“Deep curiosity, deep listening, that’s what we have to give to each other. Reading is a form of deep listening, isn’t it? Staying with something, and being affected by it." Maggie Gee
Author Archive
Secrets and lies, red Welshmen and words of vagrant wisdom

Secrets and lies, red Welshmen and words of vagrant wisdom

“All families develop a special language, words and references no outsider can understand. My family’s special language was Rotwelsch.” Thus begins Martin Puchner’s complex, compelling, if at times ambivalent exploration of a family and a language, or in point of fact of Language (and perhaps Family) capitalised. Of language as an institution, as a structure...
The Italian Plutarch

The Italian Plutarch

The Renaissance is so much more than the sum of its parts. Not only because of the tremendous change that it brought, as many have argued, to history, art, knowledge, human experience and science, to the perception and very substance of our world, but especially for the even more momentous continuity which, according to color...
Don't just think about it – how thoughts can be life's actions

Don’t just think about it – how thoughts can be life’s actions

The ancient Greeks, and the Romans in their wake, loved to think. They were enchanted, startled and astonished by the world around them, not only by its wondrousness, but also by its terrifying vastness, inscrutable perils, its dark mysteriousness and unknowingness. They found a sense of thrill and exaltation in the perusal of magnitude and...
A chance to tell his story

A chance to tell his story

A boy grows in rural northern Italy, in the midst of pastoral peace and bloody internecine war; little is known about his parents or his childhood, for all the many stories that would be told about him once he became a novus homo, poet, imperial confidant, the voice of a people and an empire –...
Towards a poetics of wreckage

Towards a poetics of wreckage

There is something thrilling about a beautiful book – a book whose aesthetic, material presence, and the evocative momentum of its ideas and the words that embody them, seek to touch a reader’s every nerve, even that insubstantial vital centre we call our soul. Susan Stewart’s The Ruins Lesson: Meaning and Material in Western Culture...
Wise parables and meaningful tales

Wise parables and meaningful tales

Specific leitmotifs dominate any attempt to weave together a narrative of the history of Romania and Hungary during the Second World War: the complex, troubled, vital historical background of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires, and the emergent territorial claims of the Soviet Union; the cultural, ethnic and demographic tessellation of the region; the inalienable plexus...
Who makes history happen?

Who makes history happen?

Imagine a perfect (imperfect), remote and rural, Volkisch German landscape: replete with lush meadows and muddy, green pastures, well-ordered small villages abuzz with their perennial hierarchies of landed gentry, newly rich bourgeois grandees, the teachers and clergy, the pure and echt common Volk of farmers and housewives, the idle, reminiscing elderly, the burgeoning young. A...
The rhinoceros in the room

The rhinoceros in the room

In one of the most famous duels of elephantine minds, Bertrand Russell would challenge Ludwig Wittgenstein to concede that there was no rhinoceros in the Cambridge room that served as their legendary battleground (in a different version of the story, Russell claimed that the pachyderm to be located was a hippopotamus). The question, under ongoing...
Looking ahead by looking behind

Looking ahead by looking behind

“Where did you go to, if I may ask?” said Thorin to Gandalf as they rode along. “To look ahead,” said he. “And what brought you back in the nick of time?” “Looking behind,” said he. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit   2020 has been without a doubt, and without exception, an unexpected journey to the...
Travels around one's father

Travels around one’s father

Carlo and Renzo Piano’s Atlantis: A Journey in Search of Beauty is an audaciously ambitious, unfailingly beguiling book. It is intimate and deliberately public all at once, vigorously peripatetic and languidly philosophical, a complex offspring of the tradition of ancient travelogues of ignorance and knowledge after the model of Herodotus, Pausanias, Ptolemy, Scylax and Hanno,...