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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 28 April 2018
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 28 APRIL 2018 25 OPINION talented Greek writer to migrate to Australian shores, and criminally forgotten, for he died before I was born, in 1967. And I was only able to read the above thoughts on the necessity of founding a Greek community library, which he penned on 25 March 1951, upon a chance discovery late last year of a copy of Οικογένεια, a remarkable literary magazine which he edited, and in which they were published. Lillis was writing with the same fervour of certainty as Saint Paul, when he wrote of the immanency of the saviour's return. For him, a trilingual author, recently arrived in Melbourne and anxious to stimulate the intellectual and cultural life of a community in the process of inventing itself, the concept of a library, created and run by the community, for the community, was axiomatic. The question for him was not 'if' a community library would be created but when. Sixty-seven years later and with the Greek language in terminal decline, its study having been ousted within a generation from tertiary institutions in which the community fought so tenaciously to introduce it, Lillis would most likely have been shocked to learn that despite some attempts, we have failed to create the community library he and so many others envisaged. Instead, we took the easier path, focusing all our expectations on the local and state governments, entities which, though they undoubtedly took their role of fostering multiculturalism seriously, justifiably diverted funds towards the satisfaction of the literary needs of other emerging communities and when it was anodyne to do so, jettisoned the surplus burden altogether. A community library would be more than just a place where Greek Australians could read Greek books. It would serve as an archive for all Greek language and Greek-related literature published in Melbourne ever since the foundation of our community. It would act as a conduit Apparently, this is all that the Greeks of the area now want to read, a contention supported by the fact that the more erudite texts of the Greek corpus still, though in a sparser fashion than before, make their periodic appearance in the local secondhand shops, as lots from deceased estates. "The foundation of a community library fulfils a higher need. It constitutes the basis for our cultural evolution. It necessarily broadens the intellectual horizons of our community. It enriches and enlivens our one-sided lives and where there is a void – and we have many – it fills it with content. “Most importantly, it elevates us to the level of truly civilised human beings. It gives us depth, it grants us certainty. Because we have no need of gilded superficialities. “We therefore have no fur- ther need for endless discussions, interminable delays, or timid prevarications. We demand immediate and prompt action, before our primary enthusiasm, that motivates our first steps, evaporates." I never got to meet Yiannis Lillis, possibly the most for research into the impressive intellectual currents that have pervaded our community over the years, and thus, assist us to understand ourselves, not just in relation to our place of origin but also, in relation to the place of our ultimate acculturation, while also constitute a sounding board for analysis and reform. A library that evolves to reflect our own tastes, intellectual pursuits, preoccupations and perspectives, thus remains as an enduring repository of our complex and multifaceted existence, a constant touchstone ensuring that the stories of those that came before us, within our community are never lost. It is this aspect, of the perpetual evolution of memory and identity that so captivated Lillis and my own youthful imagination, that is encapsulated in the concept of the library. Most importantly, a community library, would be OUR library. It would exist not at the pleasure of others, but rather, as a product of our own will, and for as long as we should desire it. We would shape it in our image, keep it and preserve it, long after the vagaries of ever-changing governmental policies have left its prototypes behind. We would become it and it, us. Significantly, it would emancipate us as a people, from a crisis of cultural dependency upon the motherland and permit us to assess ourselves within the context of the mighty corpus of cultural achievement we have attained, a process that is necessary if we are to endure as a relevant ethno-cultural entity within Australia, into the future. As such, the community library is, put simply, survival and it is imperative that even at this late stage, as community brotherhoods and organisations face their dotage, kept alive in their senility only via a mercenary interest in property, that the community at large once more consider taking this important step, to ensure its own longevity. Jorge Luis Borges put it this way: "The library will endure; it is the universe. As for us, everything has not been written; we are not turning into phantoms. We walk the corridors, searching the shelves and rearranging them, looking for lines of meaning amid leagues of cacophony and incoherence, reading the history of the past and our future, collecting our thoughts and collecting the thoughts of others, and every so often glimpsing mirrors, in which we may recognise creatures of the information." If that sounds disturbing, consider that he then went on to say elsewhere, the following: "I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library." Paradise at the Greek. Euphonious and benign, but most importantly, ours for the taking.
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