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Umberto Eco on the Production and Reproduction of Learning

The abbey where I was staying was probably the last to boast of excellence in the production and reproduction of learning. But perhaps for this very reason, the monks were no longer content with the holy work of copying; they wanted also to produce new complements of nature, impelled by the lust for novelty. And they did not realize, as I sensed vaguely at that moment (and know clearly today, now aged in years and experience), that in doing so they sanctioned the destruction of excellence. Because if this new learning they wanted produced were to circulate freely outside those walls, then nothing would distinguish that sacred place any longer from a cathedral school or a city university. Remaining isolated, on the other hand, it maintained its prestige and its strength intact, it was not corrupted by disputation, by the quodlibetical conceit that would subject every mystery and every greatness to the scrutiny of the sic et non. There, I said to myself, are the reasons for the silence and the darkness that surround the library: it is the preserve of learning but can maintain this learning unsullied only if it prevents its reaching anyone at all, even the monks themselves.

Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, 1983), 184-185.

 

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