Friday, 30 March 2007

The Book of Curiosities of the Sciences and Marvels for the Eyes

A rare Arab manuscript was acquired a couple of years ago to great fanfare by the Bodleian Library and was displayed for a period with some other very interesting manuscripts (including a copy of Chaucer's Astrolabe). The catalogue of that manuscript was published by the Bodleian and is entitled Medieval Views of the Cosmos: Picturing the Universe in the Christian and Islamic Middle Ages (2004). The manuscript, now MS Arab c. 90, has been put online for digital consultation and quality of the images is wonderful. This is a marvellous project and well worth browsing. The manuscript is a late 12th or early 13th century copy and was probably made in Egypt, and is of paramount importance for its unusually large set of maps of the heavens and the earth. It is a compilation of material that has hitherto been known in a fragmentary state and so offers to chance to do much recuperation and reconstruction. For those who wish to know more, I recommend: Jeremy Johns and Emilie Savage-Smith, 'The Book of Curiosities: A Newly Discovered Series of Islamic Maps', Imago Mundi, 55 (2003), 7-24. It has me thinking a lot about all the talk about an Arabic source in Dante, and when you browse through this manuscript and look at the extraordinary topographies, you really do wonder.

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Announing Judgment and Apocalypse: Aspects and Approaches

Attached are two screenshots of the programme for the forthcoming conference, Judgment and Apocalypse: Aspects and Approaches, to be held at Lincoln College, Oxford, April 13th-14th 2007. All welcome! You can access the conference programme website or download it in pdf format.

Monday, 26 March 2007

Nearly PhinisheD

I submitted my thesis today. Now all I've got to do is convince my examiners I know what I'm doing and my diabolical plan will have been realized. Mwhaoh mwhaoh mwhaoh (that's a diabolical laugh, by the way).

Wednesday, 14 March 2007

Into Great Silence, dir. Philip Gröning (2005)

Philip Gröning's film Die Große Stille took 21 one years to make, a mere blink of the eye for a Carthusian. The Carthusians were founded in 1084 by St Bruno of Cologne. The order boasts never to have been reformed, which is technically correct (though it has changed over the centuries). It was an extremely powerful order in the middle ages perhaps due to its patronage by European royals, in particular in France and later in Italy. In fact, the Order's founder was responsible for two houses, one at Chartreux (close to Grenoble), and the second in Calabria at Serra San Bruno. He had been summoned out of the solitary life by Urban II for political advice and Urban, sensibly, wished to keep him close. The result was Bruno founding a sort of second mother house in Calabria. The Order is famous for its austerity and its great learning (the Carthusian libraries were some of the richest in medieval Europe).

This film is a delicate and richly textured portrait of the Carthusians. It is utter simplicity. There is hardly any dialogue. The viewer follows the monks in their daily rituals as a kind of fly-on-the-wall. The camera sits watching a monk praying with a relentless patience. The monks are not exactly embarrassed by the camera, more tolerant of it. There are sets of portrait shots of each monk that are stunning. Just long shots of a face looking back, compelling and moving. The director takes shots of a bowl of fruit or a glass of water and works a kind of magic with them, creating something worthy of an early Netherlandish miniature or about which a Friedländer or Panofsky might write with grave scholarship.

The harsh environment is an integral part of their existance (the first site of Bruno's monastery was destroyed early in the twelfth century by an avalanche and the surviving monks had to descend several hundred meters for safety reasons). And yet they make the environment something not oppressive. There are comic moments. One scene follows the monks on a walk where they bring little sleighs and slide down the incline laughing and joking with each other. Another comic conversation is recorded where they discuss the ritual of handwashing before dinner. They are austere but far from humourless. The film has an extraordinary effect of the viewer. You find yourself becoming the silence, becoming the ritual. Last night everyone left the cinema in almost total silence, and even as people gathered outside the cinema there was little conversation.

I'm not going to insult the beauty of this achievement by giving the usual guff about it being an antidote to our busy lives and how we don't know what silence is anymore. Something more is happening here. Go and see this film. Just go.

Sunday, 11 March 2007

Justin Steinberg, Accounting for Dante (Notre Dame, 2007)

The latest addition to the William and Katherine Devers Series in Italian Studies at the University of Notre Dame Press is the extremely good Accounting for Dante: Urban Readers and Writers in Late Medieval Italy by Justin Steinberg. I could hardly put this book down and greatly enjoyed it.

Steinberg aims to navigate a path between literary criticism and philology. He asks why Dante, who is so concerned in his work with concepts of circulation and transmission, is not studied in the context of his earliest transmission in the so-called Memoriali bolognesi. To look at the notary records in Bologna, records that contain some of the earliest written witnesses of Dante's work, is not new, and work continues apace. But what is so interesting about what Steinberg does is to ask why particular poems appear beside particular records in the Memoriali. Steinberg combines a reading of the Memoriali with an analysis of the rise of notarial guild in Bologna. With this he also looks at how the way books were put together changed dramatically in the period, especially amongst the merchant class and the account books. So rather than quires being copied and subsequently sewn together, the account books were bound blank and then filled up page by page.

The other strand of this study is to examine some of the very famous vernacular anthologies, in particular Vat. 3793. He looks at the editorial choices exerted in these anthologies and how Dante could have seen a lyric such as Donna ch'avete copied in his lifetime in the Memoriali bolognesi (no. 82) and in Vat. 3793 (f. 99v). He looks at the contexts of this poem and in particular the way that it is followed immediately by the poem Ben aggia l'amoroso et dolce chore. In light of this use and abuse of Donna ch'avete, Steinberg reads Purgatorio 24 as a site of two innovative authorial strategies first attempted in the Vita nuova: 'First, he [sc. Dante] suggests that the ultimate authentic text lies in the author's mind and not in the public reception and various material redaction of his texts. This shift in emphasis from reader to writer foreshadows textually what Petrarch and Boccaccio would later experiment with materially when introducing their autographed author's books, and it places renewed importance on authorial intention. Second, Dante presents his dialogue with other vernacular poets as transcending the contingent, contentious "nodo" of contemporary literary production and politics' (p. 94). He then looks at how an anthology like Vat. 3793 is made up of quires representing particular geographical regions and puts such an extended discussion beside an analysis of the De vulgari eloquentia. The results are fascinating and exhilerating.

Chapter One comprises: Dante's First Editors: The Memoriali bolognesi and the Politics of Vernacular Transcription. Chapter Two: "Appresso che questa canzone fue alquanto divulgata tra le genti": Vaticano 3793 and the donne of "Donne ch'avete intelletto d'amore". Chapter Three: "A terrigenis mediocribus": The De vulgari eloquentia and the Babel of Vaticano 3793. Chapter Four: Merchant Bookkeeping and Lyric Anthologizing: Codicological Aspects of Vaticano 3793. Chapter Five: Bankers in Hell: The Poetry of Monte Andrea in Dante's between Historicism and Historicity'. Epilogue: "Dante": Purgatorio 30. 55 and the Question of the Female Voice.

The book looks at how Dante can be viewed in the codicological context of his contemporaries and how such a horizontal view can provides new perspectives on old and familiar texts. It is written with a light and subtle touch and can cut through swathes of (sometimes difficult) codicological and philological material an eye Ockham might envy. There is nothing so satisfying as a book that helps you see the familiar in an entirely new light. Tolle et lege.

Thursday, 8 March 2007

Jaeger Le-Coultre, Reverso Grande Complication à Triptych

This is the JLC Reverso Grande Complication à Triptych, Tourbillon (with in-house escapement) sideral time, perpetual calendar with equation of time with zodiac signs and sunrise and sunset indications. It is basically every possible way of thinking about time and measuring time in one watch. Apart from a sandglass, maybe. This is nothing short of a miracle of design and beauty.

Monday, 5 March 2007

Obviously written by a medievalist

Saturday, 3 March 2007

Dante Commentaries (1977) and Dante Readings (1987)

While at the last of this year's UCD Lectura Dantis (this year on War and Peace in Dante) last Monday, where Claire Honess gave a very interesting paper called 'Ecce nunc tempus acceptabile: Henry VII and Dante's Ideal of Peace', John Barnes gave away some copies of the earlier UCD Italian publications. These are increasingly difficult to get hold of so I was delighted to have them, and it seems only right that I should blog a review of them, just to remind you of what is in them. Each volume has its merits, but highlights would surely include the contributions of Lonergan, Armour and Scott in the first volume.

David Nolan (ed), Dante Commentaries: Eight Studies of the Divine Comedy (Dublin & N.J.: Published for University College, Dublin and the Italian Cultural Institute, Dublin, Irish Academic Press and Rowman & Littlefield, 1977) contains the following eight lecturae: David Nolan, 'Inferno XIX'; G. Singh, 'Inferno XXVI: A Personal Appreciation'; C.S. Lonergan, 'The Context of Inferno XXXIII: Bocca, Ugolino, Fra Alberigo'; W.B. Stanford, 'The "Maggior Fortuna" and the Siren in Purgatorio XIX'; Piero Calì, 'Purgatorio XXVII; Peter Armour, 'Purgatorio XXVIII'; J.H. Whitfield, 'Paradiso VI'; J.A. Scott, 'Paradiso XXX'.

Eric Haywood (ed), Dante Readings, Publications of the Foundation for Italian Studies, University College Dublin, 5 (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1987) contains the following six articles: Piero Calì, 'Dogma and Poetry in Dante's Paradiso'; Seamus Heaney, 'Envies and Identifications: Dante and the Modern Poet'; Kenneth Hyde, 'The Social and Political Idea of the Comedy'; Deirdre O'Grady, 'Woman Damned, Penitent and Beatified in the Divine Comedy'; Liberato Santoro, 'Dante's Paradiso (Canto 1) and the Aesthetics of Light'; Clotilde Soave-Bowe, 'Purgatorio 19: Adrian V'.

Friday, 2 March 2007

Babel, dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu (2006)

In Genesis 11: 1-9 is the brief account of the earliest inhabitants of the earth, speaking one language, deciding to build a city and a tower in the region of Shinar. 'Let us make a name for ourselves, so that we do not get scattered all over the world'. When Yahweh saw their enterprise he wished to confuse their efforts and in turn scattered them all over the world. The word Babel (בָּבֶל), which would represent the place where this city was being built, is close to the Heb. word 'confuse' (בָּלַל, cf. the Gk. verb συγχέω, συνέχεεν). The tower of Babel is described by Dante in De vulgari eloquentia as a 'turris confusionis' (1. 6. 5), a tower of confusion, following Ugguccione's etymology. There isn't time now to discuss how very interesting is Dante's use of this myth in the DVE and his figuring and correlation of Florentine urbanism and Babelic hubris. However, Babel continues to exert all sorts of forces on the creative imagination today.

Alejandro González Iñárritu has directed an extremely interesting film in Babel. It is essentially about confusion, about how we really don't understand what we say to each other. The story weaves in and out of four groups of people. They all try to communicate but keep misunderstanding the language they should use. So the language of violence is expressed innocently by the boys shooting from a hill, testing their new rifle bought to kill jackals that attack their goats and the distance the bullets can reach. When the bullet hits Susan (Cate Blanchett), an American tourist travelling with her husband Richard (Brad Pitt), it is obviously interpreted as an act of terrorism. The state departments of Morocco and the USA in turn fight over whether it should be called terrorism or not, holding up medical aid for an excruciating length of time. Yussuf misunderstands the language of sex in spying on his sister, and indeed she does too by letting him watch her. Susan and Richard are grieving over the death of a child and it becomes clear that they, too, are speaking different languages to each other. Susan and Richard's two children, meanwhile, are being minded by their nanny Amelia (Adriana Barraza), who takes them to her native Mexico for her son's wedding. On their way back with Santiago (Gael García Bernal) they are stopped by border police and are interpreted as nothing more than illegal immigrants. The rifle had been given to its vendor as a present by a successful Japanese businessman in gratitude. The Moroccan police wish to confirm this rifle had not been bought on the black market and so we follow the police to Tokyo where we find him grieving over his wife's suicide and his deaf daughter's increasing distance from him. She too is talking a language of loss, of frustration, of sex, as those around her resists her efforts at human contact. Rinko Kikuchi is absolutely extraordinary as the deaf daughter and she plumbs depths one hardly imagines possible. Her Oscar nomination was entirely deserved. The music, too, is wonderful and that Oscar was also deserved. (This is Gustavo Santaolalla's second Oscar, the first was in 2005 for the sublime soundtrack to Brokeback Mountain).

Babel is a moving film and it had me engrossed and involved. Some may say that it is a little long, but it may indeed be part of the point because the film is about frustration and distance. I recommend it.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...