Thursday, December 13, 2007

Toute la Mémoire du Monde

Is the university sacred space and is cyberspace sacred space?

The heart covered with books was a temporary piece
in the San Francisco Main Public Library.
(And my answer to the question: where can you find the scholarly work of any of the distinguished Garapon family in America? Do you have to wiggle your way into a university library to do it?)

Jean, Marie-Christine and I visited the new San Francisco Public Library, the Library of the University of San Francisco (Jesuit), the Santa Clara University (Jesuit) bookstore, the site of the new library at SCU, and finally one of the libraries at Stanford. Between SFU and San Clara, we visited the Apple Headquarters (we never got out of the car). Between SCU and Stanford we had another quick tour around the Google Headquarters in Mountain View (once again we never got out of the car).

I brazenly stole the title of this post from the 1956 movie by Alan Resnais. Here is short clip describing the movie from benoitlelievre in Canada: “Within 20 minutes, Resnais is surgically, methodically analyzing the national library of France. With a hyperactive camera, he's sneaking, he's smelling, he's feeling this huge building. Very fast paced and organized movie…” I wish that were a description of my tour guide ability for Jean and Marie-Christine, we were certainly fast paced, but the smelling and feeling was not entirely within my control. So I will talk about some of my impressions of our visits to these libraries, churches and the modest office buildings that are as close as the internet comes to touching earth. These are some stills taken of the French Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, the subject of Toute la Mémoire du Monde.

At all three universities our visit included the university church. At the wonderful Memorial Church on the quad at Stanford, Jean turned to me and said: “This is for me like being in the presence of all the learning and study of the new world.” An ineffable feeling indeed, but something I also felt. My translation is perhaps rough and imprecise. Jean, if you have any correction or refinement, please send it!

And just for the record and a chance to post a great photo I found of Saint Ignatius, the university church of the University of San Francisco. After the earthquake and fire of ’06, the Jesuits were determined to have the tallest steeple in San Francisco.

On All Saints Day we attended mass in the old mission church at Santa Clara - the presiding priest was the president of the University, Fr. Paul Locatelli, S.J.. The choir reminded Marie-Christine of her children and their music. As I prayed for my mentor Robert Garapon, it was lovely to be in the presence of his son and daughter-in-law. It was also great to feel that prayer is still part of the leaning experience in some quarters.

The photograph is the sanctuary of Santa Clara Mission Church
Santa Clara holds the distinction of being the first institution of higher learning in California: in 1851, two years after California was admitted to the Union, the Jesuits took control of the mission from the Franciscans and founded the Santa Clara College.

The former archivist of the California Province of the Society of Jesus, my dear friend Bro. Tom Marshall, S.J., told me that in the archives at the Jesuit curia in Rome, he saw letters that ordered a band of Jesuits to Oregon to work with the native tribes. But in 1848, they, along with tens of thousands across the world, smelled gold, and headed south for Alta California. Tom contends that Fr. Giovanni Pietro Antonio Nobili S.J., (he became, and remains John after his arrival in the New World) the man in charge of this Jesuit expeditionary party, and credited as SCU’s founder and first president, disobeyed his superior’s orders.

From today’s Silicon Valley, Nobili could have secured permission to change direction within hours, but more than 150 years ago communication between Rome and California was not in nanoseconds but months, even years. I, for one, think that Fr. Jan Roothaan S.J., the General of the Society at the time, would have totally approved of following the gold, given the Jesuits proclivity to do their apostolic work among the rich and powerful. Neither Nobili nor Roothaan nor anyone would have foreseen that this lovely valley so naturally prefect for orchards would become the center of the digital revolution, perhaps the most significant development in learning since Guttenberg.

Being more or less thoroughly Jesuit trained, I am familiar with the assertion that the Jesuit “ratio studiorum’ was the basis of the modern university and proof of the order’s superiority.

