Thursday, 30 November 2017

Bibliomania, The Evidence Accumulates

Fortunately, “bibliomania is not a psychological disorder recognized by the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. However, according to Mark D. Griffiths, “taxonomic collecting” (“attempt[ing] to own an example of every type of a series of items produced”) and “the multiple purchasing of the same book” are probably either “fetishistic” or a symptom of an obsessive-compulsive disorder. While Griffiths notes that there is “very little academic research on the topic”—research reviewed in his article—he concludes that “book collecting can be compulsive.”

It is unlikely anyone who has jokingly described themselves as a bibliomaniac will disagree with this conclusion, just as it is unlikely that many of these same people are likely to agree with Freud that collecting is “a manifestation of anal-erotic impulses” or a “neurotic defence against pre-oedipal or oedipal traumas”—statements also quoted by Griffiths. In Civilisation and its Discontents (1930), 56–57, Freud argues, that “putting out fire by urinating” on it represents a “sexual act” and that controlling this desire is an achievement, a heterosexual masculine victory of culture-over-nature which is both “without a prototype” and “impossible” for women. Which tells you a great deal about Freud and his credibility, and very little about fire. And the capacity of women to urinate on it.

Returning to taxonomic collecting and purchasing multiple copies of the same book—if these are symptoms of bibliomania, then I am a bibliomaniac. In 1887, Augustine Birrell said, in relation to book collecting, that “until you have ten thousand volumes the less you say about your library the better.” But I am talking about bibliomania, not book-collecting, and by Griffiths’ definition, it is possible to be a bibliomaniac by repeatedly buying copies of only one book. Buying a dozen copies of Birrell’s Obiter Dicta, for instance, would be enough to make you a bibliomaniac.

Anyway, I was thinking about compulsive behaviour the other day when two more sets of Haywood’s Female Spectator arrived—these being my sixth and seventh set of the “Second” edition, i.e. Ab.60.5 the first London, duodecimo edition, which is not really the second London edition, and was not the first duodecimo edition. When I set out, without much premeditation, to collect Haywood taxonomically, I had not thought that I would end up with so many “duplicates” as well. Of course, very few hand-press books are genuine "duplicates" bibliographically-speaking (there are often slight differences, as I discuss here), and every book has its own history, more or less recoverable, which makes it unique (even volumes from the same set, as I discuss here).

Still, seven sets of the 1748 “Second” London edition does seem excessive, even to me. The vendor, whose outstanding collection on Hume ended up as in a Japanese university, assured me that he had had a dozen copies of many of Hune's works before he parted with his collection. And David Levy assures me that his Hoyle collection also includes a significant number of “duplicates” of some items. Both said I had nothing to be concerned about. But I am not sure I should be taking advice from people whose bibliomania is more advanced than my own.

Having gone online to self-diagnose, I found the Wikipedia entry on Bibliomania, and passed from that to the article by Griffiths, which I have been quoting from (“In Excess. Hooked and Booked. A brief look at bibliomania,” Psychology Today, 17 September 2013). Having read Griffiths’ essay, it appears that I now have to decide which diagnosis is worse, an obsessive-compulsive disorder or a paraphilia.

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