Libraries are structures built for the storage, preservation and provision of stories, and as a story is an intellectual structure, one can conceive of libraries as spaces in which intellectual structures are brought together to form a kind of superstructure. When readers and writers use libraries they do more than inhabit them physically. To make use of a library is also to inhabit the intellectual structure it represents. This paper aims to describe the experience of inhabiting and extending intellectual library space. By focusing on how Haruki Murakami’s protagonist in Kafka on the Shore experiences language, this paper will attempt to come to an understanding of what the phenomenologist Gaston Bachelard called the ‘psychic reality of reading and writing’: a reality within which the library’s primary function is to open spaces within readers and writers in which acts of creation can occur. After considering the nature of the reading and writing experience, this paper will propose various built forms appropriate to an intellectual library which deals in such acts of creation. This task will involve describing how built forms taken from the literary works of Italo Calvino, Coleman Barks, Jeanette Winterson and Franz Kafka, among others, can be profitably employed as metaphors for intellectual library space.


In the final instalment of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time the French novelist writes: ‘In reality, every reader, as he reads, is the reader of himself. The work of the writer is only a sort of optic instrument which he offers to the reader so that he may discern in the book what he would probably not have seen in himself’ (2009). In Champion of a cause: essays and addresses on librarianship Archibald MacLeish, the poet and former librarian of congress, writes that ‘the physical book: is never more than an ingenious cipher by which the intellectual book is communicated from one mind to another, and the intellectual book is always a structure in the imagination’ (MacLeish in Basbanes 2003: 6). In these passages Proust and MacLeish both comment on the nature of books. Proust likens books to optic instruments that enable readers to make the invisible within them visible, while MacLeish likens books to ingenious ciphers through which meaning can be conveyed. Both writers suggest that books direct our gaze inward, allowing us to internally apprehend the intellectual structures they contain.

This article aims to interrogate the experience of reading, which the physical library serves. It will then suggest a series of habitable structures that can be profitably employed as metaphors for the intellectual apparatus we use and develop when we bring story structures into existence. In literary terms, the space of the reading experience has been described variously as ‘the domain of the prophet’ (Sebald 2002: 62) and as ‘the realms of gold’ (Keats 1970: 61). Jalal ad-Din Rumi refers to such spaces as ‘inspired solitudes’ (trans. Barks: 2002:105). Italo Calvino, contemplating the nature of nameless things, imagines that they reside in the place where ‘thoughts take on form and substance’ (2009: 110). Haruki Murakami refers to a ‘space where emptiness and substance neatly overlap’ (2005: 449). In philosophical terms, however, this space has been described as a space that ‘links us to an eternal present’, and as the sphere of language and writing, which, more than the body, “corresponds to the soul” (Derrida 2006: 18). It has been called a ‘poetisphere’ and a ‘dimension of the modern psychism’ (Bachelard 1994: 24) that represents ‘the threshold of being’ (Bachelard 1994: xii).

In Earth and Reveries of the Will, Bachelard reminds us that the task of philosophy, according to the German philosopher Friedrich Jacobi, is simply to discover the origins of language (2002: 4), and he maintains that each literary image offers the experience of the creation of language’ (2002: 5). What remains to be explored is the space within which this creation of language is experienced. Bachelard describes this space as the site of the poetic act and as a place where the poetic image emerges into the consciousness as a direct product of the heart, soul and being of man (1994: xviii). Elsewhere, he writes that ‘the poet in the novelty of his images is always the origin of language’ (1994: xx). But it is not only the poet who experiences this poetic act which is an origin of language. Readers also share in the joy of creation, and this act of creation ‘makes of the reader a poet on a level with the image he has read’ (1994: xxv).

