27 Aug 2011

Library book: An analogy

Jurisprudence has always been my weakness, my supervisor has continuously criticised my writing of the philosophical basis of my thesis, I have written and rewritten this chapter so many times that I have grown to hate it, but he will accept nothing less than perfection and so I found myself - again - on the 5th floor of the library, in the depth of the smelly section of legal theory, I left with ten books on Rawls, Nozick and Hart and their analysis of justice, fairness, and redistribution, not the most exciting read! As I rummaged my way through their complex ideas I found that these books were borrowed quite frequently and used heavily, some students have left pencil marks, others were more intense; circling important points, vigorously underlining and highlighting phrases with black, blue and even red markers, the pages were bruised with attention begging arrows that were embossed on the next page and even the next. But if we are borrowing these books knowing, without a doubt that we will return them, either because we are obligated to do so, or because we feel our use of them is temporary and no attachment to such material will ever be formed, then why do we abuse them? What is even more selfish is that if these books were ours i.e. we had spent a good sum of money to own them, we would have been a lot more careful and gentle, we would have thought twice about bruising or marking them, we would probably not lend them to others in fear they will not be returned to us. As people we get borrowed too and we are hurt by marks we are left with by our borrowers (and the marks made by our predecessors on our books) things that have been done to us stay with us, we never rid of them, they become a part of who we are, and we are never quite the same people as we were before being unkindly borrowed.

Someone I knew - not so long ago -  recently sent me a moving letter about how I had left things unsaid, how I mindlessly and selfishly underlined and marked pages before putting the book I had borrowed back on the shelve, in his message he demanded an explanation for my insensitive behaviour, he called it ‘his final stab for closure’. I said something about me being fire and him being water, that although water is pure, cool, nourishing and radiant, fire needs fire not water. It was just an excuse, and it was foolish and cowardly of me to have said that, what I should have said, is that I myself was borrowed, that I’ve been borrowed and scribbled on so many times and for so long that things have become blurry, leading me to become a scribbler too, but I didn’t say that, I couldn’t. I apologised for the pain I caused, but I know it was not enough.
I don’t scribble in borrowed books anymore and if absolutely necessary I keep my highlighting at a minimum with a very soft pencil that can easily be erased.