The "Tower of Song" begins, at least for the Gypsy Scholar, in the Renaissance with the "Temple of Music."
Known to the Renaissance occultists as “The Temple of Music,” it was written that: “No other invention, ancient or modern, is more seemly for consorts nor more desirable for symphonies, nor more admirable to the ears of listeners. Time destroys not the sweetness of its sounds, neither do fickle inventions seduce men’s affections from it, however rare, unusual, or more easily learnt these may be.” This “pagan mystery” of the Renaissance was a magical device whereby the Magus, using hermetic/kabbalistic interpretation, contemplated the harmonic relationships (of which the musical was itself a metaphor) and entered the Temple of Music in order to “hear Apollo’s lyre, i.e. experience the celestial worlds” in a scaled flight of soul through the cosmos.
Pythagoras can be seen through the main archway on the bottom floor, entering through a door. Directly above, in the alcove beneath the twin portals representing ears, a Muse stands pointing at a musical phrase in three parts. Above and to the left, the god of music and father of the Muses, Apollo, plays his lyre in the archway below the clock.
Today, we may be witnessing the revival of Pythagorean musical mathematics and its Renaissance towering music magic by way of the music generated by the fractal chaos mathematics.
The Background & History of the
Gypsy Scholar's "Tower of Song" Program
The Gypsy Scholar actually started in radio from a high tower. It was 1973, at an Ivy League college that had a traditional tower at the center of campus. He helped out his college dorm-mate, who had a radio program in a studio atop the college tower.
When the GS was an undergraduate student of literature, a younger breed of professors were beginning to breech the academic code that kept popular culture off limits as a serious subject of study. Thus, there were studies (books and essays) on high-culture poets and writers having epigrams (and maybe more quotations throughout) from Beat poets and popular 60s singer-songwriters, such as Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen. These groundbreaking professors, coming of age in the academy of the 1970s, represented a new sensibility for literature, one that was informed by the revolutionary period in which they lived. However, the young GS wasn't even satisfied with the occasional academic reference to popular Sixties music. The GS wanted serious studies dedicated to it (feeling that the popular rock-music critic should be part of the constituency of academic "literary critics."). As a student of the Romantics, he felt like Bono felt about Leonard Cohen (whose critics were aghast when this academically-trained poet "prostituted" himself to become a popular singer-songwriter!): "Here was a man, who inside of a pop-song ... you know, puts big ideas, big dreams. It reminded me of Keats or Shelley or, you know, they were poets I was reading as a kid. I said this is our ... Shelley, this is our ... Byron. You know, there was an otherness to the language. It was just a sensory overload of the language that first got to me." [I'm Your Man, 2005] The GS had, in other words, realized that the Sixties musicians were the heirs of the Romantics—and to study the one meant to also study the other. Always listening to music when he studied (and thus experienced a steady stream of correspondences between the ideas and the music), the GS wanted more than academic tomes just referencing Sixties singer-songwriters—he wanted snippets of song verses jumping out everywhere between the lines of essays on literary texts! But, he recognized this was clearly impossible (unless a professor of literature could provide an audio tape with his book). However, the GS did come up with a way that this could be done (i.e., in another medium of communication), but it was only well after he left the university.
Since the GS's university days, the split between academic high-culture and popular low-culture has been largely overcome, as a result of popular culture, most prominently in the form of music and movies, infiltrating the precincts of the Ivory Tower. For instance, you can now find academic works on popular singer-songwriters, such as Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen. Thus, today, there are bona fide university departments dedicated to the study of media and popular culture, and find entire books written on the subject of how the elements of popular culture are the equivalent of serious, canonical literature: "At the same time, it became important ... to argue that popular culture representations were as potentially complex and worthy of interpretation as the ‘great’ canonical texts of European literature that were always being used to demonstrate the poverty of popular culture and of youth culture in general." (Carla Freccero, Popular Culture) Furthermore, you know that the exclusive walls of the Ivory Tower have been totally breeched when Sixties singer-songwriter Bob Dylan is awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature!
Yes, the GS did find a way, in the early 1990s, to not only bridge the gap between high academic culture and low pop-culture but also to realize his fantasy of liberally punctuating essays with music—song-lines jumping out of the text. It was through the medium of radio, when the GS invented his own form of "radio-text;" i.e., the Orphic Essay-with-Soundtrack. "Songs will literally jump out at you at the perfect moment and talk to you." (DJ at a community radio station) Here, on radio, the "Gypsy Scholar" didn't present his academic essay from the Ivory Tower, but from "that tower down the track"—the TOWER OF SONG. Back then, on "community radio," the GS was actively doing something—with his "romance of scholarship" and "flowers of discourse" notions—that some daring academics now call "Re-enchanting the Academy." (And, as far as the academic essay is concerned, the word "enchantment" comes from the Latin word incantare [in = En- + cantare = sing]; lit., in-song-ment.) Thus, the Orphic Essay-with-Soundtrack is a "Re-enchanment" of the academic form of the essay.
