A NEW "HOUSE OF WISDOM" - BAGHDAD
Perhaps to talk about wisdom today is as inappropriate as to talk about (or to make) poetry after Auschwitz, in Theodor Adorno’s conception... Yet, wisdom did exist, in the past, and at least as an ideal perhaps it should never leave the horizon of human desiderata.
On the other hand, no war lasts forever. And the one in Iraq will make no exception, we really hope. Terrible as it is, it will one day end, let’s pray for it! But let’s prepare for that day! Nay, even better, let’s anticipate it! Let’s even accelerate its arrival, for the benefit of all of us…!
We are told that there was in Baghdad, during the Golden Age of Islam, approximately between the VIIIth and the Xth centuries a so-called House of Wisdom, an enchanted place where theologians, poets, philosophers, mathematicians, etc. (from ALL religions) met, a place to discuss ideas, to translate great works, to explore new fields, to exchange feelings, thoughts. It was both a library and a university, but different from the modern ones. The great scholars that met there were not “specialists,” like today, even though a good number of them achieved great notoriety in particular fields. And the transmission of knowledge was done in a personal, intimate manner, from teacher to student, one to one, perhaps while casually strolling through a beautiful garden.
Today Baghdad is not what it used to be between the VIIIth and the Xth centuries. Nor is it any longer that dreamlike land that inspired the writer in The 1001 Arabian Nights.
Today Baghdad is a graveyard of people, animals, flowers and stones.
We ask you to envision a rebirth.
Design a New House of Wisdom and offer it as a present to an exhausted, ravished Baghdad.
Make it a symbol of peace, of culture, of spirit.
You can situate your House of Wisdom anywhere within the limits of Baghdad. Baghdad does not need a so-called “Green Zone,” demagogically claiming peace and “green-ness,” when in fact promoting war, since no peace is obtained through force, a so-called “Green Zone” which paradoxically (considering the word “green”) is not a carrier or a defendant of peace, but quite the opposite…!
Baghdad needs a new House of Wisdom. Let’s make this building a symbol of a new, reborn Baghdad, in touch with its old, glorious self and with us, enchanted and more than eager “spectators” waiting for its rapid renewal.
In a way, let’s make this building a “twin” of the fallen ones in New York, even though in essence diametrically opposed. Let’s make it a place to “trade” ideas and feelings and thoughts, and not money. As such, we could perhaps call this building, if we are to use the jargon of late capitalism, W.E.C. The World Embrace Center! But we prefer not to. Because we would like to envision this building not like a highly institutionalized one, a kind of a new O.N.U., but a much more modest structure (whose inhabitants, remember, are intellectuals, not politicians or business people), cultivating a personalized, intimate, warm form of human dialogue, in many ways, “pre-modern…” Yet, the building we anticipate to see will reject nostalgia (in its literal forms) as much as possible, and instead it will courageously look towards the future, in the sense that it will want to “break new ground” not only in terms of form, but also in terms of function… In other words, we invite you to not only interpret old legacies in exuberantly new creative forms, but also to envision, in terms of program, new ways of conceiving a library / university perhaps closer to the spirit of “the first school,” as envisioned by Louis Kahn, that is, an older man under a tree, surrounded by a circle of younger people, listening to him… How would we marry such a vision with the newest, most ambitious technology, not to speak about the innumerable complexities of a contemporary program…? Is such a thing, indeed, possible…?!?