"Packing My Library"

Walter Benjamin (1892-1941). Photographer unknown.
"...there is in the life of a collector a dialectial tension between the poles of disorder and order." -Walter Benjamin.

The above quote is from Benjamin's essay 'Unpacking My Library' which I read this last autumn, around the time when we moved from Copenhagen to the Faroes and were busy packing our library of books, LPs and CDs into boxes that were then shipped off and delivered a week later in Torshavn. My girlfriend then spent three months in Canterbury and in January we met in Paris where we will live for three months. At the moment all of our belongings are packed away in boxes back in Torshavn. The things Benjamin formulates on the art of collecting really struck a chord within me and much of it is relevant to the collection of artifacts in general. It is available in full via the link below.

"...Every passion borders on the chaotic, but the collector's passion borders on the chaos of memories. More than that: the chance, the fate, that suffuse the past before my eyes are conspicuously present in the accustomed confusion of these books. For what else is this collection but a disorder to which habit has accommodated itself to such an extent that it can appear as order?
 Thus there is in the life of a collector a dialectial tension between the poles of disorder and order. Naturally, this existence is tied to many other things as well: to a very mysterious relationship to ownership, something about which we shall have more to say later; also, to a relationship to objects which does not emphasize their functional, utilitarian value - that is, their usefulness - but studies and loves them as the scene, the stage, of their fate. The most profound enchantment for the collector is the locking of individual items within a magic circle in which they are fixed as the final thrill, the thrill of acquisition, passes over them. Everything remembered and thought, everything conscious, becomes the pedestal, the frame, the base, the lock of his property. The period, the region, the craftsmanship, the former ownership - for a true collector the whole background of an item adds up to a magic encyclopedia whose quintessence is the fate of his object. In this circumscribed area, then, it may be surmised how the great physiognomists - and collectors are the physiognomists of the world of objects - turn into interpreters of fate. One has only to watch a collector handle the objects in his glass case. Asd he holds them in his hands, he seems to be seeing through them into their distant past as though inspired."
-Walter Benjamin, 'Unpacking My Library - A Talk about Book Collecting', 1931.

The library as it was.
The library being packed.
Into boxes.
And shipped off...
In short, I'm really looking forward to the day when we'll be able to unpack our library.


  1. Wonderful quote - I'll have read that essay! Good luck in Paris and Torshavn, Knut. I hope I will see you in Copenhagen (or elsewhere) again some day.

  2. Thank you Nikolaj and good luck to you likewise. I expect to return to Copenhagen on many future occasions. It is something the Faroese have been wont to do for centuries :)