April 25, 2008KR BlogUncategorized

David Shapiro’s Infinity Bookshelf

Due to chronic due date indiscretions, my interlibrary loan privileges were revoked near the end of my graduate school tenure. Recently, still thankfully attached the same campus and its health benefits, I found that my library card still more-or-less functioned, and my urge to ILL returned. While now, when attempting to request a loan, the library website occasionally informs me that I have been “disavowed,” on other occasions the site’s guard is down. And during one of these periods of vulnerability, I entered the system and requested the newly published Poet’s Bookshelf II.

I had enjoyed thumbing through the series’ first volume, and have done similarly with this new one. So far, David Shapiro’s entry has easily taken the most cupcakes. It reads like a sermon or testimony, full of prescription and list and reverie, and is a perfect articulation of book mania, of hunger for life and learning through and by and among books. Shapiro overwhelms. He made me want to read everything, all at once. Since then, I’ve had to settle down and realize I still need to proceed one word at a time.

One thing Shapiro does is tell you to read everything: “Here is one putative list I love: I tell my students to read everything Pound advises in ABC of Reading: Sappho, Corbiere, Rimbaud, Laforge, etc. Then read everything he leaves out: the Romantics, Pindar at his bombastic best, etc., etc., etc.” Note the etceteras! This is a list that leaves nothing out.

But it goes deeper–with every book, every word. There’s not only limitless reading, but limitless ways to read: “When I taught Rilke, Pasternak, and Mayakovsky at Columbia for architecture students I’d say, “Make a sestina by Bishop or Pound, Auden or Ashbery into the condition for a house“.” After listing 21 ways of teaching Baudelaire, Shapiro writes: “There are ways in which a single author becomes a lifetime of worldly pleasure. Thus, one author becomes the radiant crystal at the no-center of an ever-increasing form of reading.”
Shapiro’s reading life is filled with many such centerless big bangs–books in which time begins and matter (and all that matters) is set in motion, to be limitlessly investigated. We might get exhausted, but the cosmos is inexhaustible:

In reading, I agree in part with Jacobson, but I believe books, great books, are inexhaustible because they are dominated at different times by addresser/addressee, context, contact code and the axes of the aesthetic are so shifting and tectonic that most of our arguments are not even fair in the Aristotelian sense. One man loves the Freudian interpretation; another is more interested in Marxist analysis of reception. My pluralist spin is that all of these axes function like notes in an octave and are, of course, inexhaustible, almost by definition.

Needless to say, there’s more where that came from (–or, more accurately, there’s everything where that came from, and it came from everywhere). Order your copy here.