Toute la mémoire du monde

About a month ago, over cuppas of kopi tubruk we talked about the state of archiving in Indonesia, particularly of the Library of H.B. Jassin. Right now I have this usual gnawing itch, worrying that if I don’t write this down, the 30-minute lamentation is going to be yet another 30-minute of, well, nothingness. On top of the fact that my English is deteriorating and I’ve promised myself to write anything to exercise the sluggish bilingual nerves—if I ever had any.

So this is my version of all the memories of the world. Things I wish I could have said then or now, but didn’t, for the (largely self-inflicted) fear of hearing the reply, “No, we can’t, it’s too complicated…” You listen to how the archives are being dutifully preserved through photocopying, and you are flooded with both frustration and tenderness you can’t quite get the back of, lest you swallowed your smart aleck remark and all your big plans of world domination through scanning and digitisation. Where Google Books are foundering in the courts, another initiative, Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) is yet to realise their promise.

The title is taken from this short documentary above, Toute la mémoire du monde (All the Memories of the World), directed by Alain Resnais in 1956, a pondering on the potentials and the limits of dedicated archiving of knowledge by dissecting Bibliothèque nationale de France. Do watch it even if you’re not too particularly interested in archiving (and all other Resnais’ films while you’re at it), it’s featured as an extra in the Criterion DVD of L’année Dernière à Marienbad.

In Indonesia, the National Library was officially opened in 1980, although its origin can be traced to 1778 with the founding of the Bataviaasch Genootschap van Kunsten en Wetenschappen (the Batavian Society of Arts and Sciences) by J.-C. M. Radermacher (1741-1783), with Renier de Klerk, governor of Batavia, as its first president. It is actually recognized as the first European learned society to be established in Asia, preceeding that of the Asiatick Society of Bengal by six years. But problems of hot and humid climate—unfavourable to preservation—prevails. (Read more about it on Massil (1989). The History of the National Library of Indonesia: The Bibliographic Borobudur.) Third world country be damned, the weather always wins.

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