So there’s this tower that’s big and tall. It sits on top of a university library—which was coincidentally the university where I had use for a library. So it was my library at my university. But, frequent visitor though I was, I have never been in its tower. No one has. Because, conspicuous though it is, the tower is off-limits.
Conspicuous yet no-go. This has created something of an aura. People think that it’s full of porn. Because it’s a copyright library that, by law, receives a copy of everything that is copyrighted. Which is more or less synonymous with everything that is published. So where does all the porn go, that’s copyrighted/published? In the secret library tower. Durr.
And everyone agrees. Even in the real world. Take The Telegraph (a newspaper) speaking of ‘a secret stash of Victorian pornography in the university’s library,’ or Stephen Fry (a Twitter user) writing a whole novel about this ‘tower of porn.’ Even Neville Chamberlain (paper tiger) dubbed the tower ‘a magnificent erection.’ Which, of course, tells its own story.
‘Tower of Porn.’ Nice story. Nice vibe. But best of all, it’s true. The porn part, sort of.
By the way, I checked out a couple of definitions of ‘porn.’ And I was unimpressed. No Wikipedia, it’s not just about ‘sexual organs or activity.’ That’s Sex Porn. Not Porn. Pornography is any material that tingles our base urges. Hence FoodPorn. Or Sidebar-of-Shame Porn. Or TV programs like Four Rooms – Pawn Porn.
Porn. It’s all relative. It’s the stuff that society designates ‘naughty but nice.’ And the stuff that Society identifies as a threat – as something intellectually or morally subversive, sweeping the nation to the detriment of blandkind.
Back to the tower. It’s big and tall. You got that bit. And it’s also full of porn. Sort of. If we’re speaking contextually. Which I am. Because it is in fact a Victorian rubbish dump – a trash heap – bursting with all those non-academic book that Victorian librarians were legally bound to house, but HATED doing so. Filled to the brim with all those ‘horrid things, Sir, not worth putting up.’ Filled to the brim with porn.
And I’m not over egging the pudding. Because these Victorian librarians really did think that these fun, trashy books – ever so popular with the Victorian Working Classes – were a form of pornography. They disdained such non-academic volumes as ‘worse than useless,’ decried them for their tendency to ‘enervate rather than invigorate.’ They denounced this stuff as ‘contemptible trash.’ And issued solemn warnings about ‘the sin of promiscuous reading’. For such adulterous reading habits were no laughing matter. Indeed, they threatened to precipitate ‘the downfall of solid classical leaning, deep science, and profound reasoning’ – of civilisation itself.
And it wasn’t just strange librarians. Serious anxiety about the human cost of of pop literature was a Nineteenth Century thing. An 1891 edition of the Evening Standard, for example, lamented the apocalyptic social malfunction brought about by the proliferation of ‘penny dreadfuls’ – describing the various ‘crimes brought about by the disordered imagination,’ and the ‘many homes neglected and uncared for owing to the all-absorbed novel-reading wife.’ All were in agreement. These books were printed perversions. They were lexiconic latrines. They were tome tombs.
Hence their banishment to the out-of-bounds Library tower. Out of sight out of mind. Or, as they say in France, ‘better in than out.’ But, out and out, this was a losing battle. Because an army of readers was on the march – Revolutionaries for the Democracy of Print. Armed with increasing literacy levels, and a new thing that was being called ‘leisure time,’ the masses wanted words. And words they got, thanks to the all-new Fourdrinier Paper-making machine, the steam-driven printing press, and to those Capitalists smart enough to say ‘YES!’ when asked ‘Please sir, can I have some more?’ For there is power in numbers. And numbers in money.
Times change, apparently, as time passes. Even for librarians. Because now – in 2013 – all these Victorian books locked away in the tower have become a different kind of pornography. Pornography for Historians. A collection of ‘international importance as a source of primary material.’ ‘A treasure trove.’ Hence the million dollars recently donated by a big-money benefactor of international renown; to rehabilitate the Tower Material, to get it catalogued, to have it be made ‘much more visible to Historians.’ ‘Hmmmm, yes’, they’re all thinking: ‘just think of all that yellowing paper’ – ‘all that antiquated typography.’
Now there’s an ironic inversion good enough for a novel.