Barbarians inside the gates


It’s hardly a recent phenomenon that those tasked with curating, protecting and building on the rich heritage of our civilisation often would love nothing better than to see the past annihilated in some sort of a Year Zero paroxysm of cleaning destruction so that they can start anew, guided by their own superior wisdom and ideas. I don’t necessarily want to exaggerate the extent of such philosophy, but two articles in the last two days – and the way they have been promoted in the social media – particularly focused my mind on the threat from the barbarians masquerading as civilised locals.

Case in point one:

Sofia Leung blogs about “libraries, social justice and critical race theory” so you know what to expect – though you wouldn’t necessarily expect the rather esteemed industry publication like “Library Journal” to implicitly endorse by sharing to its more than 200,000 followers. And this is roughly what you get:

If you look at any United States library’s collection, especially those in higher education institutions, most of the collections (books, journals, archival papers, other media, etc.) are written by white dudes writing about white ideas, white things, or ideas, people, and things they stole from POC and then claimed as white property with all of the “rights to use and enjoyment of” that Harris describes in her article. When most of our collections filled with this so-called “knowledge,” it continues to validate only white voices and perspectives and erases the voices of people of color. Collections are representations of what librarians (or faculty) deem to be authoritative knowledge and as we know, this field and educational institutions, historically, and currently, have been sites of whiteness.

Library collections continue to promote and proliferate whiteness with their very existence and the fact that they are physically taking up space in our libraries. They are paid for using money that was usually ill-gotten and at the cost of black and brown lives via the prison industrial complex, the spoils of war, etc. Libraries filled with mostly white collections indicates that we don’t care about what POC think, we don’t care to hear from POC themselves, we don’t consider POC to be scholars, we don’t think POC are as valuable, knowledgeable, or as important as white people. To return to the Harris quote from above, library collections and spaces have historically kept out Black, Indigenous, People of Color as they were meant to do and continue to do.

Damn those honkies for writing so much. And creating the modernity, together with all intellectual tools that can now be used to attack, deconstruct and destroy it. The more people start referring to our knowledge as “this so-called ‘knowledge'” the sooner we get to the point when (seemingly) intelligent and (badly) educated people start burning books – all for a good cause though!

Case in point two:

“Overburdened with meaning”? You feel like taking your interlocutor – it’s Patricio del Real, an architecture historian at Harvard University, by the way – by the shoulders and shaking him violently while screaming in his face “It’s a [expletive deleted] Gothic cathedral! It’s supposed to have a lot of religious, cultural and historical meaning, you moron.”

Although Macron and donors like Pinault have emphasized that the cathedral should be rebuilt as close to the original as possible, some architectural historians like Brigniani believe that would be complicated, given the many stages of the cathedral’s evolution. “The question becomes, which Notre Dame are you actually rebuilding?,” he says. Harwood, too, believes that it would be a mistake to try to recreate the edifice as it once stood, as LeDuc did more than 150 years ago. Any rebuilding should be a reflection not of an old France, or the France that never was — a non-secular, white European France — but a reflection of the France of today, a France that is currently in the making. “The idea that you can recreate the building is naive. It is to repeat past errors, category errors of thought, and one has to imagine that if anything is done to the building it has to be an expression of what we want — the Catholics of France, the French people — want. What is an expression of who we are now? What does it represent, who is it for?,” he says.

Ummm, it’s a Catholic church that represents Catholic faith. No one argues that this faith plays anywhere near the influence in the French society than it had once used to, but that’s besides the point. Notre Dame is not a public – in a sense of civic – building, like a city hall or a museum. It’s a religious building of immense heritage value not just for Paris and France but for Europe and the world generally, on par with, say, the Great Pyramid or the Taj Mahal. Should God forbid the latter suffer some accidental damage (the former is pretty safe, we would think) I can’t see anyone seriously expressing the idiotic point of view that its reconstruction should somehow reflect the modern India as opposed to its Mughal past.

Back to Notre Dame, this obviously won’t help:

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the international contest would decide whether the monument should have a new spire at all and, if so, whether it should be identical to the fallen 19th-century model or be a wholly new design…

Philippe explained that having no new spire at all was an option, noting that Notre-Dame had been without a steeple before.

“The international contest will settle the question of whether we should build a new spire, whether we should rebuild the spire that was designed and built by (Eugene) Viollet-Le-Duc, in identical fashion, or whether we should… endow Notre-Dame cathedral with a new spire adapted to the techniques and the challenges of our era.”

Not really sure why France, which has always been synonymous with good design, needs to ask the whole world for ideas on how to reconstruct the roof and the spire of Notre Dame, but putting that aside why not just leave the whole thing the hell alone? The spire is a relatively recent addition – there could be good arguments for omitting it altogether and returning the cathedral to its original medieval look. Failing that, it should be reconstructed as it has been until a few days ago, on the principle that the modern look of the past century and a half is the one that everyone is familiar with.

But instead we’ll be getting a lot of this:


Just lovely – perhaps with some exclusive office space inside (by the way, this is not a cathedral, it’s a rhino).

Or this:


 Just kidding!

Or are we really? It’s 2019, after all, and irony is dead.