The TOWER OF SONG program is designed to harken back—"way, way back"—to the early days of what was called "underground" (or "freeform," or "alternative," or "progressive") radio of the 1960s and '70s, most especially nocturnal (FM) radio, with its experimental "non-format format" of mixing not only different musical genres but also music and talk (of the new "flower-power" radio stations). It is predicated on the notion that there is not only an economic difference between commercial and non-commercial radio, but also a biological difference between the diurnal rhythms of day and night; the night having a special reality of magic that is absent from the day (and the noisy busyness of daytime radio). Therefore, the TOWER OF SONG program is about a different radio sensibility, one designed to cater to the rhythms a special kind of listener. [See "School of the Night" page.]
The TOWER OF SONG is the great metaphor/symbol for the Gypsy Scholar's once-and-future program, "Everybody Knows / Tower of Song," which he conducted for seven years, beginning in 1989 on community radio station KKUP. Conceived on the model of sixties "underground radio," its range covered topics from the spiritual to the political. With this midnight program, the GS presented an alternating program format of dialectics (interviews or spoken-word essays) and popular music. The program began with this introduction from the GS's "Re-Vision Radio Manifesto & Visionary Recital":
The noetic EVERYBODY KNOWS segment alternates with the mythopoetic TOWER OF SONG segment—an eclectic mixing of music and spoken-word readings from a variety of texts. It's hosted by the Gypsy Scholar, with flower in one hand and sword in the other. Thus, Everybody Knows, it's "flower-power" radio—with the philosophic power of Blakean "Staminal Virtue." It is, then, RE-VISION RADIO: a "Soul-making" Philosophical & Literary inter-view program that re-views—looks once again in-depth at—ideas, books, issues people in the news religion and politics movements and movies. RE-VISION RADIO is, as Everybody Knows, not for everyone but for "Romantic Outsiders" only (like its counterpart, the 1960s "Magic Theater" of the Imagination—"for madmen only").
Thus, this was the "Everybody Knows/Tower of Song" program, with its unique mix of talk (dialogue and interviews, with phone-calls from listeners) and essays put to popular music—high philosophy & deep song. Little did the GS know then that around the same time a film by well-known director Oliver Stone had come out, Talk Radio (1988), which told the story of a popular and controversial radio host. Viewing it later on video, the GS couldn't help but feel that the coincidence of the controversial host's first name with his first name was too uncanny! But this weird coincidence was shortly to be matched by another. Significantly enough, not long after the GS began his own "underground" style of radio out of a converted garage (KKUP), he received another uncanny match to his own novel radio conception when the 1990 film, Pump Up the Volume, hit the theaters. It opened with the protagonist starting a pirate radio program in his "basement" (literally "underground radio"). And his theme-song? You guessed it—"Everybody Knows"! (By chance, did the filmmaker once hear the GS's radio program?)
Hypatia, Librarian of Alexandrian Library
& Spiritual Ancestor of "Our Dark Lady of the Musical-Memorial Library"
The most famous librarian of the ancient world was a woman named Hypatia (379-415 CE). She was a Neoplatonic philosopher known as "The Philosopher" and "The Nurse," and she became the librarian at the Library of Alexandria. There's not much biographical information on Hypatia, and much of what we do know was written by her enemies. Yet even the Church historian Socrates describes her in this way: "Hypatia, daughter of Theon, last fellow of the Museum, who was a famed mathematician and philosopher, and who had succeeded to the school of Plato and Plotinus, was a woman of great learning and highest character."
The poet Palladas called her "Adorable Hypatia, Unsullied Star of True Philosophy." In the estimation of some, Hypatia was history’s greatest woman. By all accounts stunningly beautiful, dazzlingly brilliant, yet always modest and kind. In an age when women were but chattel, this remarkable Alexandrian Greek woman was history’s first female mathematician, as well as the first female astronomer, inventor, and natural philosopher. She was the last keeper of the flame of knowledge in that great Alexandrian University the Museum—the center of all the world’s learning. As the daughter of the last head professor of the Museum, she practically grew up in the Great Alexandrian Library, where all the world’s knowledge was kept. In addition to being a child prodigy, she was a voracious reader. Already, by the age of womanhood in those days (i.e., twelve), she was considered to have assimilated the sum total of all significant human knowledge.
When what was left of the Great Alexandrian Library was burned down by the Christians at the command of Christian emperor Theodosius “The Great” in the year 391, the books were all gone. But Hypatia’s mind still contained the best of what was lost in the flames, and so, throughout the rest of her life, whenever someone was stumped by a problem and there were no more books to turn to, they turned to Hypatia. By the time her career as lecturing natural philosopher culminated, she was considered an oracle, and citizens and heads of state streamed in from all over the two empires to consult with her on important matters. Indeed, so great was her renown, that letters from all over the far-flung empires addressed simply “to the Philosopher” would unerringly find their way to her. Her life’s mission was to preserve the ancient knowledge of the brilliant Greeks, and to preserve their tradition of free-thinking rational thought. However, the world around her was in upheaval, and the Christians were consolidating their power, turning the mind of man away from reason, to faith. Hypatia was the last obstacle to the Church’s goal of world domination, and when the Christian mob under Saint Cyril made her history’s greatest martyr for science the scholars left Alexandria in disgust. Alexandria ceased to be the world’s center of learning, and the Dark Ages descended upon the world. Because Hypatia preserved and disseminated the seed of Greek wisdom, although that seed lay dormant for a thousand years, eventually it sprouted and bore the fruits which produced the European Renaissance and the Modern Age, and in the end the great woman, Hypatia, triumphed after all.
Throughout the nineteenth Century, she inspired the Romantics of England and Europe, the most famous of which was undoubtedly “Hypatia or the New Foes with an Old Face,” written in 1853 by Charles Kingsley.
The Tower of Song Musekal-Memorial Library
as a Temple of Wonder, Temple of Knowledge, and Universal Library
The Tower of Song houses a library, the Musekal-Memorial Library & Imaginal Museum.” As such, it retains the memory of the earliest “sacred libraries” of old and, more specifically, the “Universal Library” and “Museum” (“home of the muses”) at Alexandria, one of the “wonders of the ancient world,” and now known as the “Vanished Library.”
Historians have told us that “the germ of the library is as early as man's mind” (thus the “library” is a psychological archetype) and that “The oldest of alleged libraries are the libraries of the gods.” For example, the “sacred libraries” of ancient Egypt, where the “House of Books” was presided over by the god Toth (Hermes) and the goddess Hathor-Seshat, who was called the “Lady of Libraries” and “Mistress of the Hall of Books.” (The moon-goddess Seshat was an aspect the Great Goddess, Isis, herself.) According to some historians, Seshat is older and more primary than Toth. As Hathor, she was called “Maat,” (Truth) and functioned as the “inventor of writing.” Thus, Hathor-Seshat is assimilated to “the great mother” and “is one of the favorite goddesses among the Egyptian pantheon.” Thus, Egyptian libraries were also the shrine-oracles of the gods (most usually of goddesses).
Our great modern libraries have their origins in such early “sacred libraries.” Indeed, the religious mythologies of the world claim there were book collections even before the creation of the world. For instance, in the Hindu Vedas it is claimed that a library existed even before the creator god, and the Koran maintains that such a collection co-existed from eternity with the uncreated God.
Furthermore, many of the creator gods were described in terms of knowledge or the Word (logos), and were even looked upon as incarnate libraries. In some mythologies all creation is looked upon as a “vast library,” and thus the stars in the heavens were seen, astrologically, as a book in which can be read the secret destiny of heaven and earth—a “house of wisdom.” There is also the ancient notion of the creation as “The Book of Life.” Other mythological traditions tell of the “Pre-Adamite” or “Antediluvean Library” written by Jehovah in several volumes, which composed Adam's entire library until the Fall. After the fall, it is reported that Jehovah wrote a revised edition in one volume on stone and placed it in a “house” on a mountain east of the Garden of Eden, where lived the Cherubim. This may be why angels were often associated with libraries—and still are to this day. (For example, the 1987 film Wings of Desire.) This was thus the very first “House of Books” and, accordingly, the angels became the first librarians, or “keepers of the stone books.” This divine library was bequeathed to Noah, which he preserved from the Flood (thus the mythical “Antediluvian Library”). Legend has it that this library was dug up after the Flood and became the nucleus of the great libraries of the ancient world. These original libraries of the earth were all “sacred libraries,” since they seem always to have belonged to the temples. As historians inform us: “It is no accident that libraries have from the earliest times been associated with holy places. It is no accident that libraries have from the earliest times been associated with holy places.... Awe decreases with familiarity, and today we tend to forget the reverence ... paid the scholar. Writing is indeed a miracle that conquers time and space, and penetrates the mysteries of the universe. Most men in their hearts still acknowledge the marvel of this miracle. Learning has its own mysteries incarnated in pen and ink, and if we have the eyes to see, the magic of it overwhelms us. The instinct which invests learning with holiness is sound.” Thus, even in the medieval period, the great architectural achievements, the Gothic cathedrals, were sometimes called “books in stone.”
