footnotes, appendices and apparatus to the anatomy
grouped loosely by subject
7. on Gods and Demons
The story is a gross simplification, I should say upfront. Ventris would in fact have got nowhere without Professor Alice Kober (1907-1950), who worked for years on Linear B before inconclusively dying a little before Ventris completed the job. Her writing was described by contemporaries as having an 'absolute clarity' and 'painstaking accuracy'.
Ventris built on her work, and relied heavily on the philological skill of John Chadwick. It could also be argued that Ventris’s most important contribution was in fact to draw together the work of the world’s scholars in 1950 in a compendium marking fifty years since the discovery of Linear B. His skill lay in optimising the flow of information in the community of archaeologists – and perhaps this skill was only really a function of his position as an academic outsider, with no territory of his own to defend or expand. He was not a threat, and his undoubted (tragic) genius was a gratuity if not actually an irrelevance.
Michael Ventris was a gifted exponent of the Failed Life.
When he was a schoolboy, Ventris met Sir Arthur Evans by chance on a visit to the Royal Society. Ventris was 14 and Evans 85. Evans, it seems, told Ventris and his schoolfellows something or other about the mysteries of linear B. Whatever it was, it fascinated Ventris who discovered in that brief conversation his life’s direction. He would decipher this script. And destroy this man.
Brunelleschi was by all accounts a man of planetary mass, ill-mannered and unpleasant and violent according to Vasari, a sort of Beethoven of stone. But the Pazzi Chapel was a late work, probably completed after his death in 1446, and is small in scale, intimate, more dolphin than whale.
It seems probable that the loggia and projecting porch were added after Brunelleschi’s death, whether to his original plan or not is unclear. In any case, and notwithstanding the perhaps accidental beauty of the façade, the coolness and intimacy of Brunelleschi are all on the interior of the building (also realised long after Brunelleschi's death, although demonstrably from his original plan).
I would be pleased to think that this is what the inside of Brunelleschi’s head looked like, if he ever had occasion to examine it.
Von Humboldt, in his voyage to the watershed of the Orinoco and the Amazon and his tracing of the Casiquiare which joins them, mapped, as he went, not the unknowable jungle, but his own footsteps.
He followed the river and recorded the position of small missionary stations or trading posts as he went. In May 1800 he and his travelling companions reached Esmeralda, last Christian settlement on the Orinoco. It was little more than a few huts, 'home' in the words of Laura Dassow Walls, 'to a few score Indians, zambos, mulattoes, banished soldiers and exiled monks'.
Humboldt marked it on his map. In 1958, two botanists who retraced Humboldt's route found no trace of the place: it had been sucked back into the jungle, effaced, reclaimed, 'although it is still to be found on every modern map'.
You never know, looking at a map or listening to your TomTom, where the past of it begins and ends, where a bit of coast has fallen into the sea, a hamlet vanished into the jungle, or a road now become part of a one-way system.
Erwin Panofsky, the great theoretician of linear perspective, argues that perspective is a symbolic form, a neo-Kantian term (derived from Ernst Cassirer) for a ‘form of knowledge’, which in turn is a representation or structure or frame that stands between the viewer and the world and allows the former to ‘both make and obtain’ knowledge about the latter.
Examples of symbolic forms, for Cassirer, include language, myth, science.
Panofsky’s description of the pictorial space in linear perspective as infinite is not, so far as I can make out, a mathematical assertion; he merely intends that the pictorial space is imaginatively extensible in any direction beyond the plane: we see but a slice of it. This distinguishes it from those medieval paintings of the whole Choir of Heaven ranged in order on a side wall of a chapel, from where there is nowhere to go.
On this basis, I would suggest, he and J.V. Field could probably have enjoyed a pint together without taking it into the car park, so to speak.
Panofsky was, as far as I can make out, a sort of Hegelian positivist – all roads lead to linear perspective, in other words.
I recall reading in Raymond Chandler’s letters that much as he felt an impulse to write during his insomniac nights, he could rarely use anything that he wrote when he came to re-read it. It was always tinctured by fevered exaggeration. It was monstrous prose. At night you are hyper-alert, he concluded, to the presence of the beast, whatever it is that predates upon you, creeping around the diminished ring of firelight. For this reason he used the time to write his fanciful letters.
This may be so: I have never felt moved to write anything down at night. However, I would suggest that while the night may indeed be witness to a quickening of perception, it is also, perhaps more strikingly, host to a dilation and engorgement of the emotions. Who knows why? It could be that our ancestors hunted and mated by night – forgive me, I don’t have a Chatwin's gift for aetiological speculation. Or perhaps they too shivered in the trees and hated themselves and wondered why.
