Being friends with the librarian in the Bibliothèque National

Lorcan 1 min read

[I bring back this entry prompted by the selection of The Arcades Project in the series of canonical works in the Times Higher Education Supplement. It was originally published on July 13 2007.]

There is a passage in a letter from Walter Benjamin to Theodor Adorno where he suggests removing a reference to Georges Bataille from a document. Bataille, in addition to his other accomplishments, was a librarian at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Benjamin writes:

And in this way my own relationship with Georges Bataille will not be adversely affected either, something I would like to maintain, both because of his assistance at the Bibliothèque Nationale, and because of my plans for naturalization. – The fragment would not escape his attention since the Institute journal is openly displayed in the reading room where he often works; and he is hardly the type of person to react serenely to its contents. // Theodor W Adorno and Walter Benjamin. The complete correspondence, 1928-1940. p. 276

I was reminded of this passage as I read Jeremy Harding’s discussion in the current London Review of Books of Walter Benjamin’s ‘last day’ before his death in 1940 while trying to flee to the US.
Benjamin had left various papers, including the manuscript of his Arcades Project, with Bataille for safe-keeping. Bataille hid them in the library. The Arcades Project is a massive unfinished work, a weaving of quotations and Benjamin’s own text.

So the library comes in at three levels. At one, it is important for the scholar to keep in with the librarian 😉 At a second, the librarian receives a manuscript on the eve of flight and keeps it safely in the library from where it is retrieved and published. At a third, is it possible to imagine a book which rests so much on quotations without the libraries which preserve the scholarly and cultural record the quotations point to and make it available to readers?

Related entries:

Note: Originally published July 13 2007. WC Identities URLs updated to current versions.

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