What stories does a travelling library tell? Why “travelling library,” anyway? The name goes back to Vilém Flusser’s lifelong partner Edith, who gave the name to her husband’s book collection. Like its owner, it travelled the world. Like its owner, it strays (or spreads) into many disciplines. Like its owner, it is original, sprawling, and fragmentary, occasionally inclined to the obscure. Flusser’s travelling library comprised 1,368 items. He clearly read more than that. So the set of instruments he left behind is not a literary bequest in the classical sense. Pieces of his travelling library are scattered all over the world; the records of losses and posthumous new acquisitions – the volumes his friends added after his death – are too inexact.
The books are articulate in two senses: Not only do they contain the intended information, but the material itself shows us more: comments, dog-ears, underlinings, small handwritten notes, a shopping list used as a bookmark. The multilinguality testifies to Flusser’s existence without firm ground.
In his mental perambulations, Flusser often makes expeditions into unexpected terrain. The travelling library also functions as a map of these expeditions. We can discover Flusser’s major journeys, his detours and “beaten tracks,” but also – and above all – his fellow travellers. Of the 1,368 items, 256 contain dedications. Thus Flusser’s own coordinates also emerge clearly within this literary cartography. The constants in Flusser’s collection are his companions, his friends – not the Western canon. In his paper on Flusser’s library, Dirk-Michael Hennrich presents a letter from Flusser to Miguel Reale as an attempt at an explanation: “I don’t believe there is anything more important in life than friendship, and the ancients considered it the greatest, greater than wisdom. (The word indicates this.)” (Letter to Miguel Reale, October 1, 1971, quoted in: Hennrich, “Ein luso-brasilianischer Gang durch die ‘Reisebibliothek’ von Vilém Flusser,” in: Flusser Studies, no. 11, 2011, p. 3; translated from the German).
In the Vilém Flusser Archive in Berlin, Flusser’s books are on shelves facing his essays and letters. Only rarely did Flusser cite the items in his library or mention them in bibliographies. In the archive, his (mostly) undocumented texts now face one of the matrices of his thinking, his library. Input and output enter into dialogue. It is up to us to make this dialogue visible.
Original article by Karin Deckner