Ismail Serageldin


Writing is an Act of Love

 06/12/2005 | The Inauguration of the Exhibition of Hans Christian Andersen, Alexandria, Egypt

Your Royal Highness,

Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,

Earlier this year and subsequently, I have had the honor as an ambassador for the campaign for Andersen’s bicentennial to speak of the deceptive simplicity of his talent, of the lasting value o his works, of the magic of his fairytales. Today, as we come close to the end of that great year we launched standing together in the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, we stand together again in the Bibliotheca Alexandrina to inaugurate a special exhibition dedicated to HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN, right here in the heart of the Reading room of the BA.  We anticipate that in the next few weeks in which this exhibition will stand here it will be visited by tens of thousands people.

While we all admire the polished elegance of his finished tales, the sweat of struggle is evident in his private diaries and in the details of his life.  His friend Thorvaldsen helped him over the great writing crisis he experienced in Rome in 1833. And it is thus appropriate that it should be the Thorvaldsens museum that – thanks to the talents of Ms. Annesofie Becker and Mr. Stig Miss – should give us this intimate portrait of Hans Christian Andersen through the legacy of his writings…

It is difficult to imagine that someone who has produced as much written material as Hans Christian Andersen had difficulty writing.  Yet  his career is one of enormous struggle, and his splendid achievements are all the greater for having been accomplished by a man who had to battle his internal doubts and demons, and overcome them in, by and through the act of writing.

The act of writing…

Writing as an act of love…

What a wonderful thought.  How appropriate a title for an exhibition about the unique talents of Hans Christian Andersen. 

By focusing on the actual process of writing in Andersen’s diaries and journals, which are the starting-point for his entire body of work, the exhibits afford visitors a closer look at the very foundations of Hans Christian Andersen’s writings.  But the exhibits themselves with utmost economy of displays – just a few manuscripts… a hint, a brief image of the scholarship that under-girds the work.. and then provides a cozy setting to hear the stories.  To hear the stories being read to us…  We are carried back to those enchanted moments when we all first heard those stories… when they were read to us by our parents, till we got to read them for ourselves, and ultimately till we read them to our children an grand children.  Stories that are not just part of our own collective journeys of life, but stories that today are part of the universal legacy of humanity..

Our own first lady, champion of reading and of libraries, who could not be with us today, insisted on recording one of the stories, the teapot, in her own voice..

The intimacy of the layout and the spareness of the exhibition material would have pleased Hans Christian Andersen.  For his own work, the short stories that he is famous for, all show an economy of detail, that in some ways enhances the power of their impact.  In reading him, you feel that there is not a word that could be cut without damage to the story.  Everything that is there is essential for the desired effect.  The exhibition displays the same qualities: a powerful message with minimal tools.   In addition, as an architect, I particularly appreciated the design of the chairs, and their ability to fold into tables.  Elegance, economy, efficiency, a seductive simplicity that is not easy to imitate… such are the qualities share by the exhibition and by Andersen’s tales.

We must also mention the kind gift of the LEGO company, ably represented by Simon Stansfield Bast, to have added to the enchantment of the children who will visit our children’s library in their hundreds every day…

We are also grateful for the bust of Hans Christian Andersen hat will now grace the Bibliotheca Alexandrina along with Mahatma Gandhi and other great figures.

So, we are grateful to you your HRH, and to the Thorvaldsens museum and Simon Stansfield Bast of the LEGO company to allow us the honor of this enchanted ending to that very special year..

Last but not least, We have the enormous honor to have Palle Mikkelborg and Helen Mikkelborg, whose talents heralded the inauguration of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina three short years ago.. to be with us today to celebrate an important milestone in the history of our Library.  We welcome them as returning friends of long standing. 

We hope that they will also appreciate the unique event we have planned for you, for our friends from all over the world in a special opera to premier tonight..

We look forward to being your partner in many other initiatives to promote intercultural understanding.. We welcome  all opportunities to work with you.. and Mrs. Mubarak, who deeply regrets not being able to be with us today, has specifically asked me to not only to extend her greetings and appreciation, but also the promise to work with you and other committed individuals on the ABC learning campaign..


"We shall not cease from exploring,

And the end of all our exploring,

Will be to arrive where we started,

And know the place for the first time."   (T.S. Eliot)

Thank you.

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