"Books have the same enemies as people: fire, humidity, animals, weather, and their own content." --Paul Valery
I stumbled across this quotation randomly, and it struck me with a good deal of complexity and sense, the last word being the added complexity. Of course, neither people nor books like (or can tolerate in certain conditions) fire, humidity, animals, and weather. That's common sense, and frankly not very interesting. We all know that, who cares, and why is this quotation being tossed around in one of my daily e-mails?
But the last bit, the "their own content" creates a new level of meaning that made me pause. Both books (and us, by extention) are our own enemies by our very content. Is it because our content causes strife with others? Or because we somehow struggle with it as an enemy, even though it is us? Or a mixture of the both?
I'm going to go with a mixture, I suppose. With a book, it's content both creates enemies and is its enemy because ideas can enflame. If you look here, you'll see the chroncles of young adult authors fighting the constant barage of censorship because their works contain themes of sexuality, violence, or just kids trying to grow up in an increasingly difficult world. Parents get the banning bug easily when it comes to "protecting" their children (though I'll leave my censorship rant for another post). Historically, books have had the power, through their content, to spark debate, controversy, passion, outrage, and even action. But it's bad for the books because sometimes they end up locked away, attacked with a Sharpie, or burned.
And while the content has the power to create enemies, it is also the enemy itself--it leads to a threat of life and well-being (at least the ability to exist unhindered). People, and the books they right, struggle with ideas and aspects about themselves that are difficult to overcome. They have to reconcile themselves with themselves. Sometimes it's about not struggling against that content, but coming to understand it as an aspect of who you are and an attribute that has shaped you to be the person you should be. Sometimes it is an obstacle, a personal battle that must be fought all throughout one brief lifetime, and gives birth do a sense of meaning, which in turn leads to art in the form of literature. Books are often about those "inner devils" and thus possess them and struggle with them as well, even if they are not precisely a living entity.
So, I just wanted to share that quotation and my thoughts about it. We'll see what you think.