It’s crossed my mind – a lot, actually, in recent months – that we might be witnessing the end of our civilisation, whether at the hands of climate change or a rejuvenated – and this time successful – fascism. If so, most of us will die, of course, but also all our culture, all our achievements, all the things that define our civilisation, all that will die too. We would be entering a modern dark age. And that would be somewhat of a pity.
Well, if things continue as they have over the last decade, the time might come when those who love human thought will have to try and preserve it for the people after the darkness, if any there be. I suggest time capsules of books, buried in locations future archaeologists might look but future book-burners won’t. The books would be treated to last and resist insects and fungi, and be hermetically sealed, and in containers strong enough to withstand tectonic movement and made of incorruptible material. There would be no record of where they were hidden, except in the hiders’s heads, for the challenge the time capsules present to the new rulers would not be tolerated.
The plan stands little hope of success, but what can we do? The religious hermits who laid down the Dead Sea scrolls couldn’t be sure they would last for nearly 2000 years; all they could do is their best.
Which books would we select? A Shakespeare – Hamlet, say – with translations into several languages in synoptic columns. Another edition of the same play, with school notes. A good dictionary, thesaurus, and dictionary of quotations to help future scholars with our language. A few of the greats – choose half a dozen from the canon that you fancy. Maybe a few modern authors who otherwise might not survive – Golding, Lessing, Naipaul. A science data book. A one-volume summary of our scientific ideas, perhaps with the pages explaining nuclear weapons torn out. A score by Mozart – the magic flute. Something on history, something on visual art, and definitely something on climate change. You get the idea.
Am I serious? Not more than half not.