The Genizah of the Self

Marco Roth in Tablet:

Over a year ago—it was last Tisha B’Av—I found myself moving house for the third time since 2019. This move was the big one, resulting from the sale of the apartment in Philadelphia that my wife and I had bought together, renovated together, and had lived in for six mostly happy years and three mostly difficult ones. From the spring of 2020, we’d rented it out, furnished, once we began the final unraveling of our common life. Moves bring inevitable reckonings, moves like these exceptionally so.

Amid the furniture, the books, the rugs, and various objects—both those I’d acquired independently and those passed down from ancestors—I kept five boxes, two of them equal parts tape and cardboard, containing an archive of my mental life, or at least my professional mental life. There was a box full of contracts for various articles and my book contract, drafts of that first and so far only book with copy-editor marks. Here were all the college and grad school syllabi and papers; notebooks from 10 years of higher education; xeroxed articles from course packets and research; graded tests; graded papers with comments; drafts of early, never-completed stories on legal notepads; drafts of my never-completed Ph.D. dissertation; there was my undergraduate thesis on Proust; my first semester graduate school paper on Benjamin’s Arcades Project; all the worksheets and tests for the “Italian for Reading Knowledge” summer intensive course I’d needed to pass my last language requirement; there was that undergrad paper with a professor’s telling remark, “brilliant but self-defeating,” a memento from a riskier and more insightful era of student-teacher relations.

How could I possibly hold on to all this stuff? What purpose did I think it served? It’s not as if I intended to return to my Ph.D. research at this point in my life, although all of it was in there, somewhere.

More here.