SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
April 19, 2009

The Floor Gets in the Way

 

It was such a stupid impulse on so many different levels, I hardly know where to begin.

            I’ve been listening to an audiobook for the past few weeks. Some Nietzsche, which probably shouldn’t be a surprise. As I’ve been listening to it, I’ve been astonished by the translation—which is actually good. Believe you me, good Nietzsche translations are rare beasts. Most all the translations on the shelf here are dusty, stuffy, clumsy old jim-jams without any hint of the dance or music or sheer fluid vitriol you find in Nietzsche’s language.

            But yes, this one I was listening to was mighty good.

            So here was the first stupid impulse—I decided I needed a copy in old fashioned real book form, with pages and a cover and ink. I wouldn’t be able to read it at all; I just wanted it to put on the shelf in order to shame all those other hopeless, crappy translations. It would essentially be nothing more than an object. Another object to stuff onto one of the already overstuffed bookshelves. In other words, it was a completely useless gesture.

            But still.

            I checked on Amazon to see if the specific translation I was looking for was readily available, but of course when they listed all the available editions of a title—at least in this case—they neglected to list the translators. So I’m looking at a dozen different editions, and if I want to find the one with the translator I like, I’ll need to go through them all individually, hoping for some early luck. Given how slow my computer is, this could potentially take several hours.

            Here’s the next level of stupidity. Being a man on the go, I couldn’t well afford to spend that sort of time on something so patently useless. Nor would I consider undertaking any other kind of online book search. Like I said, I was on the go.

            Stupid move three, I decided I’d just run up to the local Barnes and Noble. Why, it would certainly be there, right? A bookstore that size? It didn’t matter that they hate me and I hate them, or that the place is always packed with a particularly vicious brand of stroller pushers, or that I have never, ever once found anything I was looking for there, or even that, without fail, I always stomp out of the store tense and frustrated and angry within ten minutes. I wasn’t even considering the fact that the translation I was listening to might be long out of print. I put on my shoes, lit a smoke, and headed out into the rain.

            (Did I mention that it was raining?)

            I got up to the store a few minutes later, dodged a couple of strollers inside the front door, found the down escalator on only my third try, and, once downstairs, eventually tracked down the philosophy section.

            In spite of how it may sound, I thought things were going surprisingly well up to that point. Which is where we encounter the fourth stupidity. I call it “stupid” because I knew this would happen, and I knew this would happen because this always happens.

            One of the nice things about Barnes & noble is that they put out a number of comfy chairs throughout the store, where people so inclined can sit and read. It was a decent gesture on their part, I always thought.

            Then a few years ago, see, the Barnes & Noble by me removed all the chairs. I don’t know if this was a universal move or not. The reasoning seems obvious—people were sitting there and reading all day, for godsakes. A few probably napped, and I’m sure they got a smelly homeless guy or two in there who didn’t want to move after sitting down. It was bad for business, so the chairs went away.

            Now without chairs, what are people going to do? Yes, of course, they’re going to sit on the floor. They’re going to grab a stack of books, and park themselves in the aisles between the bookshelves to read, usually spreading out when they do this, refusing to acknowledge the presence of anyone who might like to, you know, walk down that particular aisle. What’s more, they—without fail— plop themselves directly in front of the section that would house whatever book you might happen to be looking for at the time.

            I don’t know why Barnes & Noble felt this was a better system. It’s too bad a few people abused their comfy chair privileges, but isn’t it still better than a bunch of lazy rude fuckers on the floor making it impossible for those of us who might actually want to buy something (even if we couldn’t read it) to find the book we want to buy?

            Just a thought.

            So anyway, I found the philosophy section, which was just opposite the business and management section for some reason. And sitting in the aisle were four people, whom I assumed to be a young mother and father and two toddlers. Discounting spite, why they’d chosen to sit in the philosophy aisle at that particular moment was a bit of a mystery, given that they had surrounded themselves with children’s books—and given that the children’s section (which is set up for such nonsense) was on the other side of the fucking store.

            I said “excuse me” a couple of times, but when that received no response I simply stepped around the flopping children and sedentary parents as best I could and began perusing the shelves, hoping the fact that I was actively looking for something might give them the hint.

            I guess that was kind of a stupid hope on my part, too. They didn’t move or acknowledge my presence in any way, except as a mild annoyance. And as I tried to find the Nietzsche subsection, I realized that these people weren’t even reading anything—they were just sitting there programming their cell phones amid a pile of children’s books which their own kids were in the process of shredding.

            Playing a kind of vertical Twister, I finally found the Nietzsche, and proceeded to pull out volume after volume, scanning first for the title, then the translator.

            Oh, this all took awhile, and involved much squinting. And in the end, in spite of boasting a much more impressive collection than I would’ve expected from a chain store, I found they only had one edition of the title I was looking for, and it had been translated by the stuffiest stuffed-shirt of all the Nietzsche translators. I put it back in its place and, as usual, stomped out of the store (after picking my way gently past the oblivious family unit), fuming and empty handed, back out into the rain.

            After I got home, I tapped a few words into the computer and, not two minutes later, discovered that an electronic version of the very translation I was looking for was available online, free-of-charge. More amazing still, there was no one sitting on my floor, getting in my way.

 

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