by Elide La Vecchia
The image is known. A few years ago it was also used on the covers of notebooks and diaries, in posters and postcards; placeless and timeless icon, stacked in random orgy of images between Marilyn’s faces and improbable exotic islands; now its commercial use is a little expired. The image is that of Holland House Library, one of the most precious of England, bombed in September 1940.
Despite the black-and-white of the photography, you can imagine just how discordant the visible sky is, that air that enters from the ripped open roof, perturbing presences in a normally protected, intimate place. There is a sound inside that picture, the same sound of a mute injury on a helpless body.
Yet even the images, those belonging to our cultural and historical narrative, change their symbolism, because it changes the way we look at them. Those collapsed walls and the hole no longer seem so absurd to us, as they seemed to be.
Still surreal are the three men who move absorbed in that destroyed place, as if nothing had happened, as if that terrible laceration not stood above them. Men who handle with care precious volumes left without shelter.
Watched from our world that photograph becomes present, not only the representation of the absurdity of war, but also the materialization of our times, that increasingly disregards of libraries and books.
For some time book is no longer sacred matter, the book has become an object, object among many; something that is used, consumed, wasted. For this reason, those men hunting books inside a devastated place seem abstract creatures. Sometimes, however, the destruction can serve to new rebirths. If the book is no longer sacred, if it is no longer ‘god’, then it must belong to the human in all ways and it is through human that must be reborn.
A more dynamic and social use, the attentive care of the place and its accessibility, the promotion of activities such as reading aloud, can save libraries and books from abandonment and ruins: lets try to be optimistic.
For the record I add that in the place of the Holland House Library arose a park and cultural and recreational facilities. I also have to report the voice of those who say that those three portrayed men are not passionate readers, but insurance experts intent to assess the damage.
The book is dead long live the book!
Cover: Holland House Library bombed in September 1940