Wednesday 15 July 2015

Tragedy ("when the feeling's gone…" ), Giovanni Aurispa, musty ole books etc...

I often get interested in 'cultural transmission' and 'cultural mediation' because no matter how much energy we devote to interpreting 'texts', we only have those texts because people (for a variety of reasons) made it possible for us to read them and who are themselves part of institutions and fields of thought. So, there is a wonderful book called 'The Past We Share' by E.L.Ranelagh which tries to show the routes of transmission of certain kinds of story-telling from Sanskrit and Arab cultures into the West. This kind of transmission is often below the eyes of scholars because it's 'just story' (as if this story-telling was NOT at the basis of our means to narrate and understand narration). Be that as it may, of much more interest to scholars of so-called high culture has been the cultural transmission of ancient Greek culture to Italy and from there all over Europe and the world.

I don't want to subscribe to the one-great-man theory of history here, but just occasionally you do come across individuals in this process who have a catalytic effect - which is not to say that others wouldn't or couldn't have done the same or similar; nor is it to deny or omit the fact that the wider picture of WHY such people did what they did, and WHY people were interested.

Anyway, preamble over: here's one such individual who, as a result of what he did (much of which can probably be described as plunder) we ended up looking at, for example, 'tragedy' (care of Shakespeare in particular) and how that structuring of the human condition (self-brought-on disaster permeating down through families and society) ends up in e.g. Zola, the Godfather, the Sopranos and, I suppose, ultimately the BeeGees….

Please note, I'm not telling the history of culture here as one in which there is a corridor of writers and scholars handing each other texts down through the centuries, and audiences just buying into this stuff because it's 'good' or 'great' or 'universal'. At each moment in the cultural transmission there have to be social, political and material reasons why a writer or scholar is assembling and reassembling such texts, and why audiences become (or do not become, in the decades of silence) interested in them.

Anyway, like I say, here's one such individual in the social mix I'm talking about: