I am called BODY WRITING. Unidentified Verbose Object. ISBN: 978-1-14210-562-7. 197 pages, deletions included. 15 x 21 cm. Standard offset paper. Cover: a photograph by Mark Velasquez depicting a naked woman, with English inscriptions on her back.
Price: 600 Dinar.
I am called BODY WRITING and on my forehead, the fateful note:
I ended up in the Blind Store yesterday, among a new batch of opuses stamped, like me: FOR PULPING. Yet another load of books that no one wants, for whatever reason: too old, too obsolete, torn books, boring books, books that have been digitized, plagiarist books, mutant books, books about has-been starlets, books that don’t fit the criteria for enriching collections …
From cultural wrapping, here I am relegated to the level of
Too many digressions.
The Editor cut me to bits, and now, the rubbish bin carries off
the rest of my scrawl.
That’s the order.
Struggle for a position.
A merciless struggle to be ranked in the hierarchy.
They call it selective sorting.
Very selective. The hierarchy.
Shabbily shat out by Large Retail Outfits.
Find your bloody reader or you are eliminated.
After having rubbed up against the heights of luminous
There where even the dust apologizes and the air becomes
Up there, in the higher classes of the Great Library (designed
Removed from the catalogue.
Deleted from the thesaurus.
De ... leted from the presses.
De ... pressed.
I’ve used up my two years of legal stay, beyond which you
are automatically ejected by the lending bank, like all the books
which have not accumulated a minimum of ten readers.
It’s partially my fault.
I did nothing to tease the enculturated regulars.
Overall, I have been borrowed only once.
I’ve only known one reader.
Actually a female reader.
A female reader.
Studying performance arts.
No relation to Pierre Michon.
TLAS (Too Loud A Solitude, Bohumil Hrabal, 891.86 HRA.
Withdrawn during stocktaking) consoles me as best he can: “Don’t look so sad, little one. You will continue to live through the mind of this girl.”
I really want to believe you, my friend.
Eléonore will be my tomb and my salvation.
I’ll find a place for myself on her iPad and will print my icon
right onto her digital retina.
TRAITÉ DU DÉSESPOIR (Søren Kierkegaard. Translated from the Danish by Knud Ferlov and Jean-Jacques Gateau. 198.092 KIE. Withdrawn during stocktaking), the very austere TraiDez, tries a joke: “You will return to the Complete Text.
The Book of Creation.
And you will be immortalized in the catalogue of God.”
Yeah, that’s right.
I will dissolve into the ultra-salty silt of the Dead Sea and become one with the Total Text. But Eléonore doesn’t understand Aramaic. And Chaldea is so far away.
ANTI-OEDIPUS: CAPITALISM AND SCHIZOPHRENIA (Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari. 194.092 DEL. Withdrawn during stocktaking), completely cuts off any hope for us: “Only a few hours left, friends, and the bookbinding press, a depressing machine if ever there was one, will spill out through our anuses and waste us, shred-us-to-pieces without a second thought! We will be tossed into the chops of publishing capitalism and the book industry machine will revel in our yellowed papers, our crumpled epistles and our fine theories about Desire!”
I let myself be calmly thrown into the skip. Different colored bins open their arms to us. Clean bins. Spotless. Cultivated bins, with funny labels supposed to reproduce the Dewey decimal classification we are used to.
I am called BODY WRITING and I kindly join the red rubbish bin with the label “Novels.” Code: 890 (World Literature).
AUHDB—A UNIVERSAL HISTORY OF THE DESTRUCTION OF BOOKS (Fernando Báez) is surely the most informed amongst us (as, moreover, we can gather from the title) about the torment of books. AUHDB is unbeatable when it comes to the burning of books, books under trial, destruction through censorship, books nipped in the bud, books nipped, full stop, books pulped, put in the stocks. And the moods of the book market, the book industry, publishing capitalism, and their load of sacrifices on the altar of commercial logic.
And naturally, AUHDB became a kind of putative leader of the community. Mates squeeze up against him as soon as a rustle of a mouse lost in the meanders of the Blind Store arouses their fear; a noise hurls us into the grinder’s precipice.
As soon as a beam (of sunlight or loaded with books) disappears.
AUHDB, wanting to reassure, says that we should consider ourselves fortunate to have a second chance, an allusion to this workshop where we act as material (guinea pigs most of all) for all kinds of literary and artistic experimentations under the supervision of this Oulipian, Borgesian, and whimsical artist announced with great pomp, and who took up his post a week ago.
Yes, but everyone knows that things have simply been postponed. It is nothing but a reprieve, THE PLAGUE (Camus) pessimistically points out.
Oh, with all these nitwits who come and cause havoc in the sideboard, there’s nevertheless a good chance of perhaps getting out of here under the arm of some charitable reader or of an angelic new-to-the-profession-writer, INTERNET EXPLORER FOR DUMMIES (Doug Lowe) soothes.
What’s funniest about the whole affair, it takes the biscuit even, is that Master AUHDB, an exhausting tome in his depiction of the minute tortures inflicted on our species, finds himself in the same basket as us, THE THEATER AND ITS DOUBLE (Antonin Artaud) calls out, mocking just a tiny bit. Ha ha ha ha ha! What a world!
It goes to show that no one is safe, my poor devil, from a reversal of fate, THE ACCURSED SHARE (Bataille) slips in.
The greatest are amongst us. That suffices to console me, AUHDB cuts in.
I ponder my upcoming destruction and try to take it in hand, if not humorously like THE THEATER AND ITS DOUBLE, at least philosophically and with detachment, me who was born in a maze of confused thoughts, obtuse nonsense, diffuse stupidities and loathsome lampoons, brooding in the grotto of an obscure writer, my life ruined, inexorably drifting towards the writer’s Abyss, which rises up in the middle of my narrative and chops my verses into bits.
Here I am again returning to the chaotic magma existing before language, before the text. I get ready to dissolve into the Fundamental Text, the matrix page, and the Adamic word. I return to the Native Hexagonal, curling up on my signs in the lair of my mother, the Library of Babel.
I’m barely afraid to suffer beneath the Pulper’s stringent checks. I am neither the first nor the last to be in this situation.
AUHDB says that the destruction of books is as old as human civilization.
He says things that send shivers up your spine.
In their moments of anxiety, my paper comrades rush towards him and bombard him with nagging questions:
In concrete terms, what will happen?
Do you think they’re going to burn us?
Tear us to pieces?
Slit our throats?
AUHDB initially uses cant: “Books never die.”
“What’s more, here, you’re not in an incinerator for paper! You’re treated rather well, you have a reprieve because these fine men who propose dissecting you have rashly extended your days.”
Yeah, and then we’re no longer in the Byzantine, moronic, or Nazi era, L’ALIENAZIONE ARTISTICA (Mario Perniola) consoles herself.
We are in a moronic era all the same, LA COURONNE ET LA LYRE (Marguerite Yourcenar) rectifies with a haughty tone.
The fact still remains that barbarian invasions are through! the JAZZ RECORD GUIDE cuts in.
AUHDB recounts incredible things. He says, for example, that “Plato also destroyed books,” which caused quite a commotion amongst some of my colleagues, and particularly made my neighbor LA TRAGÉDIE GRECQUE (Jacqueline de Romilly) shudder, and get all emotional: Plato, burning books? I daren’t even imagine it!
And yet he did it, AUHDB insists. According to biographer Diogenes Laërtius (beginning of the third century), not content with preventing poets from joining his ideal Republic, Plato attempted to burn books by Democritus, and he even burned his own poems after his encounter with Socrates. There are enough reasons to believe that he even refused any discourse that had not received the guarantee of truth (the truth according to his system, it goes without saying). He forbade poets from entering his ideal State, his Republic, describing them as liars and madmen.
AUHDB has never breathed a word about the reasons for his presence among us. But TLAS has discovered his secret. He claims that it’s because a whole chapter (Chapter 11) had been extracted. A gaping wound which dug a twenty-page crater in AUHDB’s gut (from page 399 to page 420, TLAS explains. He tells me: I saw it with my own eyes).
TLAS says that the chapter in question dealt with the destruction of Baghdad’s National Library after the fall of Saddam Hussein (on April 9, 2003), with the (often active) complicity of the American army, which unceremoniously bombed the Iraqi capital, and which let vandals and pillagers run riot. Dozens of linear kilometers of rare books were ruthlessly burned (Saddam, with all his faults, was a compulsive reader, AUHDB points out, and, I have it from the Writer who read it; Saddam wrote a lot throughout his detention and had even devoted the last months of his life to writing a novel).
Microfilms, Ottoman archives, imperial archives, and ancient manuscripts would have perished in the wake, not forgetting the destruction of dozens of antique pieces following the pillaging of the Iraq Museum (formerly the Baghdad Archaeological Museum).
In all, no less than 17,000 books (an optimistic hypothesis) of inestimable value were massacred, AUHDB claims, quoted again by TLAS, who repeated it to me.
The pessimistic theory: 50 percent of the books were burned and 50 percent stolen.
Did Donald Rumsfeld or Dick Cheney or George W. Bush or the commander-in-chief of the American troops in Iraq have something to do with AUHDB’s amputation?
AUHDB has no idea.
He was asleep when it took place.
He is not in a position to say which hand eviscerated him.
But AUHDB is still in a position to recount many things about the fate of my people throughout the history of humanity.
Yes, he said that even Plato, the great Plato, burnt books.
And that even Borges burnt books.
Yes, yes, yes, Borges.
I was stunned to learn of it.
AUHDB: In an autobiographical essay, Borges did not hide that he’d burnt his first books: “Even a few years ago, if they didn’t cost too much, I’d buy a few copies and burn them,” the author of The Book of Sand confessed.
AUHDB remains deeply marked by what he calls the “Bibliocausts,” and when he speaks about them, a certain kind of emotion can be seen in his eyes.
BIBLIOCAUST! What the hell is this? a rotting school manual gives a start upon hearing this word for the first time.
AUHDB explains: The bibliocaust—a neologism used to refer to the destruction of books—is the attempt to annihilate a memory which constitutes a direct or indirect threat to a supposedly superior memory.