I had to post this photo I found on the SCU library website! Believe it or not, I once dressed like this, probably the last of a long line of Jesuits (more than 400 years long when I left) to wear the distinctive religious grab of cassock and biretta. I gave mine to the Salvation Army thrift shop when I left. If I had saved it, I could have worn it for Halloween in the Castro to balance all the male nuns!

Certainly the Jesuits did put education in the service of a higher purpose, and, whether intentionally or not, left the door open for impartial inquiry and rigorous intellectual work. In their scheme of things, libraries were connected to universities and the students were sequestered in dormitories. This is quite different from the system in France. There the university seems closer to the University of Paris that Ignatius and the first companions attended in the first years of the 16th century though I am certain that French universities today have far more strict and uniform standards for awarding degrees.

But Rensais may speak for the French ideal and against the university community cloistered in ivory towers as exampled by the national library and the Jesuit University. As one critique says:
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Le court métrage de Resnais est conçu comme un film d'aventure, amusant et sérieux à la fois, dans lequel les missions et lieux de la Bibliothèque nationale sont rappelés et montrés, le parcours d'un exemplaire analysé. Sorte d'énorme navire labyrinthe où chacun à sa place et son rôle, "jeu de société" à la règle définie, elle est une forteresse dans laquelle "les mots sont emprisonnés" et dont on ne s'échappe brièvement que par le passage en salles de lecture.

blog it
(And indeed that is what getting a degree is called is the English system: for example, you ‘read’ philosophy).

And in America, the librarie is a fixture on every student campus, not only as the only place to buy text books, but where students go to get reading for themselves. We browsed the campus bookstore at Santa Clara University just to see what students were reading; not much that interested me. I pointed to the newest book by my friend Jane Curry, a faculty member at SCU. Oh that woman publishes! Central and East European Politics: From Communism to Democracy by Sharon L. Wolchik and Jane L. Curry.

After a brief walk past the new SCU Library, we headed to Mountain View and another car tour of the Google campus. We saw barely a human outside – just one guy on a bike riding between buildings. The campus is nice, but for a billion dollar company, one might expect more extravagant buildings.

This is Google HQ, at its precise location  seen from satellite on Google Earth, and not what we saw:

1600 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View, CA

This is more like what we saw. I am sure we drove under that archway over the parking lot.

The real infrastructure of Google is not brink and mortar. Truth be told, there are more buildings and grounds and square foot of library space at Santa Clara University than at Google Headquarters.

SCU is building a new library building to house a diminishing collection of books. If I read the statistics correctly, SCU’s additions to its collection dropped from almost 200,000 volumes to under 90,000 in 5 years. I would guess that the decline is due to the availability of new online research tools. I could find nothing about the size of its current collection. Stanford’s Green Library- there are other specialized libraries on campus- houses a three million volume research collection in the social sciences and humanities, including area studies and interdisciplinary fields. Its collection includes approximately 7,700 current journal titles and current newspapers. A 21,000-volume reference collection supports the work of the Information Center (click here for reference).

Google is digitizing almost a million books a year and making them available online, at no charge. Slowly they are working their way through most of the significant works in the Western Cannon. Slowly they are dealing with the complex issue of copyright and compensation to the authors and researchers whose work is being published. Combined with the Google scholar program, they are creating the largest and most widely available library in human history.

If a library holds "les mots sont emprisonnés," Google is the force that stormed the Bastille! Jean and I joked about the number of prisoners actually in the Bastille on July 14 way back when. Very few! This revolution portends to be more significant. More later.
After my failed attempt to demonstrate that you could access the internet from anywhere in Mt View, even le parking at a Monoprix (here called Safeway), it was onto Stanford, its wonderful Memorial Church and Green Library. We drove down “the” Le Camino Réal; yes, in “American,” we repeat the article, and have no accent mark for the “e” in Real, although the common pronunciation is close to the Spanish. However I hope to have a small European readership for these posts, so I want to show us in the best possible light. We turned right onto University Drive. The entrance to the ‘farm’ is a long palm studded parkway of four divided lanes, impressive if just for the expansion that is possible in the future. What university money can buy! We found parking near the main quad and plugged in as many quarters as the meter would take.

