Sunday, May 02, 2010

Ecumenical Humanity

TLS April 2 2010

from Andrew van der Vlies's review of Chinua Achebe's THE EDUCATION OF A BRITISH-PROTECTED CHILD:

The lecture extols the virtue of the "middle ground", the point of view not given to extremism or "fanaticism." This is a space much appreciated in the Igbo society of Achebe's youth and one that informs his own insistence on considering the complex effects of the colonial encounter: "I could have dwelt on the harsh humiliations of colonial rule or the more dramatic protests against it", he writes, but he remains "fascinated by that middle ground . . . where the human spirit resists an abridgement of its humanity". For many, it is Achebe's nuanced sense that while this "space was to be found primarily in the camp of the colonized", it was also "now and again" visible "in the ranks of the colonizer too", that lends his assessment of colonial contact its gravitas and pathos. Ikem Osodi, the journalist character in Anthills of the Savannah (modelled in part on Achebe's late poet-fighter friend Christopher Okigbo), is a spokesman for this middle ground,  declaring that "those who would see no blot of villainy in the beloved oppressed nor grant the faintest glimmer of humanity to the hated oppressor are partisans, patriots and party-liners".
In an essay from 1989, Achebe restates his position that he writes in English "not . . .  because it is a world language", but because it is the language in which Nigeria "transacts a considerable portion of its daily business": it has become an African language, and central to the identity of nation states that might otherwise be further fractured by their multiple linguistic heritages.


TLS April 9 2010

from Ferdinand Mount's review of Roberto Calasso's TIEPOLO PINK:

As Calasso points out, "the Wurzburg ceiling is an anthropological experiment. For the first time and--until today--the only time, we find assembled here a literally ecumenical humanity, idiosyncratic and in reciprocal contact".
We must never forget how much he had in reserve as his hand moved with amazing speed over the damp plaster. It is calculated that he covered the ceiling of the Palazzo Labia in Venice at the rate of five square metres a day. But the speed caught the vision, rather than smothering or coarsening it. Tiepolo was so various and so masterly that he did not need to pretend to be slow.


from Gabriel Levin's Commentary piece on D. H. Lawrence's Sketches of Etruscan Places:

Beholding the painted walls in the burial chambers and reimagining the lives of the Etruscans . . . , Lawrence at long last found what had eluded him time and again in his travels: here was a society whose members manifested a spontaneity, a naturalness, a vitality, and --a word that Lawrence reverts to with increasing frequency--a quickness that had long been lost to modern man.
Lawrence is touched to the quick. He enters into rapport with flying dolphins and ducks and serpents, with galloping lions and goats and horses and other heraldic beats and, crucially, with the Lucumone, the religious seer, leader in the sacred mysteries, beheld on the lid of alabaster sarcophagi--ash chests--and holding in his hand the sacred patera, "the round saucer with the raised knob in the center, which represents the round germ of heaven and earth". The little round saucer will become the symbolic centre of Lawrence's adopted cosmic vision, the nucleus of what he will call, not without controversy, phallic consciousness: the flowing, continuous life-force uniting dualities, "the terrific and the prolific" . . . heaven and earth, fire and water. 

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