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Showing posts from April, 2017

Time is strangely wonderful

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Time is a River without Banks by Marc Chagall
In Edwin Muir's poem, 'Adam's Dream', Adam beholds a vision of 'time' and 'time is strange for one lately in Eden'. The time Adam sees is the familiar one - time as passing, the present disappearing into a past that no longer exists except in memory and physical evidence and the future as simply a container of projected hopes and speculation with no real existence. A mechanical time with no meaning. 
Adam is, of course, however, perceiving a notion of time that, in truth, only came into existence with the seventeenth century. Solidified by Newton, it has become the accepted cultural norm. A norm unshifted by either Einstein's relativity or the quirks of quantum mechanics (where causality appears often to run backwards from the future into the present). 
But as J.B. Priestley marvellously demonstrates this view of time would neither be recognised by any of Adam's descendants before the seventeenth ce…

Redeeming through time

Eugene Vodolazkin did not expect anyone except his wife and his immediate, curious colleagues to read his novel 'Laurus', set in fifteenth century Russia, describing the life of a healer, holy fool, pilgrim and monk yet, to his surprise, it not only won awards but became a best seller in its native Russia and is now in the process of appearing in no less than fifteen languages. The English version, that I read, faithfully translates Vodolazkin's blend of archaic and contemporary language as it seeks both to recreate its 'past' 'life world' and simultaneously undermine your sense of time itself.

This is a hugely ambitious novel in which we follow Arseny, the grandson of a healer, through four distinct phases of his life, each one with its own setting and place. The accomplished healer succumbs to a deranging melancholy on the death of his beloved (and of his child) in childbirth and takes on the mantle of a 'holy fool'. The fool, in turn, becomes a p…

The Undiscovered Country or how the Dead have a will of their own

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Carl Watkins, a medieval historian at Cambridge, has written a marvellous book about dying, death and the dead across the ages in England (with a side excursion to Wales) from the Medieval period to the First World World. It is accomplished by the quality of its writing, its choice of illustrative story and its generosity of spirit. This latter enables you to sense what each, changing, perception of death truly meant to that cast of particular protagonists in their time and place.

So, for example, we start in the Middle Ages.  Here a belief in purgatory and the journey of the dead from first dilemma to hoped for bliss, meant that the task was to secure active remembrance, informed by prayer, for the transiting soul. A whole panoply of mechanisms grew up to ensure this. The sculptured tomb in a church reminded the viewer of their mortal state and elicited sympathetic prayer for the depicted's post mortem state. The dead party offered a variety of good works - repairing and naming …