Given, as previously stated, a feminine spirit has, from the beginning, been associated with great libraries as a tutelary deity (e.g.; the Egyptian “Lady of Libraries”), the legacy of tutelary deities presiding over libraries still persists (although it’s merely a formality today), in some of our modern libraries. For instance, a bronze bust of Athena-Minerva, goddess of wisdom, is above the north entrance of Doe Library on the UC-Berkeley campus.
The Tower of Song’s “Musekal-Memorial Library & Imaginal Museum” has its real-world archetype in two libraries of the past.
The first is the ancient library at Alexandria in Egypt, which was one of the “wonders of the ancient world.” Founded by Alexander the Great in the fourth century BC, built and enlarged by Ptolemy I, Alexander's successor, the city's library comprised perhaps as many as 700,000 manuscripts, which was whole corpus of knowledge accumulated by ancient poets, philosophers, and scientists. And it was all contained in a magnificent building considered by the ancients to have been of surpassing beauty.
The library was likely created after Ptolemy had built what would become the first part of the library complex, the “Temple of the Muses”—the Mouseion (The Latin word “museum” is derived from this Greek word.) The Greek Mouseion was much more than what we understand to be a library today. Besides a library or gallery of manuscripts (also a gallery of sacred texts), it was the home of music, poetry, and a philosophical school, such as Plato's academy of philosophy. The Musaeum (in the 3rd century BCE) was directed by a group of literary and scientific scholars who received support from the Ptolemies.
The great Library of Alexandria, the “Cathedral of Books,” was “a building devoted to learning and the arts, regarded as the home or seat of the muses” (museum) and housed an esoteric community of adepts, who were “isolated from the outside world and equipped with a complete library and retreat were they could cultivate the muses.” This “Universal Library” contained more than the sum of its two most outstanding literary traditions, Greek and Egyptian, because it included Jewish, Babylonian, Zoroastrian and many other writings including manuscripts from as far away as India. Buddhist writings were also there, since Buddhist monks were part of a special envoy sent by the emperor Asoka to Alexandria during the time of Ptolemy II Philodelphus.
The Alexandrian Library was modeled on the Egyptian “sacred library” that was not only a “House of Books” but also a labyrinthine “temple of initiation” (both buildings were labyrinths). The library slowly declined over the next four centuries, until by 400 CE it had vanished altogether, and the era of Alexandrian scholarship came to an end a few years later. But the memory of the ancient Library of Alexandria lived on. It continued to inspire scholars and humanists everywhere. The reputation of the Musaeum as a venue of knowledge and learning spread through the centuries. Many dreamt of one day reviving the great Alexandrian Library. In some sense, the Alexandrian Library was the forerunner of today's great national and university libraries, since its mission was to collect all the important works of Hellenic civilization.
There is one further aspect of the Alexandrian Library Musaeum and its “cultivation of the muses” that’s important to mention regrading the meaning of the Tower of Song’s “Musekal-Memorial Library & Imaginal Museum.” Inscribed over the entrance of the chamber of oldest library of the ancient world (in Egypt), the following enigmatic words: “THE PLACE OF THE CURE OF SOUL.” The words “psycheis therapeia” denote “the dwelling or workshop where the Ka [soul] resides and where it operates.” This is why some translate the enigmatic inscription as “The Hospital of the Soul.” Thus, if we go back far enough in the history of libraries, we can re-vision what we today understand as a “library”—what it really is and what it is for. In the final analysis, it is the “House of Soul,” a special place where is kept not only a storehouse of memory (memoria) and the “home of the muses” but also a hospital for “the cure/care of soul” (which is the original meaning of “psycho-therapy;” and thus the “cure/care of soul” may be synonymous to the “cultivation of the muses.”). This makes sense, since, concerning the Alexandrian Library, the greatest librarian of the ancient world was Hypatia, who was not only called “The Philosopher” (of Neoplatonic philosophy) but also “The Nurse”—for the “cure/care of soul.” Thus, the following equation can be made: libraries = muses = goddesses = angels = memory = wisdom = care of soul.
Why a Mus-e-kal Library? A Note on the Muses and Libraries
Muses and libraries were clearly considered a natural association by the first century BCE. The relationship was most fostered by the library at Alexandria, which had its own museum with its own statuary muses. The dates are significant. The library at Alexandria was established at the beginning of the third century BCE. Plato, in the fourth century BCE, sets up one of the first, if not the first, “mouseion” (museum). Within Plato's Academy at Athens, there is an altar to the Muses and another to Hermes. Here, it can be seen that Plato feels the necessity of surrounding himself and his school with the reinforcers of memory and hence learning. This union of the muses and learning continued throughout classical antiquity.
