Saturday, October 18, 2008

Cold Medium and Hot Stream

TLS July 25 2008 (yes, I know, it's a while ago):

from Anthony Grafton's review of James Simpson's Burning to Read: English fundamentalism and its Reformation opponents:

In [James Simpson’s] view, the great translator William Tyndale did not liberate the human spirit by turning the sacred texts of Christianity into English. Rather, he imprisoned it in chains of paper. Tyndale and his ilk caused what Simpson calls the rise of “fundamentalism”, the literalist form of religious reading that has repeatedly shown the power, especially in recent yearsm to provoke violence and hatred around the world.


Debates on small points, instead of being settled by conversation, turned into mortal combat simply because scholars conducted them in print. The new medium, cold, distant and precise, enabled writers to excerpt, anatomize and mutilate their opponents' words, paragraph by paragraph and sentence by sentence, using all the textual violence they could devise.


In the end, Simpson argues Thomas More showed himself a more humane reader of Scripture than Tyndale--even if More, unlike Tyndale, burned a few heretics for their pains. For More knew that no text--even the New Testament--could encompass the entire Christian message, and he insisted on the need for a consensual interpretation reinforced by the experience of centuries.


from Richard Hamblyn's review of Erik Orsenna's Portrait of the Gulf Stream: In praise of currents, translated by Moishe Black:

This thermohaline warming was first described in the 1850s by the American hydrographer Matthew Fontaine Maury, who seemed to view the oceans as little more than a vast and efficient boiler house: "the furnace is the torrid zone; the Mexican Gulf and Carribean Sea are the cauldrons; the Gulf Stream is the conducting pipe," he wrote . . .


"What a fool I've been to neglect science all these years", [Orsenna] declares; "natural history is the mother of every form of history, every sort of story, the novel of all novels."


The Gulf Stream, he soon discovers, is not so much a single path as a sequence of thermal improvisations.


"I went endlessly back and forth from reading maps to reading legends, not knowing which would leave me better informed"--a process that in the end produces a near-seamless blend of travel, science and literary reportage, a peerless portrait of a force of nature made up of a series of digressions.

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