CIVILISATIONAL DIVIDES OF KNOWLEDGE BY DR ANTE SIMONIĆ
Mirko Tomasović, Academician
CIVILISATIONAL DIVIDES OF KNOWLEDGE by Dr ANTE SIMONIĆ
SPEECH AT BOOK LAUNCH
SPLIT, 16 AUGUST 20000
ZAGREB, 13 DECEMBER 2000
What we call modern civilisation is obsessed and weighted down by information. By news that the media do not only broadcast but produce, as well. The media is a new god, on the one hand spellbinding for man who has always thirsted for knowledge, on the other a false god with chaotic and destructive power. As always in the history of mankind, divinity seeks for a cult, followers, rites, sacrifices and altars, it spreads its grace but also its horror. The pressure for news gives birth to superfluous and excessive information, most of it useless. It includes details from the everyday life of sports, show business and political stars with a wealth of miscellaneous details about their private lives.
In addition there is also a lot of information that confuses people. Crime pages feature abuses and show all the deviations and distortions the human race is prone to as journalists persist in writing about accidents, catastrophes, calamities, everything that is out of the ordinary in the more immediate or wider community. What is more, this media god is openly or behind the scenes groomed by political groups, and this is so, mutatis mutandi, from the Urals to Lisbon, from Alaska to the Tierra del Fuego, in other words, everywhere. Have the people of today developed a defence mechanism from the horror that washes over them every time they open the papers, switch on the radio or, even more dangerous, the TV? I do not think so, unless they resort to using chemicals in the form of sedatives. Instead of relying on carefully selected and reliable human knowledge, such as that in this book by Dr Ante Simonić, which might have a calming and composing influence. That is why I consider it an honour to join my colleagues in presenting his book to the general public.
Man always felt the need and temptation to know and learn as much as possible, and this desire was the moving force for all discoveries and progress and helped him to develop a better life. As things stand today, his tree of knowledge has been invaded by many parasites that suck its juices and devour its leaves. While this is going on basic knowledge is disappearing from the horizon, its perspective has been lost. This book of two volumes with a revealing title, Civilisational Divides of Knowledge (Civilizacijske razmeđe znanja), directly or indirectly, consciously or unconsciously, is in opposition to things as they now are and re-examines them through the perspective of many millennia of acquiring knowledge and mastering skills, an exciting path during which man came to be separated from and elevated above animals. Professor Simonić has made a grand effort to conceptualise and structure this dimension of homo faber in a book that is rather untypical for today in approach and elaboration. This is an age that thirsts for bestsellers, hits, sensations and the exotic, new specialist or micro analytical books, but Simonić has accomplished a great humanistic synthesis, laying before us the history of human achievement since time immemorial. At first glance it is a didactic book, and this is enough to make it desirable. Allow me to quote a wise Italian saying, L uomo ignorante la tempesta della civiltą , or, An ignorant man erases civilisation . The ignorance we are surrounded by, especially in public activities, is even worse than primitivism, which is a scourge in itself. This book, however, is not only didactic. It is an essay-like examination of the path travelled by mankind written by a man who both thinks and feels, a scholar who collects and classifies material producing objective and established knowledge and facts, and a writer with analytical insight and literary (stylistic) proficiency. These factors make the work his own vision, a post-modern sister to the syntheses written in the Enlightenment period, encyclopaedias of the eighteenth century, medieval lucidars, and polyvalent, humanistic, history tractates with a strong personal stamp. He did not need only persistence, diligence and loyalty to his concept, he also needed self-assurance to emerge with a project of this kind and place it before the nervy reader in the post-modern literary age. In this case self-assurance allied with ambition, knowledge and insight were an investment for success. If we read the book carefully we may begin to have doubts: is it possible to fit between the covers of one book all the changes and developments that have occurred on Earth, that took place in man s soul, mind and heart from Mesopotamia to Hiroshima; is it possible to encompass the spiritual, religious and philosophical currents from the myths of Sumer to Karl Raimundo and Popper, the evolution of scholarship and science and the heritage of civilisations through the fog of historical storms in Egypt, Persia, Judea, India, China, Greece, Rome, Byzantium, from medieval Europe to the dollar giant of today? The book reassures us, satisfies our curiosity and keeps us engrossed to the last page. This is the primary and most important effect of every book, its reception by and impact on the reader.