In this light, it would not be too presumptuous to suppose that the primary function of the library, the function it performs that is higher than its functions of storage, preservation, access, and so forth, is to open up within readers a space where acts of creation can take place. This is, indeed, how Murakami uses the invented library in his novel Kafka on the Shore, in which a fifteen-year-old boy runs away from home to live in the corner of a small public library. The library that is central to Kafka on the Shore acts as a kind of halfway house between the conscious and the subconscious, the living and the dead. From the first chapter, in fact, we are informed that this halfway house is the destination of the protagonist: ‘On my fifteenth birthday’, the narrator explains, ‘I’ll run away from home, journey to a far-off town, and live in the corner of a small library’ (Murakami 2005: 4). It is, furthermore, not insignificant that Murakami specifically states that his protagonist will come to live in ‘the corner’ of a small library, and it would even be useful, at this point, to reflect on what Bachelard has written about the corners of inhabited spaces: ‘every corner in a house, every angle in a room, every inch of secluded space in which we like to hide, or withdraw into ourselves, is a symbol of solitude for the imagination’ (Bachelard 1994: 136). When we recall the hours we have spent in our corners,’ he continues, ‘we remember above all silence, the silence of our thoughts’ (Bachelard 1994: 137). At one point, Bachelard even designates the corner as ‘the chamber of being’ (1994: 138). These descriptions of corners reveal something about our experience of reading, as it is a corner that we see when we open the pages of a book: a corner of paper that takes us to realms beyond memory. One of the most concise descriptions of disappearing into a corner of paper appears in William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, in which Blake writes: ‘I took him to the altar and open’d the Bible, and lo! it was a deep pit, into which I descended’ (2004: 191). An observation of Bachelard’s also takes us deep into the reading experience: ‘it is as though the poem in its exuberance’, he writes, ‘opened new depths in us’ (1994: xxiii). This is not to suggest that the religious and philosophical system that Blake envisioned agrees with the phenomenological insights of Bachelard. Their conceptions of depth in these works differ, but both writers, nonetheless, associate the reading experience with the notion of descent. It is a simple and meaningful association.

This depth-opening experience of language is also described by Jacques Derrida: ‘To grasp the operation of the creative imagination at the greatest possible proximity to it, one must turn oneself toward the invisible interior of poetic freedom. One must be separated from oneself in order to be reunited with the blind origin of the work in its darkness’ (2006: 7). Murakami explores this concept through his protagonist’s imagined friend, whose name, quite appropriately, is Crow. It is Crow who, on Kafka Tamura’s behalf, swoops down into blind depths to find words for Kafka’s half-formed thoughts: ‘I try putting into words my impressions of the novel, but I need Crow’s help – need him to appear from wherever he is, spread his wings wide and search out the right words for me’ (Murakami 2005: 113). Crow plays a part in the creative acts that are inherent to the protagonist’s experience of language. Crow is at once part of and separate from the protagonist, and his presence illustrates the concept of separation from self that Derrida proposes. There are, however, less benign sides to our experience of lonely corners and dark depths; ‘there are angles from which one cannot escape’ (Bachelard 1994: 144), and there are corners which are also graves. It is Kafka Tamura’s desire to avoid such malevolent corners that drives him to seek out the Komura Memorial Library: a place that is situated somewhere between, or rather within, both reality and imagination. The protagonist even states, at one point, that:

As I relax on the sofa and gaze around the room a thought hits me: this is exactly the place I’ve been looking for all my life. A little hideaway in some sinkhole somewhere. I always thought of it as a secret, imaginary place, and can barely believe that it actually exists (Murakami 2005: 39).

Inevitably, Kafka Tamura is drawn into the space between the real and the imagined within the library. His journey is indeed a journey into the depths—into the aspect of library space that interests us most—the in between space, that is, which exists between the written word and the emerging image: an in between space which swells and expands a sentence’s tenuous thread (Bachelard 1994: xxii). This in between space is where we go when we begin to intimately inhabit the space of the word: an experience that has been described in the following way:

Words–I often imagine this–are little houses, each with its cellar and garret. Common-sense lives on the ground floor, always ready to engage in “foreign commerce,” on the same level as the others, as the passers-by, who are never dreamers. To go upstairs in the word house, is to withdraw, step by step; while to go down to the cellar is to dream, it is losing oneself in the distant corridors of an obscure etymology, looking for treasures that cannot be found in words. To mount and descend in the words themselves–this is a poet’s life. To mount too high or descend too low is allowed in the case of poets, who bring earth and sky together. (Bachelard 1994: 147)

So if a single word can be the germ of a house or a world, then what of a sentence or a story, and what of an entire library? When we begin to imagine intellectual systems made up of multiple word, sentence, and story structures, vast edifices begin to swell in the imagination: vast edifices that exist on the other side of the corporal and temporal world. Indeed, what pleasurable feelings of expansion we experience when, seduced by what we read, these structures begin to expand as we push them out from within? Murakami, through his protagonist, describes this experience in the following way: ‘I’m alone inside the world of the story. My favourite feeling in the world’ (2005:61), and Bachelard would say that during such moments of expansion the dreamer and his reverie have entered totally ‘into the substance of his happiness’ (1994: 12).

