Have you read this?
(and do look inside.)
Eros and Magic in the Renaissance (excellent short review below)
Ioan P. Culianu. Consummate scholar. Personal hero. I trust his take on this: We need a "profound modification of the human imagination."
Re the links (about revising history, timelines) -- You know my Cassandra warnings about self-fulfilling prophecy. After all, we're only human. So I ask -- who, what inspires a work? Who, what do they serve. (What Mad Men** these? What phantasms do they hope to insert into the spiritual apparatus of the heart? Hm?) That's the most interesting thing to me. The power to manipulate, which is fascination itself, fascinates me. (Shiny!) Scares the hell out of me, too. It's the core of dramatic narrative. Turn my head.
The originality of an era is not measured by the content of its ideological systems but rather by its "selective will," that is, according to the interpretive grille it imposes between preexisting contents and their "modern" treatment. The passing of a message through the hermeneutic filter of an era produces two results of a semantic kind: the first, aiming at the very organization of the cultural structure of the time and hence located outside it, is set forth as a complex and subtle mechanism of emphasis or, on the contrary, of suppression of certain ideological contents; the second, which operates in the very interior of the central structure, is set forth as a systematic distortion or even semantic inversion* of ideas which pass through the interpretive grille of the era.
All of this means that the crowning wish of the historian of ideas is not, or should not be, to define the ideological contents of a given period, which are fundamentally recursive in nature, but to glimpse its hermeneutic filter, its "selective will," which is, at the same time, a will to distort.
(*Frung: I'd typo-ed "invasion" -- watch it happening right now: http://themoonsfavors.blogspot.com/2012/05/you-know-that-ted-talk-you-werent.html and http://www.thefilterbubble.com/ted-talk )
(**dear god. I'm Roger.)
more after coffee
The incomparable Lewis Lapham, in Ignorance of Things Past, Harper's May 2012:
History is work in progress, a constant writing and rewriting as opposed to museum-quality sculpture in milk-white marble. To read three histories of the British Empire—one of them published in 1850, the others in 1900 and 1950—is to discover three different British Empires on which the sun eventually sets. The must-see tourist attractions remain intact—Napoleon still there on his horse at Waterloo, Queen Victoria enthroned in Buckingham Palace, the subcontinent firmly fixed to its moorings in the Indian Ocean—but as to the light in which Napoleon, the queen, or India is to be seen, accounts differ.
Each age revises its conception of the past to fit the context of its present, and by and large the historian will find the facts that prove the truths of his interpretation. History is not what happened 200 or 2,000 years ago; it is a story about what happened 200 or 2,000 years ago. The stories change, as do the sight lines available to the tellers of the tales. Montaigne in one of his essays provides, as is his custom, an apt quotation:
See how Plato is moved and tossed
about. Every man, glorying in applying
him to himself, sets him on the
side he wants. They trot him out and
insert him into all the new opinions
that the world accepts.
Not being a scholar affiliated with a tenure track, I don’t much care whether the mise en scène is Athens in the fourth century b.c., Paris in the 1740s, or Moscow in the winter of 1905. I look for an understanding of the human predicament, to discover or re-discover how it is with man, who he is and how it is between him and other men. To consult the record in books both ancient and modern is to come across every vice, virtue, motive, behavior, obsession, consequence, joy, and sorrow to be met with on the roads across the frontiers of the millennia. What survives the wreck of empires and the sack of cities is the sound of a human voice confronting the fact of its own mortality. The historian Sarah Bakewell, in How to Live, her recent book on Montaigne’s life and thought, compounds the apt quotation with a corollary observation that she borrows from Virginia Woolf, “. .. any live mind is of the very same stuff as Plato’s & Euripides. . . . It is this common mind that binds the whole world together; & all the world is mind.”
Excellent review of Eros and Magic in the Renaissance
Would that he were still alive..., May 3, 2000
It is unfortunate that Professor Culianu was so violently removed from the world of academia. We are fortunate however, that some few books he was responsible for remain.
Eros and Magic in the Renaissance is an outstanding book. The work is essentially about phantasms (not to be confused with "fantasy") and how, in the past, these phantasms were believed to operate within the soul. Of course, if one accepts for the sake of discussion that phantasms exist and operate within the soul, then discussion of the mechanics of phantasmic operation (e.g. the art of memory, erotic magic, manipulation of desire) naturally follow.
Culianu brilliantly reviews the history of thought regarding the movement of images within the soul and goes yet further to discuss the history of how men believed manipulation of individuals and "the masses" through this process might be effected. Naturally enough he touches on advertising, misinformation, spin and censorship. These very subjects got the conspiratorial Giordano Bruno (who occupies a significant position in the book) burned alive in 1600 by the Catholic Church (an organization understandably averse to anyone tinkering about in the very realm of imaginal manipulation they had such a stake in).
It seems that these issues are still very sensitive to a number of groups with a vested interest in imaginal manipulation. There were a number of people in Rumania after the coup who began to worry about Culianu (a Rumanian expatriate) and his penetrating understanding of the rigid "Police State" with its enforcement of laws and the more flexible "Magician State" with it's enforcement of desires (all discussed in this book). That is most likely why Professor Culianu had his head blown off in The University of Chicago Divinity School.
Anyone with an interest in how mankind has enslaved itself with the empty images of manufactured need and sterile consumerism will find Eros and Magic in the Renaissance to be the center of a web of ideas shedding light on this subject. Outstanding Book!