Unpacking My Library

Walter Benjamin’s essay titled, “Unpacking My Library,” was a very light-hearted read, in which he explained the personal relationships between people and objects, using books and collections in general as an example. Benjamin explained that his personal book collection triggered a series of memories, to trips that he had taken, auctions he had attended, and books he had inherited from his mother, and that’s what makes collecting information magical. It’s interesting to realize that Benjamin never actually shared his collection with us, but instead shared with us his personal connections, and how the real relationship is one of ownership. It didn’t matter which books he actually collected, but rather that he was able to call these pieces “his,” this special intimacy.

If anything, collecting (or the acquisition of books, in Benjamin’s case) is giving the objects new life, freeing the information it contains. A collector sees an object for not what it is in the moment, but perhaps for what it once was: its past. The most interesting thing about this piece was Benjamin’s definition of what makes a collection and that, “the phenomenon of collecting loses its meaning as it loses its personal owner,” that a collection no longer is a collection when the owner does not see the intimate relationship between himself and the objects, when he loses the passion.

Julian Dibbell’s essay, “Unpacking My Record Collection,” is a response to Walter Benjamin’s piece, in which he discusses whether or not Benjamin would consider Dibbell’s collection of MP3s would actually be considered a collection. I personally think he would, because Dibbell explains that he picks and chooses whatever he wants to hear. Even though he “rips” music from his own records, he’s giving the MP3s a new life, much like Benjamin described in his essay. Dibbell’s “ripping” and “sharing” of music is freeing information in its own right. Yes he may not have had any elaborate stories in which he traveled to collect the music, but it doesn’t matter. Dibbell is showing us that in this new “digital age,” people cannot find that intimate relationship between people and their books, but people can still build their own libraries (like Dibbell has with MP3s), and hence as they build up their “digital libraries,” they unpack a few things about themselves.

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