Jagger reflections: Quiet, meditative solitude

26 May 2021 | Reflection Tessa Dowling. Photo Lerato Maduna. Read time 1 min.
Dr Tessa Dowling mourns the loss “that particular temple of learning that was the African Studies Library”.
Dr Tessa Dowling mourns the loss “that particular temple of learning that was the African Studies Library”.

Quiet, meditative solitude

I came from a Catholic school and had wanted to be a nun, so entering the Jagger Library was of course a religious experience for me. The quiet and meditative solitude, the look of a scholar behind a pile of books, in another world, a student crouching in the stack rooms, finger on an essential sentence: depression and angst, self-hatred and despair would leave me, nothing compares as Sinead O’Connor sang, nothing can take away these blues ’cause nothing compares. Nothing compares to you.

Some of my treasured memories include sitting at a beautiful generous desk in the African Studies library, phone switched off. Sunlight and silence. Requesting an obscure manuscript. A determined librarian going away to some hallowed place for quite a long time, returning triumphant, holding what I had asked for: Mbadi LM. 1956. BA Hons dissertation: Some phonological and morphological differences between Xhosa and Mpondomise. Not particularly ancient, not a manuscript rock star, but its humble and important research was kept safe and sound until it was needed.

I loved the desk that caught the morning sun. In the front near the librarians’ post. I also liked to watch them work as I waited. I thought of them as angelic in their devotion. Though I am grateful for whatever has been saved, I mourn the loss of that particular temple of learning that was the African Studies Library.

Dr Tessa Dowling  

African Languages and Literatures

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