The Muses were the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne (Memory). They presided over song, and prompted the memory. They were nine in number, and each of whom presided over a particular department of literature, art, or science. Therefore, while it is true about the Library of Alexandria that “not a trace of it survives” (“The Vanished Library”), in another sense (or dimension) it truly does still survive—as the imaginal place, that archetypal library in the mind that the Gypsy Scholar calls the Tower of Song’s “Musekal-Memorial Library & Imaginal Museum.”
The second real-world library that the Tower of Song library retains a memory of, that serves as a model for, is the hilltop library called the “Tour Magdala” in Southern France (the home of the troubadours). Legends say that Mary Magdalene came to southern France, after arriving on its coast by boat at Les Saintes Maries dela Mer (with the Grail Cup, and thus imitating the romance literature of the Holy Grail). Her name and memory are all over the Languedoc region, especially at the hilltop village of Rennes-le-Chateau, where over a 100 years ago the Abbe Saunière built the Tour Magdala that he dedicated—as well as the church—to Mary Magdalene. It is said that the Tower of Magdala was built over a cave that descends into the earth. Both the tower and church were built on an ancient temple site to the goddess Isis. It is also believed that beneath them lies part of a magnificent Venus Temple covered with earth during the Deluge thousands of years ago. The hillside town of Rennes-le-Château is located in Languedoc (Southern France), the epicenter of troubadour activity. The little village has played a key historical role, both as the center of the troubadour-related Cathar heresy in the region and its subsequent suppression, as well as in traditions connected to the Templar movement and its complete annihilation. Archeological surface findings around the hilltop and the church suggest the area has long historical past including pre-Christian pagan religious sites and as a provincial center in the Greco-Roman period.
Here is a description of the Tour Magdala: “But what was this Tower Magdala for, other than for viewing the area? It was used as a library, yes, but it doesn’t look like a library. What it looks like is a symbol of something, a sample of greater splendor, say, a miniature of what Saunière was dreaming of. This is a tiny castle. A castle that suggests or leads to a larger castle, perhaps a ‘castle-in-the-air’ to those who have eyes to see, the castle in which the lost Magdalene could feel at home. Or perhaps it’s meant as a gateway to some sort of spiritual Grail Temple or Refuge, as others have speculated. Whatever, it may be significant that its door does not open to the outside. You must be inside Saunière’s park to climb up to the esplanade to enter the door. Does this symbolically convey that one must be an ‘insider’ to enter the Mystery? There is a well-known notion that the Gothic cathedrals were ‘books in stone,’ and possibly even ‘alchemical books in stone.’ It would seem that Saunière’s entire estate, but especially his tower, combine with his church to add up to some sort of non-verbal book. Which says, ‘let those who eyes to read, read.’”
This description of the Tower Magdala and its library is another key to the nature and function of the Tower of Song’s library. In short, “The Musekal-Memorial Library & Imaginal Museum” could be said to fit the description: “What it looks like is a symbol of something a sample of greater splendor, say, a miniature of what Saunière was dreaming of. This is a tiny castle. A castle that suggests or leads to a larger castle, perhaps a “castle-in-the-air” to those who have eyes to see ….” In other words, “The Musekal-Memorial Library & Imaginal Museum” could also be called “The Magdalene Musekal-Memorial Library”—that refuge or sanctuary, “where the poetic champions compose,” and, for feeling at home, that visionary “Retreat and View” (Van Morrison)—is actually, to the imaginal eye, a “book in stone.” (The archetypal “castle-in-the-air” has, with the modern technological invention of radio—that “revolutionary new force in modern life”—become a real phenomenon, defying the realist’s derogatory usage of the term. See the book The Empire of the Air for the “American visionaries whose imagination and dreams turned a hobbyists’ toy into radio, launching the modern communication age.”) To put it another way, the Tower of Song’s “Musekal-Memorial Library & Imaginal Museum” is “a symbol of something, a sample of greater splendor, say, a miniature of what” the Gypsy Scholar “was dreaming of.” This is why the Gypsy Scholar can say that “Our Dark Lady of the Romantic Tower of Song—Magdalene Sophia—is the Goddess-Muse of Eternal Wisdom & Wit and ancient Lonely-Tower Libraries.” [From “Re-Vision Radio Manifesto & Visionary Recital.”]
Yes, a “castle-in-the-air to those who have eyes to see”! Therefore, the question is, concerning the history of the “Tour Magdala” esoteric library in Southern France, the home of the troubadours: What was the Gypsy Scholar “dreaming of” when he began investigating the troubadour phenomenon and envisioned the Tower of Song and its “Musekal-Memorial Library & Imaginal Museum” for radio? [For a comprehensive view, for “those who have eyes to see” and want to “see what I mean” by the metaphorical title of the “Tower of Song” and its symbolic nature, go to the “Metaphorical Key to the Tower of Song” page.]
