In which there is no good system

I recently rejiggered the organization of the books in my study, and I’m not satisfied. It used to be that I had a special shelf that was my general race and violence shelf. It had textbooks on race and racism, philosophy of race, political theory, overviews of genocide, and the like, but I have since integrated into it more specific historical works, such as studies of lynching, the evolution of racial thought in America, or texts on specific cases of genocide. I had liked having those as part of the general swath of history, because I think it is important for us to integrate violence into our history and not teach it as something that exists as an exception to the normal behavior of groups. However, I am a specialist in violence, and it rather makes sense, for my own purposes, to have everything all together. I understand this. But I am still not satisfied. Granted, I wasn’t satisfied before, but the change has not alleviated my dissatisfaction. I’m just dissatisfied about something different.

Anyone who has any sort of substantial book collection has faced this problem. A history of science–does that go in science or history? What about a cognitive scientist’s study of why people like poetry? Our disciplines overlap with great ease, and if the scientific definition of species is that group of organisms that can not only reproduce but also produce offspring that can likewise reproduce, then we can look at our academic disciplines and not find as many species we have colleges and departments. My own recent monograph pulls prodigiously from political science, sociology, and philosophy, but it’s about history. “Interdisciplinary” is not a recent trend–it’s simply a description of reality, though if you’re in the sciences, they’ll given you a cooler name, a la biochemistry.

And if books give us this much trouble, defy our ability to categorize them, can find themselves in any arrangement whatsoever given the needs of the user, then I wonder why it is we have so much an easier time of putting people–complex, living beings who, unlike books, change with time, evolve–into unchanging categories?

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