Moving means looking at your own material culture. For me, the biggest change after ten years is the number and kind of books I brought with me, compared to the ones I’ll be taking to Potsdam. Almost all of my art books are making the move, big, heavy, beautiful tomes that let me travel through time and space, curled up on the sofa. Some of the novels that shaped my outlook are coming, too, especially those given to me by family and friends when I was younger. Those are my emotional books.
But most of the books I’ve enjoyed over the past 10 years are going to friends, hoping others will enjoy them as much as I did. My reference materials are going to whoever wants them, including all of my encyclopedias. I’m keeping some hard copy dictionaries, but mostly because they were so expensive. Who would want those big, fat books, in the age of free online resources for first reference and then digital formats for more authoritative content? As for those coursebooks I admired and collected to see how the masters teach English? My scrapbook collection.
Books in the internet age… Germans say “Papier ist geduldig,” paper is patient. It’s also slow. Yesterday came that moment of clarity, when I was looking at some of my history and cultural anthropology books. One in particular made me think, where an ageing academic published an anthology of articles he had researched and published long ago. Looking back in 1990 over his work of the previous 30-40 years he wrote how new research had made him edit in changes and footnotes, mostly incorporating references and adding postscripts changing his conclusions. Reading his reflections on his own intellectual growth was like looking at the cross-section of a tree. It reminded me how every bit of information is modulated every time we add new information and shift our evaluation and rephrase what we say. Instant information and prompt turnaround is such a poor substitute for a steady growth of knowledge. Will younger generations have our experience of slow intellectual growth?
Bob Dylan once sang “I forgot more than you’ll ever know about love.” I forgot more than you’ll every know about … oops, what did we learn at German colleges in the 80s? Looking through the academic tomes I collected during my studies I was simply amazed to be confronted with ways of thinking that worked for me at the time but seem completely alien to me now. When I was an academic working in museums, I was preoccupied with material culture, looking for ways we could learn from artifacts to create a better life for everyone. For example, in intercultural projects I’d be looking for signs and symbols that proved that the confluence of cultures is an anthropological norm, or would develop activities for vistors based on that concept. Funny, it seems like such a roundabout route to me now. I’ve left all of that behind. I’m really only interested in the people themselves now, in real day-to-day experience.
Will I still remember how I used to see the world now that I’ve left behind the material evidence of my own past mindset?
I’ll be reframing this blog soon, after my move-related sabbatical.