There is one more thing to be considered for a full view of the meaning of the Tower of Song and its “Musekal-Memorial library.” This is that the Tower Magdala library was not only a “temple of books” but also a “temple of love”—the Mari-Ishtar-Aphrodite “Temple of Love.” In medieval legend, Mary Magdalene is equated with Venus, goddess of love, beauty, and sensuality. [For “The Magdalene” as high-priestess of the Aphrodite-Dianic cult of love in Southern France, see subpage “Our Dark Lady.”] However, as fanciful as this may come across to the average person, there is a history of speculation regarding the relationship between libraries (and philosophy) and erotic love (eros).
A good place to start is at the beginning of Western philosophy with Socrates and the priestess Diotima, “the teacher of love,” whom Socrates claimed taught him everything he knew. Plato’s dialogue, The Symposium, records the drinking party in which Diotima appears and makes her famous speech on the inseparability of philosophy and eros. Then comes the Alexandrian Library and its legacy. Since the institution of the library in the Western world begins with the founding of the “Universal Library” and “Museum” at Alexandria by Plato's student Aristotle and his Peripatetic School, and since the beautiful and learned Hypatia resided there, we can make the connection between eros, philosophy, soul, and libraries. (“‘Give attention to the soul’ is a phrase that practically defines the whole teaching of Pythagoras and Socrates.” —Jacob Needleman) Therefore, the Gypsy Scholar would re-vision the “Magdalene Musekal-Memorial Library” as both temple of learning and love, with “Our Dark Lady of the Tower of Song” as an erotic librarian, guiding lovers to the secret places between the stacks. That's why everybody knows that “Our Dark Lady of the Tower of Song”—fusing the heights intellectuality with the depths of sexuality—gives good read! “The liberation of the Imagination is always an erotic event” —James Hillman)
The following essay on preserving public libraries came along after the fact to magnificently capture all the Gypsy Scholar has imagined about the Tower of Song’s “Magdalene Musekal-Memorial Library” as a temple of learning and love.
“I wonder how many people have fallen in love in a library. The place is a hotbed of romance. The sight of someone pouring over a book, devoted. The beatific inclination of the head. In no other pose does the human body look at once so strong and vulnerable, tense and at ease. Something beautifying happens to a person in the process of reading a book. There's the soft library light and the quiet helps too, but mainly it has to do with the act itself; the words, the ideas, transferring from one mind to another, and the recipient mind glowing like a smitten teenager. The library is a love nest, hot. You'd think they'ed shut the thing down. In New York, in fact, that's exactly what the powers have contemplated: shutting down the public libraries, permanently closing the local branches, or shortening the hours. What this amounts to, at the moment, is lost love in the city of New York. But with the economy falling apart everywhere, library closings could occur in any city. America without public libraries! Think of it. Where would you find the reader of your dreams? What such closings will mean is not merely the end of libraries but the end of books. Many people can perceive that end eventually, with or without public libraries. But the removal of libraries will speed the process hectically. The kid in Brooklyn, Queens or Houston, Texas who is inclined to read and finds no books available to him, will soon incline toward television or nothing. Books will become the special property of the rich or of oddballs, and reading will become a hobbyist activity equivalent to pinning butterflies on a page. In the term "public library" the emphasis is on the word public, an emphasis important to this country. In a set up like ours, the public library is an essential equal opportunity institution. Anybody, anywhere, can grace his mind—that is the deep and real romance of a library. Every book, on every shelf, in every stack holds the promise of more. The politicians talk of merely closing the libraries a couple of days a week, but that will kill them too. The beauty of the place is that its there, always there, waiting for everybody, open like a pair of arms. Closing the public libraries should not be lamented; it should be forbidden. People—all people—should rise in outrage and self-interest to keep the institution going forever. Picture him, picture her, poised over that book, the book that broke into their hearts and gave them life. Think of yourself at the moment of liberty, when the feelings of the book became your feelings, its thoughts your thoughts; its information yours—all in the marriage of true minds. There you were never lovelier.” —Roger Rosenblatt
Top: Lady Philosophy Presenting Seven Liberal Arts to Boethius (Henri de Vulcop)
Bottom: Lady Philosophy offering wings to Boethius, so his mind can fly aloft (French School 15th c.)
