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The Ruins of Nostalgia 29

By Donna Stonecipher

People were getting rid of their libraries, and they sighed with relief when they spoke of it, as

though the weight of all those books had long been more burdensome than they could bear.

Companies had long since downsized their workforces; governments had streamlined offices

and services; now a general reorganizing frenzy took hold of the populace, who wanted to be

freed of the clutches of matter—books, files, CDs, records, shoeboxes full of photos and

negatives, cartons stuffed with cards and letters in envelopes in a confusion of sizes with

handwriting legible and illegible, blue, black, violet, and etiolated blue. How orderly were e-

mails! Lined up in neat rows, all in the same sans serif typeface, immaterial, contained in an

inbox that wasn’t really an inbox, just the digital simulacrum of one. Everyone had had

enough of texture. There had been millennia of texture, of aristocrats’ writing boxes, now in

museums, crammed with ink bottles and quill sharpeners and beribboned letter paper, lined in

velvet and chased in silver, with secret compartments jammed with yet more matter, love

letters and IOUs and vials of laudanum, that were kept on rolltop desks honeycombed with

dozens of drawers and pigeonholes filled with seals—scissors—tins of wax—letter

openers—paper clips—invoices—drafts—and assorted other paper ephemera. Oh, who

needed it? Who needed more than a plank on sawhorses on which sat a laptop loaded with a

digital copy of Being and Time? Let the museums have the rest of it, repositories of our

collective marcescence. Unburdened by objects, people would at last slip through life like

marbles down a polished staircase. Unburdened by shops, the city streets would break free of

narrative; unburdened by stuff, the glass towers would loft auspiciously weightless. * Only

a few deluded sensualists still mad for matter were full of misgivings. They wandered,

bewildered, among their overflowing bookshelves dusky as dioramas of the ruins of


DONNA STONECIPHER grew up in Seattle and Tehran. The New York Times named her most recent publication, Transaction Histories, one of the best poetry books of the year.

Art by Izzy Fergusson


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