Thursday, August 16, 2007

TLS, Aug 10, 2007

Extracts from David Martin's review of John Gray's Black Mass: Apocalyptic religion and the death of utopia:
Gray acknowledges a clear debt to Norman Cohn's pathbreaking The Pursuit of the Millennium (1957), but obvious precursors like S. N. Eisenstadt, in his Fundamentalism, Sectarianism and Revolution (1999), subtitled The Jacobin dimension of modernity, and J. F. Talmon in his classic Political Messianism: The Romantic phase (1964) are at best buried in the endnotes.

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The French may think master-narratives are out, along with belief and morality, but in fact the language of politics, even in secularist France, is saturated in a teleological moralism. Political language is, as Georges Sorel eloquently showed, profoundly mythic.

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Our democratic order is not founded on some secular version of Christian Providence but a vulnerable local achievement, only exportable by violence on the mistaken assumption that, once you strike away the chains of history, tradition and culture, a New Man will emerge in the image and likeness of Thomas Jefferson or Thomas Paine.

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Lions do not throw up, shaken to the core, at not being adequately leonine. Elephants do not roll in the mud to vent their desolation at being so grossly elephantine. Whatever else does or does not separate us from animality, the potential to imagine and body forth transfiguration and to acknowledge disfiguration, is what makes us human. Our sense of indignity is the essence of our dignity. Non sum dignus.

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It was Harold Laski wjo pointed this out: the history of religion yields the crucial clues to social and political science.

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Extracts from Alastair Fowler's review of Robert N. Watson's Back to Nature: The green and the real in the late Renaissance:
On Marvell's "green thoughts"--From Dante onwards, green often meant hope, whether worldly hope or hope of salvation. Thus, Sor Juana de la Cruz warns that those deluded by worldly hope look through green spectacles a la esperanza. Marvell's Mower, too, associated green with hope: his mind "in the greenness of the Grass/ Did see its Hopes as in a Glass". Hope may not be so much be a meaning we lend, as one lent already. And the color of the Garden seems quite like the "rose" of modern "rose-coloured spectacles."

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Ruisdael, the Shakespeare of landscape, contributed decisively to most of its subgenres; some of them, indeed, he originated. His landscape oeuvre encompassed the full gamut of human experience, in all its moods: the serenity of the Karlsruhe "Grove of Large Oak Trees at the Edge of a Pond" as well as the purposeful activity of the many bleaching-ground and water-mill pictures. Nature in Ruisdael can be idyllic; it can also be challenging, even terrible, as in the stormy marines with menacing skies. His career coincided with the little Ice Age, and between 1650 and the mid-1670s he painted twenty-five or so winter pieces, among them some of his most famous pictures.



Wheat Fields, ca. 1670.

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...what Watson sees in Dutch painting is often what Simon Schama has also detected: secularizing of religious motifs. Game-pieces identify with the suffering of creatures; spilt wine is eucharistic rather than merely a sign of moral excess; and each spiral of lemon peel signifies the old serpent. The emergent sensibility is tender towards animal nature, like Margaret Cavendish's feeling for hares and chopped-up butcher meat.

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