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This omissum is an attempt to address a blindspot in [this publication][^1], and intends to intervene in the way Paul Otlet has been portrayed in general. Terms like 'visionary' or 'pacifist' are used, among others, to paint a romantic image of Otlet as a charismatic, heroic figure. An omissum is attached to [this publication] in order to signal the fact that the figure as well as his oeuvre are committed to a colonial and racist project.
Otlet has produced racist statements throughout his career. Such statements are usually, if mentioned at all, treated as insignificant details which play no role in his vast positivist project. They are not allowed to cast a shadow on his rationalist quest for the emancipation of humanity. This same rationalism though, never brought Otlet to question the racist prejudices that he consistently proposed throughout his work.
Otlet has produced racist statements throughout his career. Such statements are usually, if mentioned at all, treated as insignificant details which play no role in his vast positivist project. They are not allowed to cast a shadow on his rationalist quest for the emancipation of humanity. This same rationalism though, never brought Otlet to question the racist prejudices that he consistently proposed in his work.
This omissum wants to reorient the general impression to which also [this publication] has contributed, and finally take serious the complicated but coherent relation Otlet had with issues of race. At several occasions, Otlet dressed up racist statements as scientific facts, starting with his description of 'barbarism in Africa' (in 'L'Afrique Aux Noirs' that was written in 1888, at the beginning of his career) or when he explained the supposed inferior size of the 'negro skull' (in 'Monde', written in 1935, near the end of his life). His apparently benevolent interest in advancing 'The African Issue' was fuelled by a firm conviction of the superiority of European culture and intelligence. It neatly fitted the Enlightenment project that he was dedicated to and aligned with his self-identification as a liberal, a universalist and a pacifist.
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> "It was the glorious century of the Enlightenment that saw the beginning of the work on human races, as European scientists entered an era of frenetic classification. Everything had to be classified into categories: plants, rocks, animals and humans. This classifying logic is also at the fundaments of institutions that deal with cultural and scientific heritage, such as museums. Museum collections reflect the encounter between this appetite for classification and the European impulse for extreme accumulation; a conjunction that characterizes Otlet's work very well."[^4]
Otlet's endeavor to catalog and classify, to structure knowledge following a universal taxonomy is an expression of his commitment to the Euro-centric mission of domination and exploitation that continued from the Enlightenment into modernism, and that is still operating today. This worldview is well in tune with the enthusiastic praise he repeatedly expressed for the colonization of Congo[^5], while omitting and downplaying the atrocities that were by then already public knowledge. It is also an expression of his interest in remaining loyal to Leopold II, who commissioned the Palais Mondial in 1880.[^6] The royal patronage confirms that Otlet and Leopold had a shared vision on the Belgian colonial empire.
Otlet's endeavor to catalog and classify, to structure knowledge following a universal taxonomy, is an expression of his commitment to the Euro-centric mission of domination and exploitation that continued from the Enlightenment into modernism, and that is still operating today. This worldview is well in tune with the enthusiastic praise he repeatedly expressed for the colonization of Congo[^5], while omitting and downplaying the atrocities that were by then already public knowledge. It is also an expression of his interest in remaining loyal to Leopold II, who commissioned the Palais Mondial in 1880.[^6] The royal patronage confirms that Otlet and Leopold had a shared vision on the Belgian colonial empire.
By omitting to signal these problems, [this publication] fails to account for such views and participates in processes that erase histories and lives of African peoples. Therefore, an insertion was made to remind of Otlet's contribution to colonial thought and practice but also the tendency of those not directly affected, to look away.
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This omissum was published in February 2020 by members of Mondotheque and Algolit. Mondotheque worked between 2013 and 2016 on unravelling the many implications of a statement that routinely compared the Mundaneum to "Google on paper". Algolit is a group of artists experimenting with F/LOSS text and code that organised the exhibition Data Workers at the Mundaneum in March 2019 using texts of Otlet and the Mundaneum archive. The omissum responds to the generous critiques of Julie Boschat Thorez and Elodie Mugrefya and the growing unease with the problematic silences occuring in both projects.
_This omissum was published in February 2020 by members of Mondotheque and Algolit. Mondotheque worked between 2013 and 2016 on unravelling the many implications of a statement that routinely compared the Mundaneum to "Google on paper" and Otlet to "The father of the Internet". Algolit is a group of artists experimenting with F/LOSS text and code that organised the exhibition Data Workers at the Mundaneum in March 2019 using texts of Otlet and the Mundaneum archive. The omissum responds to the generous critiques of Julie Boschat Thorez and Elodie Mugrefya and the growing unease with the problematic silences occuring in both projects._
Further reading: <https://diversions.constantvzw.org/wiki/index.php?title=Resources>
This text is available for comments and reuse on: <https://gitlab.constantvzw.org/diversions/paul-otlet-an-omissum>
* Further reading: <https://diversions.constantvzw.org/wiki/index.php?title=Resources>
* This text is available for comments and reuse on: <https://gitlab.constantvzw.org/diversions/paul-otlet-an-omissum> and can be referenced online at <https://diversions.constantvzw.org/paul-otlet-an-omissum.html>
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