This alone space within which we build habitable story structures is the liminal space that the title of Murakami’s book alludes to. The protagonist is, after all, positioned, right from the beginning ‘on the Shore’. Perhaps Murakami is referring to the shore-like space that Bachelard describes in Earth and Reveries of the Will, a space that exists between an images psychological reality and its physical reality (2002: 3). Similarly, the philosopher and phenomenologist Maurice Maurice Merleau-Ponty in his Phenomenology of Perception goes some way towards describing how we experience this space between the physical and the psychological:

the [physical] brush which presents itself to the senses is merely an envelope or a phantom. The true brush, the stiff, prickly entity which is incarnated in these appearances, is concentrated in the gaze; it has moved from the window, leaving there only its lifeless shell. (Merleau-Ponty 2007: 339)

What is said here of the physical brush could also be said of the word ‘brush’, which itself is merely an envelope that allows for the incarnation of the true brush. Between the brush itself and the word brush is a border space. It is this border space, no doubt, in which Bachelard imagines a chord sounding in the soul of the reader (Bachelard 1994: 100), the type of word-chord that generates images as it descends: images that will become more stable as they surface. Bachelard maintains that the human psyche forms itself first and foremost in images (2002: 3), and ascertaining what happens in the silent poetic moment in which images emerge takes him directly to the object of his enquiries, which is the insides of poems (2002: 6), as it is within poems that literary images are born. ‘I believe’, he continues, ‘that the pre-eminence of imagination may be discovered through the close examination of literary images’ (2002: 4–5). This observation, which puts its faith in the pre-eminence of the imagination, seems to be pointing to a renewal of Romanticism, which is in essence a renewed interest in genesis, in becoming. We are given more proof of this in his description of the two types of images: perceived images and created images, which seem to correspond to Merleau-Ponty’s ‘psychological’ and ‘physical’ realities. For Bachelard ‘perceived images and created images constitute two very different psychological phenomena:

Creative imagination functions very differently than imagination which relies on the reproduction of past perceptions, because it is governed by an unreality principleevery bit as powerful, psychologically speaking, as that reality principle so frequently invoked by psychologists to characterize an individual’s adjustment to whatever “reality” enjoys social sanction. It is precisely this unreality principle that reinstates the value of solitude, ordinary reverie being one of the most elementary aspects of solitude. (Bachelard 2002: 2)

Here Bachelard elevates the creative imagination, which is governed by an unreality principle, above the formal imagination, which relies solely on the reproduction of past perceptions. This movement, which, as we have noted, is a movement toward Romanticism, and which is guided by the phenomenological method, involves a study of poetic images as they are originally experienced. What, however, is an appropriate shape for an intellectual library which deals in such originally experienced creations?

There are many habitable structures in the natural world that can help us to envision what such a library would look like. In The Poetics of Space Bachelard describes ‘the world as the nest of mankind’ (1994: 104), and in the same work he describes nests as refuges, as shelters, and, quite significantly, as curved corners. There are dead nests and living nests (994: 94) and oneirically fertile nests full of eggs which sit snugly in the forks of branches (1994: 96). But if we can think of the world as the nest of mankind, can we not also think of the library as the nest of the human mind? What is a library, after all, if not a nest of poetic images waiting to be re-experienced/imagined? Two lines by the poet Ivan Goll take our imagination in this direction:

I found a nest in the skeleton of the ivy
A soft nest of country moss and dream herb.
(Ivan Goll in Bachelard 1994: 90)

Thinking oneirically, it makes perfect sense to use dream herb to build soft nests of the mind.

Another natural structure that can help us to envision an intellectual library that deals in originally experienced creations is the shell. One writer who has dreamed the life of a shell-secreting mollusc is Italo Calvino, and deep within his shell building reverie we are informed that the mollusc made the shell simply to express itself: ‘while I [the mollusc] was making it [the shell] I had no idea of making it because I needed it; on the contrary, it was like when somebody lets out an exclamation he could perfectly well not make, and yet he makes it, like a ‘Ha’ or ‘hmph!’, that’s how I made the shell: simply to express myself … From the margin of that fleshy cloak on my body, using certain glands, I began to give off secretions which took on a curving shape all around, until I was covered with a hard and variegated shield, rough on the outside and smooth and shiny inside. … Once it existed, this shell was also a necessary and indispensable place to stay inside of, a defence for my survival’ (2009: 143). Similar observations have been made about nests.