Here are some images of what we saw. I will just post them. They speak for themselves.

Yes, Jean, I agree the American contribution to real learning is something of an enormous value. You can feel it in the Memorial Church. It is definitely American but it was built primarily on what we learned from Europe, combined of course with our experience of creating a new world on the continent. (Stamford did not escape damage in ‘06 either).

Then at Green Library, we went through a rather elaborate computer registration process that gave us access to the entire library system at Stanford for a full week. Remarkable! And I presume that with some credentials that would be extended as a scholarly courtesy.

There are rooms in Green that are open 24 hours a day. There are journals and newspapers from all over the world. We found a yearbook from the lycee in Oran where Robert taught and Francois was enrolled. We took an illegal picture in the stacks. (I will cut that out if ever anyone of us wants to get a pass to one a Stanford Library in the future).

Yes, what a university money can buy. I mentioned the average cost of these American haute écoles, and I think that Jean and Marie-Christine were very happy that their children went to school in France, even given that the euro currently buys a dollar and half. (I didn’t mention that most faculty members’ children get full tuition if they can get in. For less gifted kids, there are reciprocal programs with other universities. Yes, some perks exist in American academies).

And now finally to answer my question about the scholarly work of the Garapon’s, Father and sons.

My experiment was quite simple in its design: I entered the name Garapon into the search engine, the modern name for the library catalogue, of the University Library at SCU and Stanford and then compare my results with an identical search on Google Books. I chose to eliminate Google scholar and either University’s database of online scholarly journals because they might be tapping the same sources. I just wanted to determine which held more, the Libraries or the Internet.

SCU has one volume:

La Princesse de Clèves, Madame de la Fayette : analyse critique / par Jean Garapon Publication Information Paris : Hatier, c1988

My search also turned up a book with some references to Robert’s work. It is by a friend of mine actually, Fred Tollini.

Scene Design at the Court of Louis XIV (Edwin Mellon Press, 2003). Fred Tollini, S.J.

The search of the Stanford collection was far richer:

Garapon, Jean

L'expression de l'inoubliable dans les mémoires d'Ancien Régime
L'idée de vérité dans les mémoires d'ancien régime

Garapon, Antoine

Juger en Amérique et en France : culture juridique française et common law
L'âne portant des reliques : essai sur le rituel judiciaire

Garapon, Robert

Les Caractères de La Bruyère : La Bruyère au travail
Le dernier Moliere : des Fourberies de Scapin au Malade imaginaire
La fantaisie verbale et le comique dans le théâtre français du Moyen Age à la fin du XVIIe siécle
L'Art du théâtre : mélanges en hommage à Robert Garapon

The yield on Google was meager, but I have to admit: I actually read some of these works in my study at home, without venturing out to a library. I have to admit to getting lazy now that I am past 60.

Can we draw any firm conclusions about the relative value of libraries with collections of books printed on paper and bound and the emerging library on the Internet? Some are optimistic. I hope it is true. The American and the Californian in me wants to believe it.
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Libraries die when people forget what is in them: they thrive when we are reminded of their riches, and so far from eroding our physical contact with ancient books, the great online library currently amassing its collection will surely revive that relationship.

There is still no tactile pleasure to compare with opening an old book: the gust of vellum and parchment, the knowledge of countless eyes tracing the page before you, the marginalia, the chance to hold some knowledge in your hand.

The internet will never replicate that experience (just as no technology has been able to supplant the paper book, of which we are reading more than ever), but it can help, immeasurably, to lead us to it.

This was our final day together. We drove north in traffic past Oracle Headquarters (photo on left), past the SF airport and onto the SFMOMA, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art where we stayed till almost 9:30. (I will write something about that in the next post).

We finished the day with a late dinner at Tagine on Polk Street for some North African food. We began with a bastilla, a very festive and delicious custard cake kind of thing, appropriate on a day when we caught a glimpse of Oran in Stanford's Green Library.

We were all home, tucked in bed by11:00 PM. At least I know that I was.

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