December 23rd, 2011


500 channels and still ain't nuthin' on

'Tis the season for cable TV to do specials on the Nativity stories in the Gospels. In place of the Evangelists Luke and Matthew, we have the Evangelists History Channel and Discovery Channel. Regardless of which channel they appear on, though, the result is the same: more cracked pots than a second-hand china shop. Crazy conspiracy theories, obscure scholars debunking and demythologizing, and an utter disregard for fact-checking typify all these shows. The aim is to sound breathless and moved by the Gospel story, while at the same time making sure the viewers understand that it couldn't possibly be true.

Feeling my way through the labyrinth

I'm re-reading Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose. I had forgotten that it took place during Advent. I remembered the apocalyptic connection, though.

I've read the book twice before, the first time in 1984, and the second not long after. I've learned more since about medieval inquisitors and the ideas and experiences their targets had, and which they had. I've learned more about history in all senses, and I've continued to grow as a thinker, myself. I'm finding it easier this time to read beyond the mere narrative.

At the same time, I find myself viewing Brother William of Baskerville less favorably. I realize that in a historical novel, the protagonist is often made, anachronistically, a modern person in his views in order to bridge the reader into the society of the book's period. Horatio Hornblower is very modern in his sensibilities, for instance, while his friend Bush is not. The hobbits of the Shire are all jolly Edwardians dropped into a milieu where Sigurd Fafnir's-bane would be at home; they bring us in and naturalize us to the atmosphere of Middle-earth. But it seems to me that as I have grown in my ability to really make sense of what all the monks in The Name of the Rose are talking about, I can now see through Brother William. He not only conveys modern attitudes, but modern intellectual prejudices. He seems like some college professors I've had, whose erudition didn't wear well as I grew older and wiser. All Brother William lacks is tenure.