Thursday, July 5, 2018

Public libraries

The public library is a part of these invisible infrastructures that we start to notice only once they begin to disappear. A utopian dream - about the place from which every human being will have access to every piece of available knowledge that can be collected - looked impossible for a long time, until the egalitarian impetus of social revolutions, the Enlightenment idea of universality of knowledge, and the exceptional suspension of the commercial barriers to access to knowledge made it possible. The Internet has... completely changed our expectations and imagination about what is possible. The dream of a catalogue of the world – a universal approach to all available knowledge for every member of society – became realizable.

Library Genesis,, Monoskop, UbuWeb are all examples of fragile knowledge infrastructures built and maintained by brave librarians practicing civil disobedience which the world of researchers in the humanities rely on. These projects are re-inventing the public library in the gap left by today’s institutions in crisis...

In What Was Revolutionary about the French Revolution? Robert Darnton considers how a complete collapse of the social order (when absolutely everything - all social values - is turned upside down) would look. Such trauma happens often in the life of individuals but only rarely on the level of an entire society. In 1789 the French had to confront the collapse of a whole social order—the world that they defined retrospectively as the Ancien Régime—and to find some new order in the chaos surrounding them. They experienced reality as something that could be destroyed and reconstructed, and they faced seemingly limitless possibilities, both for good and evil, for raising a utopia and for falling back into tyranny.

The revolution bootstraps itself. In the dictionaries of the time, the word revolution was said to derive from the verb to revolve and was defined as “the return of the planet or a star to the same point from which it parted.” French political vocabulary spread no further than the narrow circle of the feudal elite in Versailles. The citizens, revolutionaries, had to invent new words, concepts . . . an entire new language in order to describe the revolution that had taken place.

They began with the vocabulary of time and space. In the French revolutionary calendar used from 1793 until 1805, time started on 1 Vendémiaire, Year 1, a date which marked the abolition of the old monarchy on (the Gregorian equivalent) 22 September 1792. With a decree in 1795, the metric system was adopted. As with the adoption of the new calendar, this was an attempt to organize space in a rational and natural way. Gram became a unit of mass.

In Paris, 1,400 streets were given new names. Every reminder of the tyranny of the monarchy was erased. The revolutionaries even changed their names and surnames. Le Roy or Leveque, commonly used until then, were changed to Le Loi or Liberté. To address someone, out of respect, with vous was forbidden by a resolution passed on 24 Brumaire, Year 2. Vous was replaced with tu. People are equal. The watchwords Liberté, égalité, fraternité (freedom, equality, brotherhood) were built through literacy, new epistemologies, classifications, declarations, standards, reason, and rationality.

What first comes to mind about the revolution will never again be the return of a planet or a star to the same point from which it departed. Revolution bootstrapped, revolved, and hermeneutically circularized itself... read more: