Monday, January 28, 2013

Events in Mali: Willful, Happy and Sad Amnesia

A major (but entirely related) digression.  (In which the blogger reaffirms the "Happy Place" of the Monkees in her and in many fans' lives when faced with unbearable sadness.)

This morning, a Monkee fan who had lived in Mali posted to FB about fleeing terrorists set fire to a library as they were retreating.  40,000 manuscripts dating from 1204, in a variety of languages, were lost.   It's discussed further on the first segment on this podcast:  Q with Jian Gomeshi about "Beyond Terrorism" Destruction in Mali & Timbuktu. Music is outlawed, destroy the soul of an area's past.  Only a fraction had been digitized.  Ironically, it was Islamic insurgents who ended up destroying great works of Islam out of the desire to eradicate and inflict as much damage as possible.  It's painful to hear, but a very vivid sense of what is going on in Timbuktu.  A word that I used to associate with an unknown, mysterious land.

"the manuscripts were important because they exploded the myth that "black Africa" had only an oral history. "

The destruction of libraries is not a new concept, nor is it a rare enough event.

To set the scene for the amazing art scene culminating in Paris in the 1920's, a group had formed in 1909 and called themselves the "Futurists". You can find their history and quotes from their Manifesto here.  And the famous quote:

"We want to demolish museums and libraries, fight morality, feminism and all opportunist and utilitarian cowardice."

Artists, who have very little to no power, and certainly very little muscle power for violence in larger terms, can create manifestos of grandiose ideas.  Artists can imagine.  The very context of Italy at the turn of the last century points to people who wanted to wipe the slate clean.  To use the act of destruction to make way for the new.  (I don't agree by any means, but I always find it informative to delve into the minds of the opposing forces).

To bring it to the level of the mundane, the movie "Footloose" addresses the topic of what a town becomes when dancing is completely outlawed.  And when art is oppressed, people will dance in the darkness.

I see it also happening now, in a larger scale by the rise of the internet.  Sweeping away of knowledge, collecting more data than ever, and burying wisdom through sheer ignorance.  In today's digital media culture, we are obsessed with the New.  We are so busy pushing forward, we don't know what we are eliminating from our view.  It's not a discussion, or even a conscious choice, and hopefully not a permanent one.  But our pasts are being erased through the simple act of being ignored.

When nothing can be done, when you are mourning the loss to humanity of a large swath of knowledge, all you can do is focus on something in the world that makes you happy.  For me, it is working on this blog.  For others, it is listening to favorite songs.  A lot of Monkee fans seem to find such amazing solace in the music and tv show.  Or focusing on the future.  BTW Mike Nesmith announced his Spring Tour today. And more than 230 people died in a nightclub fire in Brazil when pyrotechnics started a fire.  And there was only one exit.

Did I mention Nesmith will be playing in Northampton and Boston and NYC and Philly?  That is what I choose to focus on.  I can't ignore history or news, but I choose to spend my time in selective amnesia.

UPDATE: Most of the manuscripts in Timbuktu were preserved by an illiterate caretaker of the collection who smuggled them out over the course of a year.  Read more here.  Great news!!  Victory for the cause of librarians, historians and humans everywhere!!

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