January 13, 2009

Wondrous Indeed is the Virtue of a True Book...

Not like a dead city of stones, yearly crumbling, yearly needing repair; more like a tilled field, but then a spiritual field; like a spiritual tree, let me rather say, it stands from year to year, and from age to age . . . ; and yearly comes its new produce of leaves (Commentaries, Deductions, Philosophical, Political Systems; or were it only Sermons, Pamphlets, Journalistic Essays), every one of which is talismanic and thaumaturgic, for it can persuade men. O thou who art able to write a Book, which once in the two centuries or oftener there is a man gifted to do, envy not him whom they name City-builder, and inexpressibly pity him whom they name Conqueror or City-burner! Thou too art a conqueror and Victor, but of the true sort, namely over the Devil; thou too hast built what will outlast all marble and metal, and be a wonder-bringing City of the Mind, a Temple and Seminary and Prophetic Mount, whereto all kindreds of the Earth will pilgrim.
It always seems nearly futile to comment on Carlyle (this is a bit from the "Centre of Indifference" chapter of Sartor Resartus--technically, the words are those of the fictional Philosopher of Clothes, Diogenes Teuefelsdrockh, which, yes, translates as "God-born Devil s--t"). His prose is at once exhilirating and infuriating; the same can often be said about his ideas (I think it was William Morris who acknowledged his genius but said someone should always have been stationed beside him to punch his head every few minutes). Do you think he would consider much contemporary criticism 'talismanic and thaumaturgic'?

2 comments:

christophervilmar said...

"Thou too hast built what will outlast all marble and metal, and be a wonder-bringing City of the Mind, a Temple and Seminary and Prophetic Mount, whereto all kindreds of the Earth will pilgrim."

I review my fair share of academic books, many of which I think are quite fine books in their own way. I have yet to come across one that would tempt me to quote this sentence in its review.

I'll keep you posted if I do find one this good, but I wouldn't lose any sleep nights waiting.

Amateur Reader said...

"Vanity of vanities, all is vanity", and "of making many books, there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh", I am told by the wise author of "Ecclesiastes".

Does Carlyle \ Teufelsdrockh disagree? There's the great book (the "Book") which is obviously a good thing, but he seem to be anti-Ecclesiastes here. Even the ephemera comes from a "spiritual tree". Talismanic and thaumaturgic are good things, right? It's so hard to know when Carlyle means what he says.