The Book That Didn't Exist

The Book That Didn’t Exist

I breath slow­er in libraries. I care­ful­ly take in air through my nose and inhale the earthy per­fume of the books which I hold deep with­in my lungs exhal­ing only when nec­es­sary. I was may­be fif­teen when I real­ized this. I was lost in the stacks at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­gary dur­ing a cold, gray and slushy day. I remem­ber win­ter days like those well. I would spend them on the train lis­ten­ing to music or wan­der­ing through the Devo­ni­an Gar­dens which were housed in a mall in down­town Cal­gary. If in the gar­dens, I was with friends and we were like­ly drink­ing cheap beer and rais­ing hell. But on qui­eter days I could be found in one of the cities libraries seek­ing out var­i­ous his­to­ries, facts or rev­o­lu­tion­ary the­o­ries. This day that I am recall­ing, in par­tic­u­lar, I was on the search for Guy Debord’s Soci­ety of the Spec­ta­cle. I fre­quent­ed this par­tic­u­lar library at the uni­ver­si­ty because I had learned that if I unplugged the pho­to­copier and plugged it back in a min­ute lat­er I could get as many free copies as I liked.

After a year of hav­ing this insid­er knowl­edge, I had amassed a large library of xerox­ed books. Among this trea­sure tro­ve of stolen lit­er­a­ture was my first copy of Italo Calvino’s Invis­i­ble Cities, a cou­ple of shoe box­es housed Proust’s sev­en volume’s of In Search of Lost Time (which I believe I have still nev­er read a word of), Marx’s three-vol­ume Cap­i­tal: Cri­tique of Polit­i­cal Econ­o­my, Gramsci’s Pris­on Note­books, Kropotkin’s The Con­quest of Bread, sev­er­al books by Borges, a stack of biogra­phies rang­ing from Dar­win to Char­lie Chap­lain, and of course I would soon have my first copy of Debord’s Soci­ety of the Spec­ta­cle. The books I col­lect­ed at this time were stored lazi­ly in fold­ers, small box­es, binders, and even in plas­tic gro­cery bags. More often than not the pages were loose so that they would nev­er main­tain their order. Many of them like Proust’s epic would remain unread, but it still always gave me com­fort to know that I had them. Those that I did read had tremen­dous­ly changed my life. The fic­tion and poet­ry inspired me to live my life to its fullest and the philo­soph­i­cal texts rein­forced my sink­ing sus­pi­cions of the bour­geoisie and wealthy elite. One such book was The Soci­ety of the Spec­ta­cle. But this book isn’t the most impor­tant book for me dur­ing this time, there was anoth­er book and I found it per­haps a week after or a week before I copied the entire­ty of Debord’s small vol­ume. Some­how the mem­o­ry of the­se two books is attached? The only thing is, I can’t clear­ly remem­ber the oth­er book. I can’t remem­ber its author nor its name.

I remem­ber labo­ri­ous­ly copy­ing the book with the old hacked machine I had been abus­ing for months. I recall the dark library and the bright light that always seems to creep out from beneath the lid of the pho­to­copier as each page is dupli­cat­ed. I remem­ber the smell of the ink and the warmth of the pages as they came spit­ting up out from the innards of the machine. I even remem­ber a pret­ty girl with a long black coat, a white scarf and del­i­cate look­ing hands scour­ing over the books in the stacks behind me. I can remem­ber all of this, but I can’t recall what book it was that I was steal­ing. Was it fic­tion or non-fic­tion? Poet­ry or prose? Biog­ra­phy or phi­los­o­phy? I am not sure. What I am sure of is that short­ly after read­ing it, my life would change forever.

When I was fif­teen, dur­ing the win­ter I spent more time at the mall drink­ing poor­ly made cof­fee than I did at school or in class. Dur­ing the­se vis­its to the mall, I would flirt with girls, steal tapes from the music store or jeans from the depart­ment store, or sit by the cof­fee shop in the mid­dle of the food court and read to the cacoph­o­ny of shop­pers and their seem­ing­ly fer­al chil­dren. I faint­ly recall the day I read the book. I know I read some of it on the long blue city bus and some of it on a bench at the mall. I might have fin­ished it some­time the same night as I remem­ber wak­ing up in a sea of xerox­ed papers the next morn­ing.

Some­times I won­der if this is a false mem­o­ry, like when I was sev­en and I had tried to con­vince myself that my clos­et was indeed a cave and that I was cer­tain J.R.R. Tolkien was liv­ing in it. A mem­o­ry I would hang onto until my ear­ly teens. Or may­be it was like the mem­o­ry I have of my neigh­bors and I rid­ing our bikes along the ridge on a sum­mer night and our wit­ness­ing a space­craft of some sort land right there in front of our tiny noses? But there was some­thing less fic­tion­al and dream­like about this book. May­be it is a blocked mem­o­ry? Or may­be it has sim­ply fad­ed to time? I tru­ly wish I could remem­ber what this book was and who wrote it, but I can’t. The mem­o­ry is just this: One day I read a book and that book changed my life.

