“The universe, which others call the Library…” There is no need to translate. Enis Batur himself quotes Borges from the first pages, among other book obsessives such as Umberto Eco. He had already turned the legends by which bibliophiles live in From one library to another (Ed. Blue around, 2008). He also mentions in the house of books another monograph, Libraryanother story of labyrinths – a marked echo of the library of babel tremendous Argentine. So what ? More books, another architectural structure in the Piranese style, another secret in this column planted in the center of the glass house that houses the formidable collection? An octagonal column, like the enigmatic Castel del Monte of Federico II. The 8, symbol of standing infinity, also chosen because in Borges’ story the galleries are hexagonal, and he had to cube the 2 -after all, Jacques Roubaud did propose thirty-one cubed…
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There is a certain elusiveness to this diabolical story. Based on a slightly eccentric hypothesis: the directed gift postmortem by an obviously very rich stranger to an author who believed himself settled in his little emotional and bookish comfort, and who believes himself “tired of metaphors of books and libraries, stereotypes and images of all those erudite readers” – Batur draws a diabolical plot, where the books little by little invade the consciousness of the narrator, until he is disconnected from the world. It doesn’t matter, since the other name of the Universe is precisely “the Library”.
a library on fire
It is that despite the royal residences, “house, street, big city, island, balcony, room, cell, desert”an author always lives in a library, that “you take to the streets wherever you go”. And in this library, whose classification principle is personal to you, a work is at the center, sometimes without you knowing it. We do not wake up unpunished with the urgent need to read again The man without qualities of Musil. “This unmet need, which presented all the symptoms of a withdrawal syndrome, had insinuated itself into my daily life. » It is not just any book that can thus be placed at the center of the Babelian construction of memory. “I have never let into my library an author who could write simply to distract people, mislead them and distract them from their problems. »
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The accepted inheritance of this house of books it is a slow poison. And to refer to Peter Kien, the hero of Elias Canetti’s only novel, auto de fe, which ends up setting herself on fire in the middle of a burning library, just when, Batur points out, the Nazis were planning Kristallnacht. Because this is how the true authors bear witness, and not by exhausting themselves in petitions.
The narrator thus discovers that the volume from which the mysterious donor built his gigantic library, “The first to deserve his place here was a Novalis, unearthed just before the war in a bookstore that would burn to the ground seven years later.” — the second edition of hymns of the night, witness to an announced disaster, as if Novalis had foreseen the fires (here we go again) in Nuremberg or Berlin. Or if the auto-da-fé made sense of Novalis. Diabolical Borgesian idea. It is still necessary to drill the secret of the classification. “The construction and design of the entire library was designed around the notion of a personal hive based on affinities” — elective, no doubt. And mention Juan Goytisolo, who proposed to “to create a library in the center of which we would place Don Quixote”. And to add: “It wouldn’t be wrong to imagine entire institutional libraries built around a single book. » And you, reader, what book is at the center of your intellectual hive?
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To reach the center it is necessary, in the words of Günter Grass, “peel the onion”. The library barks. “ When I saw that the section that occupied the center of all centers, so to speak, the heart of the onion of the House of Books, was about the Book, I was not surprised. »
Not the Book, the book of god monotheistic traditions. But the Book itself, the Literature object. At the heart of all literature is literature, not this or that statement, this or that personal story. In the intimate heart of Literature is the Book of which Mallarmé “he dreamed and that he could never achieve. » As for what is hidden in the octagonal column, and that perhaps the narrator discovered only in a dream or while dying: all the lost books of humanity, everything that has been torn from the burning libraries, “the ones that Photios had inventoried, the thousands of original works that could have fallen into the hands of Ivan the Terrible, reduced to ashes, buried in the earth or thrown into the water by the Mongols in Baghdad”… The Arab chroniclers evoke these rivers dyed for months by the Persian miniatures slowly dissolved by the river.
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Needless to say, this gem of a book, half novel, half essay, is not for everyone. You are free to prefer Marc Lévy or Annie Ernaux. Batur, who is one of the greatest Turkish writers, on a par with Orhan Pamuk, is an artist at the pinnacle of his art, who writes for happy couple. And his book will change your world.
Enis Batur, the house of books translation by François-Michel Durazzo, Zulma, October 2022, 195 p., €20.50.