RESEARCH PAPER BY GRAHAME WHITE.........
B A B E L
THE UNFINISHED TOWER.
AN ASSAULT ON HEAVEN.
BUILDING SPECULATION AND THE CONFUSION OF TONGUES AND THE DISPERSAL OF PEOPLES AND TRIBES. ALSO MAKING SENSE OF THE VANITY OF HUMAN ENDEAVOURS AND A PROPOSED REASON FOR LINGUISTIC DISHARMONY.
1. NOT EVEN FOUNDATIONS REMAIN.
In medieval maps and cosmographies, a site was, however tentatively, assigned to the situation of the Garden of Eden, to the resting-place of Noah's Ark... and to sundry other episodes of Old Testament history. Such cartographical exactitude or conjecture continued into the seventeenth century. However, by this time, such clerical controversies had become eclipsed by others, such as the position of the Earth in the solar system, the formation of landmasses, and the proliferation of fauna and flora. The Earth was there, no longer to be revered, or to be read as a three-dimensional text of God's handiwork. It was, for the European powers, a field for exploration and discovery. But above all, for EXPLOITATION. * The Tower of Babel meant something different for the intellectuals and artists of the Renaissance and of the seventeenth century. If the Garden of Eden was a symbol of natural bliss, then the Tower of Babel was, in its own way, the very verso of this. A symbol of technological pride. A vast building project which was predicated upon a vast labour force sharing a common tongue in which complex instructions could be carried out. A building site which, despite the numbers of different tribes involved, occasioned no outbreaks of rivalry, squabbles, works to rule... and so on and so forth. * Acording to the Biblical narrative, King James' version. Genesis, Chapter XI: And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.
2. And it came to pass as they journeyed from the east, that they found a placein the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.
3. And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them throughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar.
4 And they said , Go to, let us build a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven, and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad on the face of the whole earth.
5. And the LORD came down to the city, and the towre, which the children of men builded.
6. And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and thyhave all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.
7. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.
8. So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth; and they left off to build the city.
9. Therefore the name of it is called Babel, becuse the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth; and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.
10. These are the generations of Shem: Shem was an hundred years old, and begat Arphaxad after the floud.
11. And Shem lived after he begat Arphaxad five hundred years, and begat sons and daughters.
12. And Arphaxad lived five and thirty years, and begat Salah. [...]
After this, the Genesis accout enumerates several other inter-related figures with their respective families and tribes. However, although their dispersal is indicated, it is important to note that there are no specific geographical bounds or trade-routes appended to their dispersal. For the Genesis account, there are two factors which are elevated to primary importance: 1. The confusion of tongues: i.e. the multiplication of languages where, before, there had presumably been one common language (or mode of understanding) which allowed for the intercommunication between disparate nations and ethnic groups. 2. The retracing of such dispersals to account for the different linguistic and cultural (and racial) characteristics prevailing across the globe. * At first, such dispersals were considered solely by the writers of classical antiquity. In this context, one may cite the many dispersal of population myths which proliferated in the classical world. * Next, during the Renaissance, and especially with the renewal of interest in linguistic diversity which re-emerged in the latter part of the Renaissance, a new consideration entered the scene. * Briefly stated, during the period c.1450-1600 (i.e. the date at which the rumblings of the Thirty Years' War in Europe imperilled global trade, as all seafaring forces were focused on warfare between nation-states) the chief navigators and explorers-travellers brought back specimens (short-lived) and tales and accounts (of longer duration) which demostrated the diversity and the interconnectios between the products and inhabitants of the ifferent parts of the globe. All of this became assumed under the general rubric of ‘The Great Chain of Being': divinely ordained. And so many traces of the evens (and chronlogy) recorded in the Old Testament.
TWO IMAGES CONSIDERED 1. The Tower of Babel. There are many variants on this theme - many compositions both painted and engraved - dating from the Renaissance. Although there are representative compositions executed both south and north of the Alps, it seems (at least to me, at this stage of my researches; nd also in the lightof the antiquarian researches I am pursuing) that the area north of the Alps produced by far the more memorable images. Thus, to begin with the Babel-motif as treated by Pieter Breugel (1525/30 -1569). Of this, there are at least two version extant. This suggests, in itself, that the subject was a popular one, regularly turned out by his studio production-team. By the sixteenth century, the northern entrepreneurs/navigators were outstripping their Mediterranean counterparts. There are many reasons proposed for this - according to which contemporary and later historical analyses one wishes to pin to one's mast. - To simplify matters somewhat: The Mediterranean was an essentially closed sea. Its shipbuilding, means of navigation (and reasons for voyage) were fundamentally different from those of the seafarers based in northern ports: such as London, Bristol - and more important in this respect, the ports of the Low Countries, such as Rotterdam, Utrecht, and the ports at the outlets of the Rhine. In comparison with the ports of the Mediterrenean, these were newly-founded, thriving ports, whilst those of the Mediterranean were fundamentally entrepots - in other words, vast, complex warehouses in which the products of the exotic orient (herbs, spices, minerals and gems) were stored for consumption in the western parts of Europe. - In this respect, the land=routes to the East were far, far more important than the sea-routes, which required the perilousvoyage around the African continent (unless one trusted one's way across the Egyptian deserts to the Persian gulf and the Red Sea, into the Indian Ocean. Exotic though such journeys may have been, in purely mercantile terms, such enterprises combining land and sea-travel, carried a high factor of insecurity. Moreover, as Fernand Braudel implies in the concluding remarks of his mammoth history of the Mediterranean during the early and high Renaissance periods, much of this potential profit was eaten away by rot, mildew, rats, rews demanding payment who sold the booty they carried at intervening ports in order to feed themselves for the remainder of the voyage home. Moreover, there was always the all too human drive to readily accept the principle of the small profit-margin which accrued as they coast-hopped from haven to haven in order to replenish their foodstocks. What has this digression to do with the frontispiece of Verstegen's Restitution, which is, after all, the primary point of focus of this paper? - This paper: be it flotsam, jetsam, or a crackpot missive in a bobbing, cracked bottle? Perhaps, after all, I am grappling and groping with the bobbing bottle containing the missive. A missive which could be a route to riches. Or merely a jumble of jibberish? What to do in such circumstances? Smash the bottle and see what images and ideas emerge. *
PIETER BREUGEL, THE TOWER OF BABEL, C.1563.
