November 22, 2021 2:57 PM
I have been reading with great love since I was a child: yet always, even as a child, without ever expanding or opening the books properly. I’m afraid of ruining them, I keep them open very timidly. Even as a child, the casual confidence of others troubled me and still, although I have grown up and tolerates all inclinations, I have some secret disturbance when I see someone else reading: usually, the book is devastated by the intense brutality of his passion. One can imagine that he cannot go without pain to the places of used books (bookstores or stalls): they seem to me to be battlefields crossed by death and destruction. Only in extreme cases, for absolutely unobtainable books, do I go down to this tragic market; at least trying to interpret it as an evocation of the dead, or as a rescue mission. My inhibition is manual, not intellectual. But perhaps there is something excessive, manic, in this cure of mine.
–GLG (Great Kind Reader)
Have you ever dreamed of killing a loved one and then, while awake, to feel the urge to reassure her of your love? Whatever your answer, I bet you think it has nothing to do with your problem, and that months of inactivity have definitely stunned the old bibliopathologist. But wait until you make this very plausible deduction.
Let’s start with the diagnosis. Cases similar to yours were observed in London in the last century by the first bibliopathologist (but she did not know it), the child psychoanalyst Melanie Klein. You will find everything you need in one of his essays from 1937, Love, guilt and reparation. Young children love and hate viscerally, and the first object of these ambivalent feelings is the mother. Feelings are accompanied by fantasies, and primitive fantasies are something far more vivid than our bloodless chimeras of daydreamers: they are wild beasts. The child believes that he has really destroyed the object of his hatred, which is also his great and only love. And as we know from the ballad Christabel by Coleridge, “anger against someone we love / operates in the brain like madness”. What to do, so as not to go crazy? Melanie Klein explains:
If the child, in his aggressive fantasies, has harmed his mother by biting and tearing her apart, he can immediately construct fantasies in which he is putting the pieces back together and repairing the mother. This, however, does not completely eliminate his fears of having destroyed the object, which, as we know, is the one he loves the most, needs the most and entirely depends on. In my view these fundamental conflicts profoundly affect the course and strength of the emotional life of adult individuals.
For example, says Klein, a similar ambivalence runs through our relationships with another great mother, Nature: at the root of ecologism there is a fantasy of reparation, an attempt to lessen the sense of guilt triggered by the consequences of our industrial sadism. The same cycle of love, hate and reparation involves books, and that is why Melanie Klein deserves, for our pseudoscience, the title of founder. The mother’s body is the original object of our curiosity, the first book we want to read, with the risk of creasing or disrupting it. This desire to know goes hand in hand with destructive impulses – snatching secrets can be a very violent undertaking – which in turn arouse restorative fantasies (have you ever dreamed of being a book restorer? “Rescue missions” among the stalls?). If the anxieties are intolerable, it can even result in an inhibition to open books. A little Klein patient, six-year-old Erna, refused to do her homework because she unconsciously associated reading with the destruction of her mother’s body. I have the impression that all this concerns you.
Perhaps you should experiment with that therapeutic expedient which consists in voluntarily and under controlled conditions, acts surrounded by phobias and neurotic inhibitions. How? Simple. Get the essay by Melanie Klein, and try to apply the Marco Ferradini method. Get that book. Treat him badly. It makes you feel that it is unimportant. It measures love and cruelty well. Try to be a tender reader, but for the dust jacket, the spine, the corners of the pages, no mercy. I can’t guarantee that the theorem will apply to your case, but it’s worth a try.
The bibliopathologist replies is a post column on cultural perversions. If you want to submit your cases, write to [email protected]