On The Margins

Recently Maria Popova has renamed her website Brain Pickings to The Marginalian. The curation performed by Popova is phenomenal and the moniker The Marginalian is apt. Though we won’t be reading her physical notations in the books she reads, the digital age has brought in its wake the hyperlink. Click on a word and its definition appears instantly. Add a hyperlink to a word or phrase and you are taken on a journey curated by the author. She says she has collected six million pages in the fifteen years of the site born October 23, 2006. Each one of her pages has links to previous essays forming a starry sky of books and authors and deep thought for the reader’s gaze.

A snippet of Krista Tippett’s interview with Popova in 2015 (found in the transcript) reveals what may have influenced the name change:

I was recently visiting my family and my grandmother, my father’s mother who’s the atheist intellectual, showed me for the very first time all of these books of her father, my great grandfather who died six days before I was born, whom I never met — he was an astronomer and mathematician, and he taught himself English and German by hacking the radio to tune into the BBC and Deutsche Welle. He taught my dad and my uncle both German and English. He had these books, which she showed me, that he had smuggled from England somehow. There were first edition Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and his marginalia were extraordinary. I felt this strange kinship with him through the years, through the cultures and the eras and these different media because what I do when I read is essentially what he did, which is, he wrote in the margins all these notes on things that he didn’t understand and wanted to understand. He underlined passages that he noted were beautiful language. And words that he didn’t know that he would look up in the dictionary, he would circle them and then write the translation. But it was this sort of intellectual dance with another mind that you could see in the margins of his books. I was just very moved by it.

I often wonder what will happen to @achronon’s shelf of books we see when conversing in the Cafe. What type of marginalia will be found? Who, if anyone, will be a Popovite and pick one of the books off the shelf (or have the library angel pick one for them), take a scribbed notation and take it beyond the page. What lucky soul will inherit the estate of John Noah Davis, Jr., wander the stacks (on floors and countertops), and dance with the pages of inserted theories and memories, dreams, reflections. Who will one day browse my hard drive and access the ebooks with highlights and notes that have links to pages here and elsewhere on the web? What is the difference between encountering a digital archive such as The Marginalian and encountering a shelf of books from your great grandpere or a great friend?

And I wonder who or what will encounter Infinite Conversations when we are gone? A metabot browsing for potential ad revenue material? My grandchildren searching for my name? A healthy intellectual soul in search of other like-minded souls?

In the margins of books, in the margins of life as commonly conceived by our culture’s inherited parameters of permission and possibility, I have worked out and continue working out who I am and who I wish to be — a private inquiry irradiated by the ultimate question, the great quickening of thought, feeling, and wonder that binds us all: What is all this?

~ from Becoming the Marginalian by Maria Popova

What is all this? What is all this we see, do, hear on this forum, Infinite Conversations? Like Popova, we are working from the margins, in the margins, on the margin. We have identified terms for this – interstices, liminalities, boundaries – and have worked in and out of each other’s metaphors and philosophical quandaries. This forum is a mess, yes. But, like the stacks of John’s abode, each pile or collected mass tells a story. We often note an appreciation of the linking of past conversations and video bits with our present conversations. I hope to find the time and space to better curate the archives here in a manner that is useful for all.

A small online collective with cooperative intent may forever be “on the margins” but, while others may see the idiom as describing inconsequential inhabitants, this turn of phrase brings new life when I imagine, revisit and reimagine what our collective and our archives can and will become.



I think I’ll leave them all to you, Doug. Rex Reed, a film critic I diislike, said one true thing. He said he would never commit suicide because there are so many good films he would miss. I feel that way about books. They are dear to me. I like the smell of them, the feeling of turning a page, checking out footnotes. In antiguity reading was given as a form of exercise equivalent to walking or playing ball. It was assumed it would keep a person healthy and strong. When I skip a day from reading a book I feel grumpy. I’m sure I would have gone bonkers without my books!


If you are serious about said eclectic collection . . . I take this as truly the highest honor. I would be committed to carrying forward your legacy by opening a bookstore in our “impoverished” Kentucky (though I do know there are a few souls on the margin, out there somewhere!). I would be a self-hired ghostwriter, written with assistance from your astral bardo-scribe, scribbling notes in margins alongside your marginalia; linking inklings from your inkings in Shakespeare with your WTF!?’s in Sloterdijk’s Spheres. Like Geoffreyjen’s Plenum universe, I would compile your subtle imaginal cast of characters into an out-of-this-world grand performance and cast pearls into to soil, growing a cosmos out of the swine’s slop. A lifelong journey into your mind. I would have to quit my day job, which would not affect me in the slightest!

