The case of the monastic clock and the invention of capitalism.
Fashioning an intellectual life is like unraveling a wooly sweater in reverse where instead of picking at a loose thread or two and witnessing the garment come asunder, one starts with sentence-strands from a few books and knits these together to create from that growing ball of scholarly yarn, a suite of preoccupations and opinions that make up one’s worldview. There was a short period of time when I was in college when I checked this process and was determined not to read and instead get my information exclusively from oral sources and directly from experience. But the world was mute to me and my own thoughts were insufficiently intriguing so I broke down and became a voracious reader once again. There are still direct connections between the books I read in youth and those that are still important to me now – books that led to others in the domino-heap of a reading lifetime.
Several of the strands that set me off along my scholarly way I picked up in volumes at a small local library near my home in Templeogue on the Dublin south side which I visited sometimes daily a teenager. The work of Louis Mumford (1895 –1990) was one such significant discovery. Mumford was one of those writers whose prose, it seems to me, works like Icarus falling back from the skies, their flight through air is so daring, the thrill of what they are attempting is so seductive, and yet the glint of the sun so brilliantly frames them that it is hard to tell if their wings are intact or not – is this, one wonders, flight or falling? One rarely knows. This display is quite unlike the writer who gains the high ground by laborious clambering from foothold to foothold – charting a slow methodical course up the rock-face, and whom we can, if we care to, follow behind and with whom, ultimately, we can share the vista from atop the peak. The former Icarine writers eschew scholarly apparatuses, relying, as they do, upon the spectacle of the sky; the latter writers are replete with footnoted nooks and bibliographic crannies. Icarine writers are especially delightful to the youth, and when I discovered Mumford I knew I had found a writer who would mark me. Read on here