Philosophy For The Masses & The National Love Affair With Philosophy
“Music has depth and attempts philosophical thought and meaning with discussion of infinity, eternity, and mortality.” (David Gilmore of Pink Floyd)
Jacob Needleman, Prof. of Philosophy (Harvard, Yale, San Francisco State,) writes in his book, The Heart of Philosophy , that he wants to “show the place that great philosophical ideas can occupy in the everyday life of contemporary men and women….” He cannot overestimate the importance of “philosophy” in our times: “The love of meaning, the search for meaning, is the only real, objective force for good in the life of modern man. Everything else we hope for and wish for ourselves and our children depends on it…. Man cannot live without philosophy.…” Prof. Needleman believes that “There is a yearning in the human heart that is nourished only by real philosophy and without this nourishment man dies as surely as if he were deprived of food and air.” (Emphasis added)
In this introduction, Prof. Needleman asks the question: “Philosophy, Where Are You?” He explains that when he began teaching philosophy twenty years ago, his colleagues didn’t take him seriously. But he points out that this depreciation of the value of philosophy was part of the general cultural malaise: “But this part of the human psyche is not known in our culture…. As for people outside the academic profession, their matters were even worse. Anyone foolish enough to admit he was a philosopher invited either outright ridicule or else victimization ….”
This is a very unfortunate state of affairs, because of the “philosophical” nature of human life: “In human civilization, and in the individual life of every human being, behind every problem to be solved, there is a question of philosophy to be asked — and not only asked as we usually ask but to be pondered and live with as a reminder of something we've forgotten, something essential….”
However, at the time of writing his book, things have changed: “Things are different now. In fact, it is nothing short of remarkable to see what the word “philosophy” now invoke some people from all walks of life…. not a trace of ridicule…. Open today's newspaper and you will see: Events are becoming “philosophical.”
Traveling on the lecture circuit, Prof. Needleman discovers something astonishing to behold concerning “philosophy” in our time—a veritable “secret national love affair” with philosophy:
“I am astounded by how many successful men and women in our society seriously study philosophy in their youth…. Asked to speak about those studies of philosophy, they undergo a change. Certainly, their faces were young, and then, Justice suddenly, they smile sadly or cynically. Their numbers are truly astonishing. I feel as hough I encountered a secret national love affair…. It is not hard to see that these people are still carrying a torch.” (Emphasis added)
Jack Bowen, a teacher of Philosophy, has written a book on the subject of philosophy with the catchy title If You Can Read This: The Philosophy of Bumper Stickers.  Bowen has definitely brought the arcane subject of philosophy out of the Ivory Tower; indeed, he has literally brought it right into the streets! Talk about “popularizing” philosophy! Using car bumper sticker slogans as a lens to explore philosophy, Bowen wants to get people away from the idea that philosophy is some elite enterprise, fit only for guys in togas (referring to Plato and company) and guys in caps and gowns.
Below is a snippet the Gypsy Scholar transcribed form the interview with philosopher Bowen on KUSP radio. (April 11, 2010).
JB: Yeah, I think you're exactly right. And that's what got me going writing this book, because I realized people are doing philosophy all the time, and we don't need bumper stickers to tell us that. When we're talking about—we're talking politics and we're talking rights and duties and how we aught to distribute healthcare and money, we're talking philosophy. When we're talking about love and relationships, we're talking philosophy. Bumper stickers are just a really great catalyst for getting that going, because a typical bumper sticker is very catchy; it's got some rhetoric, often some sarcasm, but it really gets you engaged, and once your engaged you're willing and excited to talk about the issues behind it. (Emphasis added)
JB: As writer of pop-philosophy books, I'm hoping to show as many people as possible that it's not this thing with old stodgy men in the tall ivory towers of academia. I mean that's clearly being done in every discipline. But I want to show that philosophy is fun and it's accessible and its relevant in our current day, and there are philosophers from many different demographics and many different ages and that we're all capable and actually, I think, are core philosophers. (Emphasis added)
Interviewer: And it also suggests, I think, interestingly, that, you know, philosophy is fun. It can be entertaining, and that in the most intellectually challenging and interesting philosophy is also some of the most entertaining stuff out there. (Emphasis added)
JB: I would certainly think so!
Prof. Christopher Phillips (who has taught at New York University and the University of Pennsylvania) is another academic philosopher who has brought philosophy out of the Ivory Tower—this time into the cafes! He is an award-winning scholar, author, sought after speaker, consultant and moderator. He is known best as a foremost specialist in the Socratic Method through his books, Socrates Cafe: A Fresh Taste of Philosophy  and Six Questions of Socrates: A Modern Day Journey of Discovery through World Philosophy.  His mission in writing and lecturing is to revive the love of questions that Socrates inspired long ago in ancient Athens. To this end, Prof. Phillips started what he called “Socrates Cafes,” which are Socratic discussion meetings in a variety of venues such as cafés, libraries, nursing homes, churches, schools, and prisons (where the gatherings are sometimes called “Philosophers' Clubs”). This is why Public Radio International called Phillips the “Johnny Appleseed of Philosophy.”