According to Jules Michelet, the nineteenth century French historian and natural scientist, a bird is a worker without tools. It has ‘neither the hand of the squirrel, nor the teeth of the beaver.’ ‘In reality,’ Michelet writes, ‘a bird’s tool is its own body, that is, its breast, with which it presses and tightens its materials until they have become absolutely pliant, well-blended and adapted to the general plan’ (Michelet in Bachelard 1994: 100). But even though nests are precarious shelters, they do encourage day dreams of security. They remind us of home, and as nests are the hiding places of winged creatures, they can easily set us to dreaming of homecomings and movements towards safe shelter (Bachelard 1994: 94-103). As we noted in chapter two, Murakami’s library in Kafka on the Shore is a transitory space, and all of the characters have a nomadic quality about them; not for a moment are we given the impression that any of them are there in the library to stay. Murakami’s library does remain, nonetheless, a place in which it is possible to feel at home, and this inhabiting of word-homes within the library corresponds to an inhabiting of homes in the natural world. In Kafka on the Shore, movements toward the library are certainly imbued with a sense of homecoming. When Kafka Tamura needs somewhere that is safe and warm, for instance, the only place that comes to mind is the library (Murakami 2005: 76). The library is a physical home for Kafka, but it is also an intellectual one, and this intellectual library is like a nest or a shell composed of intimate dreams within which it is possible to live. Meditating on these habitable libraries of the mind, we are reminded of what Bachelard tells us books give us: They ‘give our day-dreams’, he writes, ‘countless dwelling places. Is there one among us’, he continues, ‘who has not spent romantic moments in the tower of a book he has read?’ (1994: 25)

One manmade dwelling place that embodies aspects of intellectual library space is the seventeenth century Khajou Bridge in the city of Isfahan in Iran. In utilising Bachelard’s phenomenological method of analysis, however, we will concern ourselves not with the bridge’s physicality, but with how it has been experienced by the active imagination of the poet, who in this case is Coleman Barks, the American poet and translator of the Persian poet Jalal ad-Din Rumi. But before Barks shares his impressions of the Khajou Bridge, he prefaces his comments with the following words:

I sometimes fall in love with bridges. One lazy spring when I was staying in a house in Kanlica, across from Istanbul, it was the Sultan Mehmet Bridge, with its Bosphoric procession of boats. The Clifton Suspension Bridge near Bristol, England. The lowly San Mateo Bridge across San Francisco Bay, and all those others across that body of water. The rickety old Walnut Street Bridge we drove over every morning going to elementary school in Chattanooga. I used to imagine places to live in lodged among the girders, or especially, not on that bridge but others, in the drawbridge lift operator’s room. (Barks 2007: 1)

This passage bridges its way toward childhood dreams of inhabiting, and inhabiting has been central to this discussion of library space thus far. One invented library in particular that seems to mirror the sentiment of Barks’ bridge-dwelling reverie appears in Jeanette Winterson’s Art and Lies. In Winterson’s re-imagining of the ancient library of Alexandria, the library is a vertiginous space in which climbing boys, whose job it is to ascend into the dizzy miles of shelves, are eventually racked at various levels around the library, so that they can form a human chain, and pass down any volume. Accordingly, Winterson writes, the boys built themselves eyries in among the books, and were to be seen squatting and scowling at greater and greater heights around the library. Soon, we are told, the boys had tunnelled behind the huge shelves and thrown up a rookery of strange apartments where beds were books and chairs were books and dinner was eaten off books and all the stuffings, linings, sealings, floorings, openings and closings, were books (Winterson 1995: 4-5).

In Winterson’s soaring reverie, the physical library becomes a many-chambered nest inhabited by vaporous Alexandrian slave-boys. Winterson’s library, however, is made somewhat grotesque by the fact that the library’s residents are slaves who are unable to benefit from the knowledge which surrounds them. Barks’ bridge inhabiting reverie provide a less pessimistic impression of the structures he imagines himself lodged in, but his reveries only reach their full potential when his dreams of inhabiting are applied, through metaphor, to poetry. He does this by using the Khajou Bridge as a metaphor for Rumi’s poems: ‘the stanzas of a Rumi ghazal (ode)’, he writes, ‘have the brio and living dynamic of the sluices and alcoves of the Khajou Bridge … they provide spaces where conversation can flourish, and [they provide] silence, the deep silence we remember near water.’ Barks then writes that he ‘was impressed by the depth of solitude in those who were sitting on the steps looking downstream’ (2007: 5), and further on he states that ‘the ghazals of Rumi and the Khajou Bridge are similar expressions of awareness’ (2007: 6). Barks is clearly pointing to the possibility of inhabiting the lines of poems. This oneiric correspondence is, however, not the only way that the Khajou Bridge could be said to resemble an inhabited intellectual structure.

