LOVE is physical, most of all love for a book. You know the signs of obsession: the desire, always keen, never stale, to open a new book and dip your nose into the fusion of odors rising from the crack of its pages, to run the balls of one’s fingers on the unevenly serrated pages, and more.
By now, you know I am talking of a book made of paper. In the age of ebooks, this love endures. Nothing replaces the sheer physicality of bodily contact with something that segues into imagining, reflecting, thinking.
Like all loves, this one, too, has its perils. This week my search for a book took me to one of the libraries, where I and then a succession of librarians realized that the anthology edited by Seyla Benhabib and others, “Feminist Contentions,” did not exist except in the virtual sense.
While a digital system keeps track of entire collections in all the libraries of the university, this particular collection was recently transferred from one building to another. According to a librarian, the book may have been “misplaced” during the relocation.
Another book I sought was also lost to history. My professor’s copy of “Gender Studies: Terms and Debates,” edited by Anne Cranny-Francis and others, went up in flames along with other irreplaceable collections in the destruction of the Bulwagang Rizal some years ago.
Pursuits drive obsessions. There are other libraries, friends with collections, friends who know other book lovers, secondhand bookstores, and, if all else fails, online sellers.
Paper may be a fragile vessel except in the estimation of those for whom its existence matters. Fire took away all that my professor collected over a lifetime of studies except for those she had turned over to the college photocopier for reproducing the reading packs in the courses she was teaching.
In the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman Main Library is a collection that represents a collective resistance to amnesia. The Philippine Radical Papers were criticisms printed from the late sixties to the early seventies against the Marcos dictatorship.
Activists donated collections. Students, teachers, and library staff gave the manifestos and leaflets collected during teach-ins and rallies. Underground organizations sent copies of newsletters.
Library tables became depositories for unknown others, who left behind materials, possession of which turned one into an enemy of the state and subject for arrest or worse during martial law. In 1998, the UP Press published a subject guide to the collection.
When the object of love cannot be physically possessed, what comes closest is anamnesis (remembrance).