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Book Burning | (dot)philosophy

(dot)philosophy | A space by GIACOMO MARIA ARRIGO

The burning of books can be traced from antiquity through the twentieth century. In the essay entitled “Caliban’s Legacy” (1984), Leo Löwenthal (1900-1993) focuses on the psychology and symbolism of book burning and reminds us of the need to prevent both the deliberate destruction of memory and its inadvertent neglect. A careful reading of the text is all the more necessary today as the removal of several statues belonging to the European and Western past is underway.

Commemorative plaque Nazi book burning 1933 on ground of Römerberg square in front of Frankfurt city hall, Hesse, Germany

Below are some passages from the essay:

«One would accordingly assume that the burning of books — meaning organized and prolonged terrorism agains the life of the intellect — is an important subject of research in history and political science. Astonishingly, however, there is a dearth of intensive historical investigation into this problem».

«What happened in the Chinese, as well as in all totalitarian and most authoritarian societies, was the mad attempt to found anew the history of the world, to devise a new creation myth, the genealogy of a new history of salvation, which disowns, destroys, and erases all that precedes a new arbitrary calendar».

«No culture exists before National Socialism; afterwards, however, culture no longer exists. What matters is the celebration of the new in the erasure of the old».

«The idea of racial purity, religious purity, cultural purity is carried out through the symbolism of cleansing, for which the book is simultaneously bearer and symbol of infection».