Blake observed that it is in the brain of man that we live (2004: 288), and this sentiment is echoed in Arnold Zable’s description of the domed reading room of the State Library of Victoria: ‘The Dome and its ascending galleries’, Zable writes, ‘seemed like a giant brain vaulting towards the heavens’ (ed. Barnes 2003: 76). Barks uses a similar comparison to describe the Khajou Bridge, which is a bridge with both an upper and a lower level. The bridge’s upper level is lined with small arcades, in which, we are told, groups congregate for dinners, poetry recitations, philosophical discussions, etc., and its lower level, which sits a few feet above the water, is much more intimate and conducive to solitary reflection. ‘It is as intricate and as woven as a brain,’ Barks writes, before going on to describe the bridge as ‘a halved and opened labyrinth’. ‘The right brain’, he maintains, ‘is dominant here, with its artistic sensitivity and wisdom flow, but Khajou is also an image of balance, with its upper roadway, very practical and left-brain, and its lower level conductive to music and meditation, friendship and poetry’ (Barks 2007: 2–3). At any rate, it is certainly right brain, artistically sensitive thinking that is responsible for a legend about the construction of the bridge, which holds that the bricks used to build it were made of ‘limestone mixed with egg white, like a cake’, ‘Alchemically cooked’ (Barks 2007: 4), as it were. Barks admits to being unaware of why limestone and egg whites were used, but as limestone is a sedimentary rock born of the earth, and as egg white is close to the origin of dreams of flight, then perhaps it is not too much to say that the bridge, made as it is of dreams of earth and air, is not only a bridge from one bank to another, but also a bridge from the earth to the sky. We are thus reminded of Bachelard’s words in The Poetics of Space: ‘To mount and descend in the words themselves–this is a poet’s life. To mount too high or descend too low is allowed in the case of poets, who bring earth and sky together’ (1994: 147). By reading the bridge in this way it can be seen to represent the creative activity of poets and of those who read their work.

As well as having been invested with the oneiric power of the earth and the air in its materiality, the Khajou Bridge also offers us, as libraries do, an invitation to be silent, all the better to allow us to join the poets in their mad ascents and descents. In fact, there is something of an ode to silence in Barks’ description of the Khajou quarter and the Khajou Bridge. He describes the Khajou quarter, on the north bank of the river, as ‘a honeycomb of secret places, many of them out in the open, but perfectly suited for any transaction with beauty. … It is an encouragement for those sojourning through to rest a while and deepen’ (Barks 2007: 2). And on the edge of this quarter of secret places, the Khaju Bridge stands like ‘a human-made shoal that people are drawn to, to enjoy the seasonal motion, to sit quietly in time’ (Barks 2007: 6). The words Barks uses to describe a man-made structure speak eloquently of the experience of intimately inhabiting. A human-made shoal full of places to sit quietly in time and within which it is possible to rest a while and deepen certainly comes close to intellectual library space as we have conceived it thus far. In fact, the verbs ‘to deepen’ and ‘to descend’ are at the core of our intimate experience of this type of space. We have noted that Kafka Tamura’s journey is ‘a journey into the depths’, and it is the ‘depths of solitude’ into which people have allowed themselves to fall that impress Barks as he crosses the bridge. In fact, to Barks, the Khajou Bridge seems to stand as a symbol of a sound mind: a mind that, from time to time, needs ‘to rest a while and deepen’ (2007: 2). All of this deepening begs a consideration of what Merleau-Ponty has written about our experience of depth.

