Why ‘Gingko’?

The Werner Mark Linz Memorial Library of West Asian and North African Thought was established in 2014 in memory of Werner Mark Linz, the late publisher of the American University in Cairo Press. The charity quickly became known as the ‘Gingko Library’, or simply ‘Gingko’, inspired by the following poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe:

                                                                         Gingko Biloba

The gingko, that Eastern tree,
In my garden plot now grows.
In its leaf there seems to be
 A secret that the wise man knows.

Is that leaf one and lonely?
In itself in two divided?
Is it two that have decided
To be seen as one leaf only?

To such questions I reply:
Do not my love songs say to you
– Should you ever wonder why
I sing, that I am one yet two?

                                                           (Translation: Anthea Bell)

Goethe sent this poem to his beloved friend Marianne von Willemer in 1815 as an ode to friendship. To him, this leaf symbolised the union between old and young, man and woman, human and the Divine, literature and scholarship, and East and West – a union which in his mind was inseparable. The poem became part of his West-Eastern Divan, which Goethe was inspired to write when he read the first German translation of the divan composed by 14th century Persian poet Hafiz. Goethe called Hafiz his ‘twin’ and decided to enter into a lyrical dialogue with ‘the Other’. The West-Eastern Divan, published in 1819, was Goethe’s attempt to broaden the horizon of readers both ignorant and fearful of the Islamic world. Two centuries on, Gingko seeks to advance this discourse and promote a deeper, more meaningful understanding of the Middle East, North Africa and wider Islamic world.