15 April 2013

Secondary Burial

Burial in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
by Alphonse de Neuville & Édouard Riou
On Friday I put up a short post about the burial of a tunnel bore. At the end of that post I made a quick note about walls lined with books being similar to the bore lining the floor of a tunnel. It's glib for sure, but I mean it.

Most people have books around them. In some form. My parents have a set of Encyclopedias from the mid-90s in their living room. I don't recall using them more than a handful of times. I am sure they are unused as of now. Their gilt pages collecting dust.

My mother recently found a box of classic books. I am sure you have seen them. The large, leather-bound Robinson Crusoe's and Tale of Two Cities with the matching embossed covers and ornate text. These types of books simultaneously cause nostalgia and panic in me.

Nostalgia for a time when a set of classics was in every home. Panic for the weight that these supposed classic books hold. That weird magic where certain books become required and needed to have been read.

That is a different kind of tomb. One of frozen lists of must-read books and ivory tower shenanigans. One I have little time for.

The idea that the books in a library somehow make that library is not really radical. The edifice exists to house certain written words. It is a cultural mausoleum. Though one that I hope is visited often.

1st Edition, 1962
Recently I read Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle. This novel, written in 1962, is both strange and amazing. It concerns a family of shut-ins, not unlike the Beales of Grey Gardens. Told from the point of view of the youngest sister in the family, Mary. The book is disjointed, paranoid, and deeply fragile.

A large plot point is the burial of objects as talismans of protection.

Mary has nailed a book to a tree. She buries watches and other trinkets int he grounds of their estate. Each has significance to her, each protecting a different aspect or part of her life.

Jackson herself had agoraphobia and this last novel of hers is a beautiful drawing out of that fear.

Jackson also wrote The Lottery and The Haunting of Hill House. Both of those books also deal with a fear of the outside. And then a breaking down of a person who explores the outside.

To protect something we must bury it. Hide it away and never gaze upon it.

Shirley Jackson was fierce
The Egyptians built tombs to house the gilt offerings to their dead royalty. These objects never meant to be seen by anyone.

Even my grandmother was buried with a rosary clutched in her hands. As if that object would somehow help her along the way. A modern-day penny on the eye to give to the ferryman.

Why encase something to keep it safe? If an object is important should it not be used/seen?

Those encyclopedias in my parent's living room. Their gilt pages should be cracked open, even if the information is now out of date. Time capsules are strange if they are never opened.

Even the buried don't stay that way. Pablo Neruda died in 1973. His body was exhumed this passed week in an effort to figure out how he died. 40 years after the fact.

There is a practice of the Secondary Burial. In many societies large mounds were used again and again. The idea being that after some time had passed, these sites were no longer untouchable. Still holy, still sacred, but open for use.

This is a library as well. As time passes we remove certain things from our shelves. Our culture. And we replace them with something else. In and out of favor.

Buried within, then without.