First of all, one should draw attention to the fact that Pieter Breugel seems to have been particularly fascinated by this topic. There are several versions which seem to have come directly from himself and from members of his immediate workshop. The two versions here considered are now hung in Vienna and Rotterdam. The larger version hangs in Vienna; the smaller in Rotterdam. Besides these two examples, there are, apparently, many others emanating either directly or indirectly from the Breugel workshop hanging in galleries, and frequently coming onto the art market. There is - or was; its present location is apparently ‘uncertain' - an example, or studio copy at one time in Brighton Museum and Art Gallery. I remember seeing it hanging there, rather worse for wear and tear, flaking and abraded in portions of the composition, during the 1970s. Its dimensions were, if memory serves me correctly, about 1.3 metres square. However, to turn to the examples under consideration here. What, I think, strikes the viewer first and foremost, is the density of detail within this complex canvas. It is above all a complexity of space and of scale. It plays with the spectators point of view. In fact, would it be going too far to state that in this canvas, Breugel undermines the notion of the ideal position of the spectator in front of the composition. For most compositions presuppose a single, preferred viewpoint: one shared, it is assumed, by painter and his assistants; and also by the spectators. In fact, this presupposition lies at the core of the western tradition of oil painting since the early Renaissance, related, as it is, with the development of perspectival technique. Nonetheless, here, within the early years of experimentation with perspectival space north of the Alps, one finds Breugel almost wifully contravening the principles of perspective. The amount of detail, the conflicts of scale within the composition, make these, both the large and the small versions difficult for the spectator. For the notion of a privileged poit of view, of an ideal position from which to comprehend the composition as a whole, seems to be wilfully transgressed. One approaches and retreats before these compositions., picking ot details, in an attempt to judge - what? I would say: the (imaginary) dimensions of the structure of the Tower of Babel itself. The Gigantic. As the Bible indicates, it was a combination of the presumption, and the intricate linguistic organization which annoyed God. After all, it was via the shared linguistic precision of the builders who, although coming from far places, evidently shared the same or a similar language, which allowed for this collective undertaking. The gigantic is by very definition that which cannot be easily comprehended. In other words: against what template is the gigantic to be judged? Perhaps - bluntly - it is that which defies rationality of comparative size. Perhaps (elaborating upon arguments proposed by Jacques Lacan), the gigantic is that which, somehow or other defies rationality. Here the Lacanian notion of fascination is to be aptly applied. For, summarizing Lacan, fascination per se is that which worries and disturbs the visual faculty of the subject. One looks. One tries to comprehend, that is, to categorize, to place the object or the scene within a particular taxonomy. And yet, the object of fascination somehow or other deply irritates taxonomical principles. One cannot find an adequately reassuring conceptual framework within which to safely pigeonhole the object of fascination. There are no scales of measurement which are adequate to the comprehension of the gigantic. One cannot find a rule of measurement which comfortably fits and rehabilitates the gigantic. Moreover, as the historian of science Alexandre Koyre insisted throughout his studies, it is this concept of precise measurement which, to a large extent, differentiates the scientific paradigm especially from the world of Descartes and Galileo, from scientific praxis after early 20th-century pioneers such as Einstein and Heisenberg. (This argument is taken further, upon an epistemological level, in the works of Paul Feyerabend, most notably.) [continued...]
The fascination of the gigantic simultaneously hypnotizes and disturbs. Discard this text, for it is inadequate. Look, instead, at the meticulous compositions of Breugel's Tower of Babel, 1563. The Tower indeed looms. It looms beyond human comprehension. It defies and irritates, disturbs, the scrutiny of the spectator. There is the Tower. But also - more important : there one also finds something incomprehensible in scale. The scale itself wilfully defies all notions of classical humanist ekphrasis (ekphrasis: a rhetorical device by means of which the reader or listener can imagine - and ‘measure' both as a surveyor, and as in terms of emotional impact). Even seen at a distance, as implied in Breugel's composition, the Tower dwarfs the dimensions of the very sky itself. Imagine this structure which eliminates the concept of the horizon; it obliterates the notion of vanishing point. The structure penetrates not only the atmosphere; it threatens the stratosphere itself. The natural order - that of human scale - is brought into question. (There is something quasi-or proto-Surrealist in this visual concetto; and Breugel's Babel was, indeed included within many of the ‘precursors' of the Surrealist movement, by historians of Surrealism such as Maurice Nadeau and Marcel Jean.) And, perhaps most disturbing of all, when one carefully scrutinizes the details of these related compositions, far from showing a completed building,the work is still in progress. There is no end of the building in sight. In all senses of the statement. Look at the crowds of organized labour; the building-ramps, the cranes. This is STILL a BUILDING SITE. The Tower continues to rise. However, at this point, this section of the text concludes - or is left in suspension, in order to turn attention to the title page of Richard Verstegen's A Restitution of Decayed Intelligence.
* Richard Verstegen, A Restitution of Decayed Intelligence [...]
The engraved title-page.
CLCIK FOR ENLARGEMENT
In preceding paragraphs, Biblical accounts of the erection and incompletion of the Tower of Babel; of the confusion of tongues which God wrought upon those responsible for, and partaking in the building of the Tower. It is of fundamental importance - given the basic thesis of Verstegen's text - to consider the precise moment in the narrative of the Tower of Babel - and of course the text of Genesis - which is shown in this engraving. - For, as stated above, this is an example of the way in which the engraved title-page could function as an EMBLEMATIC SYNOPSIS of the text itself. Unlike the Breugel compositions (One wonders whether Verstegen/Rowlands would have encountered the originals during his sojurn(s) in the Low Countries; again, more research is required for a satisfactory conclusion - or even correct formulation - of this issue.) the title-page illustrates the DEPARTURE FROM THE TOWER OF BABEL. Far from dominating the foreground as it does is the Breugel compositions, in the engraved title-page of Verstegen's work, the Tower is in the middle-distance (one might even say the background) of the composition. - Briefly, instead of being contructed, here the Tower of Babel has already entered a different historical epoch. It is already distant. It has been abandoned. Situated in the remote distance in the engraving, the veiwer and reader is led to surmise that these people in the foreground, these tribes and races going their separate ways, have already FORGOTTEN the Tower of Babel. And this, in turn, is symbolic and symptomatic of their current LACK of shared, common language, beliefs, and ways of life. Moreover, the Tower (it could be said; and the Bible certainly implies) constituted an early attempt at large-scale, complex urban-metropolitan (cosmopolitan?) living. The Tower-City dwarfs and dominates the rural countryside surrounding it. However, whereas Breugel includes idyllic landscape-elements of cultivation in his versions of this topic, in the engraved title-page to Verstegen's text, the landscape is emphatically different. Closely scrutinize the terrain across which the groups and tribes apparently aimlessly wander in search of an ‘elsewhere'. -It is, fundamentally, a featureless deserted wasteland. It is devoid of any flora or fauna - or, indeed, of any landmarks or geographical or geological configurations of any kind whatsoever. There is, apparently, absolutely no means of human sustenance in this terrain. No water; no food. Thus, a formerly highly-organized cross-section of humanity working within the harmony of a SHARED LANGUAGE are in this engraving shown in a nomadic - or even sub-nomadic - state. - Sub-nomadic, inasmuch as they do not even carry the most rudimentary of rations or provisions with them, to sustain them until they are able to set up camp and re-establish a settlement of the most basic kind. What is to be decoded or deduced from this image? (For engraved title-pages are seldom entirely gratuitous or merely decorative. Especially during the sixteenth- and seventeenth centuries the engraved title-page, or frontispiece was intended to be closely scrutinized: to be read in a specific manner. (Much work has been devoted to the functions of the frontispiece and the engraved title-page during the past 20 years, in journals such as The Library and Print Quarterly especially.) Evidently the engraved title-page and Verstegen's text are closely entwined. One could postulate (I believe) that the engraved title-page in a way encapsulates and summarizes Verstegen's/Rowlands' concept or notion of historical development. How to formulate this? As a preliminary to this, one must bear in mind the character of God as manifest in the Old Testament - and perhaps most emphatically of all, within the early pages of the Book of Genesis. The God of Genesis seems to come across the pages of the King James Bible (and indeed, in other versions) as a deity who demanded utter, total obedience from his subjects. Any transgression was followed by ruthless divine retribution, beginning with the expulsion from the Garden of Eden. (And indeed, many sixteenth- and seventeenth-century divines were of the opinion that the Fall of Man took place within 24 hours of the creation of Adam and Eve.) Moreover, for the early antiquaries, the Bible was regarded as a document of historical veracity. The only difference between, say, the Magna Carta and the Old Testament was that the former was of human contrivance; the latter a sccriptive trace of divinity - of Divine Inspiration: instead of words, the Word itself spoke via the text of the Bible. * The comparison of Breugel's visionary compositions of the Tower of Babel with that forming the engraved title-page of Verstegen's A Restitution of Decayed Intelligence is undoubtedly but a small part (a fractured fragment) of a much more intricate jigsaw-puzzle of Tudor and Jacobean intellectual history in Britain. The analysis of the complex warp and weft of this cultural-textual fabric would be the subject of a lenghty, time-consuming study in its own right. - Indeed, many lengthy papers and monographs have been devoted olely to the imagery and historiography of the erection and construction of the Tower of Babel. In following paragraphs I will be doing little more than skating over other texts of the Tudor and Jacobean period which include accounts and interpretations of the erection and abandonment/destruction of the Tower of Babel. (For indeed, even after a close reading of the Bible, the final fate of the Tower of Babel remains problematical, inasmuch as there is no categorical account given of the actual destruction of the Tower of Babel.) Thus, the following sections are by no means intended to be the results of in-depth research. Rather, they are first and foremost intended merely as comparative excrpts from other texts of this period which refer to the Towerof Babel, and the ways in which the respective writers considered the topic and its possible historical and intellectual-linguistic ramifications. * CONTINUED BELOW OTHER TUDOR AND JACOBEAN ACCOUNTS OF BABEL. In this section, the first text to be consulted/considered is: Johan Carion The thre bokes ofCronicles whyche John Carion gathered wyth great diligence of the beste Authours that have Writhen in Hebrue, Greke or Latine. London, 1550. John Carion's text is situated in many ways at the watershed of historiographical writing. The chronicle per se was very much a medieval mode of writing history; and, whilst much has been written concerning the intellectual - and social - ramifications of the ‘chronicle' as a specific mode of recording historical events, the following, brief comments may be noted as an introduction to this type of historical writing. First and foremost, the chronicle was intended as a year-by-year account of the chief events of the world - namely, Europe. Conceptions of causality, of class structure, of the economic forces which largely determined wars and conflicts between nations and states were in general overlooked, because the chronicle, and ‘history' tout court was conceived by and large as being an emanation of a Divine pattern shaping the destinies of rulers and nations. These foregoing remarks beg many questions. However, suffice it to say in the present context, that for the compilers of chronicles, the pattern par excellence was taken from the Old Testament: in particular, so it would sem, aptly, from the Book of Kings and the mode of history therein presented. Nonetheless, Carion attempts an amalgamation of Biblical-medieval exegesis with more Humanist concepts of history and progress which owe much to the writings and indirect influence of thinkers such as Erasmus and Martin Luther in particular. In the process, in northern Europe, the chronicle tended to assume either directly or indirectly an anti-Romanist, anti-Papal ideological stance. * Carion's account of Babel is discussed briefly in the paragraphs following. [ As a preliminary note, it should be mentioned that, as with most of the late medieval and early Renaissance chroniclers, Carion divides his world history according to ‘Monarchies'. By this, is meant the particular regional and cultural hegemonies which tended to dominate Eurasia from the Creation until his own time. ...It is to be understood, I apologize, that this note is NOT intended as an exhaustive definition or conideration of the various historiographical ramifications of the ‘Monarchies', but merely as a sufficient elision of a topic in the present context of considering the motif of the Tower of Babel.]
Of the Tower of Babel.
After the floude whan mankynd was now encreased, theTower of Babel, and the citie of Babilon was begon to be buylded by the Chaldees, that they might begyn a kyngdome ther, and subdue to them other nations or people. But thys enterpryse hath God overthrowen: For whan they all used before one language , it befell that after the commune speche was chaunged, they spake one one maner of language, another another, so that they understode not eche other. Wherefore there was a division of speches, and the work itself was left unperfect. The posteritie of Noe than was strowed here and ther in the world, the which the fygure folowynge shall declare. Sem the eldest sonne of Noe, of whose kynred is Christe, hath wyth hys children possessed that parte of Siria, whiche is towarde the Easte, For of Aram hys sonne, came the Syrians: of Assur, came the Assyrians: of Arphaxad, came the Chaldeis: of Elam are the Persyans spronge. Cham the seconde sonne of Noe, hath optayned that countrye, whyche goeth towarde the South. Of Canaan, are come the Chananeis: of Mizraim, came the Egyptyans: of Chus, came the Ethiopians: of Saba, came the Arabians. Japhet the jongest sonne of Noe went to the North and West, and this is the father of us all, and therefore his name founde by the Poetes, whych have called him Japetus. Of his sonne Jauan or Jaon are the Grekes, wiche are called Jones: for they be the first Grekes. And the voice Jauan or Jaon, is no doute the same, whom the Latines do call Janus. They usedto paynte him with a double vysage, before and behinde, because that of hym be spronge both the nations, the Grekes and the Latines: and as oft as they would begynne any thinge, they worshipped him wyth a syngulare honour, by the whyche they wytnessed they counted Jaon their father. Jaons sonne was called Cethim, of whom are called the Macedones, and thys confyrmeth the firste boke of the Machabees and the worde Machetim sygnifyeth in Hebrue of Cethim, of the whiche is spronge the worde Macedo. For Stephanus the expounder of Greke wordes, wryteth that the auncient dyd saye Macetis. Jaon had manye chyldren,Elisa and Dodanim, of the whiche have their beginninge of the Aeoles or Hellas and the Dodoneies: all these are the first of the Grekes. Of Tarsis Jaons sonne, is Tharsus in Cilicia called. Japhet had other chylderen also, Gomer, Magog, Tyras and Mesech. Of Gomer are the Cimerii or Cymbry as witnesseth Eusebius. Of Ascanes Gomers sonne came the Tuiscones, that of the Germanes. Of Magog are spronge the Scythe, and of them are begonne the Turkes. Of Thyras come the Thraces. I have brefelye shewed what part of the world eche of Noe's chylderen hath possessed, the which doeth greately avayle better to understande many hystoryes. [...] [ Johan Carion, The Thre Bokes of Cronicles [...] fols. iiii - v. Bound in 5's; square 4to.] [A further point which I wish to discuss in the course of this work in progress is that of the origins of the British race. This first comes to the fore, it sems, in the Tudor period, inasmuch as the House of Tudor were of Welsh extraction. Thus, in a way it was (in)directly by ‘underhand' techniques that, following the English Wars of the Roses - of the Houses of York and of Lancaster - there came, almost by default, a sovereign of Welsh extraction occupying the throne of England - namely Henry Tudor, Henry VII. This was a problem of great historiographical diplomacy. It was a topic which was only opened to discussion with the death of Queen Elizabeth I, after which Sir Francis Bacon's study of the life of Henry VII - which had evidently lain in manuscript form for some time, published eventually during the reign of King James I.] This foregoing, bracketed, parenthesis, is related to the theme of the Tower of Babel, and the subsequent dispersal of the tribes involved to the corners of the known world, inasmuch as via this dispersal, the Britishness of the British - their pedigree, which had to be of Biblical origin - was (tenuously, even by the standards of the Tudor and Jacobean antiquaries) established. Despite these misgivings, it is important to note that, even though Carion's arguent is (in true antiquarian fashion, as Dr Graham Parry would state, in his The Trophies of Time) based upon conjecture. - And, moreover, the subtleties of ‘conjecture' within antiquarian argument were during the Tudor and seventeenth-century periods, were of the greatest necessity, in understanding and filling-in the temporal ‘gaps' presented in Biblicallly-based chronologies. Thus, on had to, perforce, ‘invent' or elaborate upon the flimsy threads of passing remarks in other chronicle, and also acknowledge and upgrade the importance of oral traditions. - And, as a coda to this particular paragraph, what better example from British history than the accumulation of legends, and the location of sites putatively asociated with the Court of King Arthur. Whether one located ‘Camelot' or ‘Camlann' on a Cornish peninsula -namely Tintagel Head on the north Cornish coast; whether at Cadbury Castle, Somerset (a complex earthwork, now identified of being constructed - like Tintagel Castle - at a baffling series of historical dates) or within the mountainous, impenetrable depths of the central Welsh mountains... ...Despite the uncertainty of location, and the strangely-inscribed tomb-slabs from places as remote from each other as Glastonbury and Lewes... ...Despite the misgivings and confusions of the early antiquaries at the phenomenon of one body of one putative monarch - namely King Arthur - being buied in sundry places, far from the material being dismissed out of hand as so much wrong-headed confusion (if not downright exploitation of the gullible, in the sale of dubious relics, such as chips of stone from the tombs, and odd bits and pieces of bones, animal and human - carefully wrapped in muslin so they could not be examined by these pilgims of Arthur without the relics perishing rapidly at exposure to the air...) ...Despite these proliferations - each of which cast suspicion on others from the same site, or from competing sites, rather from leading to a widesprad collapse of the Arthurian ‘myth' or a popular condemnation of his ‘cult', the status of the RELIC - be it of King or saint - operated in a fundamentally different manner than does modern colection, with its emphasis upon the concept/guarantee of AUTHENTICITY. * Why brIng in King Arthur (or indeed, the chests of dubious relics which every monastic house of prestige throughout England and Europe possessed - and in some cases still do, albeit mainly for the ornate craftmanship of the reliquaries - those jewelled boxes mde of rare woods and precious and semi-precious metals in which the rags and bones were enclosed as a mark of honour as much - or more - a combination of preseration and REVERENCE? Upon a specifically pecuniary-fiscal level, these dubious rag-and-bone relics in their marvellously constructed reliquaries, brought in money. After all, the visitors and the curious were charged for the sight of such relics; and charged more if they wished to touch them for therapeutic purposes - relics were related to the working of miraculous cures which the surgeons and quacks of the period had miserably failed to ameliorate. The monasteries were probably the first establishments to cash in on the notion of the souvenir. Be it a small particle of dust from the interior of the reliquary; a certificate that the pilgrim had visited the particular shrine; a cutting from a shrub (most notably the Glastonbury Rose) which had been planted in organic matter which had derived from an object of veneration .(The Glastonbury Rose is associated - still - with Joseph of Arimathea, the person who had supposedly founded the Abbey of Glastonbury, as one of the first built outposts of Christianity in England). [CONTINUED OVERLEAF...] A FURTHER INSTANCE OF LINGUISTIC CONFUSION. THE PRIMARY SCENE OF LANGUAGE, OF LINGUISTIC HARMONY BETWEEN MAN AND BEAST. LANGUAGE AS A FORCEFUL TECHNIQUE OF SUBTLE PERSUASION LEADING TO THE EXPULSION FROM PARADISE AND AS A FACTOR IN THE DIVISION OF THE HUMAN AND ANIMAL REALMS. The relationship of such legends with the motif of the Tower of Babel, and the confusion of languages and the dispersal of those groups and tribes who understood each other across Europe may be tentatively expressed as follows: Babel was - in the Biblical and the antiquarian understanding of the medieval and early modern periods - associated with three inextricable elements, which may be (tentatively) listed as follows, in no specific order of priority: 1. A linguistic idyllic stage of world history under divine watchfulness, of the quasi-panopticon SURVEILLANCE of God Himself, who was everywhere, and SAW everything - and of course understood the consequences of the events and the infringements thus observed. [Perhaps, in another text, written elsewhere, a variant of this text dwells upon the palindromic mirror-relationship of the concepts WAS / SAW. - For the building-blocks of the Tower of Babel are in their own way, metonymical correpondences for the building-blocks of a global language: a language which can be understood by all. And, of equal importance, it is implied in the Biblical account, can COMMUNICATE ALL to anyone, with no intrusion of ambiguity. - The confusion of languages and the scattering of humanity after the visitation of God's wrath on the inhabitants/builders of Babel, is the second linguistic fall recorded in the opening Chapters of the Book of Genesis. The first was, of course, that of the Fall of Man himself, and the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. For, the most important linguistic aspect of the Garden of Eden was, as the text of Genesis intimates, and as later divines and philosophers who considered language emphasized: until the moment of the detection of the Fall - until the acceptance of the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge - Adam and Eve not only lived in harmony with nature in all its manifestations; of more importance, they UNDERSTOOD THE LANGUAGE OF THE ANIMALS, having named them. Thus, before the Fall, it is to be assumed (albeit upon the level of theological speculation and ratiocination) Adam and Eve, and all the animal inhabitants of Eden could freely CONVERSE WITH EACH OTHER. In fact, the Fall itself is predicated upon this linguistic community and commonality of the animal and human worlds. For otherwise, how could the Fall have taken place? Here follows a close reading of perhaps the most important, small fragment of this text: Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord GOD had made: and he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said , Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die. For God doth know, that in the day you eat thereof, your eyes shall be opened: and ye shall be as gods, knowing good from evil. [...} [Genesis, Chapter III. 1-5.] * The Garden of Eden and the Tower of Babel may be remote from each other, both geographically and temporally/chronologically. Nonetheless, there are (I think) certain points of contact (parallel narratives and metaphorical-metonymical correspondence) linking the two episodes. These points of contact are, I propose, to be read in the context of the writings of Claude Levi-Strauss and, more directly at this point, of the work of Sir Edmund Leach. Sir Edmund Leach - to some extent taking his cue from Levi-Strauss, his fellow anthropologist and close friend - in his lectures on themes from the Old Testament, makes the following point. Namely, that there is a recurrent theme in structural analysis of these texts and episodes, between the vertical and the horizontal. Applying the insights provided by Levi-Strauss and Leach, perhaps the following conjecture is worthy of consideration. Even if it is only to be consigned to the litter bin following further discussion. Both noted a structural opposition between the vertical and the horizontal within myth - especially creation myths. Thus, Eve reaches upwards to seize upon the fruit which has been placed at an inconvenient height , out of easy reach. Evidently this positioning was part of the divine scheme, reinforcing spatially the dictum that the fruit was, precisely, forbidden. The realm of the empyrean was, it is to be assumed in this context, out of bounds; intentionally placed beyond the easy grasp of attainability of the human touch. The higher an object was placed, the closer it was to the realm of the Divine - be it in the Graeco-Roman system of thought, or of that of Hebraic doctrine. Likewise (similar to the forbidden fruit) the height attained by the Tower of Babel is construed by God as a contravention of his rules; a contravention or transgression of the ample bounds which he had granted to humanity. God seldom intervenes DIRECTLY in the battles for terrestrial space, the tribal battles and frictions which occupy so much of the narratives of the Old Testament. Intervention from God in a direct manner occurs only when terrestrial conquest entails the incorporation of beliefs, doctrines, and imagery which are deemed as a threat to Hebraic monotheism. This indeed, is the very basis of Judeo-Mosaic doctrine, as Sigmund Freud emphasized at several crucial moments of his work, culminating in the densely-written text of his masterpiece of his closing years, Moses and Monotheism. *
THE RENAISSANCE DEMOGRAPHIC REVOLUTION. THE URBAN EXPLOSION. METAPHORS AND METONYMIES FOR BABEL?