Merleau-Ponty argues that depth is the most existential of all dimensions because it announces an indissoluble link between things and self by which the self is placed in front of them, whereas breadth can, at first sight, pass for a relationship between things themselves, in which the perceiving subject is not implied’ (2007: 298). In this sense, depth is the only dimension in which the perceiving subject is indispensable and central, as there can be no depth without an embodied subject with the ability to project a gaze, and there can never be an embodied gaze without some sort of intention. ‘Depth is born beneath my gaze’, Merleau-Ponty writes, ‘because the latter tries to see something’ (2007: 306), and he describes this intention-loaded gaze as ‘a sort of knowledge machine’ which organises what we perceive and which is guided by a ‘perceptual genius underlying the thinking subject’ (2007: 307). This perceptual genius at work in our visual field, tending always towards the most determinant form (2007: 306) operates in the dimension of depth: ‘the dimension in which things or elements of things envelope each other’, as opposed to breadth and height in which they are juxtaposed (Merleau-Ponty 2007: 308). The dimension of depth brings the body’s genius back into our understanding of space by making the body the subject and origin of space, while forcing us to rediscover the primordial experience from which it springs (Merleau-Ponty 2007: 292-8).

But, in as much as there can be a double reality of the image, can there not also be a double reality of depth? We certainly sense, at any rate, that Bachelard and Barks would both attempt to steer us away from a purely external perception of depth and toward a perception of depth which reaches from the external through to the internal: to an inner depth in which ‘things or elements of things envelope each other’ (Merleau-Ponty 2007: 308); to an inner depth which, like its external counterpart, longs for synthesis, and which speaks of the genius within us that seeks meaningful shapes and forms, not only in space, but in the whole unruly mosaic of experienced sensations, descriptions, narratives and ideas; to a depth which remains a core of disorder seeking order. Reaching such a depth involves, we must assume, some kind of descent. Barks posits that the Khajou Bridge might be a kind of ‘descent’ (2007: 4). Alternately, a library might act as a site from which we descend. Indeed, at the end of Barks’ reflective contemplation of the Khajou Bridge, he unites the bridge and the library with a single image. After reminding us that Rumi ‘has long been felt to be a bridge, a place for cultures and religions especially to merge and enjoy each other’, Barks recalls that ‘During his [Rumi’s] ride with his family down the Silk Road ahead of the Mongol armies, from Balkh in central Asia to Iconium (Konya, Turkey), he accumulated a rich baggage of Taoist, Buddhist, and Zoastrian images, along with stories from India, to add to those from his Islamic texts. It is said’, Barks continues, ‘that ninety camels were needed just to carry Bahauddin’s (Rumi’s father’s) books. There is a caravan bridge to contemplate’ (2007: 7-8), he concludes. This caravan/bridge/library, with its rich baggage of literary images, comes close to being an ideal metaphor for a library of the mind. What it lacks, however, and what the reading experience can invest it with, is depth. To understand the space of the reading experience, a space which the physical library serves, we would certainly do well to try to see it through the lens of Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological observations about the nature of depth.

Perhaps, not surprisingly, it is Franz Kafka who provides us with a reverie of depth and descent which, in its labyrinthine, round-cornered intimacy, succeeds in creating a sense of homecoming for us in our search for forms that can be employed as metaphors for intellectual library space. In his work entitled ‘The Burrow’ we find an incredibly detailed and sensitively rendered description of what it means to call a complex structure home. The narrator of ‘The Burrow’ is a small animal who, over the course of the narrative, describes the home that it has been building for much of its life. It is a home composed, we are told, of passageways along which, every hundred yards or so, little round cells have been hollowed out, and in the very centre of which lies a chief cell, which is referred to as the Castle Keep (Kafka 1993: 470). When the burrow was just beginning, the narrator of the story informs us, he was ‘nothing more than a humble apprentice’ and ‘the labyrinth was only sketched out in rough outline’, and ‘everything was so tentative that it could only be regarded as an experiment’, but by slow degrees the burrow expands, and when, towards the end of the animal’s life, the burrow is completed, it is described as a ‘great vulnerable edifice’ (Kafka 1993: 499). As is often the case with Kafka, however, early on we begin to assume that in writing about a burrow, he is referring to much more than a burrow, and, indeed, as his description proceeds, we begin to apprehend a structure that resembles a branching intellectual growth: an intellectual growth, furthermore, that is intimately experienced precisely because it is inhabited. In fact, Kafka’s burrow is, if nothing else, a masterfully rendered dream of inhabiting, and in its lines we find repeated many of the themes that we have encountered on our way towards a more complete understanding of intellectual library space.

