Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Homelessness and memory

I'm not sure what the next item has to do with libraries or information. Or maybe it has everything to do with the impulse behind this profession. It's about the meaning we give to words and the meaning words give to a life.

I read about this in a French newsmagazine. An association, "Les morts de la rue" (Those who died on the street), decided to give homeless people in the Paris region a proper funeral with a literary twist. Supposedly, some 450 people have died on the street in the past decade, from the cold, from disease, from injury, or just from despair.

These people are buried in unmarked paupers' graves, without a headstone, usually without any witnesses or ceremony. "Les morts de la rue" tries to find out from morgues and hospitals when the burials happen and send 2 volunteers to the gravesite to recite a poem, anything, perhaps just a few lines from Khalil Gibran or maybe an excerpt from an amateur in a writing workshop signed only with a first name or with the simple mention "A companion".

Won't change much but it got me thinking - the association is actually onto something really radical here. Perhaps those few words said by anonymous volunteers embody the true meaning of literature: the quest for memory, the quest for ritual which are at the foundation of any culture.

Words that separate humans from beasts, memory from nothingness, that commemorate in even a small way people who were certainly not born to die one day alone and abandoned.
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posted by Michel-Adrien at 7:49 pm


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