A book of discoveries like an unlooked-for comet blazing in the empyrean
March 4, 2017 10:45 AM   Subscribe

A Journey Round My Room by Xavier de Maistre (1871 [1794]; 152pp.): "No longer will I keep my book in obscurity. Behold it, gentlemen; read it! I have undertaken and performed a forty-two days' journey round my room. The interesting observations I have made, and the constant pleasure I have experienced all along the road, made me wish to publish my travels." (As mentioned in "The Aleph" [PDF] by Jorge Luis Borges and previously on AskMe: True tales of adventure and Unknown book about a man who decided to be a tourist in his own home.)
posted by Wobbuffet (9 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
Like a modern teenager cataloguing their daily routine in a series of finely-tuned Instagram posts, de Maistre’s book imbues the tour of his chamber with great mythology and grand scale.

I must be doing Instagram wrong, I think.
posted by Segundus at 1:08 PM on March 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Thanks very much for this, I've been meaning to read it for a long time! I've downloaded the .mobi file and added it to Calibre, whence I shall upload it to my Kindle. Most people probably discover it via Borges, but I want to read it because it was a huge influence (along with Sterne) on one of my favorite Russian writers, Alexander Veltman (inventor of the time-travel novel!).
posted by languagehat at 1:49 PM on March 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Now why should that man have fainted? But he did, and right across my path by the wall, so that I had to creep over him every time!
posted by comealongpole at 2:38 PM on March 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Link to the article is borked right now but here it is on Google Books
posted by Countess Elena at 3:20 PM on March 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Ouch, thanks--the archived article is available in the Wayback Machine too, if you scroll past the book window, and here's the archive.org copy of the book as well.
posted by Wobbuffet at 3:27 PM on March 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

This is an amazing book. A similar book is Daniel Spoerri's "An Anecdoted Topography of Chance" where he catalogs and describes all the stuff on his kitchen table one day in 1961. He was later involved with Fluxus. The message for me from these books (and Joyce's Ulysses) is that if looked at deeply enough even the mundane articles of everyday life are overflowing rich with meaning and history. Take a look at some item near you right now. Ask yourself where did it come from? Who might have been with you at the time? Why were you there where it came from? And then let the associations flow...
posted by njohnson23 at 3:55 PM on March 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

Take a look at some item near you right now. Ask yourself where did it come from? Who might have been with you at the time?

That's basically describing archaeology. How did this thing end up in this place? What was the supply chain, and what was the physical path that it traveled to get from where it was made to where it's ended up? What's the significance of it being made out of, say, plastic vs. some other material? Why is it sitting in that particular spot? Is it an important thing, or just something easily forgotten? You can ask these questions about things in the ground, but you can also ask them about literally anything around you, and you'll get interesting results.

I like this idea that the material, spatial dimension of things can tell us stories even we ourselves aren't aware of -- like how Stephen King said he wasn't really aware of his alcoholism until he saw how many beer cans were in the recycling bin after one day. There was a well-known project that studied the contents of an abandoned council flat. It ended up pointing to all these narratives that went beyond just, you know, there's a coffee cup here and a box of cereal there. There aren't a lot of people writing detailed histories of some folks, like people who live in a council flat, so it's a way to look at these lifeways that are often invisible.

I mean, it can be sort of invasive, too, and sometimes you have to ask if it crosses a line where privacy is concerned, but it's something to think about, anyway. Maybe it sounds kind of trite the way I'm describing it, but I think it's neat.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 4:26 PM on March 4, 2017 [6 favorites]

Back in the First Days of the internet, I encountered a website that someone living in a rental home or apartment in Chicago had created. It was much like a MUD or a MOO, where the front page of the site was the door to the apartment and within each room, there were sublinks to things like drawers or closets and sometimes photos of the object cataloged within the appropriate location thereof. In hindsight, surely that site creator was influenced by Borges and in turn de Maistre - the most evident influence on the site that I recall, however, was the early and mid-period work of Chris Ware, waay pre-Building Stories. In the drawer of the coffee table in the living room, the site author had cataloged an assortment of Ware ephemera including (iirc) a couple of zines and some flatwork, posters and such.

It is not outside the realm of possibility that I found out about this olde-tyme-yntyrnette site via this here website.
posted by mwhybark at 5:58 PM on March 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

> A similar book is Daniel Spoerri's "An Anecdoted Topography of Chance" where he catalogs and describes all the stuff on his kitchen table one day in 1961.

Yeah, that's an amazing book; I got my copy in June 1999 at East Village Books (which I hope is still there).
posted by languagehat at 3:03 PM on March 5, 2017

« Older Garfield, set in a scene of the Sabertooth Tiger...   |   Second Life Photography Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments