Thursday, September 06, 2012

The Stationery Stores of Alexander King's Viennese Childhood

[This passage will be particularly resonant for Sean and for Michael.]
I cannot resist telling you something about those stationery stores of my Viennese childhood. Plastics had not yet been invented, so everything in those magical shops was real. Wood was wood, paper was paper, and all the toys were made out of real substances and painted by hand. When I think back on my early visits to these places I often fall into reveries so profound that they practically amount to protracted nostalgic seizures. I remember all the blond, the brunette, and the dark pencils, neatly stacked in their boxes, from which emanated the decent reassuring odors of cedarwood, and I tell you that even the smell of the real organic glue that held all those clean, virginal pads and books so firmly together used to give my young heart such a thrill of expectancy, such a feeling of unutterable joy, that the mere recollection of it all is like a benign immersion in a health-giving stream.
Alexander King, Is There Life After Birth? (1963) page 22.


Michael Leddy said...

Sigh. This passage reminds me of what Roland Barthes’ writes about wood in his essay “Toys.” I don’t have it nearby, but here a transcription (from UVA, so I hope it’s accurate): “Wood removes, from all the forms which it supports, the wounding quality of angles which are too sharp, the chemical coldness of metal. When the child handles it and knocks it, it neither vibrates nor grates, it has a sound at once muffled and sharp. It is a familiar and poetic substance, which does not sever the child from close contact with the tree, the table, the floor. Wood does not wound or break down; it does not shatter, it wears out, it can last a long time, live with the child, alter little by little the relations between the object and the hand. If it dies, it is in dwindling, not in swelling out like those mechanical toys which disappear behind the hernia of a broken spring. Wood makes essential objects, objects for all time.” Not exactly the case with pencils of course.

Michael Leddy said...

Oops — Barthes, no apostrophe.