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Eros in the library: Considering the aesthetics of knowledge organization

  • Melissa Adler (a1)

Privileging the aesthetic aspects of knowledge organization through a feminist historical lens may open possibilities for reimagining a library's space. This paper reveals the history of a relatively unknown figure in the history of knowledge organization. I will suggest that we might regard Pamphila, a miscellanist who lived in Greece during the 1st century, as a ‘radical cataloguer’ who introduced a method associated with weaving and embroidery. Her organizational method privileged beauty and pleasure, along with historical accuracy and usefulness.

A version of this paper was presented as a keynote speech for the annual conference of ARLIS UK & Ireland in July 2018. The author would like to thank the coordinators for their hospitality and feedback.

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1. The reference to Pamphila is supplied in the context an account of reference books, specifically Photius's Bibliotheca: ‘The Bibliotheca discusses many Hellenistic and Byzantine works that have since been lost, including a few books that could be reference works—a dictionary of dates by Phlegon of Tralles (second century CE) and the Historical Notes of Pamphila, a female scholar under the reign of Nero (first century CE).’ Blair, Ann, Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010), 23-24.

2. Beard, Mary, “The Public Voice of Women,” London Review of Books 36, no. 6 (March 2014),

3. Homer, , The Odyssey, translated by Wilson, Emily (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2018), 116.

4. The Suda, is a 10th century Byzantine encyclopedia of the ancient Mediterranean world. It covers Greek and Roman antiquity, including Biblical and Christian material.

5. Plant, I. M., ed. Women Writers of Ancient Greece and Rome: An Anthology, (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2004), 129.

6. Smith, Steven D., Man and Animal in Severan Rome: The Literary Imagination of Claudius Aelianus (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 64.

7. Plant, Women Writers of Ancient Greece and Rome, 127.

8. König, Jason and Whitmarsh, Tim, Ordering Knowledge in the Roman Empire (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 31.

9. Sandy, Gerald M., The Greek World of Apuleius: Apuleius and the Second Sophistic (Leiden, the Netherlands: Brill, 1997), 78.

10. For a thorough study of poikilia see, Amy Kathleen Lather, “Sense and Sensibility: The Experience of Poikilia in Archaic and Classical Greek Thought” (PhD diss., University of Texas at Austin, 2016).

11. Sappho, , If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho, trans. Carson, Anne (New York, NY: Vintage, 2003), 1.

12. Sappho, If Not, Winter, 357.

13. Carson, Anne, Eros the Bittersweet (Champaign, IL: Dalkey Archive Press, 1998), 24.

14. Grand-Clément, Adeline, “Poikilia,” in A Companion to Ancient Aesthetics, ed. Destrée, Pierre and Murray, Penelope (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2015), 410.

15. Ibid.

16. Liebert, Rana Saadi, Tragic Pleasure from Homer to Plato (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 65

17. Liebert, Tragic Pleasure from Homer to Plato, 66.

18. Lorde, Audre, “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power,” in Sister Outsider: Essays & Speeches by Audre Lorde (Berkely, CA: Crossing Press, 2007).

19. For examples of art in critical information literacy, see Payne, Daniel, “Bookworms as Information Literacy? How Henri Lefebvre's Spatial Triad Encouraged OCAD University to Re-place the Art Library through Site-interventionsArt Libraries Journal, 43, no. 3 (2018), 153160. The ideas presented here are directly connected to an exciting student project at the University of the Arts London. Whereas that project uses strings, mapping, and links based on Deleuze and Guattari's concept of the rhizome, mine is explicitly a queer, feminist historical project. Thanks to Jessa Mockridge for bringing it to my attention: Erler, Michel and Solari, Carlotta, “Towards a Rhizomatic Library,” Spark: UAL Creative Teaching and Learning Journal, 2, no. 1 (2017).

20. Many thanks to Matt Wilson for his scholarship and conversations about drawing new lines using threads in the library space. Wilson, Matthew W., New Lines: Critical GIS and the Trouble of the Map (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2017).

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Art Libraries Journal
  • ISSN: 0307-4722
  • EISSN: 2059-7525
  • URL: /core/journals/art-libraries-journal
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