Wednesday, March 11, 2009

"An unprecedented cultural and historical disaster"

REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

Cologne's archive collapse called 'cultural catastrophe'
Hundreds of thousands of documents and items, some dating back to the Middle Ages, were buried when the six-story building collapsed, and two people are missing and feared dead. The other employees and visitors escaped before the building crumbled to the ground.
In addition, the building housed papers belonging to Konrad Adenauer, West Germany's first postwar chancellor, who signed the reparations agreement with Israel; correspondences by the poet Paul Celan, author of "Death Fugue"; and papers of the writer Guenther Grass, also a Nobel laureate, and of Gottfried Boehm, a recipient of the Pritzker Architecture Prize; as well as the archive of a newspaper edited by Karl Marx.
This is devastating.

I used to think about memory as something personal, private, and arbitrary - serendipitous remembering, reluctant forgetting, and vice versa, all at your own pace. Not so. As a librarian-in training, I've learned to appreciate the immense effort, sustained over a hundred lifetimes, that goes into preserving a cultural heritage. And yet, I worry sometimes about the quality of our memories. Should we preserve the @So-and-so Twitter updates between politicians and celebrities as the modern equivalent of literary correspondence? To do so is like comparing a non-stick pan flaking cancerous shards of its coating to an old-school cast-iron skillet.

It pains me to think about all hundreds of thousands of skillets being forgotten in Cologne.

1 comment:

  1. Oh man. Made me think about the museum looting in Iraq. So much of it is just lost...