So a discussion yesterday brought me to an impasse that I have tried to negotiate off and on for the past decade.
Over the years I have managed to build a very small library of books. Nothing incredibly astounding, but one that I modestly believe could serve a small group or community with enough reliable wisdom, insight and information to sustain them in posterity.
There were no computers or reliable and accessible storage technologies beyond memory and books when I began this collection. The work on a McLuhanesque world had just begun and was poorly understood, if understood at all, and the idea of our truly inhabiting the noosphere was laughable science fiction.
I was a young student that had moved from a ‘largish’ urban centre actively trying to envision a better future to a small rural community that even outside radio waves still did not reach. There was no national or connected anything. Our community was defined by the daily funeral reports on the radio and the social pages that included who had out-of-town visitors on the weekend. People made their peace with one another and right or wrong, accumulated wisdom was share.
The hard-won work of Ruskin and the Mechanic’s Institutes had started to pay heavy dividends. The most recent meddling and pompous Tory program of turning back the clock had just begun. willful ignorance in the name of excessive profit enjoyed a brief period of success and had not yet started to undermine the solid foundations of daily life. A growing restlessness had begun to question dogmatic authority in a search for a meaningful and active spiritual life.
The ongoing war against the banner of the working class – indigo dyed denim – had just begun. The idea that modern technology could co-opted it into a multi-billion dollar enterprise that would include using prisoners to provide free labour was still several years away.
The threat that the shallowest of hacks and idealistic belligerents could blow up the world was a real and present danger. Subtlety and questioning was disobedient, punishable and unpatriotic in very direct ways. A clash of historic forces was under way and about to be subsumed in a tidal wave of technology that would wash many things out to sea. The resulting tumult has made it hard to recognize our surroundings and returned us to informational peasants.
I have no illusions that the technology we enjoy today will be here tomorrow. History will bear this out. However, my early interest in the late middle ages led me to understand how very tenuous our accumulated wisdom and gains can be. And that writing most likely has a certain edge over oral tradition. In short, the physical written word is incredibly important.
Unfortunately this idea is not widely shared. Especially by those who control the purse strings and direction of institutions responsible for nothing else. No one in any kind of power wants high quality thought to be freely exchanged among the populace at large. Hiding, burning, limiting and guarding it has always been a prime directive. Good, reliable and useful information is always costly and hard to come by. It produces competence and sufficiency. Neither of which you would want your subjects to have.
The long-standing problem ..it’s preferable to wipe out all knowledge and have direct and perfect allegiance is preferable to any tyrant.
This and more is what I’ve learned from my library.
Books on history and culture. Faith and thought. Architecture and meaning. Medicine and horticulture. Craftsmanship and Skills. Inspiration and Cautionary Tales. Advice from the ancients. Dreams of our best. Each and all as Picasso liked to say, hammering in another plank on our life raft adrift at sea.
The impasse I spoke about earlier is in what to do about it?
More than once this library has been an excessive burden and yet I know in my heart the slender thread that we hung upon in the period of Charlemagne’s Capitulary or even earlier in Iona. Not to mention the gratitude I bear to Bagdad, Cordoba, Cairo and the Studium Generale. To the transmission and recording of the Rigveda. To King Wen and the Lǎozǐ and to all the People of the Book
And so in the spirit of the times, I am trying to crowd source an answer as to what I should do with all these books. Right now I have some time to arrange for them. At best I want to avoid rashly abandoning them at the side of the road.
I can attest to the power of a small library. Personally I would want to keep it together. At best, to avoid institutions or being institutionalised. That it be used and held in safekeeping. It is something of value that far exceeds it’s worth, especially assembled. Situated so that it is open and accessible to those who could benefit, and free from profiting and control.
In many ways it’s not all that special to the hundreds if not more private collections like this that will disappear with this lapse in judgement that is our contemporary world.
If you have any thoughtful ideas, I’m very interested. Personally I’ve run out of them.
So consider this an invitation. It’s an impasse I’d very much like to solve.