Every library is circular

Warburg imagined it, a
library was above all an accumulation of associations, each association breeding a new image or text to be associated, until the associations returned the reader to the
first page. For Warburg, every library was circular.

Warburg dedicated his library, with its oval reading
room (which he called die kulturwissenschaftliche Bibliothek
Warburg, the Warburg Library of Cultural Science), to
the Greek goddess of memory, Mnemosyne, mother of
the Muses.

The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel

The library is synonymous with memory

Arab literature was for a long time entrusted to the recollection of its readers. For instance, after the death in 815 of the great poet Abu Nuwas, no copy of his work was found; the poet had learned by heart all his poems, and in order to set them down on paper the scribes had to resort to the memory of those who had listened to the master. Precision of recall was deemed all-important, and throughout the Islamic Middle Ages, it was considered more valuable to learn by listening to books read out loud than by private study, because the text then entered the body through the mind and not merely through the eyes. Authors published not so much by transcribing their work themselves as by dictating it to their assistants, and students learned by hearing those texts read out to them or by reading them to a teacher. Because of the Islamic belief that only oral transmission was truly legitimate, memory (not its physical representation in the solid world of books and manuscripts, though these were important enough to be treasured in schools and mosques) was deemed to be the great repository of a library.”‘ Up to a point, “library” and “memory” were
synonymous.

The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel

Books are transformed by the sequence in which they are read

Books are transformed by the
sequence in which they are read. Don Quixote read after
Kim and Don Quixote read after Huckleberry Finn are two
different books, both coloured by the reader’s experience
of journeys, friendship and adventures.

The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel

Machiavelli reads

At the end of the fifteenth century, to exercise his memory among the books he knew best, Niccolo Machiavelli preferred to read in his study at night-the time when he found it easiest to enjoy those qualities which for him most defined the relationship of a reader and his books: intimacy and leisured thought. “When evening comes,” he wrote, “I return home and go into my study. On the threshold I strip off my muddy, sweaty, workday clothes, and put on the robes of court and palace, and in this graver dress I enter the antique courts of the ancients and am welcomed by them, and there I taste the food that alone is mine, for which I was born. There I make bold to speak to them and ask the motives for their actions, and they, in their humanity, reply to me. And for the course of four hours I forget the world, remember no vexations, fear poverty no more, tremble no more at death: I pass into their world.”

The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel

Euthymia

A study lends its owner, its privileged reader, what Seneca called euthymia, a Greek word which Seneca explained means “well-being of the soul,” and which he translated as “tranquillitas.”201 Every study ultimately aspires to euthymia. Euthymia, memory without distraction, the intimacy of a reading time-a secret period in the communal day-that is what we seek in a private
reading space.

The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel

The reader’s talismans

In my study I also require certain talismans that have washed onto my desk over the years, which I distractedly finger while I think of the next words to write. Renaissance scholars recommended keeping different objects in the study: musical and astronomical instruments to lend variety and harmony to the space, natural curiosities such as strangely shaped stones and coloured
shells, and portraits of Saint Jerome, patron saint of readers. I follow their recommendation in part. Among the objects on my desk are a horse-shaped soapstone from Congonhas do Campo, a bone carved into a skull from Budapest, a pebble from the Sibyl’s Cave near Cumae. If my library chronicles my life story, my study holds my identity.

The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel

Pope Clement VII and Michelangelo correspond over the Laurentian Library

The correspondence between him and Michelangelo, from the beginning of the building of the library to its completion, bears witness to his detailed preoccupation. For three full
years, from 1523 to 1526, Pope Clement in Rome and Michelangelo in Florence exchanged letters three or four times a week. In letter after letter, Clement suggested to Michelangelo-though papal suggestions carried the weight of orders-all manner of arrangements and dispositions: that the Latintexts be separated from the Greek, that rare books be kept in small individual cabinets, that the foundations of the building be reinforced, that the ceiling be vaulted to help prevent fires. With
nagging concern, he insisted on knowing everything: how many desks Michelangelo was planning for the reading room, how many books could be kept on each desk, where Michelangelo intended to obtain the walnut for the tables and by what process the wood was to be treated. He offered opinions on everything, from the design of the doors to the importance of the lighting, on where the best travertine could be found to make lime and how many coats of stucco should be applied to the walls. Most of the time, Michelangelo responded readily and diplomatically, sometimes accepting these suggestions and sometimes ignoring them completely.”

The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel

Every librarian is an architect

“Every librarian is, up to a certain point, an architect,” observed Michel Melot, director of the Centre Pompidou Library in Paris. “He builds up his collection as an ensemble through which the reader must find a path, discover his own self, and live ……

The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel