Saturday, March 17, 2007

I'll probably find I have a lot of random notes on Prague to transcribe soon. A lot are on a kooky idea for a novel, and I may have said enough already about novels I haven't actually gotten to writing. Meanwhile:
I'm enjoying The Coasts of Bohemia by Derek Sayer, not only because he gives a lot of detail on Czech history, but also because I like his ideas about identity, language, and nationhood (they're not congruent, basically). And he says this in the introduction:

From the vantage point of London, or Paris, or New York--or, not so very long ago, Moscow--it is possible to identify history with progress, to ascribe to it providence, directionality, and meaning. It is possible to write modernity in the singular, and to prattle about "the end of history." Such fables are believable precisely so long as the Bohemias of this world are forgotten. Their dislocation is the condition of our coherence. Viewed from Bohemia itself, the modern condition looks somewhat different. It is a chiaroscuro of beauties and terrors, whose colors are invariable more vibrant, and whose depths are much darker, than our anemic narratives of progress are apt to acknowledge. Modernity was never either singular or simple. It was always a "postmodern" polyphony, in which fragile stabilities of location and identity rested on the uncertain vicissitudes of power.

That's very well said, though there's more. And much more significant when you consider it isn't just true of "modernity," but of all cultures and histories: not only do periodic accounts always exclude indigenous peoples, who continue on in the same actual present as the academics and ideologues who consign them to "the past," but for every age, the view of cultural historians remains narrowly focused on the most prestigious voices and views. Who knows what else might have been going on during "the age of Athenian greatness"?
Aside from (kind of) clearing up what all those defenestrations were about, Sayer provides lots of seductive details--as with the Renaissance mural discovered during a renovation project of 1919, depicting
a Talmudic legend in which the youngest of three sons, by refusing to join his brothers in an archery competition in which his father's exhumed corpse is the target, gains the inheritance.
It seems to me that has Lear beat all to hell.

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