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Miracles of the Street: The Circuit of Old Books as an Index of Albanian Modernity
Paper short abstract:
This paper looks to the visible presence of old books on the streets of Tirana as an index of Albanian modernity. It uses the market for old books in the city as a lens to bring the shifting structures of power that have been in place from the 1940s to the present into clearer focus.
Paper long abstract:
This paper approaches the old books on the streets of Tirana as an index of Albanian modernity. The narrow range of themes and Socialist realist aesthetics of the books themselves provide a lens into the structures of power that were in place during the communist regime (1944-1991). The life stories of contemporary sellers also shed light on the experience of transition: While some of the booksellers were persecuted and therefore came into the post-communist era with a structural disadvantage, others were relatively privileged but lost their respectable jobs in the country's restructuring. The constant turnover of books in the present raises further questions that connect to the phenomenon of Albanian migration and contemporary forms of inequality. Whether people who leave Tirana in search of a better life box up their books to sell in bulk or simply throw them out, the old books they leave behind will eventually be found for sale on the city's sidewalks. If the movement from the bookshelf to the street is a sign of out-migration, the trip from the garbage to the bookstall is diagnostic of a different kind of structural inequality. This is visible in the form of the men, women, and children in capitalist Tirana who sort through the city's dumpsters in search of anything with re-sale value. To get at the more indeterminate questions of who is buying the books and why, the paper concludes in conversation with a reader I met in search of what he called mrekullitë ("miracles").
Knowing Historical Traces, Eliciting Possible Futures