I like the new header image.

George D said...


(I enjoy reading these. The dialogue is generally excellent, if a little Pinteresque. For instance I think you could construct a decent one act play around the lines "They detained me nearly two hours" and "You are walking more slowly than I like".)


You could make quite a project. They present a reflection of the views of the authors of which cultural idioms are characteristic and worth sharing.

Philip said...

James Cameron (the Scots journalist, not the Avatar-monger) has some delightful comments on phrase books as cultural indicators. In An Indian Summer he mentions a "Traveller's Hindustani" from the days of the Raj, noting "how firmly and masterfully it avoids all forms of expression except barks of command, peremptory complaint, and abuse". In the section on engaging servants there are such gems as "You are underdone" - "What did your last employer pay you? - That is too much. I shall pay you far less." In the sick-room: "I demand my teeth to be drawn". Cameron's other volume of autobiography, Point of Departure, features a Korean-English phrasebook containing only inane small talk: "Much spending, Dr! Twenty sen a gallon, Professor!" The practical value of phrase-books, says Cameron, is "universally nil - either you cannot express a phrase or you express it so well that it elicits a long and effusive response in the same language, with subsequent humiliation".

Word Verification: grappear, a not particularly nice variant of grappa made with either pear juice or ear juice, depending on the pronunciation, or the symptoms resulting from it.

Giovanni Tiso said...

The practical value of phrase-books, says Cameron, is "universally nil - either you cannot express a phrase or you express it so well that it elicits a long and effusive response in the same language, with subsequent humiliation

Nonsense. "I thought I should receive more money for my horses" is almost the only phrase you need.

(That, plus all prices are in francs: this book appears to be older than I initially surmised.)

Giovanni Tiso said...

Happy third!

Thank you! I know it's not a competition, but one cannot help but feel that one's anniversary is puny compared to yours.

I like the new header image.

Yes, I meant to acknowledge it more explicitly - all the cleverness belongs to Shirley Carran.

George D said...

Congratulations on a third anniversary, by the way. You've left all our lives richer.

Nonsense. "I thought I should receive more money for my horses" is almost the only phrase you need.


From the Foreign Service Institute 'Programmatic Spanish':

But, isn't she married?
No, Nilda is single. The married one is Maria.
Of course. Maria is is the older one.

As a preparatory course, one could not ask for more.

Giovanni Tiso said...

Heh. Quite. I note that the commercial Italian section at the end of my book is all about unpaid invoices and bad debt, which makes it very current. And it closes gloriously:

"I fear that almost all of the goods are unsaleable".

francesca said...

"On a very concrete level this blog is a map of my interests".

Actually, it's more than that, it's your portrait. Borges dixit (and I bet you know it).

Un hombre se propone la tarea de dibujar el mundo. A lo largo de los años puebla un espacio con imágenes de provincias, de reinos, de montañas, de bahías, de naves, de islas, de peces, de habitaciones, de instrumentos, de astros, de caballos y de personas. Poco antes de morir, descubre que ese paciente laberinto de líneas traza la imágen de su cara.
El hacedor
(A man sets himself the task of drawing the world. Through the years he populates a space with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fishes, rooms, instruments, stars, horses, and persons. Shortly before dying, he discovers that this patient labyrinth of lines traces the image of his own face.)

*

Foreign-language books are one of my addictions. They tend to reveal something more about readers' culture and sensitivity than about those of the language taught. A recent discovery of mine pictures the impact some classic (hopefully dying) Italian ways of greeting people might have in Asia (if the link doesn't work, it's on page 16):

Vittoria Bowles Protej, 意大利語入門, 萬里機構, 2007

Needless to say, I'm also fascinated by old-style conversations:

(Je fus charmé de voir le télégraph prussien - I was glad to see the Prussian telegraph...)

Insomma, buon anniversario.

Giovanni Tiso said...

Grazie, Francesca, grazie...

(Je fus charmé de voir le télégraph prussien - I was glad to see the Prussian telegraph...)

This book is amazing:

"We are flying off! I do not wish for a conveyance more commodious, more rapid and more sociable."

"You are right, sir; there is nothing left to be wished for. Thank the undertakers."

Taramoc said...

Just want to say happy birthday blog! Thanks for what remains one of the highlights of my Monday morning.

WV: Jawsrqt: Classic horror movie and all its ratings

Philip said...

Demica: An Adventure Abroad

They detained me nearly two hours: "You are walking more slowly than I like," I told him. "Do not keep me waiting, my good man! Do you not see I am the holder of Her Britannic Majesty's passport?"
"I fear that almost all of the goods are unsaleable," he informed me.
"I thought I should receive more money for my horses."
He glanced at me with displeasure. "Recall that your postilion was struck by lightning."
As Cheltenham fell off the map, I was glad to see the Prussian telegraph. "We are flying off! I do not wish for a conveyance more commodious, more rapid and more sociable."
"You are right, sir; there is nothing left to be wished for. Thank the undertakers."

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