The past is irrelevant to the web user?

The past (the tradition that leads to our electronic
present) is, for the Web user, irrelevant, since all that
counts is what is currently displayed. Compared to a
book that betrays its age in its physical aspect, a text
called up on the screen has no history.

The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel

The past is irrelevant to the web user?

The past (the tradition that leads to our electronic
present) is, for the Web user, irrelevant, since all that
counts is what is currently displayed. Compared to a
book that betrays its age in its physical aspect, a text
called up on the screen has no history.

The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel

To cite is to continue a conversation with the past

During the student revolts that shook the world in the late i96os, one of the slogans shouted at the lecturers at the University of Heidelberg was Hier wird nicht jitiert!, “No quoting here!” The students were demanding original thought; they were forgetting that to quote is to continue a conversation from the past in order to give context to the present. To quote is to make use of the
Library of Babel; to quote is to reflect on what has been said before, and unless we do that, we speak in a vacuum where no human voice can make a sound. “To write history is to cite it,” declared Walter Benjamin.”‘

The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel

Reading as an idle pastime

Our society accepts the book as a given, but the act of reading-once considered useful and important, as well as potentially dangerous and subversive-is now condescendingly accepted as a pastime, a slow pastime that lacks efficiency and does not contribute to the common good.

The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel

Socrates despised books as a threat to memory

Socrates-who despised books because he thought they were a threat to our gift of memory, and never deigned to leave a written word-chose to read the speech of the orator Lycias, not to hear it recited by the enthusiastic Phaedrus.

The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel

Aby Warburg’s Mnemosyne

Warburg’s unfinished and unfinishable project was the great iconographic sequence he called Mnemosyne, a vast collection of images that charted, across a tapestry of connections, the many trails the scholar had been following. But how to display these images? How to place them in front of him so that they could be studied in sequence, but a sequence that could be varied according to new ideas and newly perceived connections? The solution to this problem came from Saxl. Upon Warburg’s return to Hamburg, Saxl met him with large wooden panels, like standing blackboards, across which he had stretched black hessian. Warburg’s images could be fixed with pins on the cloth, and easily removed whenever he wanted to alter their position. These giant displays, “pages” of an endless book of variable sequence, became the core of all Warburg’s activities in the last years of his life. Since he could change both the panels and the images on them at will, they became the physical illustration of his realm of thought and his library, to which he appended streams of notes and comments. “These images and words are intended as help for those who come after me in their attempt to achieve clarity,” he wrote, “and thus to overcome the tragic tension between instinctive magic and discursive logic.

The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel

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