When­ev­er I think about the book that didn’t exist, I think of what book it might have been. Since then I have read thou­sands of books. Any­one of them could have been the book that didn’t exist, or it is yet to have been read again. It might have once sat on my book­shelf star­ing me straight in the eye, or may­be I walked past it in one of the used book­shops I used to fre­quent. What brings me back to this phan­tom-like mem­o­ry is that I have lived now, for three years with­out many books sur­round­ing me. I sold most of my library before mov­ing to Mex­i­co and the rest of it remains in that large lim­i­nal coun­try between here and Canada. What books I do have, I cher­ish. They are lit­tle trea­sures. Or may­be more appro­pri­ate­ly they are trea­sure maps for every good book will lead you to anoth­er one. Except for the book that doesn’t exist. The book that doesn’t exist was either a dead end or it lead me to every oth­er book I have ever found. Either way, it was an impor­tant book. Like a slow delib­er­ate breath that I hold onto because I know that breath is my own. The book that doesn’t exist is impor­tant to me because it is my own. It is as if it was writ­ten for me.

When I think of what that book might have been I think may­be it was some­thing by Robert Walser, or per­haps Wal­ter Ben­jam­in, or may­be it was my first expo­sure to Leono­ra Car­ring­ton? Who­ev­er it was or what­ev­er the title, the book that didn’t exist was my sole inspi­ra­tion for cul­ti­vat­ing a life of cre­ativ­i­ty and deep con­tem­pla­tion. It rep­re­sents a fic­tion­al­ized the­o­log­i­cal body such as Christ or Bud­dha, or a strict­ly cen­sored Moham­mad. I have faith the book that didn’t exist did, in fact, exist at some point, but I have no proof. This book, if it was a false mem­o­ry, rep­re­sents all of the books I have read. The books that I have con­sumed and in turn have con­sumed me. For every book is the Eucharist in some way or anoth­er. If we do not eat our gods, they are not wor­thy of our bod­ies.

I’ve nev­er been one to fetishize the artist, writer or crit­ic. I am not one to latch the iden­ti­ty of anoth­er onto mine for some sort of social ben­e­fit or as a prac­tice in pol­ish­ing my iden­ti­ty for the oth­er. I refuse to define myself through oth­ers for oth­ers. I guess what I am real­ly try­ing to say is that I am not an idol­a­trous per­son. I have no gods and I wor­ship no one. I once wrote a long poem that start­ed like this:

 

I asked myself:

what is the dif­fer­ence

between adul­tery and

idol­a­try?”

 

Noth­ing,” I said,

you either want to

be a celebri­ty or

fuck one.”

 

I am some­where in-between this claim, I sup­pose, edg­ing on the idea of man­u­al stim­u­la­tion more than want­i­ng to be a celebri­ty. Either way, I often feel that am play­ing a cuck­olds toy. In a soci­ety obsessed with celebri­ty it is dif­fi­cult to escape. As I read I feel some­times like some­one is watch­ing me do some­thing naughty to some­one spe­cial to them. I some­times feel like the author is shap­ing my body and putting me into posi­tions for the enjoy­ment of a small hid­den audi­ence; how­ev­er, and more often, I see some­thing of myself in an author, or I see some­thing of them in myself. I study them cau­tious­ly. I posi­tion them in what­ev­er way I like. They are the cuck­old. I take what I need from them cre­at­ing a sort of live­ly col­lage in which I often for­get what piece or aspect came from whom. I should be hon­est when I tell you that most of the peo­ple I read are dead. When I read them I jump into their skin and shuf­fle around for a moment. Like a maraud­er, I plun­der their wis­dom and upon exit­ing their cor­pus I leave their skin worn and frail. So may­be I am com­mit­ting naughty acts here? No, not in the name of idol­a­try, I refuse such deri­sion.

Some of this is the rea­son I like­ly can’t remem­ber who wrote that book that changed my life. Who­ev­er wrote it and what­ev­er it was about it is no longer apart from me, it is a part of me. I have digest­ed it, and at some points, all of the books I’ve read have woven togeth­er to cre­ate some sort of con­tin­u­ous fab­ric of real­i­ty for me. We are what we read. In the infinite nature of my own being, the book that doesn’t exist con­tin­u­ing to be writ­ten. Per­haps some­day it will find itself in a cita­tion or ref­er­ence or will be sub­con­scious­ly nes­tled in some way into my own life’s work. 

Look­ing back at my time in that dark library with the machine, it was as much about theft as it was rit­u­al. The repro­duc­tive aspect was at once a sex­u­al flight of fan­ta­sy as it was a reli­gious defi­ance of the pub­lish­ing com­pa­nies who I felt impris­oned the works of the­se writ­ers through their greed and shifty eco­nom­ic mod­els. I was devalu­ing the books in their repro­duc­tion via pho­to­copy­ing, not only aes­thet­i­cal­ly, but devalu­ing them as com­mod­i­ty. I was steal­ing them but also lib­er­at­ing them, and this is what the book that didn’t exist taught me. If it real­ly didn’t exist, it couldn’t have taught me the ben­e­fit of steal­ing it. The book that didn’t exist only exist­ed because of my steal­ing it. I brought it to life. It was a dor­mant poten­tial, but I slow­ly breathed life into its dusty old pages. I gave it a new body, and then I gave it my own.