A Spanglish blog dedicated to the works, ruminations, and mongrel pyrotechnics of Yago S. Cura, an Argentine-American poet, translator, publisher & futbol cretin. Yago publishes Hinchas de Poesia, an online literary journal, & is the sole proprietor of Hinchas Press.
Friday, September 26, 2008
DIETHYL ZINC & SNAFUS AT THE LOC IN TRYING TO TAME THE ACID IN BOOKS
I really thought that Nicholson Baker's Doublefold was going to be one of those reads that I could do without, but the reality is that the books is engrossing and replete with useful (useless) knowledge about the maintenance, upkeep, and ageing of books. In Chapter 12, "Wicked Stuff," Baker talks about Diethyl Zinc which was "a patented technique developed at the Library of Congress in the early seventies. You arrange your acid-beset books in milk crates, spine down, up to five thousand of them at a time, and stack the crates in a ten-foot-high retrofitted space-simulation chamber that bears some resemblance to a railroad tank car; then you shut the round door at the end, suck out the air, and let the miracle DEZ fog creep in" (2001, pg 112).
How beautifully resonant and phantasmagorical; I mean dousing books in a fog to rid them of their acidity and water sounds just way too cool to be going down at an actual library, even if it is the Library of Congress. The main problem with DEZ is that it is so highly flammable that it is just wicked. DEZ was used as rocket fuel in the 50's and 60's and used by weapons experts to create better flamethrowers and munitions, like bullets and mine-seeking ordnance. Or as Baker states, "Diethyl zinc is one of a class of tricky organomettalic compounds called metal alkyls; it granbs any available oxygen atoms, including those in cellulose and in human tissue, and uses them to create fire" (2001, pg. 115). For example, "if you spill a few drops on your body somehwere, it will eat right into the flesh, and you really can't stop it" (2001, pg. 116).
More importantly, "The Library of Congress was playing around with hundreds of pounds of it. Their aim was to build a processing facility that would deacidify a million books a year" (2001, pg. 118)But, the interesting thing about DEZ is that "as it reacts with water, [it] produces quantities of ethane, which is flammable" (2001, pg. 118). So the obvious problem is how do you deacidify those books and deal with the byproduct of DEZ which is ethane, which is just as flammable and dangerous? Or, how do you stop the "Large fuel-air bomb that happened to contain books"? (2001, pg. 119). The whole time I read this, I was just thinking of one phrase: SO FUCK N COOL!