Kafka’s narrator informs us, for instance, that although the small cells that line the passageways of his burrow are very nearly identical, he is, nonetheless, able to clearly distinguish one from the other with his eyes shut by the mere feel of the wall: ‘they enclose me’, he says, ‘more peacefully and warmly than a bird is enclosed in a nest’ (1993: 483). And in this warm, peaceful, nest-like burrow, a process of ordering and reordering is constantly underway. The stores kept in the burrow’s central chamber are endlessly divided, and only after precise calculations have been made and careful plans have been laid are these stores carried to other cells, and in this activity it is easy to make out a system of mass intellectual organisation: a system not without moments of intellectual crisis. Occasionally it dawns on the narrator that ‘the present distribution of his stores is completely and totally wrong, might lead to great dangers, and must be set right at once, and at these times everything is thrown into disarray … at other times, it seems best to keep all the stores in the Castle Keep (Kafka 1993: 472). This perpetual reorganisation certainly corresponds to the following passage from Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore:

Every one of us is losing something precious to us … Lost opportunities, lost possibilities, feelings we can never get back again. That’s part of what it means to be alive. But inside our heads – at least that’s where I imagine it – there’s a little room where we store those memories. A room like the stacks in this library. And to understand the workings of our own heart we have to keep on making new reference cards. We have to dust things off every once in a while, let in fresh air, change the water in the flower vases. In other words, you’ll live forever in your own private library. (Murakami 2005: 501)

What better way is there of saying that we inhabit our thoughts, and that to understand and protect ourselves requires many and constant adjustments? Another aspect of the burrow that we have found in both the bridge and the library, and which Kafka draws our attention to, is its stillness and its silence. ‘But the most beautiful thing about my burrow’, Kafka’s narrator informs us ‘is the stillness (1993: 469), and he describes the entrance to the passageways, which lead off the Castle Keep, as ‘still and empty, [and] ready by their various routes to conduct me to all the other rooms, which are also still and empty’ (1993: 483). At the best of times the passageways are filled with a ‘silence which flows’, and we are informed that sometimes ‘it is as if the fountains from which flows the silence of the burrow were unsealed.’ This is a silence in which ‘all life is transfigured’ (Kafka 1993: 494). It is a silence which ‘can flood one with peace if one only remains quite open and receptive to it’ (Kafka 1993: 482). At one point, Kafka’s narrator states quite forcefully that he must have silence in his passage (1993: 486). Then, inevitably and importantly, we are confronted with the fact that the narrator of the story, the one-time apprentice who is now the master architect of the burrow, judges himself to be inextricably united with his abode, and Kafka provides several reasons as to why the subject of the story would feel this way, not least of which is the fact that so much physical and intellectual effort has gone into its construction. There are the passageways and smaller cells of the burrow which, we are told, ‘are the outcome of intense intellectual labor’, and then there is the central chamber which was ‘fashioned by the most arduous labor of the body, which involved hammering and pounding the loose and sandy soil into a firm state to serve as a wall for the beautifully vaulted chamber’ (Kafka 1993: 470). At one point, Kafka’s narrator states that ‘I and the burrow belong ‘indissolubly together’ (1993: 483), and a little later he states that ‘any wound to his burrow hurts him as if he himself were hit’ (1993: 499).

Kafka’s story is about an animal burrowing, but at a deeper level it is about a human burrowing an intellectual home of the mind. ‘To experience a structure’, Merleau-Ponty writes, ‘is not to receive it into oneself passively: it is to live it, to take it up, assume it and discover its immanent significance’ (2007: 301), and, in this sense, Kafka’s animal could certainly be said to have experienced its burrow. So we can say that the burrow’s branching growth, in conjunction with the animal’s constant rearranging, and its constant and regular descents into the Castle Keep, which, it should be noted, lies at ‘unusual depth’ (Kafka 2007: 488), its need for stillness and silence, and the intellectual and physical labour that has gone into the burrow’s construction, and, furthermore, the presence of an intimacy within which the entity inhabiting and the space being inhabited are one: all of these things can be seen to represent the necessary aspects of an intellectual library in which descents into pure depth, where the origin of language lies, are made possible. And what are these descents if not, to use Derrida’s words, a ‘returning to the things themselves’ (2006: 194), what are they if not ways to open a ‘space of description’? (Derrida 2006: 196)