Needless to say it could simply be that by night, having less in view to distract the inner eye, you more accurately perceive both the texture and lineaments of the condition of your life, the apparent exaggeration being no more than the surprise of disclosure, the lurid flash of clarity.
The gardens were reclaimed after World War II; not so much saved as neutralised, turned into a theme park. There are no monsters in the woods any more, we seem to say. We got all that out of our system at Nuremburg.
Our monsters bind us in time and place. In Star Trek: The Next Generation they are never called monsters, they are always entities, lifeforms. But when, for example, Picard is forced to fight an, ahem, ‘entity’ on El-Adrel and, on the eve of the final battle he tells Dathon, his gibbering compadre, the story of Gilgamesh and Enkidu fighting the Bull of Heaven, he locates himself securely in a mythic space, a space where monsters roam beyond the ring of firelight, where their menace binds us together within that ring.
The ‘entity’ he encounters is a monstrous form, the beast of El’Adrel, a minotaur, a Cyclops.
And in the same way in our own time, out beyond Norbiton, in the Marches, the wild lands, there was Gordon Brown. We had heard rumour of him from over the horizon: glimpsed the thunder-browed cyclops, stomping joyless around his subjugated domain, brutal, gormless, misunderstood. Until, in early May, in good time both for the crops and the financial year, those fey Olympians Clegg, Cameron and Osborne dug the old Titan from his lair, bound and castrated him, and cast him into the outer dark.
Digging in my allotment, the news of these events was like the news of the Light Brigade at Balaclava to a serf out on the steppes, stooping over his patch of vegetables: garbled, delayed, lacking in detail, irrelevant, mythical, dreamlike; probably untrue.
Restaurants emerged in the middle of the eighteenth century. Before that there were plenty of places you could get a meal, but not where the food was the centre of the experience, and not where you sat cheek by jowl with strangers who were ostensibly your equals (it is the same menu, the same prices for everyone) but where in fact there were many pleasingly subtle gradations of status – a good table, more obsequious service, and wines more prestigious by several orders of magnitude. And the menu posted outside the door is as much a barrier or a warning as an advertisement.
Priscilla P. Clark supplements this observation: 'While the restaurant grew out of the earlier forms [cabarets, cafes, inns, tables d’hôte and caterers (traiteurs)], it offered more choice, a more systematic presentation (menus) and, most important, undivided concentration on the meal as a harmonious entity... the restaurant was an urban, and more specifically a Parisian phenomenon.'
I'm thinking of the great communal meals which Lawrence attended from time to time, in Feisal's tent and elsewhere: '... cubes of boiled mutton were sorted through the great tray of rice, Medfa el Suhur, the mainstay of appetite.' - page 128 in my Jonathan Cape edition of 1973.
But glancing back through the book, it is by the frugality, necessarily of the campaign in the desert in general and particularly of Feisal himself, that I am struck.
'Feisal', writes Lawrence, 'was an inordinate smoker, but a very light eater, and he used to make-believe with his fingers or a spoon among the beans, lentils, spinach, rice, and sweet cakes till he judged that we had had enough, when at a wave of his hand the tray would disappear, as other slaves walked forward to pour water for our fingers at the tent door. Fat men, like Mohammed Ibn Shefia, made a comic grievance of the Emir's quick and delicate meals, and would have food of their own prepared for them when they came away.' (p. 127).
In part, fat men notwithstanding, Feisal was typical of the Beduin, as Lawrence understood them:
'The Beduin of the desert, born and grown up in it, had embraced with all his soul this nakedness too harsh for volunteers, for the reason, felt but inarticulate [except that Lawrence will articulate it for him], that there he found himself indubitably free. ... In his life he had airs and winds, sun and light, open spaces and a great emptiness. There was no human effort, no fecundity in Nature: just the heaven above and the unspotted earth beneath.' p. 38
It is perhaps apt that I should find myself writing about frugality in the context of our feast, for a feast is only so by dint of its asymmetrical relation to the rest of life. Every day is potentially a feast day in the Ideal City but few are actually so. When I left the New Devi I did not step into deserts of heaven and unspotted earth exactly, but I was aware of leaving a place of plenty for a more precarious and pitted existence.
Sir John Mandeville’s account of his travels in the East were more popular even than the travels of Marco Polo in the late Middle Ages.
