Friday, November 11, 2011

You Talkin' Scholarship? I'll Show You Scholarship!

Rachel Polonsky introduces us to Nikolai Fyodorov, onetime keeper of he Russian State Library: 
... Fyodorov, known as the ‘Russian Socrates’, was reputed to be familiar with the contents of all the books in its collections. In one story about the reach of the librarian’s encyclopedic knowledge, a group of engineers  on the Trans-Siberian Railway came to show him maps of the projected route across the steppe, and Fyodorov, who had never been to Siberia, corrected their calculation of the altitude of some of the hills.  Fyodorov believed, quite literally, that books were animate beings, because they expressed the thought, the souls, of their authors. At the heart of his library work and his philosophical writings (which were published posthumously in 1903 as The Philosophy of the Common Task) was a refusal to be reconciled with the fact of death. Man’s task on earth was the material resurrection of the dead (‘not as crazy as it sounds’, Lev Tolstoy remarked), who were present, unconstituted in the library dust, souls waiting in books for the systematic returning of past generations to life. (‘There was no man on earth who felt such sorrow at the death of people,’ Berdyaev said.)  ... 
Fyodorov was a pioneer in the practice of librarianship. He believed that the keeping of books was sacred work. A library catalogue, he thought, should be arranged by the authors’ dates of death, like a calendar of saints’ days. The book, he believed, is the most exalted among remains of the past, for it represents that past at its most human, the past as thought. For him, only the struggle against the common enemy death, the task of resurrecting the ‘fathers’, would unify mankind. ‘To study’, for Fyodorov, meant ‘not to reproach and not to praise, but to restore life’.
--Polonsky, Rachel (2011-01-11). Molotov's Magic Lantern: Travels in Russian History 
(Kindle Locations 201-221). Macmillan. Kindle Edition. 

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