Our exploration of poetic images of intimately inhabited spaces that correspond to the experience of intimately inhabiting intellectual library space has taken us from an exploration of the shell, to an exploration of the nest and the bridge and finally the burrow – all structures that can help us conceive of a psychically authentic and intimately experienced intellectual library which can potentially serve as a shell/nest/bridge/burrow/library-home within which the embodied ‘I’ can reside. Such an intellectual home has ‘the curious property of being in relation with all other sites’ (Foucault 1998), and is, furthermore, able to bring earth and sky together. Without the descent of the reading and writing experience, however, such library homes lack ‘depth’: the kind of depth that Bachelard seemed to understand only too well: ‘in human daydreams everything remote intermingles’ (1994: 120) he writes. It is this ‘deep’ and ‘remote’ intermingling, this deep and remote becoming, this deep and remote genesis, if you like, that makes the expansion of the intellectual library possible. This deep and remote activity at the root of the reading and writing experience, within which words are found to describe, ‘the uniqueness of inner disturbance’ (Bachelard 1994: 220), is, most certainly, a true origin of language.

Agrippa once wrote that ‘imagination is a better interpreter of the world than reason’ (Bachelard 2004: 151), and perhaps Heidegger had such a sentiment in mind when he chose to fall back on the words of a poet in his attempts to articulate for his readers the nature of language’s remote source. The poem that performs this task for Heidegger describes a transcendental landscape, in which a goddess of words inhabits a twilight world. From a dark place without names the poet approaches with what he has found, and the goddess draws names from her well to bring these nameless things to life, because it is only with a name that the poet can truly own what he has found (Stefan George in Heidegger 1982: 60). Language, Heidegger writes, belongs within the domain of this mysterious landscape in which poetic saying borders on the fateful source of speech. This origin of language, this place of genesis, where, as Bachelard puts it, ‘the poet’s soul discovers the opening of consciousness common to all true poetry’ (2004: 5), is a living space, a living depth, that finds corresponding spaces in the depths of the physical world: in the depths of oceans, in the depths of the earth, and in the less fathomable depths of space. There are also, however, manmade depths which attempt to mirror the living depths where language has its root. The interiors of Aztec temples as described by Bernal Diaz in 1519, for instance, seem to be, in a perverse way, reaching toward a kind of manmade depth: ‘all the walls of that shrine were so splashed and caked with blood [the blood of sacrificial victims, that is] that they [the walls] and the floor too were black’ (Diaz in Tannahill 1975: 87) Diaz writes. And this layered organic depth reminds us of the massive canvasses that Rothko produced in his final years, which have been described as rectangles that ‘pull us into a dark, choking, grave like space’ (Elkins 2001: 14). Perhaps we could even see, in the Hebrew myth of the Passover, in which the blood of a spring lamb was daubed on the doorposts of houses for protection, an unconscious attempt to invest physical abodes with a kind of interior living depth.

Such manmade constructions seem to invite us to share in an inner depth of mankind, either through real or associated violence or death. The means used to extend this invitation, however, must certainly strike us as misplaced, and, in the case of the Aztecs, perverse. But it is precisely this sense of living depth that we seek in our experience of library space. Only a poverty of authentic depth, however, would cause us to attempt to create this through physical means, that is, with physical violence and bloodletting with a view to making what is transcendentally internal physically external. What is called for, however, is the type of experience with language that Heidegger urges us to undergo by entering into language and submitting to it (1982: 57), and this type of experience flows from a genesis in ‘lived’ depth (Merleau-Ponty 2007: 300). ‘If it is true’, Heidegger writes, ‘that man finds the proper abode of his existence in language … then an experience we undergo with language will touch the innermost nexus of our existence’ (1982: 57). Close reading of the work of William Blake would lead us to believe that Blake arrived at similar conclusions almost two centuries before Heidegger. According to the Blake scholar S. Foster Damon, ‘LOS is Poetry, the expression in this world of the Creative Imagination. He is the manifestation in time and space of Urthona, the deepest Zoa, who is the centre of each Individual’ (1965: 246).

It is difficult to speak with complete certainty when it comes to terms like ‘the innermost core of our being’, ‘the centre of each Individual’ and what has been described elsewhere as man’s ‘controlless core’ (Kernan in Bloom 1970: 345). What we can be certain of, however, is that for Blake the core of man is where man is most creative, and man is, as Bachelard has observed, an imagining being in whose reveries he alone is sovereign (2004: 80–81). The physical library presumes the existence of an intellectual library where this creative function in man is given free reign. This intellectual library, as has been shown, resembles habitable structures in the physical world. The physical library is therefore an in between space that allows for the storage and consumption of dead words: dead words that the human imagination must resurrect, because only when words have been revived by man’s deeply rooted imagination do they begin to breathe, and only when they breathe do they start to tell the truth.


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