The travels tell of a journey to the midpoint of the world – Jerusalem - and beyond to Trebizond, the Indies, the Malay archipelago and China. Unlike Marco Polo, whose travelling eye focuses, for the most part on commercial possibility, Mandeville mostly relates fantastical wonders – the familiar line up of monopods, men with eyes in their shoulders, dog-faced men, and so on.
While claiming to be the work of a Knight of Saint Albans, Mandeville’s travels seem to have been put together at some point in the third quarter of the fourteen century by a physician of Liège called Johain a la Barbe or Jehen de Bourgogne, who made free with numerous sources, prominent among them being Odoric of Pordonone, a travelling friar, but not, oddly perhaps, Marco Polo.
The fictive Sir John, like his empirically real contemporaries, inhabited a world which struggled in its own way to reconcile the geography of the known world with biblical, classical and Arabic sources. Thus Sir John appears to know that the world is more or less spherical, that it has antipodes, that setting out on a journey ever Eastward will bring you home. But he also maintains that Jerusalem is located at the exact centre of the earth, which is why it was chosen as the stage for Christianity’s redemptive moment.
There is no reason to suppose a priori that a multiple, fractured, bastardized narrative (Mandeville) is any less authoritative as a travelogue than a univocal romance (Marco Polo). Indeed, we at the Anatomy rely on the fact. And certainly Columbus was as familiar with Mandeville as he was with Polo, and carried a copy with him on his voyage West. However, it should be admitted that Mandeville was never going to be much help had Columbus in fact arrived at the lands of the Great Khan, no more than the Anatomy would be if you, reader, pitched up in Empirically Real Norbiton.
Both were reacting to the prevailing explanation of ornamental devices as being based in craft technique – thus basket-weaving was said to generate weave patterns, and so on. But Reigl, taking his impetus from Goodyear’s more speculative work on the Lotus (the Grammar of Lotus, 1891), traced the development of a single motif through several millenia of European and Near Eastern art history.
According to Riegl's formulation, the acanthus - to take a significant example - is not a representation of the leaves of the acanthus plant, but a motif derived from the palmette. In other words, the acanthus ornament is an offshoot of the palmette, not a picture, so to speak, of an actual leaf. Riegl may have overstated his case somewhat (or indeed psychotically), but I am relieved to be able to remind myself of the fact that plants in ornamental borders do not necessarily have anything to do with plants that actually grow. Perhaps this should have been obvious to me all along. Plants inhabit a different world from painted representations of plants, not only ontologically, but epistemologically, perceptually. You can dispense with the one in a consideration of the other. Art history suddenly becomes an impersonal, depeopled, and above all clean vision of applied pigment, chipped stone.
His lepidoptery was, if not exactly a literary, then at root a bookish pursuit. Nabokov recalled for the world that his interest in butterflies had been groomed by his practice of leafing through the pages of Maria Sibylla Merian’s book of illustrations of the naturalia of Surinam (Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium, 1705).
When he was eight, he brought a butterfly to his father in his prison cell (he had been imprisoned for political activities). Dead, presumably, the butterfly; although the idea of an eight-year old boy in sailor suit bringing a live, tame butterfly, perhaps gently pulsing its wings on the end of his finger, to his imprisoned father is hard to shift once it has occured to you. In the same interview in which he said that he hated concise dictionaries, he also said he did not care what sort of government a government was, as long as it did not encroach on the liberty of mind or body of its subjects.
Since Euler shuttled in his career between St. Petersburg and Berlin, it is in fact highly likely that he stopped by Königsberg. Perhaps the people of Königsberg accorded him the freedom of the city he had, in essence, solved. The freedom to come and go over its bridges.
Attentive readers will recognise Euler as the pioneer in the mathematics of column-buckling whom we met in Priapic. He was blind or almost blind in one eye – a malady he blamed on his cartographical work for the Russians in St. Petersburg – and Frederick the Great liked to call him Cyclops, not wholly in affection, since the great mathematician had tried and failed to get up a head of water for a fountain in Sanssouci, as the peevish monarch relates:
"I wanted to have a water jet in my garden: Euler calculated the force of the wheels necessary to raise the water to a reservoir, from where it should fall back through channels, finally spurting out in Sanssouci. My mill was carried out geometrically and could not raise a mouthful of water closer than fifty paces to the reservoir. Vanity of vanities! Vanity of geometry!"
Letters of Voltaire and Frederick the Great, Letter H 7434, 25 January 1778