Thursday, July 26, 2012

Overwhelmed by my ignorance


I always feel a little overwhelmed in a big library, bookstore or music shop. My mind goes blank and I forget whatever it was that I came to look for.  I become literally dazzled by the array choices available to me and so I start with the familiar.  Only after I look for my favourites (authors, artists, subjects) do I regain my composure and become able to seek out something new.

An article by Niranjan Rajadhyaksha at livemint.com helps me understand my experience better. Rajadhyaksha writes:
Every library thus has a fundamental tension between knowledge and ignorance, between what you have read and what you have not. A large collection of unread books is both a reminder of our ignorance as well as a call for intellectual modesty…Unread books [are] an anti-library: They are an ever-present reminder of how much one still does not know…Such recognition of ignorance is a useful antidote to the disease of certitude, usually present in people who have read too little or not at all.
And that pretty well describes me. I’ve read a lot, but not enough. Working in libraries, I know the authors, the titles, the book jacket blurbs and the catalogue information, but - hoo boy - there’s a lot I don’t know.

Rajadhyaksha goes on to quote writer Umberto Eco, who has a  private library of 30,000 volumes, including many unread titles.  Eco says that libraries are:
...a sort of universal brain where we can retrieve what we have forgotten and what we still do not know. If you will allow me to use such a metaphor, a library is the best possible imitation, by human beings, of a divine mind, where the whole universe is viewed and understood at the same time. A person able to store in his or her mind the information provided by a great library would emulate in some way the mind of God. In other words, we have invented libraries because we know that we do not have divine powers, but we try to do our best to imitate them.
 Confronted with even an imitation of the divine mind should overwhelm us all.  The librarian  therefore has a high calling to assist the dazzled, overwhelmed and embarrassed patron, counsel the forgetful and guard against the epidemic of certitude.

Another description of being overwhelmed by the divine, from the Swirling Eddies:
and then an angel tapped me on the shoulder, he said
"boy, you sure do smell like sin and
this place is pretty crowded
but i think we can squeeze you in"

then i caught sight of you
and your beauty broke my heart
i looked at you
and your beauty broke my heart
oh, what to do now
oh, what to do now
don’t know what to do now
‘cause your beauty broke my heart now…
Words by Terry Taylor, Music by Terry Taylor, David Raven, Jerry Chamberlain and Tim Chander
©1988 Broken Songs



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