Why did the Renaissance occur at this specific historical moment? And why are Renaissance concerns manifested in specific areas with a peculiar intensity? It was this interlinking of problems which catalysed the first truly historiographical investigations into the phenomenon which we now in common parlance, readily understood and generally unquestioned outside of university departments of history. The pioneer of such studies - some would say, the founder of cultural history as such - was Jacob Burckhardt (1818-1897). Burckhardt was a German. Not only an historian, but, it could be argued, a philosopher who used history, who practised history in a new way, thus becoming the founding-figure of cultural history. Nevertheless, Burckhardt's overwhelming interest in the Renaissance - it is to be noted the Italian Renaissance; he wrote comparatively little concerning the specificities of the northern Renaissance, despite the indubitable achievements of the German states and principalities in all aspects of cultural endeavour: painting, printmaking, printing with moveable type, architecture and civil engineering. Peter Burke has been evaluating and re-evaluating Burckhardt's work in the course of his own researches into aspects of Renaissance culture, and how it has been a bone of contention in historiographical circles, thus forming one of the cornerstones of modern historical methodologies. He draws attention to the pervasive influence of Hegelian philosophy in Burckhardt's work. However, there is another - equally important weave of threads which determine Burckhardt's work. Threads, strands, in which again the leitmotif of Babel is to be detected. The Renaissance in Italy was first published in 1860. At this period, the German Empire itself could be seen as representing a Babel-state. The industrial revolution spread and proceeded at a far more intensified rate than that of its nearest rival, Great Britain. The pressures of the industrial revolution were felt more keenly at this period in German history, than it was in England at this period, c.1860. In England, the seeds of the industrial revolution have been traced back to the period c.1690-1700 - precisely the period in which the experimental philosophy inaugurated by Sir Francis Bacon and later developed by the Royal Society were put to APPLIED USE rather than being confined to experimental demonstrations performed within the confines of the theatre of the Royal Society itself, and its core circle of rich dilettantes and cognoscenti; many of whom had their own laboratories in which to while away idle hours in their spacious country house estates. One associates the High Victorian period most readily with the figure and fictions of Charles Dickens. However, Dickens was an indefatigable champion of social reform. One thinks of the Dickensian city in terms, not of fine municipal buildings such as town and city halls, libraries, and so on. Rather, it is the muck and the confusion of the Victorian city which sticks in the mind of the non-specialist reader of Dickens. The Victorian city was a series of warrens, of enclosed courtyards immediately adjacent to factories; where additional storeys were added in a haphazard fashion. Here one finds the first examples of high-rise, intensive housing, where people in the same block or tenement spoke a variety of languages and dialects which they had brought with them from their villages of origin. It was not only the inhabitants of the small rural villages and market towns of provincial England - each with its own dialect - who were packed into these densely-packed tenements, or ‘roosts' as they were termed in common parlance. London, Leeds, Manchester and Bristol already had sizeable immigrant communities, mainly refugees from Europe (and of Jewish stock) by the yea of the Great Exhibition - 1851 - as Asa Briggs emphasized from the mid-1950s onwards. Nonetheless, compared with the growth of industrial urbanization and squalour in England, the country was dwarfed by the problems prevalent in Burckhardt's Germany. There were certainly many more immigrant workers flocking into the industrial cities of Germany than was the corresponding case in England. The German city in the year 1860 prsented many characteristics of a revival of Babel on a far more vicious scale. Of course, as Lewis Mumford in The City in History (1961) argued, from the late medieval and Renaissance periods, European cities had, of necessity, been fundamentally POLYGLOT amalgamations. Whereas the English Channel acted as a barrier to intermingling of linguistic groups, the great rivers of Europe, such as the Rhone, the Rhine, the Seine and the Danube acted as marine superhighways of products, people, information and languages. This in turn led to another manfestaton of a species of Babel to be briefly considered in the following paragraphs. The mercantile boom of the Renaissance depended upon the shipping of raw, finished, basic and exotic goods. Trade, as such, had become the mainstay of European economies, sweeping away much of the local, provincial processes of exchange which had shaped the economic landscape of the medieval period. Such economics of exchange had been based fundamentally upon agricultural produce. Except for the major seasonal trade fairs, such trade involved the exchange of commodities rather than money. At such markets, usually at the most, a day's journey or voyage away, food and other household necessities were the most usual objects in the bartering process. Language seldom proved to be a problem, considering the small distances travelled by the attendants at these weekly or seasonal markets. Indeed, despite the lapse of some 200 years separating Boccaccio's Decameron and Rabelais' Gargantua and Pantagruel, both collections of tales are predicated upon a commonality of language. There was little opportunity for linguistic confusion, as the participants either spoke the same language, or shared what might be termed a grammar, vocabularly and makeshift syntax of adequacy. Along with the scales for the measurement of money, the scales of the vocal enunciation made these transactions relatively easy - especially within an atmosphere of familiarity, often established between families over three or four generations (often including intermarriage, an admixture of ‘love' and of economic allegiance). The linguistic exchanges, as the mercantile exchanges, were cemented by relationships of kinship. Kinship: here again, one returns to the essential motif of Babel and the subsequent dispersal; a disperal and sifting of tribal groupings based upon a commonly shared language. Or upon an interchange of dialects which, despite differences of syntax and divergences of vocabulary were, above all, ADEQUATE. However, at this point, so much for the consideration of the exchanges of differences and the establishments of an adequate means of linguistic exchange which intrigued the mercantile classes and philosophers of the Renaissance. In this respect, the symbol of Babel indicated the overcoming of linguistic and economic transactions. Now to consider the Tower of Babel, and its recurrence as a Renaissance and seventeenth-century motif of building-technology: of a new consideration of the structures and functions of the city itself. A question of innovations in BUILDING TECHNOLOGY.
VERSTEGEN'S BABEL FRONTISPIECE COMPARED WITH BREUGEL'S VERSIONS OF BABEL.
As reiterated above at many points in the course of the argument, the engraved title-page of Verstegen's volume shows the Tower of Babel during the period in which it was being abandoned. It is shown as an historical relic: once, a powerful entity and potent symbol. At the moment depicted, reduced to a mere antiquarian curiosity of an apparently REDUNDANT MAGNITUDE. Now to turn attention to Breugel's Babel - and what real or imaginary function such an enterprise played in Breugel's own position as a painter - thus as a man of business, operating a studio, involved in mercantile transactions with people from various provinces and countries speaking their own respective dialects: some easily understood by the artst and his apprentices and assistants; others foreign. However, as a businessman, selling his wares, such linguistic impedimenta were not, nay, COULD NOT, be considered insurmountable. Otherwise, how to conduct the transaction? For, at this point (as indicated above), Babel as a motif includes not only linguistic, but also fiscal transaction; a transaction - and a conjunction of transactions in whichthe establishment of a complex metropolitan environment is involved. Yet, the closer one scrutinizes the Breugel variations on the theme of Babel, the spectator becomes acuely aware that, for Breugel, the very function of Babel as an urban complexity or city has fundamentally changed from the account provided in the Bible; and also as utilized by Verstegen as an emblem indicative of his own arguments. * Whereas Verstegen's Tower has been abandoned, that of Breugel shows variants on the fundamental theme of OPULENCE. OPULENCE, moreover, upon an Utopian-fantastic scale. (The usage of the adjectie ‘Utopian' in the preceding sentence is by no means fortuitous. For it is to be borne in mind that the author of UTOPIA, Sir Thomas More, had his book first published in Latin, at Louvain, near the major ports and trading centres of the Low Countries, in 1516. Moreover, emphasizing the closely knit brotherhood of northern humanist writers at this time, the printing and publishing was closely overseen by another writer of immense learning and influence - namely, Erasmus. And, Erasmus, like Sir Thomas More, was deeply interested in the promotion of improved systems of knowledge, dissemination, learning, town planning, health and hygeine - AS WELL AS INVESTIGATING THE NATURE OF LANGUAGES, THEIR DISSEMINATION, DIFFERENCES AND SIMILARITIES. ...The problems and the conjectures of what constituted the Ideal City form one of the major leitmotifs of Renaisance culture, be it in literature, painting [See Hubert Damisch, The Origin of Perspective (translated by John Goodman), MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.A., 1995, for an intriguing, erudite consideration study of the connections between perspective-experiments, real and imaginary townscapes and the notions of utopian space, with its derivations from the texts of Vitruvius particularly, during the High Renaissance period, both initially in Italy, and later within Northern European painting of this period.] * Pieter Breugel the Elder's version of The Tower of Babel, 1563, in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, is described, analysed and commented upon in the following terms by Rose-Marie and Rainer Hagen. Although they do not claim to be presenting any innovatory scholarship concerning this composition, their meticulous scrutiny of this painting deserves to be quoted in full. Indeed, their text presents an easily-read yet comprehensive survey of the painting. And what better mode of approach to adopt - given that this is a painting of a building under construction, than to approach it as a survey... that is to say, as a text written by a partnership of erstwhile ‘surveyors'. - A survey, indeed, in which the sight of the painting is treated in many respects as the site of a building (imaginary, yet plausible, despite its implicit giganticism of scale). Their commentary (or surveyors' report?) reads as follows: The unfinished tower warns against arrogance before God. Breugel set the biblical scene against a contemporary background. For many years, the artist had ived in Antwerp, the new financial capital of Europe. The city was experiencing a building boom. The painting (114 x 155 cm), a testimony to the fears that accompany modernization, is in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. The Old Testament Book of Genesis describes how God created the earth, the animals, the plants and eventually also man. It is a story of disobedience and punishment, revolt and suppression. God punishes man three times. The first punishment is the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise after they have eaten from the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil. They lose eternal life in a world without work or need. But God is also unhappy with the behaviour of their children and children's children. [...] [After providing a synopsis of the intervening plights and punishments endure by man in Genesis, the authors engage directly with the act and implicit symbolism of the building of the Tower itself:] Now, building a tower as a means of self-orientation and as a symbol of community was one thing; building one that reached into heaven was quite another. It was not the sort of challenge could easily put up with! Instead of killing them, he took from them their common language. They could no longer understand one another's speech and were scattered all over the earth. Their city and their tower remained unfinished. The name of the city was Babel, like the Hebrew word “balal”, meaning, “to confound”. Two paintings of the Tower of Babel by Pieter Breugel the Elder have aurvived, while a third, a small one on ivory, is lost. The theme must have interested him greatly. There are no records to tell us what led the painter to this subject, but life in the town where he worked for at least a decade must have constantly reminded him of Babel. The town was Antwerp: few other cities were forced to accommodate such an inflow of people and so gigantic a building boom in such a short period of time. There were only two or three cities with over 100,000 people in 16th-century Europe; Antwerp became one