It is a stratified book with a polyhistorical approach and interdisciplinary nature, and its critical test will depend on the affinity and professional basis of the critic himself. However, I speak here about the book as a whole; it is a work that taught me a lot, helped me review my general knowledge, reminded me of a lot from the treasury of mankind, things that I had once heard and admired but then forgotten. This occurred through many to me unknown details: for example the descriptions of the Tolteks-Aztecs, Mayas and Incas and their marvelous civilization, data about ancient medicine and drugs (of which we still use some, ephedrine for example), Egyptian sports, Mesopotamian gods, about Canaan and Babylon, the Talmud and the honorable Koran, about Arab achievements. All this was passed down to modern Europe by osmosis, entering through the pores of poetry, drama, music, dance and religious art. As a reader I could, of course, not stifle my professional interest and I paid special attention to literature. On this level too the book satisfied me. Rereading the texts in Professor Simonić s quotations I thought about how mankind has even today not moved very far in some crucial problems; medicines against many diseases have not yet been found, and even those used by arrogant modern medicine were discovered by ancient witch-doctors, healers, surgeons, comforters (psychiatrists). It is the same with architecture, town planning, unsurpassed horticulture, amazing irrigation. In this context I will praise the author more specially for what he has written about literature, where I am more competent to judge. I checked the data, which are true, the facts and information are reliable, in accordance with the general integrity of the book. I am glad that my colleague Simonić honoured the role of literature in the general evolution of mankind and that he was glad to read literary texts. This can be seen from his anthological inserts, well chosen and functional. In one word, the factographic outline of the literary material is very reliable, which I can testify after reading entries about medieval minstrels, great men of the Romance languages, romantics, fields where I could hardly miss any inaccuracy. By induction I can therefore suppose that this high level is guaranteed in other fields as well, art, science, culture. Conscientiousness about facts is a precondition for scholarship and a foundation for individual judgment, for an independent view of certain phenomena, and it underpins this voluminous book. We can picture the book as a pyramid with many floors, rooms and treasuries that does not become a labyrinth for the visitor because the complex system has a vertical axis that holds it all together, made by a skilled architect. We should not make the mistake of thinking that the writer of this book wanted to give an idyllic picture of the history of mankind. He critically observed the organisation and disorganisation of human destiny, the forces of progress and destruction, fatal mistakes, wars, repression, rampaging ideologies in the march of history. It might be said that the human race is coming to its senses slowly and with difficulty, that it is irrationally repeating mistakes, that it is often the slave of great illusions . Does the re-examination of history leave us sceptical like Silvije Strahimir Kranjčević; quotation, The closer we are to the sky, the further away from it we are , or enthusiastic like Victor Hugo, in whose view human history is a rise from darkness to ideals. Perhaps the latter is our choice. Ante Simonić has his own stand: to achieve liberty and peace we need knowledge, but linked with wisdom. This is the precondition for establishing harmony in our goals, wishes and possibilities (p. 835). We will find a lot of knowledge and grains of wisdom in his book Civilisational Divides of Knowledge, great erudition, acribia and encyclopedic virtues of a work written fluently, clearly and succinctly. Thus we recommend it to readers of both sexes, all ages and profiles for complete or selective use, and we suggest that it should find a place in public and family libraries on the same shelves as valuable basic works like monographs and dictionaries. In one word, I sincerely congratulate Dr Ante Simonić, as a colleague and a friend. To use the language of sports, since the writer was and has remained an active sportsman, I congratulate him on victory in this marathon around the globe on the paths and through the wilderness of time. We must also give due recognition to the publishers for making it possible for this work of almost 900 pages to reach the hands of those who need knowledge. Without offence, this is all of us. Thank you!