On my first proper visit to the library at SDU, I went to hunt down ‘the reading room’ (as it was called in a recent email) to consult an interlibrary loan that could be read only under supervision. I was back there again on Wednesday doing much the same thing – ‘there’ in a manner of speaking, because the latest development in the reading room’s shifting shape involves, it transpired, moving into the home of what used to be FabLab next to the main library entrance.
This led to a certain uncertainty about where the books actually were. That was not the end of the puzzles, because when we did get to the magic cabinet, I identified my book at once by the title on its spine, yet found that it looked very different from what I was expecting.
It was one of those moments of delayed realization when the brain needs a split second to catch up with itself, to recompute ‘that’s the right name and it’s in red on a grey cover’ into ‘that’s the right name but it’s in red on a grey cover’.
Things, at this point, began to make sense. I had already been wondering why a recent and not particularly exotic publication had been confined to the library at all. Add to this the fact that the binding was starting to loosen and the text was set in Fraktur, and it was pretty obvious that this was the wrong book. Somewhere in the system, the date and place of publication that disambiguated the volume I needed from this imposter with the same title, must have been overlooked.
Just one of those things – except that there was something about the tangible fragility of this one that kept it in my hands (it definitely wanted to be handled, cradled, rather than laid on a desk). It was the product of a different age, typographically, in its language, in the kind of visual modernity with which its medieval illustrations were recast; no doubt also in its scholarship as well.
The hoops I’d gone through to get at this book were only part of the story that had brought it to me, I realized, when I found a folded printout of the interlibrary correspondence between two pages. The home library had been reluctant to release the book at all because of its condition, but someone had pressed the case on the basis that a really serious researcher wanted to see it (!). There was a little burst of joy in understanding the Danish, and an awareness of the gratitude owed to whoever was doing that for me behind the scenes, that made me continue looking and reading.
The book seemed to be an attempt to follow medieval culture through a whole calendar year, taking a different topic for each day and beginning with a monk walking into the new year on 1 January. Reading it reminded me, leaping over a conceptual gap (or was it?), of how much I had been thinking, during my time here, about different ways of writing literary history, influenced at least in part by research that questions straightforward linear teleologies in historiography.
The possibilities began to reappear again, the half-thought-out concepts – not just with time as their guiding principle – the different structures and paths from the ones we’re used to. Such approaches are arguably even more important when multiple languages are considered together. It was good to be thinking about these big questions again, during what is otherwise a period of quite detailed research on specific texts. It was also a tiny bit poignant, for this trip to consult an interlibrary loan that one could read only under supervision after hunting down the reading room was, to close as it were a frame, probably one of the last proper visits I make to the library at SDU.