- Fantasies of the Library ed. by Anna-Sophie Springer and Etienne Turpin
by Anna-Sophie Springer and Etienne Turpin. The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, U.S.A., 2016. 160 pp., illus. Trade. ISBN: 978-0-262-03520-0.
What goes (on) in the library does not necessarily stay in the library: The library is not merely a container space for one particular cultural function of public access to knowledge. It is also a place for curatorial, experimental, lively engagements, art projects and theoretical trajectories that can pick up on the histories and (re)forms of the book, on the infrastructures of knowledge, on the political conditions of collections and many other topics that show the dynamics of the institution. Fantasies of the Library, edited by Anna-Sophie Springer and Etienne Turpin, works to highlight the centrality of the library as a historical and contemporary place of imaginary practices while also discussing its institutional relations to related forms of knowledge such as the archive and curatorial practices. The book itself is part of the intercalations: paginated exhibition series and is also published separately by the MIT Press.
A principal part of the book is formed by Springer's lead essay on curatorial spaces of the library, or "Melancholies of the Paginated Mind." The essay mobilizes a range of historical examples and theorists as part of the various dialogues and relations of the short book. The institutional practices of the library have organized not only collections but also their users. Springer's discussion explores Michel Foucault's and Gustave Flaubert's thinking on the historical situations of practices of the imaginary as part of a key form of modern subjectivity: "In fact, Foucault contends that it was Flaubert who opened the way for a new form of subjectivity in the nineteenth century, one in which the imaginary is experienced as arising less from the nature of nocturnal dreams and more from the repositories of accumulated knowledge" (p. 33). In addition, Aby Warburg's library as an alternative form of assembly and organization to a standard classification system is introduced through its centrality as "problem collection" (as in, generative of problems rather than merely of solutions—a collection to think with). It is also such an important part of Warburg's work and thinking that it would be fair to consider the arrangement of knowledge/space as part of the methodology itself. When one is reading Fantasies of the Library, this idea is important to keep in mind as an implicit guideline for understanding what the library can be as a curatorial space: problem-creating, methodologically active organization of possibilities of research and creation. While such themes are increasingly central for current debates through digital infrastructures, this book shows that there is a historical and an artistic side to these questions.
Springer's essay is an enjoyable read, and the book is designed so that the lead essay is juxtaposed on the other side of the page with the other materials of the edited book. This includes interviews with Erin Kissane, Megan Prelinger with Rick Prelinger, and Hammad Nasar and Joanna Zylinska; contributions by Andrew Norman Wilson (who images Google book scan glitches); and Charles Stankievech's text written in the context of the recent lawsuit against arg.org. The layout works more as a good idea than as part of the experience of reading, but it does force the reader to be more aware of how the flow of the text operates. And in the midst of the back-and-forth reading that jumps across more than two pages, the book succeeds in staging some apt contexts for exploring the question of how the library situates itself somewhere between a structure and a place, an idea and an organizational practice. [End Page 89]
The editors' thinking about the book as part of their curatorial practice is revealed through a question that Zylinska, one of the interviewees, asks: What does the project want?
In Springer's words:
We are beginning with the tool as a technology of the imagination as a way to explore the library as a curatorial project in relation to concepts and...