The Healing Place of the Soul
The Healing Place of the Soul
Erach, Nippur, Tello, Ur, Ebla – four to five thousand years ago – the
oldest known Libraries on earth.
The House of Writings, from 2600 BC, and The Healing Place of the Soul –
in Thebes, Egypt. A hiding place from the world for kings and priests.
Sidon and Tyre, in Phoenicia, were open to the public.
Hattusas from 1700 BC, with Hittite retellings of Babylonian and
Sumerian stories. Created by person or persons unknown.
Abu Simbel Temple — saved from lake Nassar (sort of.) You’ve seen it on
Plato (a wealthy man) purchased a collection of books from Philolaus of
Tarentum, and another collection from Syracuse.
Aristotle’s library in Athens, the complete repository, by popular
opinion, of what was known in Greece.
Hadrian’s Library included lecture halls.
The Alexandria Library (Archimedes, Eratosthenes, Euclid and Ptolemy all
worked there. Intentionally burned.)
Trajan’s Ulpian Library. That Trajan.
The Herculaneum, destroyed by Vesuvius.
The Celsus Library at Ephesus
Ashur and Ninevah in Assyria
Hoepi and Loyang (this second where Lao Tzu, according to rumor,
was the royal librarian.)
Taxilia stood for one thousand years in India.
The Vatican Library, and archive. Mostly available now on microfilm.
The Mani Library. Intentionally burned. One hundred thousand Mayan texts.
La Bibliothèque nationale, Paris.
The Bodleian Library, Oxford. 50,000 square meters of floor space.
The New York Public Library – some forty-two million items including
about twenty million books.
The Internet – the largest single repository of knowledge in human
history and not likely to get any smaller any time soon. If there is a
disaster sufficiently large to destroy it, reading will be the last of
Alone in the campus library after hours
here are all the things I love about people
and a locked door keeping the annoying monkeys out.
Finals are over and
the tourists have gone home for the holidays. I am a pool cleaner
at a summer resort off season
sitting in a chaise lounge with my Coke.
Actually I am alone in the belly of this silent monument
with a printing press
making books for next seasons troops. The press is
chugging and chattering away
so I walk through the forest of architecture
and ordered shelves filled
with the work of my forebearers.
When I was eleven I would ride my bike to
a six story building like this one, and get lost
(a child on a college campus is invisible.)
I would troll through the canyons and collect
twenty-five or thirty volumes at random
nesting in an abandoned corner or cubicle.
Some would follow me home and get lost in my closet
(I paid $400 in overdue fees
one year alone.)
I went to the library for the solitude
and hoped I could bring it home with me.
It never worked.
The noisy chatter would start
and the books would be forgotten
until a notice would come. My mother
would pile us (the books and I)
into the car and we would feed them to the
big square brown return box
like a thousand broken promises.
I am so much happier in the library
when it is empty of bodies.
Our building is greater than we are –
this is what leads to the myths of the
decadadance of civilization.
Take Chartes as a monument of human suffering –
a great monument of political pride
built on the backs of peasant families.
Christ would blush to the roots of his thick black hair
if he knew that he was worshiped there.
Abu Griab (built in the cradle of civilization)
knows nothing of the misery of the children
who went without soup and shoes for the loyal tithe
the families that starved when their breadwinners
fell from the scaffolding.
Chartes is a horror and a monstrosity.
But there is something great in that we are willing
to kill and die for something beautiful to look at.
There is a heroism there which in unachievable
in the pursuit of any practical end,
you can feel it when you stand within it.
I lay on my back (the faint sounds of the distant press
fill the air with barely audible muted echoes) on the mezzanine
not so much flying as swelling to occupy the space
my eyes closed, I become large and porous
but wholly engaged.
I feel the contents of the library within me
and its boundaries pressing like old fabric against my skin.
I wear the library like a costume.
I breathe text.
The lines in the books run away in every direction
a billion interlocking corridors
in a tesseract, each picture is an Alice mirror
and cohesion floats within it
like a Cheshire smile.
The hypnotic rhythm of the distant press halts.
I stretch and go back down
to put more paper in.
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