We have a dream to start a library in Puerto Galera, where Reighn grew up in the Philippines. Books were/are a rare commodity. Aside from a few textbooks and required readings assigned at school (school . . . A poor attempt to mimic the factory model of the Western world. Teachers “went by the books” and focused on rote memory and physical discipline rather than education. Reighn was not challenged and would often skip multiple days only to attend the required exams and pass with ease), she did not have access to books. She encountered personal pleasure reading when she attended college. There she was introduced to the Harry Potter and Conversations with God series. For someone who had intended on following her aunt’s footsteps as a nun, these two series, along with a scattering of fiction and new age, changed a mind.

Reighn has a respected high school teacher, the one who helped her find scholarships to attend college, to whom she will send a few books on occasion. He will request a few books that cannot be purchased in the Philippines and she will send these, often at an extremely hefty shipping price for such a modest package. This dream to start a library (in my mind) is an undercover project. And it is well underway, full of instances of book smuggling. We are building a crew of book-minions too, privy to our plan. We send two or three “balikbayan boxes” (literally “return home”) to her family each year, full of clothes and other personal needs from Goodwill; chocolates and peanut butter jars; children’s toys and toiletries. This is a common practice for citizens with family still in the home country and for OFW (overseas Filipino workers), all ten million of them with temporary work visas to support their impoverished families. When there is some extra headroom in the 46 cm × 46 cm × 61 cm box, we will insert a few books to give to the teacher or for Reighn’s nieces and nephews, our little book-minions. Once travel by plane is an easier affair we plan on smuggling a suitcases full of children’s literature and adult novels. We imagine an oversized “free library” and plan to take the villagers’ minds out of stagnation and into realms of great imagination.


And with the villagers’ minds out of stagnation what happens to our culture’s stagnation? I expect the gift we give to the villagers will be returned to us many times over as the imaginal realms resonate with oral, written, and re-embodied truths coming at us from many directions, from mixed media, for the OtherEarth.

Anatol France, (I think it was) was asked by a visitor," Have you read all of these books?"

" Of course not." he repled. He explained that he gathered books that he knows he will not have time to read but that are important to have around. “The books you don’t have time to read you give to the future.”

I cohered around that practice. The last decade the book trade shrank by two thirds. Big Stores, which had put the second hand stores out of business, have now been wiped out. The one Noble Barne left on 14th street is a shabby enviornment for books, CDs are almost entirely disappeared. Everything is at Amazon.

The pandemic, with stricter mandates, wipes out community. As a non vaxer I am forbidden to enter restaruants or cafes. A former lover invited me to a dance recital. I was forced by law to decline, as a proof of vaccination is required. Fascism has created its masterpeice. Business under this added stress will continue to decline as store fronts are boarded up. It is too late to try to put together a social world again. Relationships are dying rapidly for lack of time to deal with another’s real presence. Masks are boring to wear, almost as boring as wearing condoms were, during the last pandemic

Now, it may be a time of despair, but for the presence of huge amounts of unread books I have gotten at second hand stores, paper back versions of great masterpeces, tossed into a bargain bin, dirt cheap. Lots of books I find on the street, some neighbor tossed them out. I have never tossed out a book. Alas, my tiny railroad flat is overflowing with books, in unaphabetical disorder, mixed in with boxes of journals. I have kept a journal for fifty five tumultuos years. My journal and my books have kept me sane.

I believe we can read books and make use of our internet services. as we search for new forms, as figures and ground, oscilate merrily, between eye and ear, and hand and voice, and book and zoom call. Thanks to zoom, for the first time in history, we have direct access to a collaborating memory palace of enormous precision, the gain of which, will modify the great loss by fire of the library of Alexandria, which many of us readers and writers still mourn for. We have recorded ( in speaker’s view) a face, a voice, in motion with affects and ideas of an actual tribe, returning to the place it started from, and continuing to haggle over what reality could be.

So, we can capture the dancer from the dance, in a way undreamed of before and if we stop getting caught in the undertow of the old ambitions of the cyber bully to turn the wierdness of you and me into a commodity to be medicalized and sorted into either/or fungibles, if we can wake up from that miasma, and find our true sense of agency in resonance with others, in multiple media, we who are about to die will fiind that we are the audience and dancer and the dance, figure and ground, singer and song, prefix and suffix. All of this in pristine, wave-like condition.

Let’s use all of our knowledge and imagination and use all of it well. I think that is happening in the margins, in the twilght zones, in the misteps that we learn how to re-cycle. Let’s do more of it and do it better.