Brief History of a Perverse Lunacy / Miriam Celaya

To discuss the topic that want to devote this post to, I am forced to tell a bit of history. In 1984, I started to work in the Department of Archaeology of the then Institute of Social Sciences, (ICSO) of the Academy of Sciences, in the National Capitol. In those days, we were a large group whose fundamental mission was scientific research, and we had at our service a very well-stocked library on the second floor, in the room occupied by the Library of Congress in the Republican era, that is, the Social Sciences Library of the Academy of Sciences was the successful heir to a valuable library collection, a treasure of enormous scientific, historical, and cultural value.

In the quiet of the Social Sciences Library I had the opportunity to check out works of classic universal philosophy, encyclopedias, dictionaries, art books, many works of chroniclers and rare literary specimens that were part of an accumulated scientific heritage from the early years of the Republic, exceptionally well-preserved over the years, protected in the safety of their shelves and in the care of specialists.

But it so happened that one sad day the Destructor by Antonomasia laid eyes on the historic Library of Congress. Oh, sacrilege! How could that collection have the arrogance to keep itself intact and to survive his infinite power?! How, when a library like this one had never existed in Birán, could the National Capitol luxuriate in exhibiting, with such great impudence and vanity, the nefarious works of the decadent bourgeois past?! And remembering, with admiration and envy, the burning of the Library at Alexandria and also the ones that the fascist hordes carried out in Nazi Germany, among other pyromaniacs in History, he decided to destroy, once and for all, the Library of Congress. In order to carry it out, he had a brilliant idea, so brilliant that it blinded Dr. Rosa Elena Simeón, the then Minister-President of the Academy of Sciences, who, without hesitation in the least, assumed it with the greatest of enthusiasms: in the area occupied by the Library of Congress and in other areas of the Capitol building she would create the greatest library of science and technology in Latin America; it would be called National Scientific and Technological Library (BNCT). It would have the latest information, and it would extend its services — beyond scientists and specialists — to the entire population.

It was in the last months of 1987 that we saw the old book shelves of the Library of Congress piled up in the Great Hall of Lost Steps, and the books exposed to the voracity of all who would loot the libraries. I cannot ever forget the floor, books tousled everywhere in disarray, thrown unscrupulously by the hordes, who were selecting the rarest to be sold in second hand book stores. We were all encouraged to take whatever books we wanted or could carry. Merchants took away books, so long cared for, in wheelbarrows, full to their very limit. A friend of mine, a reference librarian, had let me know, with tears in her eyes, so that I could also look for a few items that might interest me. Only when I arrived at the enormous room did I understand her grief. I assure you that it was one of the most impressive sights I ever witnessed, a disaster of books scattered, kicked, open, some already destroyed by the rush of the crowds over them: years of knowledge and culture destroyed in a matter of hours in the “most cultured country on Earth”

The dazzling Commander inaugurated the BNCT in July of 1988. It left behind the destruction of the old library, as well as the replica of the Punta del Este Cave, with its aboriginal pictographs perfectly copied with mathematical calculations and artistic patterns, which numerous Cuban and foreign specialists had achieved. Everything was worthy of being sacrificed in the name of the new lunacy. The press did not publish these events, although they orchestrated the fanfare of the inauguration.

The BNCT never had the riches of the Library of Congress. In addition, it never attained the dream of providing the latest scientific information services, not to mention equipment, shelving and furniture, which had nowhere near the quality, comfort and elegance of the old library that was destroyed. It was a short-lived bubble, because ideas based on destruction are doomed to failure. That has been the sign of each of the Orate’s initiative.

It turns out that the Capitol has recently become part of the Heritage under The City Historian’s works of restoration. I found out that, at the end of the day, the BNCT has also fallen into disgrace and it must abandon its current premises. To that end, the most exalted science library in Latin America has been assigned a few small locations where its collection does not fit. Workers have been forced to discard many resources that they have had to pack away, and, evidently, there won’t be space for the BNCT in the Capitol this time around, once it is restored. Thus, the BNCT must also prepare its epitaph. Hereinafter, it will become part of the long list of destruction that the Commander of Perverse Lunacy has left in his passage through life.

Translated by Norma Whiting

December 6, 2010