Dr. Phillips travels the world over holding dialogues with people of all walks of life. He encourages people to become “philosophers” themselves by asking questions like Socrates did “about the way one should live.” In this way, he believes, people can become our own best thinkers (with profound reflections on the meaning of love, friendship, work, growing old, death—“Life’s Big Questions”) and discover their own unique stories of wisdom. He says his goal is to inspire curiosity and wonder of a transformative sort, one that nurtures self-discovery, openness, empathy.
These three professional philosophers, each in their own way (two of which start with Socrates and Plato), all demonstrate the desire to liberate "philosophy" from the specialist confines of academic departments and let it run wild in the world of everyday people. And this is because people “can’t live without philosophy” and “behind every problem to be solved there is a question of philosophy to be asked,” because “great philosophical ideas” are part of the “everyday life of contemporary men and women,” because “events are becoming philosophical,” because “people are doing philosophy all the time” by “talking philosophy” in all areas of their lives, because everyday people are themselves “core philosophers” without knowing it, and because, on top of all this, “philosophy is entertaining and fun.”
Given that this is the situation of “philosophy” in the world today, the Gypsy Scholar, a twenty-year veteran of radio, feels that his program—one which both educates and entertains—can be “philosophical,” because it's dedicated to the “life of the mind,” and because of a philosophical attitude to whatever topic is discussed. Thus, the Tower of Song program is about Ideas; the ideas in the music and, conversely, the music in the ideas.
However, the Gypsy Scholar has one minor misgiving concerning Dr. Phillips’ range of venues for philosophy discussion. The GS can't help but wonder why he leaves out “drinking party” for his “Socrates Cafe” venues, since that’s where Socrates did some of his best philosophizing [i.e., at the Symposium]! But, seriously, the Gypsy Scholar would want to see Dr. Phillips have “Socrates Cafes” in another venue apparently not yet utilized for philosophizing—a radio station! But, come to think about it, since the Dr. Phillips’ idea is for people to start their own Socrates Cafes, the Gypsy Scholar might have already started such when, back in the mid-1990s, he presented on radio his Essay-with-Soundtrack entitled “Notes Towards A Musekal Philosophy,” which focused on “philosophy” as Socrates and Plato conceived of it.
A Footnote: Philosophy & Love
“You can call my love Sophia, / I call my love Philosophy.” -Van Morrison
Because Socrates defined philosophy as “the love of wisdom,” Jack Bowen makes the connection between “philosophy” and “love.” (This is probably having to do with the fact that in the Symposium Socrates invites Diotima, “the teacher of love,” to discourse on how love, eros, raises the philosopher the highest level of being.) The Gypsy Scholar was very pleased to hear this, because he remembered what he had written in one of his past musical essays, “The Troubadours & The Beloved:”
“Thus, since philosophy & love are so dialectically intermingled for the poets and minstrels of the Middle Ages, everybody knows by now that, in the final (mythopoetic) analysis, nobody knows whether the poet-philosophers are singing the praises of love, or the minstrel-lovers are discoursing on the virtues of philosophy.”
Now, the Gypsy Scholar might be faulted for gross exaggeration here, if it weren't for the fact that (a) he’s already cited philosopher Jacob Needleman in declaring he discovered “secret national love affair” with philosophy” and that the sheer excitement some people demonstrated for their once youthful love of philosophy indicated that “these people are still carrying a torch;” (b) there are professional philosophers themselves who declare their relationship with philosophy as a “falling in love” The book, Falling in Love with Wisdom: American Philosophers Talk About Their Calling, edited by Karnos and Shoemaker , presents sixty-four memoirs by academic philosophers on their love of philosophy. One statement in the collection stands out for the Gypsy Scholar: “I sometimes think that one becomes a philosopher the same way one becomes … a lover ….” (It should be noted that in both the Greek philosophical tradition and the later Judeo-Christian tradition wisdom was personified as female; e.g., “Sophia,” or “ Lady Wisdom.”)
As for the Gypsy Scholar’s own secret love affair with “Lady Philosophy,” he, too, studied philosophy s a young student—and now he’s “still carrying a torch.”
I'm carryin' a torch for you
I'm carryin' a torch
You know how much it costs
To keep carryin' a torch
Flame of love it burns so bright
That is my desire
Keep on liftin' me, liftin' me up
Higher and higher
You're the keeper of the flame
And you burn so bright
Baby why don't we re-connect
Move into the light
I've been going to and fro on this
And I'm still carryin' a torch
You must know how much it's worth
When I'm carryin' a torch (alright)
Baby you're the keeper of the flame
And you burn so bright
Why, why, why, why, why, why
Don't we re-connect
And move on further, into the light
Cause I'm carryin' a torch (yeah)
Cause I'm carryin' a torch (yeah)
Van Morrison, 'Carrying A Torch'