Piggly-Wiggly of Babel

In Carried Away: The Invention of Modern Shopping, Rachel Bowlby writes, “In the history of shop design, it is bookstores, strangely enough, that were the precursors of supermarkets. They, alone of all types of shop, made use of shelves that were not behind counters, with goods arranged for casual browsing and for what was not yet called self-service. Also, when brand-name goods and their accompanying packages were non-existent or rare in the sale of food, books had covers that were designed at once to protect the contents and to entice the purchaser; they were proprietary products with identifiable authors and new titles – not just any novel, but the latest by such-and-such a writer.”

The concept of books as a mass produced commodity to be bought and sold in the marketplace haunts Borges’s Library. For the most part, Borges chooses to ignore this ghost. Yet such a concept is no doubt Borgesian. His is a universe obsessed with capital, exchange, networks, and economies. Yet the marketplace seems the purview of a more profane writer like Thomas Pynchon or Don DeLillo. The scene of Jack Gladney and Murray Siskind shopping and consuming in a supermarket of ideas in White Noise comes to mind. Borges would never feed his imagination in a Piggly-Wiggly, although as the image above makes clear the Piggly-Wiggly is a Borgesian labryrinth. But reading through the Collected Fictions, it struck me that Borges could not escape the web of economies that link Library-Bookstore-Supermarket-University. (more to follow)



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