I’ve just been making some changes to an article on genre and contemporary music culture that I’ve been writing for a special issue. In my revisions I was asked to link my arguments to Pierre Bourdieu. So, trying to be diligent, I got his classic book Distinction out of the library. It’s a book I’ve read bits of before but I don’t own a copy. When I got to the library I found that there was one copy available and that it was from 1984. It’s great when this happens. It makes me think of Walter Benjamin’s essay Unpacking My Library. These books are marked with their history of use, they have their own unique aura etched upon them.
Reading them makes you feel like you are a part of this history of students and researchers. The books themselves feel far more ancient than their years, with scars, discolouration and even a bit of a musty smell. In this copy there are also lots of little notes in the margins and marked paragraphs left over the years by different visitors. Usually the notes are in pencil.
In this copy someone had even gone to the trouble of adding colour page markers. I’m not sure how long these have been there, or even what they are marking out, but someone clearly wanted to impose their own filling system on the book.
There is something authentic about old library books like this. They make you feel like a genuine researcher (even when they are mainstream books like distinction). So perhaps there is something to be said for Benjamin’s ideas, maybe these objects do allow us to see into their past and maybe they do communicate a sort of auratic set of properties (even if they are a mass reproduced copy). My notes then, written on the back of the library slip not on the book are part of a history of work. This is felt more strongly because of the materiality of this old library book.