Books read June 2017

June 2017:

William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night,

Amazingly contemporary play with its gender twisting characters (Viola …in Shakespeare’s time a boy playing a woman pretending to be a man!) and speaking into current gender theory and queer theory semiotics.  Seen in conjunction with the British National Theatre production featuring a female “Malvolia” (showing at the Nova in June 2017) the impact is powerful indeed.  Called a comedy by Shakespeare and elsewhere called As You Will, the “comedy” has some dark moments indeed, not least because of the haunting songs of longing, love and life delivered by the eloquent and highly sophisticated “fool” Feste. I think indeed it is a tragicomedy produced as it was, near the end of the reign of Elizabeth 1. The tragic figure is indeed Malvolio betrayed not by hubris perhaps but by an over-whelming vanity and lack of self-perception. Nevertheless he does not deserve his cruel and over the top treatment by his tormentors whose quest for personal pleasure and revelry leaves no room for reasonable boundaries…a message for our time methinks.   The fraught love affairs Viola/Cesario and Orsino and Cesario/Olivia/“Cesario” disturbed and disrupted by mistaken identities is indeed a comedic masterpiece and the total impact simply underscores the absolute and never equalled genius of a playwright who, after 500+ years still somehow transcends time and philosophy to transfix us in the C21st.    5 stars

Mariilynne Robinson, Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self,  New Haven/London, Yale University Press, 2010

HIghly acclaimed as the author of a prize-winning quartet of novels about family life in mid-West America (Housekeeping, Gilead, Home and Lila ) Robinson has also demonstrated an impressively  comprehensive understanding of philosophical and scientific thought and writing from the Greeks to the Reformation to Post-modernism. The majority of writers who delve into the science vs religion debate and write populist books with the victor being one or the other often cite earlier writers by the briefest of references only.  Robinson has not only read them in detail but is able to interact with them with an understanding and philosophical perspicuity which is breathtaking. I refer to writers like Russell, Freud, Descartes,  Fichte, Comte, Grotius, Darwin, Nietzche, Emerson and Leibniz.

Robinson’s insights are powerful and important. Some key ideas are:

  • the distinction between genuine science and parascience.
  • the irreconcilability between the conclusions of the “fathers” of modernism i.e. The Freudian neurasthenic is not the Darwinian primate, who is not the Marxist proletarian, who is not the behaviourist’s organism available to to being molded by a regime of positive and negative sensory experience. To acknowledge an element of truth in each of these models is to reject the claims of descriptive sufficiency made by all of them. (pxvi)
  • the rejection with inadequate rationale of the testimonies to human inwardness of history and culture.
  • the meaning of the great paradox and privilege of human selfhood, a privilege foreclosed when the mind is trivialised or thought to be discredited. (pxviii)
  • the first premise of modern and contemporary thought …the notion that we as a culture have crossed one or another threshold or realisation that gives the thought that follows it a special claim to the status of truth….that the world of thought , recently or in an identifiable moment in the near past, had undergone epochal change. Some realisation has intervened in history with miraculous abruptness and efficacy, and everything is transformed. (pp1-3) Robinson questions this assumption that “enlightenment changes everything!”
  • the commonly expressed statement that everything must be subject to materialist explanations”  could be usefully rephrased as available to tentative description in terms science finds meaningful….the strangeness of reality consistently exceeds the expectations of science, and that the assumptions of science, however tried and rational, are very inclined to encourage false expectations.
  • ..granting the plausibility of the idea [of multiverses] what does it imply? Its power, when used polemically, is based on the fact that, in a multiverse, absolutely anything is possible…

These are just a few of the breakthrough moments in this demanding and unsettlingly thoughtful book about the inwardness of the mind. Robinson focuses in detail on altruism and on the “Freudian self” and along the way also deals directly and honestly with the influential writings in these areas  of Bertrand Russell, Stephen Pinker, Daniel Dennet, Jung, William James, Richard Rorty, E O Wilson and John Searle. The end result of this exploration is a penetrating if quite gentle undercutting of the noisy and unfounded confidence of many ardent and determined defenders of both modernism and post-modernism against the possibility of any valid form of spirituality or meaningful or coherent “inwardness” involving the human mind. Robinson in this book nowhere offers a defence of transcendance but clears a path in such a remarkably lucid way that if there is no transcendence we must just have to invent it to explain so much of the meaning of humanity and  human culture.

Not for the faint-hearted this book encourages careful re-reading and further explanation.    5 stars

Richard Attenborough, In Search of Ghandi, London, The Bodley Head, 1982   Having just enjoyed viewing the film The Viceroy’s House about the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 my longstanding interest in Mohandas K Ghandi (Mahatma) was revived and I was delighted to read this exceptional account of the eighteen year journey of the production of the film Ghandi which was directed by Richard Attenborough. Attenborough himself acted in many British and Hollywood movies, was Chairman of the British Film Institute, the Royal Academy of Film and Television Artsa trustee of the Tate Gallery and Sussex University of Sussex Pro-Vice-Chancellor. His brother David is still famously making extraordinary environmental and bio-geographical television productions including Lite of Earth. 

The grinding account of the failed promises and commitments of film company directors, financiers and politicians combined with the cultural, spiritual. political and religious sensitivities involved with a figure as god-like in India as Ghandi make this an enthralling story. in addition the overwhelming complexity of the elements of modern movie making is an enthralling story in itself. Taking so long to actually bring to the screen the book’s narrative is in part inevitably a biography of Attenborough himself as the journey inevitably involved his whole family and work as well as almost bankrupting him. The book contains many historic photographs of Ghandi as well as exceptional still from the movie.  Hard to put down.   4 stars.

D H Lawrence, The Virgin and the Gypsy, Harmondsworth, UK, Penguin, 1986 (1930).  Pulsating, sensual novella of the coming of age of a young thoughtful but flighty Middle Class north country girl and her meeting with a strong-minded, winsome and somewhat mystical  Romany gypsy. Vintage Lawrence with his full-bodied, almost violent language and his exceptional ability  to capture the north country landscape, the apparent shallowness and double-mindedness of Middle Class morality and the yearning of the thoughtful for meaningful love. An almost perfect novella of 84 pages.  5 stars.

Quotations from Manning Clark: “Puzzles of Childhood: His Early Life.”

John Masefield: The three great comforters: art, alcohol, religion

Charles KIngsley: the opium of the people

Rabelais: le grand peut-être = the great maybe

Mozart: wrote The Magic Flute and The Requiem in the same year

Heraclitus: To God all things are fair and good and right but men hold some things wrong and some right.

Thomas Carlyle on Voltaire: One of the dry souls of the Enlightenment

Manning Clark: A Man should write about things that matter

Emile Bronte: for a lover the universe could never turn to a mighty stranger

the price of liberty is eternal vigilance

Mallarmé:   The sea is sad, alas,

And I have read all the books.

Be correct..for being correct is a measure of a man’s virtues

Alexis De Tocqueville: L’Ancien Régime et la Révolution: “the field of the possible is much more vast than those who live in a particular era generally conceive.”

Melville: Ghastly countries produce ghastly theologies

W E Housman: (wrote A Shropshire Lad): it rains into the sea, but still the sea is salt 

Adam:  England is a nation of shopkeepers (stolen by Napoleon)

Ortega y Gassett: Can high culture survive in the age of the masses?

De Tocquville: Can there be historian in a democratic society?  The great mass of mankind had un gout depravé for equality. To satisfy their hunger for material well-being (their earthly not their heavenly bread) and for this taste for equality, human beings would hand over their freedom to someone they loved to worship. Only the great and strong love and cherished liberty, the ones who hungered for ‘heavenly bread’.

Mac Crawford: Historians do not give answers; they just ask questions

Marx: All previous philosophers have assumed that their task was to describe the world ; the duty of the philosopher is to change the world

Manning Clark: 1939: I believed then we could all be changed. Now I am not so sure whether we can be changed. I still believe in a change in society, but not a change in the human heart, because that can never be. Why should a lover change the beloved?

Browning: “Oh to be in England, now that April’s here.

Pater on the Mona Lisa: She is older than the rocks among which she sits

Manning Clark: It is a contradiction about Australians that we boasted of ourselves as democratic and egalitarian yet accepted a tyranny of opinion.

Omar Khayyam:

Myself when young did eagerly frequent

Doctor and saint and heard great argument

Around it and about; but evermore

Came out by the same door as I went in.

Freud: Never reply to criticism- the only way to reply to criticism is to write another work

James McAuley a disappointed radical.

Emerson: The vision by which we hoped to guide our lives would be obscured all too often by our own follies, weaknesses and madnesses.

E M Forster: Our civilization recommends ideals and practises

brutality.

Henry Lawson: from a poem: the old dead tree and the young tree green [contrasting England and Australia]

Kolynos Smile = toothpaste advertisement smile (Kolynos was a major toothpaste company prior to Colgate)

John Ruskin: Betrayal is one of the principal manifestations of human evil. The great mass of humanity cannot live with good or innocent people.

Manning on Geoffrey Searl’s biography of Monash: fair-minded and judicious

Manning Clark: Man is broad, far broader than his portrait, as painted by the self-appointed improvers of humanity.

Manning on Tolstoy: encouraged others to think about the things that really mattered.

Hindu aphorism: the roots of the Lotus flower feed on the slime

Some thoughts about the battle for the Bible, the inerrancy debate and the claim of some that the Bible was “given” to the Church and its contents “decided by” the Church….from Karl Barth: Church Dogmatics, volume 1.1 pp 99-101 and from little old me in my study!

2. THE WORD OF GOD WRITTEN.  (p99)

Church proclamation must be ventured in recollection of past revelation and in expectation of coming revelation. The basis of expectation is obviously identical here with the object of recollection. Hoping for what we cannot see, what we cannot assume to be present, we speak of an actualised proclamation, of a Word of God preached in the Church, on the basis that God’s Word has already been spoken, that revelation has already taken place. We speak in recollection.

What is the meaning of this recollection of past revelation?….[it] might mean the actualisation of a revelation of God originally immanent in every man [Romans 1:20] i.e. of man’s own original awareness of God …of the timeless essential constitution of man himself, namely, his relation to the eternal or absolute….

pp 99-100 Augustine, following Plato’s doctrine of anamnesis (ἀναμνησις) understood “memoria” along these lines. Barth quotes Augustine  in Latin from Confessions, Chapter 10 on memory and the human yearning for happiness and for God. e.g. 10:20 (22) (trans. Henry Chadwick (Oxford): “My question is whether the happy life is in the memory. For we would not love it if we did not know what it is. We have heard the term, and all of us acknowledge that we are looking for the thing….The thing itself is neither Greek nor Latin. Greeks and Latins and people of other languages yearn to acquire it. Therefore it is known to every one….”  cf also Book 1:1 “You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and heart is restless until it rests in you.”  Barth continues:  According to Augustine God is what we all seek as we all seek a “vita beata” (“blessed life”)…”Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: Late have I loved you. And see, you were within and I was in the external world and sought you there, and in my unlovely state I plunged into these lovely created things which you made. You were with me, and I was not with you. The lovely things kept me from you, though if they did not have their existence in you, they had no existence at all.  [Augustine Confessions Book 10:38 (trans. Henry Chadwick)]

Barth also quotes Abraham Heidan, a C17th Calvinist who introduced Cartesianism into theology….What is the use of instruction or teaching.The “idea Dei” does not come to us from without (aliunde). It is “power known from  the beginning of our existence (“potentia nobis semper inexistens)”.

p100 Barth asks the hypothetical question: Why could it not have pleased God to be immanent to his Church, as the foundation which was hidden for a time, but which steadily endured because it had been timelessly laid, so that standing on it need only be a matter of profound self-reflection?…this being recollection of God’s past revelation? Why not? The neo-Platonist and the Catholic churchman could obviously exist quite well in personal union in Augustine. Why should not both have been right? ….The real reason is that God did not make this specific use of His freedom or potency….The Church is not alone in relation to God’s Word. It is not referred to itself or consequently to self -reflection. It has not the confidence to appeal to itself as the source of the divine Word in support of the venture of proclamation. 

 [When you think about it, how could the Church have the arrogance to ever consider itself to be the source of the divine Word. It is true that Christian believers in the third and fourth centuries, empowered and guided by the Holy Spirit, had to make decisions about which particular books and letters should become officially the “canon” of Holy Scripture. But these historic decisions did not suddenly transform these  writings into some supernaturally inerrant “Bible”.  The canon was developed and finally accepted by “the Church” of its day (C4th) simply to aid the fight against unhelpful heresy and to provide clear teaching to believers. The Church considered these early records of the witness to Jesus the Messiah to be the most useful and helpful to Christian believers and as a general principle they chose those documents with genuinely apostolic authorship or written by folk very close to the apostles e.g. Mark and Luke. The question of whether or not these documents were “inerrant” was not one that would have been on the minds of the Church Councils which decided upon the canon. Consider the following:

  1. It is quite possible that early papyri and phrases in the early Fathers contain authentic sayings of Jesus not included in the New Testament (see e.g. J.Jeremias: Unknown Sayings of Jesus, London, SPCK, 1958). The chronology of for example the Corinthian letters is not totally clear and it is probable that some letters or parts of letters of Paul to the churches he founded have now been lost. In some Old Testament passages e.g. 1 Samuel 13:1 the earliest texts have gaps.
  2. The canon was developed gradually within the Church with some books taking longer to be accepted and denied than others…some books like Jude contain ideas that are not entirely “orthodox”; other books  considered, but not finally included like The Shepherd of Hermas would have done the Church little harm.
  3. Even the finally accepted canon contained and contains material capable of different interpretations by sections of the Church some of which were ruled rightly or wrongly as heresy by the “Church” in the past, sometimes to the detriment of the Church e.g. Nestorian Christianity; the deutero-canonical books of the “Apocrypha” accepted as “The Bible” by the Roman Catholic Church; The division between Arminian and neo-Calvinist approaches to human free will in post-Reformation churches. the doctrinal divisions between Eastern and Western Christianity (The “Orthodox” Church); the fine divisions in trinitarian and Christological debates. (see J N D Kelly: Early Christian Doctrines, London, Adam & Charles Black, 1960; G L Prestige: God in Patristic Thought, London, SPCK, 1952 (1936) or even the C21st e.g.: Rob Bell: Love Wins: At the Heart of Life’s Big Questions, London, Collins, 2012.
  4. The Biblical text inevitably takes on different flavours when it is translated into other languages both in the early church and today e.g. the confusion over words like μετανοια  (“repentance”) in Greek becoming paenitentiae (“penitence”) in the Latin Vulgate.
  5. The criteria  for Biblical inclusion used by the early Church (e.g. apostolic authorship and/or folk who were close to the apostles e.g. Mark, Luke) are not completely clear cut e.g.  the earliest manuscripts of the Gospels we have do not contain authorial signatures or clear cut evidence of their author. Thus there is debate in the Church about apostolic authorship. e.g. Pauline authorship of Hebrews is not strongly held today but there is no clear consensus on who did write Hebrews. The same could be said for the Epistle of James.]
  6. The earliest Christian believers obviously became committed “Christians” without having the “official Bible” which was not designated as “The canon of Scripture” for three centuries. They used and shared a wide variety of texts, letters and translations some more helpful than others. In some repressive societies today Christian believers have to do without the Bible on pain of death.
  7. “The majority”  church can come to widely held and accepted decisions about Christian doctrine that were once strongly opposed by the “the Church” e.g. the role of women in Christian leadership.
  8. Inevitably “The Church” becomes inextricably bound to ecclesiastical and indeed secular politics resulting, both in the past and today,  to some folk being excluded or, in the past,  even executed,  for holding different interpretations of Scripture than those held by the prevailing “Church” of the day (or in the C21st the prevailing loudest voice whether it be the media, the Fundamentalist church or the Liberal Church.  In any case; both scholars and rank and file believers in every Christian denomination or tradition often do not necessarily hold as “Biblical truth”  ideas sourced or developed from the Bible prevailing in the tradition they belong to whether that is the Roman Catholic Church, the “Reformation” Church, the “Charismatic” Church, the “Puritan” Church or the “Evangelical” Church or a hundred other varieties of interpretation.

Do these seven points and no doubt many others mean that the Bible is not important for Christians or that it is not inspired by God’s leading and power? Not at all.  If the inspired Biblical writers had not committed  to writing their knowledge and personal experiences and visions of God,  our knowledge of the revelation of God in the Messiah Jesus would be severely impaired. Yes we would still have the scattered references to Jesus in Josephus, Tacitus and Pliny. Yes we would still have the scattered archaeological remains in the catacombs, in Capernaum, the Pilate stone and so on. Yes we would have the voluminous but sometimes inconsistent writings of the early Fathers although these would be much less consistent without the written Scripture; yes we would have the very confused and sometimes very unhelpful pseudepigraphical “Gospels” of various C2nd and C3rd Judaio/Christian/Gnostic sects but these are are fringe documents.  Yes we would have the creeds and conclusions of various early Christian Councils but these are simply doctrinal summaries. But these scattered and somewhat obscure evidences are paltry compared with the recorded words of inspired Old Testament prophets, wisdom teachers and historians and the apostolic and early Christian writers of the New Testament documents.

So the Bible is central to the Judaeo-Christian faith but we worship the triune God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, not the Bible. Endless debates about the “inerrancy” of the Bible unhelpfully distract Christians whose vocation is to live and proclaim the joy of knowing Jesus Christ as the Lord of all creation, the Lord who, in Christ has reconciled the world to Himself, the Lord who is the  Redeemer of the whole of creation.

pp 100-101  Barth continues;….the basis of which alone [the Church] may actually venture its proclamation does mean for it a return to its own being, but to its self-transcendent being, to Jesus Christ  as the heavenly Head to whom it, the earthly body is attached as such, but in relation to whom it is also distinct as such, [and subject to error] who has the Church within Himself but whom the Church does not have within itself, between whom and it there is no reversible or alternating relation…He is immanent in it only as He is transcendent to it…..It has pleased God to be its God in another way than that of pure immanence.  [Phew!  hard paragraph but worth grappling with!]

p101…the distinction of the Head [God] from the body [the Church] and the superiority of the Head over the body find concrete expression in….Holy Scripture…which is there and tells us what is the past revelation of God that we have to recollect. It does so in the first instance simply by the fact that it is the Canon…that which stands fast as normative, i.e. apostolic, in the Church, the “regular fides”, i.e. the norm of faith, or the Church’s doctrine of faith….there then develops from the 4th century onwards the more specialised idea of the Canon of Holy Scripture i.e. the list of biblical books which are recognised as normative, because apostolic….

With its acknowledgement of the presence of the Canon the Church expresses the fact that it is not left to itself in its proclamation…the commission…the object…the judgment…the event of real proclamation must all come from elsewhere, from without, …with its acknowledgement that this Canon is in fact identical with the Bible of Old and New Testaments…this reference of its proclamation to something that is completely external is not a general principle…whose content might be this or something quite different….but ….a received direction…by which the very Church itself stands or falls.

p102  …in Holy Scripture, too, the writing is obviously not primary, but secondary. It is itself the deposit of what was once proclamation by human lips. In its form as Scripture, however, it does not seek to be a historical monument but rather a Church document, written proclamation. The two entities may thus be set initially under a single genus, Scripture as the commencement and present-day preaching as the continuation of one and the same event… Barth quotes Luther: “The Gospel simply means a preaching and crying out loud of God’s grace and mercy merited and won by the Lord Christ with his death. And it is properly not what stands in books or is made up of letters, but rather an oral preaching and lively word and a voice that rings in the whole world…we let John Baptist’s finger point and his voice sound: ‘Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.’

Barth continues: In this similarity as phenomena, however, there is also to be found…the supremacy, the absolutely constitutive significance of the former for the latter, the determination of the reality of present-day proclamation by its foundation upon Holy Scripture…the basic singling out of the written word of the prophets and apostles over all the later words of men which have been spoken and are spoken today in the Church.

Some gems from Kenneth Clark, “Civilization”

 

Some gems from Kenneth Clark,  Civilisation, London, The Folio Society, 1999.

 

p.13:   Ruskin: Great nations write their autobiographies in three manuscripts,  the book of their deeds, the book of their words and the book of their art. Not one of these books can be understood unless we read the two others, but of the three the only trustworthy one is the last.    Cf Clark: but this doesn’t mean that the history of civilization is the history of art – far from it. Great works of art can be  produced in barbarous societies.

 

p.14   The Greek ideal of perfection –  reason, justice, physical beauty, all of them in equilibrium.

The enemies of civilization – fear (of war, invasion, plague, famine); fear of the supernatural;  exhaustion and hopelessness from too much material  prosperity.

p.15  Of course civilization requires a modicum of material prosperity – enough to provide a little leisure. But, far more, it requires confidence – confidence in the society in which one lives,  belief in its philosophy, belief in its laws, and confidence in one’s own mental powers.

 

p.23:  Civilisation means something more than energy and will and creative power -…it needs  permanence – [wanderers don’t have permanence]

 

P23:  St Gregory, who looks so intensely devoted to scholarship on a tenth-century ivory, St Gregory himself is credited with having destroyed many volumes of classical literature, even whole libraries, lest they seduced men’s minds away from the study of holy writ. And in this he was certainly not alone. What with predudice and destruction, it’s surprising that the literature of pre-Christian antiquity was preserved at all. And in fact, it only squeaked through.  ….[because practically all men of intellect joined the church and some eg Gregory of Tours, were remarkably intelligent and unprejudiced men and Alcuin of York – collector of manuscripts for Charlemagne]

P 24:  monasteries couldn’t have become the guardians of civilization without stability – Kingdom of the Franks. It was achieved by fighting. All great civilizations, in their early stages, are based on their success in war.

 

P31:   We have grown so used to the idea that the Crucifixion is the supreme symbol of Christianity that it is a shock to realize how late in the history of Christian art its power was recognized. In the first art of Christianity it hardly appears; and the earliest example, on the doors of Santa Sabina in Rome, is stuck away in a corner, almost out of sight…. It was the tenth century….that made the Crucifixion into a moving symbol of the Christian faith.

 

P32:  The Church was not only an organizer; it was a humaniser [and the dominant power at the end of the tenth century]

P.33: It could be argued that western civilization was basically the creation of the church. [not as the repository of Christian truth and  spiritual experience but as the dominant power – (did not suffer the  inconveniences of feudalism;  no question of divided inheritance – could conserve and expand properties; it was democratic – ordinary men of ability could rise in the church; it was international.]

 

p.39:  This feeling of tugging, of pulling everything to bits and reshaping it, was characteristic of twelfth century art, and was somehow complementary to the massive stability of its architecture. And I find rather the same situation in the realm of ideas. The main structure, the Christian faith, was unshakeable. But round it was a play of minds, a tugging and a tension, that has hardly existed ever since and was, I think, one of the things that prevented Western Europe from growing rigid, as so many other civilizations have done.

 

 P.48:  Chartres is the epitome of the first great awakening in European civilization. It is also the bridge between the Romanesque and the Gothic.

 

P.59:  The great, indeed the unique, merit of European civilization has been that it has never ceased to develop and change. It has not been based on a stationary perfection, but on ideas and inspiration; and even the ideal of courtesy can take an unexpected form. [St Francis  of Assissi] (Francesco Bernadone) [but including fashion, manners]

P. 62:  Cities, citizen, civilian, civic life: I suppose that all this ought to have a direct bearing on what we mean by civilization.  [nineteeth century historians maintained that civilization began with the Italian republics of the fourteenth century ] Civilisation can be created in a monastery or a court as well as a city but Italian republics were realistic contrast chivalric aims; (although of course not democratic – ruled by oligarchies]

P.76 Vasari, Renaissance historian of Art: The spirit of criticism:  the air of Florence making minds naturally free, and not content with mediocrity…. Clark: our contemporary attitude of pretending to understand works of art in order not to appear philistines would have seemed absurd to the Florentines.

P.82:  The discovery of the individual was made in early fifteenth –century Florence. Nothing can alter that fact. But in the last quarter of the century the Renaissance owed almost as much to the small courts of northern Italy –  Ferrara, Mantua, and above all, Urbino….one of the high water-marks of western civilization…….P.83: The Duke of Urbino”s (Federigo Montefeltro) biographer Vespasiano di Bistici,  who furnished the duke’s library, asked the duke what is necessary in ruling a kingdom: the Duke replied: essere umano –‘to be human’. Whoever invented the style, this is the spirit that invades the Palace of Urbino. [also the rediscovery of Greek philosophy through the neo-Platonists]

P.87:  Looking at the Tuscan landscape with its terraces of vines and olives and the dark vertical elements of the cypresses, one has the impression of timeless order….noble proportions seem to be the basis of Italian architecture;P.88…already awareness of nature is associated with the desire to escape and with hope of a  better life….

 

 

 

P.90 Renaissance pride:  Alberti:A man can do all things if he will. Clark:how naïve Alberti’s statement seems when one thinks of that great bundle of fears and memories that every individual carries around with him; to say nothing of the external forces which are totally beyond his control. …the civilization of the early Italian Renaissance was not broadly enough based.

 

P.93:  Great movements in the arts, like revolutions, don’t last for more than about fifteen years. After that the flame dies down, and people prefer a cosy glow.

 

P.96: The qualility of the heroic is not a part of most people’s idea of civilization. It involves a contempt for convenience and a sacrifice of all those pleasures that contribute to what we call civilized life. It is the enemy of happiness. And yet we recognize that to despise material obstacles, and even to defy the blind forces of fate, is man’s supreme achievement; and since, in the end, civilization depends on man extending his powers of mind and spirit to the utmost, we must reckon the emergence of Michelangelo as one of the great events in the history of western man.

 

P.98:  The shadow in Rembrandt – a means of concentrating on  the parts that are felt most intensely…

 

P.106 The Renaissance convention of depicting Biblical characters as  perfect human specimens became a deadening influence on the European mind. It deadened our sense of truth, even our sense of moral responsibility; and led, as we now see, to a hideous reaction.

 

P. 118 re Erasmus’ huge following during the Reformation: It shows that people, even in a time of crisis, yearn for tolerance and reason and simplicity of life – in fact for civilization. But on the tide of fierce emotional and  biological impulses they are powerless.

 

P.121: There can be no thought without words. Luther gave his countrymen words. Erasmus had written solely in Latin. [vernacular plus printing press – ordinary people could read and think for themselves]

P.122:  Montaigne  on the Reformation: In trying to make themselves angels, men transform themselves into beasts.

 

P. 123 Elizabethan England: – It was brutal,  unscrupulous and disorderly. But if the first requisites of civilization are intellectual energy, freedom of mind, a sense of beauty and a craving for immortality….then it was a kind of civilization.

 

P. 126: We have been conditioned by generations of liberal, Protestant theologians who tell us that no society based on obedience, repression and superstition can be really civilized. But no one with an ounce of historical feeling or philosophic detachment can be blind to the great ideals, to the passionate belief in sanctity, to the expenditure of human genius in the service of God, which are made triumphantly visible to us with every step we take in Baroque Rome.  [eg Michelangelo, ceiling of the Sistine Chapel; impact of sack of  Rome in 1527]

 

P. 126: One of the reasons why mediaeval and Renaissance architecture is so much better than our own is that the architects were artists.  Eg Brunelleschi; Bramante; Raphael; Peruzzi; Giulio Romano; Pietro da Cortona; Bernini.

P.l33:   The leaders of the Catholic Restoration had made the inspired decision not to go half-way to meet Protestantism in any of its objections, but rather to glory in those very doctrines that the Protestants had most forcibly, and sometimes, it must be admitted, most logically had repudiated. [eg divine appointment of the Pope; relics; veneration of the saints; the assumption of the Virgin Mary]

P.142:  Misgivings about extreme baroque art and architecture summed up in the words ‘illusion’ and ‘exploitation’.  Of course, all art is to some extent an illusion. It transforms experience in order to satisfy some need of the imagination. But there are degrees of illusion….One can’t help feeling that affluent Baroque, in its escape from the severities of the earlier fight against Protestantism, ended by escaping from reality into a world of illusion. P.146: [exploitation – expressions of private greed and vanity. Farnese, Borghese, Ludovisi competing to build the largest and most ornate….I wonder if a single thought that has helped forward the human spirit has ever been conceived or written down in an enormous room [except the reading room of the British Museum!]

P. 150:  In studying the history of civilization one must try to keep a balance between individual genius and the moral and spiritual condition of a society. However irrational it may seem, I believe in genius. I believe that almost everything of value which has happened in the world has been due to individuals. Nevertheless, one can’t help feeling that the supremely great figures in history –  Dante, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Newton, Goethe – must be to some extent a summation of their times. They are too large, too all –embracing, to have developed  in isolation.  Eg Rembrandt in Holland: …the spiritual life of Holland needed him and so had, to some extent, created him.

 

P. 155:  Izaac  Walton:  The Compleat Angler.   Study to be quiet.

 

P. 158:   ….although one may use works of art to illustrate the history of civilization, one must not  pretend that social conditions produce works of art or inevitably influence their form.   Eg  Velasquez:  Las Meninas  (‘The Ladies in Waiting) – produced in the superstitious, convention-ridden court of Philip the 1V in Spain)

 

P.l64:  Scientific revolution in England …and so began (with Newton) that division between scientific truth and the imagination which was to kill drama, and give a feeling of artificiality to all poetry during the next hundred years.

 

P. 164: French  prose was the form in which European intelligence shaped and communicated its thoughts about history, diplomacy, definition, criticism, human relationships – everything except metaphysics. It is arguable that the non-existence of a clear, concrete German prose has been one of the chief disasters to (sic) European civilization.

 

P. 164:  The industrial revolution in Britain produced the squalid disorder of industrial society. It has grown up as a result of the same conditions that allowed the Dutch to build their beautiful towns and support their painters and print the works of philosophers – reason:  human greed.

P. 175:  Pater: (of the Venetians)  they painted the musical intervals of our existence when ‘life itself is conceived as a kind of listening.’

P. 180:  Opera, next to Gothic architecture, is one of the strangest inventions of western man. It could not have been foreseen by any logical process. Dr Johnson’s much quoted definition, which as far as I can make out, he never wrote, ‘an extravagant and irrational entertainment’, is perfectly correct and and at first it seems surprising that it should have been brought to perfection in the Age of Reason. But cf. Rococco Architecture.

P. 182: In defence of reason and the enlightenment esp Voltaire.  The smile of reason may seem to betray a certain incomprehension of the deeper human emotions; but it didn’t prclude some strongly held beliefs – belief in natural law, belief in justice, belief in toleration. Not bad. The philosophers of the Enlightenment pushed European civilization some steps up the hill….

 

P. 187: Of the French salons:  Solitude no doubt is necessary to the poet and the philosopher, but certain life-giving thoughts are born of conversation, and conversation can flourish only in a small company where no one is stuck-up. That is a condition which cannot exist in a court…

 

P. 189:  A margin of wealth is helpful to civilization, but for some mysterious reason great wealth is destructive.  I suppose that, in the end, splendour is dehumanizing, and a certain sense of limitation seems to be a condition of what we call good taste.

 

P. 191:Talleyrand: only those who experienced the social life of eighteenth century France had known the ‘douceur de vivre’, the sweetness of living.

P. 195:  in defence of Voltaire:  ..by the middle of the eighteenth century serious minded men could see that the Church had become a tied house – tied to property and status and defending its interests by repression and injustice. Voltaire:  écrasez l’infame! Crush the vermin!

P. 226.  Connection between art and warfare:  Ruskin: No great art ever yet rose on earth but among a nation of soldiers.

P. 238: on the emergence of the Middle Class;  The early nineteenth century created a chasm in the European mind as great as that which had split up Christendom in the sixteenth century, and even more dangerous. On one side of the chasm was the new middle class nourished by the Industrial Revolution. It was hopeful and energetic, but without a scale of values. Sandwiched between a corrupt aristocracy and a brutalized poor, it had produced a defensive morality – conventional, complacent, hypocritical.  The bourgeois.

P.240:  on the impurity of humanity:  …all those forces that threaten to impair our humanity: lies, tanks, tear-gas, ideologies, opinion polls, mechanization , planners, computers – the whole lot.

 

P. 243:  attempt to define civilization and against those who say civilization is only possible with slavery;  only if one defines civilization in terms of leisure and superfluity.  Rather it  is creative power and the enlargement of human faculties.