"Unpacking my library":

In his essay "Unpacking My Library," theorist Walter Benjamin considers what is for him the totemic, resonant value of each item in his collection of books.  How do our own ideas of “the library” and “the book” vary in theory and practice?  In our era of e-readers and seemingly infinite digital storage capabilities, why own books at all?  This writing class examines the changing nature and status of “the book” and “the library” in recent history.  What questions arise when we consider form in relation to content?  How do communities of readers emerge, and how are they supported by different forms of textuality?  In the American context, how are race and racism scripted into such seemingly innocuous cultural forms?  We will explore questions of ownership, access, and use, and we’ll situate our critical writing in relation to our own practices and habits as readers and writers— consumers and producers—of text in various modalities.  Our investigations will cover a wide array of materials and experiences: we’ll explore digital and material archives; we’ll engage with popular journalism and cultural criticism on “the death” (and possible “after-life”) of the book; we’ll examine literary examples; and we’ll do some hands-on work with various technologies of inscription and print-materiality.