Noe Venable

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Not into Common Sense but into Love- Bewilderment and the Life of Study

Posted by on Oct 2, 2013

Not into Common Sense but into Love- Bewilderment and the Life of Study

An essay written during my studies at Harvard Divinity School. I am somewhere in Widener library, that same Widener library of dustless display cases and bronze founders overlooking a stately marble entranceway, but from here, the view is different. I am in a dense and airless space, an elevator, headed several stories underground to the Pusey library, apparently a sort of underground tomb connected to the main library by a web of catacombic tunnels. I am in search of a book. It is a testament to the scope of the Widener library, and also to the peculiar layout of the building, that I have been to the library three times so far to study, and this is the first time I’ve actually discovered where the books are. Unlike most libraries, in which the library collection is kept in the reading rooms, the books of Widener are kept in an entirely different portion of the building, a many-floored vault of stacks, all of which are accessed through a single room. But my book is even more deeply hidden, in the Pharaoh’s tomb at the heart of the pyramid. I watch the light signaling the floors go by as the elevator descends. I didn’t know Harvard went down so far. Does it? Feeling slightly claustrophobic, I have the sudden wild thought that I’m headed somewhere else, boring down through the place where Harvard ends– some place in space and in mind where my own thoughts of my studies meet the thoughts of the encompassing earth.   The elevator doors open, revealing a winding, windowless corridor through which I make my way, following maps on the wall with raised graphics for the blind, and the occasional red arrow proclaiming “Pusey!” Reaching my destination, I find it to be a vast though low-ceilinged room. There are too many books to allow them to all remain accessible at once, so the layout features motorized shelves, which mechanically part to reveal their holdings. Having found the right aisle, I press a red button and a corridor of folklore slides open before me. I see books of Latvian fairytales, books on witchcraft, tales of the Brothers Grimm. I wonder how long it has been since these shelves last slid open to admit a like-minded seeker. Running my fingers ancient spines, blood brown and green, I locate my book. Taking it from the shelf, however, I notice...

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