Monday, August 15, 2016

Conjectural histories

I have completely succumbed, by the way, to the allure of Gibbon.  Excited about working on this project!  Here are two small bits that may convey some of the quality I find so irresistible in Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:

On Gordianus, father and son:
When he reluctantly accepted the purple, he was above fourscore years old; a last and valuable remains of the happy age of the Antonines, whose virtues he revived in his own conduct, and celebrated in an elegant poem of thirty books.  With the venerable proconsul, his son, who had accompanied him into Africa as his lieutenant, was likewise declared emperor.  His manners were less pure, but his character was equally amiable with that of his father.  Twenty-two acknowledged concubines, and a library of sixty-two thousand volumes, attested the variety of his inclinations; and from the productions which he left behind him, it appears that the former as well as the latter were designed for use rather than for ostentation.  
(The note to that last sentence reads: "By each of his concubines, the younger Gordian left three or four children.  His literary productions, though less numerous, were by no means contemptible.")

Or again, in a more contemplative vein (on the difficulty of writing about the empire c. 248-268 CE):
The confusion of the times, and the scarcity of authentic memorials, oppose equal difficulties to the historian, who attempts to preserve a clear and unbroken thread of narration.  Surrounded with imperfect fragments, always concise, often obscure, and sometimes contradictory, he is reduced to collect, to compare, and to conjecture: and though he ought never to place his conjectures in the rank of facts, yet the knowledge of human nature, and of the sure operation of its fierce and unrestrained passions, might, on some occasions, supply the want of historical materials.

Ruin porn of the 18th century

Have just Amazoned a copy of James Crawford's book, reviewed a while ago by Mary Beard for the TLS (I had a copy via BorrowDirect briefly but it was recalled before I had a chance to read it - I think my borrowing privileges have been suspended three or four times this year for overdue recall books, and I've got another overdue BD book - Louise Curran's fascinating book about Samuel Richardson's correspondence that I forgot to return before I left NYC and that can't be renewed again, I read it but haven't transcribed my notes yet - that has probably just tipped me over again today into delinquency....).  This is Beard's opening:
Inside the monastery of S. TrinitĂ  dei Monti, which stands at the top of the Spanish Steps in Rome, is a room decorated in glorious trompe l’oeil as a ruin. Created in 1766 by Charles-Louis ClĂ©risseau, and originally intended to be the cell of the monastery’s resident mathematician Fr Thomas Le Sueur, it imitates a decaying classical temple, with tumbled columns, a roof open to the sky, encroaching vegetation and a large parrot perched on one of the apparently surviving crossbeams. 

Analytic rage

I wrote about Jenny Diski's life and memoirs for Public Books.  I always feel that this sort of a piece should just trip lightly off the fingers in an afternoon, but really it took quite a lot of my reading and writing attention in June as well, further contributing to my sense of being a useless layabout!  The self-castigation of the academic who is not making progress on her own book projects is not to be believed....

Field review

Remember this?  My review of the year's work in Restoration and eighteenth-century studies is up now at JSTOR (I've also posted it to my academia.edu profile).  This was a big piece of work - lack of productivity in June and July is probably partly a consequence of pulling all this together in April and May, along with the intensity of the tenure committee obligations.  I feel it as a real accomplishment.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Closing tabs

Quiet summer on the blog - Facebook is getting the sort of idle thought that used to show up here, and I think there is no point resisting the drain in that direction.  Have a lot of open tabs to close, as well as a light reading update that I will write separately.  Funny summer in life - I have done no substantive work of my own, it's all life stuff (apartment declutter, 100 runs in 100 days, family Disney trip etc.) and other people's work stuff - but I am going to have to accept that sometimes I have to pay attention to things that are not a book that I am writing....

The Clown Egg Register.

The beautiful afterlife of Edward Gorey's mink stroller coat.

Starbucks card value exceeds money on deposit at many financial institutions.

Eighteenth-century note-taking (and the interesting underlying link).

Secrets of the London Library.

Roger Luckhurst on trouble in Lovecraft Country.

Sheep View 360.

Baroque wigs of paper.