04 December, 2013

Intellectual Endowments to Humanity

Many more blocks have been walked, and much milder weather has been conducive to the activity. I walk to hand out my resumes and fill out the applications of bookstores that still have storefronts in New York City. Although currently in Brooklyn, I am searching mainly in Manhattan. With each new store, a new space with its own unique energies: high-quality first editions at Left Bank Books; a grand cafe and hand-picked selections at McNally Jackson; and the sole remaining bookstore of Book Row near Union Square, The Strand.

I've been asked by the best leads for a full-time job at these and other bookstores just what am I reading? Mentioning the title of book 1 of 3 which I intend to speak upon, Bollingen: An Adventure in Collecting the Past by William McGuire, I am witness to a sort of wondering and yet disinterested gaze in the person across from me. I begin to enumerate its subject matter in my own words and with each short session and new conversation the enumeration changes, as I read farther and farther into the book. But to be succinct, this book could be said to be the only record of a visionary form of publishing the likes of which this country had never seen at the time - and may not see again.

Bollingen: the name comes from the tower of C.G. Jung's estate on the shores of Lake Zurich in Switzerland. Paul and Mary Mellon visited the psychoanalyst and attended the Eranos lectures which were organized and held in nearby Ascona. Mary was very taken with the material and the caliber of scholarship from the visiting lecturers. Topics usually revolved around the theory of archetypes and its application to mythology, religion, archaeology, particularly of medieval or ancient origin, although many scholars fell outside of the Jungian collective unconscious interpretation. It was a place where ideas were exchanged on equal grounds, where politics were left aside, and the real matter of life was open to discussion: who are we and what are we/have we been doing here? What is Man? What is man's Consciousness? What forms of study of himself and his Consciousness have been conducted in the past, and how can we retain a connection to these forms of study in the present day?

Mary's vision became broader and opened outward from her initial alchemical fascinations. Jung himself was a germinal point or impetus from which much more would be included in the Bollingen Series. 100 publications in multiple volumes, some of which are still to be completed through Princeton University Press (who obtain the rights to the Series) have been proposed and/or executed. Some of the most important scholars of the 20th century, including Henry Corbin, Gershom Scholem, Carl Kerenyi, Erich Neumann, and Mircea Eliade, most of whom would have suffered extermination at the hands of Socialist-Fascist governments if Bollingen hadn't provided flights or support for their refuge, are included in its wide berth of intellectual studies. Little in the later half of the 20th century has been matched in degree and scope when these volumes are read over and considered in the light of their detail, impartiality and focused energy.

When Mary Mellon died in 1946, a shocking blow was sent through Paul, Jung, and all those so far involved in the Foundation. Paul continued to provide funding, awarding fellowships to writers, for excavations, and via the Old Dominion Foundation, creating the A.W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts which continue to be given in Washington D.C. to this day. These philanthropic enterprises were intellectual endowments for humanity. 

How little we hear or know of this from the wealthy in America, especially when it comes to preservation and continuation of older traditions of thought both spiritual and technical. Frankly, if the ideas are not easy to implement via some form of current technology or in the spirit of "the New," the grounds for its continuance are absent. If it's difficult to be marketable to a public who does not demand for it, then it shall not see light. And if it did, its form would likely be altered in such a way, via cover design, annotations, poor translations, that a compromise would be reached - compromising the integrity of the work. We do this constantly with classics of literature. Translations become "outdated" due to the idea that a modernized style would make it more "accessible." Intellectual is a dirty word today anyhow, a synonym of pretentious. The challenge presented by editions from the age in which philology was a real academic study of rigor are to be met with and wrestled for great rewards. Perhaps, even greater than the award, but not unlike, Jacob wrestling with the Angel and granted a new name, a name of transcendence and of heritage.

I have diverted too far from the spotlight of this entry: Bollingen was unique in the risks it took, the money invested, and the spirit of its enterprise. Its heritage, which is none other than that which lies in the vanished cinders of the library of Alexandria or the bones of the island monks of Skye or Kells, still shines on from our shelves. Provide yourself with an introduction to the heritage of your own species by picking up any title of the Series, most of which are available at your local library (probably in the closed stacks) or at a decent used bookstore. Bless your mind with a worthy focus and strengthen the attention which falters often without your permission.

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Portland, OR, United States
For the Observatory's Grand Opening