JAZZ RECORD GUIDE (peering at him with a doubtful look): ?????????????????
And … why on earth would you want to annihilate a supposedly inferior memory? Just for fun? Because of a simple allergy to the dust that our old bones have been carting along since antiquity? a tatty tome of the ENCYCLOPAEDIA UNIVERSALIS questions.
Listen to you, fatso, we understand why you’ve been shelved here. Who’s going to read a 3,000 page slab in the Wikipedia era? BEING DIGITAL (Nicholas Negroponte) jeers.
Wiki-up-your-arse, ignoramus! First of all, Wikilane ketchini?1 MANUEL DE GRAMMAIRE BERBÈRE (Hamid Hamouma) interjects. Don’t scoff, buddy, or you’ll have me to deal with!
Stop bickering you lot! OÙ VA LE LIVRE (Jean-Yves Mollier) yells. Don’t you see that we’re all in the same mess, and it’s in our best interests to band together if we don’t want to end up in a cylinder with metallic jaws that will tear us to shreds without a second thought!
Yeah, without a second thought, good on you for pointing that out! We’re all going to be done in, isn’t that right AUHDB?
All of us, I don’t know. All I do know is that the destruction of books, for whatever reason, has studded the history of human civilisation. There is no lack of examples of philosophers, philologists, scholars, and writers who defend bibliocausts, AUHDB continues. In Egypt, Akhenaten, the poet pharaoh, in good monotheist mode, got all the religious books dating from before his reign burned in order to impose all his own literature about the god Aten. In the fifth century BC, Athenian democrats pursued the Sophist Protagoras, and his book On the Gods was burned in public. In China, one of the advisors to Emperor Qin Shi Huang (Ying Zheng), Li Si, the most original philosopher of the Legalist school, advocated the destruction of all books championing a return to the past. The event in fact took place circa 213 BC. Unfortunately, this was not new, because in the Tao Te Ching, the venerable Laozi, better known as Lao-Tzu, had proposed: “Eliminate the wise, exile the geniuses, this will be more useful for the people!”
Lao-Tzu! I exclaim.
AUHDB continues his grim litany: Cardinal Cisneros, founder of Complutense University and instigator of the first printed polyglot of the Bible (under the direction of Diego López de Zúñiga) in Greek, Hebrew, and Chaldean, burnt Muslim books in Grenada. In 1530, Juan de Zumárraga, creator of the first press in Mexico, burnt the Aztecs’ codices. A man as tolerant as the Scottish philosopher David Hume did not hesitate to advocate the abolition of all books about metaphysics.
In 1910, the Futurist movement published a literary manifesto in which it demanded the end of all libraries. As for the Colombian Nadaists (from the Spanish “nada” = “nothing,” “nothingness”), convinced of the necessity to make the literary history of their country disappear, around 1967 they burnt copies of the novel María by Jorge Isaacs (1837–1895). Joseph Goebbels, a great book lover, conceived and organized Nazi book burnings in 1933. In 1939, the board of the Saint Louis Public Library, in Missouri, rejected The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, and ordered the chief librarian to burn their three copies of the book on the courtyard steps, an example used by orators to warn American writers that they would tolerate neither obscene language nor communist doctrines. Vladimir Nabokov, teaching at Stanford and Harvard Universities, “tore apart” Don Quixote at Memorial Hall in front of more than six hundred students.
Bloody hell! When you think that his Lolita incurred the wrath of the same institutions! AMERICAN CIVILIZATION LECTURES (Nicholas Murray Butler) exclaims.
But … reassure me: bibliocausts are ancient history, aren’t they? A barbarian ritual no longer current in our part of the world, isn’t that right? XY, DE L’IDENTITÉ MASCULINE (Élisabeth Badinter) asks, frightened.
AUHDB falls silent as a sign of contrition and no longer says a word. Nothing is more unbearable for him than having to hold forth morning, noon, and night on a subject as grim as this.
Aren’t there NGOs we can donate our skins to for countries lacking books? RÉSISTANCES À L’EXCLUSION: RÉCITS DE SOI ET DU MONDE (collective) inquires, in despair.
All of this really frightens me! LAKE by Jean Echenoz becomes emotional.
Even in France, we’re not safe. I can’t believe it. THE ACACIA by Claude Simon chips in.
It’s even more terrifying than that, my poor fellow, THE MIRROR OF THE LIMBS (Malraux) becomes outraged. 100 million of our brothers killed for 500 million that come out of the printing house. It’s crazy, he fumes, hitting his forehead against a blind wall.
AUHDB sighs from the depths of the Blind Store: “One also needs to ask how many books have perished merely by not being published, how many have been lost forever in private editions, how many have been left on the beach, in the metro, or on a park bench and have hence disappeared. It is difficult to answer these questions, but what is sure and certain, is that at the moment that you read these lines, at least one book is on the way to disappearing for good.”
Mustapha Benfodil. The AntiBook. Fragments of Literary Waste.
Writin’ Progress. Unpublished.
Translated from the French by Sandra Reid
1 Wikilane ketchini: "You, who d’you think you are?" in Kabyle. Wikilane literally means “who are you?”