In the dark corners of the library I am looking for my past. The corners are dark because it is the early 80s and I can barely picture it now. The new library has just opened in the old part of town, modern looking with bean bag chairs and potted plants, tall windows and lots of light. The card catalog, the center of things, with index cards and pencil stubs. The lobby where they stamp the inside of the books with a due date two weeks out. It is well before the digital age so we work in paper and ink. Life is quiet and slow.
It is the early 80s but we are very much a part of the 70s still in the art and the library furnishing, bright orange and yellow. It is called modern art and instantly dated in its attempts to claim the name, modern. It portends a future exaggerated and distended by the sculptures placed around the streets. The small shops are going out of business because of a new mall just opened outside of town. Cities die from the inside out.
But here at the library all is civil and quiet, and the future looks bright. There is so much to learn and know in the world and the library is a symbol for all of that. It’s like the hardware store, there is so much to fix but everything you need is right here, everything we know.
I have come back to the library to research a school paper on the sacred shroud of Turin. And make photocopies from a text book with photos of the alleged burial cloth Christ was wrapped in after he was crucified. Through some mystery, a sudden flash of light like a camera from the sun, his likeness is imbued on this old material, a solemn-looking Christ as evidence to the world of his existence, a film negative, proof. And the photocopy I took from the book is ironic as the shroud itself is a kind of photocopy, a well-contrived fake some say to fool the future, to rewrite the past.
It is many years later and ironic again, I’ve taken up the book 1984 in the year 2016 as we’re living in Germany and Donald Trump is running for president. The book is hard to believe, that the lead character would work in a news agency that rewrites the news, replacing facts with lies. An imagined future where war is ever present and people aren’t allowed to think for themselves. Where we are all subject to mind control and surveillance, obedience to the state.
So it’s ironic that Orwell forecast this in 1949 and bit by bit it’s become true. Or it always has been true, it’s just more apparent now. I’ve flown back to the States after months of being away and as I’m riding down the escalator to Customs all you see on the TV is Donald Trump. He has not been elected yet but he is everywhere, it’s like he’s already won. It’s as if he controls the media and because he’s all we see anything he says we believe.
The books are precious, these relics of our past, because they contain truths of who we are and glimpses of who we’ll become. And Orwell is a kind of prophet by what he wrote, though his vision is dark. Hidden in the story is a warning, a message in a bottle from a not-so-distant past.
There is a kind of duality inherent in mankind, that we have evolved as social creatures who work together to build societies and tribes, to build cultures, and yet there is also the desire to undo and destroy all of that, to wipe out whole cultures and people by destroying all they’ve made, their art, their language, their history. Orwell could argue that duality is the human conflict between how much we care for each other or for ourselves. And if the state can divide us, we can be controlled. Because our power is in our humanity and our loyalty to one another. The race before the state.
I am searching the dark corners of the library looking through my past to preserve what I can. The physical place is the embodiment of a time, a jar of keepsakes. We are all individuals with unique histories and a people with a treasured, riddled past. A past where the secret to our future lies.