Saturday, September 01, 2007

The Public Library and the Common Man

The Public library must always be a place for the beating heart…a place where man can come to terms with all of his visions, wishes, dreams and experiences. Many of our expectations and how we deal with them are well-expressed in the writings of Albert Camus. His origin in Algeria and his experiences there in the thirties were dominating influences in his thought and work. He was of semi-proletarian parents, early attached to intellectual circles of strongly revolutionary tendencies, and with a deep interest in philosophy.

The speech he made on receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature might be called a fanfare for the common man. He said: "That is why true artists scorn nothing: they are obliged to understand rather than to judge. And if they have to take sides in this world, they can perhaps side only with that society in which, according to Nietzsche's great words, not the judge but the creator will rule, whether he be a worker or an intellectual."

Albert Camus and the Public Library, extracted form his work The First Man.
"At about the same time they started at the lycée, a public library was opened in the area, halfway between the street where Jacques live and the heights where the more refined districts began. The public library was built on the border between these areas.
It was open three times a week, including Thursday, in the evening after work, and all morning Thursday. The room was square, the walls entirely filled with white wood bookcases and black clothbound books. There was also a small table with a few chairs around it for those who wanted quickly to refer to a dictionary.
To be entitled to borrow books, you just had to show a rent receipt, and then you received a folding card where borrowed books were noted.
Devouring everything indiscriminately, Jacques and his friend swallowed the best books at the same time as the worst, not caring in any event whether they remembered anything, and in fact retaining just about nothing, except a strange and powerful emotion that, over the weeks, the months and the years, would give birth to and nurture a whole universe of images and memories that never yielded to the reality of their daily lives , and that surely was no less immediate to these eager children who lived their dreams as intensely as they did their lives.

Actually the contents of these books mattered little. What did matter was what they first felt when they went into the library, where they would not see the walls of black books but multiplying horizons and expanses that, as soon as they crossed the doorstep, would take them away from the cramped life of the neighbourhood.
Then came the moment when - each of them provided with the two books they were allowed - they slipped out on to the boulevard. They would part quickly and dash to the dining room to open the book on the oilcloth by the light of the paraffin lamp.
Each book had its own smell according to the paper on which it was printed, always delicate and discreet. And each of these odours, even before he had begun reading, would transport Jacques to another world full of promises kept, that was beginning now to obscure the room where he was, to blot out the neighbourhood itself and its noises, the city, and the whole world, which would completely vanish as soon as he began reading with a wild exalted intensity that would transport the child into an ecstasy so total that even repeated commands could not extract him: ‘Jacques, for the third time, set the table.’

As a Goalkeeper for Algeria, Camus found the missing link between football and existentialism..."All I know most surely about morality and obligations, I owe to football".

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