Imagine a library — a real one, with actual books — with an unusual rule: no novels, essays or magazines are allowed, but only private journals, diaries, thoughts, rants, speculation, accusations, and any “true, authentic documents reflecting the real spirit of the people.” The library is open to the public, and each document can be read by any visitor, who can also request for a small fee to be informed about the identity and the address of the author.
This scenario, which is eerily prescient of today’s social media, was imagined by an Italian novelist in 1975, at the height of the Years of Lead. The novelist, Giorgio De Maria, writes in “The twenty days of Turin” that the appeal of the library derived by the prospect of being read by others, ideally creating a social web of connections and relationships.
But the social impact of the library turns out to be quite different from these lofty expectations, as the library ends up fostering a community of paranoid, resentful and isolated prosumers of information. As per Max Weber‘s prediction, in De Maria’s Turin, progress in communication technologies pushes the individual away from public life and into a “subjectivist culture” of “sterile excitation”.
The denouement of the novel sees old ideas and myths, in the form of monuments, come back to life, somehow resuscitated by the energy channeled by the community’s desperation. A bleak vision, ominously close to our present.