of them. The Italian Ludovico Guicciardini ‘s descriptionof Antwerp in 1566 contains the following comment: “Today there are already about thirteen thousand, five hundred houses in Antwerp.” If building work continued unabated, Antwerp would soon be considered “one of the most crowded towns in Europe”. The main reason for the boom [...] was the reorientation of world trade fllowing the discovery of sea-routes around the Cape to Asia and across the Atlantic to America. A a result, Venice and Genoa lost their leading positions, while ports on the west coast of Europe gained in significance. [...] Foreign trade naturally brought a great babel of languages to Antwerp. [...] There were Italians, French and English merchants, traders from the Hansa towns, and, most numerous of all, the Portuguese. In 1570, the Portuguese community included 102 households. Foreigners were enticed to Antwerp with various privileges, but they were also treated with suspicion by the town's inhabitants. Though hardly very many in percentage terms, they were conspicuous: they spoke different languages, wore different clothes, had different customs. The majority of people at the time lived in small towns with stable populations, in which everybody knew everybody else. A town growin as fast as Antwerp, with new faces coming in all the time, was unusual enough, and an influx of people who also spoke different languages must have added to the confusion. The population of Antwerp probably experienced something similar to the inhabitants of Babel: a growing, tightly-knit family of man disintegrating into separate groups. [Moreover, this population explosion was accompanied by the religious fragmentation of Antwerp into contending sects. Thus, for different sects of Christians, the Bible represented different meanings. Yet another common consensus of meaning, of social interaction was in a state of disintegration: even the Word itself was subject to creeping confusion.] [There is a duality of purpose in Breugel's positioning of the Tower of Babel on the coast, with an ample harbour. For, having no suitable quarries of building-materials in the immediate vicinity of Antwerp (‘Babel'], construction materials had to be transported by water. This was by no means a peculaiarity of Antwerp. It beset building projects of all kinds: from the country house or small lodge, to the new town . In all cases, the primary consideration was the proximity of suitable building-materials to be quarried. Moreover, given the state of overland routes, the state of the roads, and the relatively deficient technical capacities of all means of land transportation, as the framework of all such vehicles was primarily wood, until well into the 19th century. Indeed, transportation accounted for the major expense in all aspects of building. And, moreover, the time involved in such lumbering of materials greatly extended the length of time involved in the building of even the most basic construction; and construction, as well as transport, was very much a seasonal activity, usually confined to the period between late spring - when the land had dried out sufficiently - until the onset of the autumn rains. For an excellent account of English Tudor and Stuart building practices, see Malcolm Airs, The Tudor & Jacobean Country House: A Building History, Alan Sutton, Stroud, 1998.] [Continuing the text of Rose-Marie and Rainer Hagen:] Breugel has painted an enormous crane on one of the ledges of the tower. There are three men on the tread-wheel attached to the near side of the crane, and pesumably three others in the drum at the far side. This enabled the builders to lift weights many times heavier than themselves. In this case, they are lifting a stone that has already been cut to shape.. A man on a balcony is trying with a rope to prevent the tone from banging against a buttress. A crane of this type is said to have stood in the market-place at Antwerp to help with the handling of goods. On the ledge below it, Breugel shows a different, smaller kind of treadwheel crane; he also painted several winches. His technical drawing was very precise; perhaps this explains why he was commissioned to depict the building of the Antwerp-Brussels canal. His death in 1569 prevented him from executing this work. Transport of materials on the building site ws done by low-paid labourers. The stonemasons came at the top of the hierarchy of building workers; Breugel paints them at work in the foreground, cutting stones to size. Usually, this was not done on the site itself, but at the quarry. Long-distance transport was expensive; superfluous stone meant higher freight costs. At the same time, it was cheaper to carry materials by boat than to have them transported overland on an ox-drawn cart, Breugel's decision to show building work in progress by the sea is not, therefore, merely reminiscent of the position of Antwerp as a coastal town, it is also a correct observation of economic reality. Scaffolding on high buildings presented a particular problem. Only wood could be used. The wooden bars and planks were bound together , but they could not be made as high as the wall of a cathedral. The masons therefore had to attach the scffolding to the wall as they built it. Breugel has avoided this problem by painting his imaginary tower with ledges which served as ground-level supports for work on superior levels. His arrangement of the inner passageways, arches and steps is vaguely reminiscent of the Colosseum and Castel Sant'Angelo at Rome, sites which Breugel had in fact visited. On the ledges spiralling to the top of the building are a number of huts. This is also concordant with contemporary building practice: each guild had its own hut, or lodge, built as close as possible to the building site. Here the builders took meals and kept their tools. The lodge was also the masons' winter workshop. These huts were often surrounded with a great aura of mystery, an aura later transferred to the lodges of the freemasons. [This I find questionable.] In fact, there was nothing more mysterious about them than the specialized knowledge of the master builders who convened there. There were no textbooks in those days, no written instructions; building kowledge was transmitted orally from one generation to the next. As far as we know, the mathematics of statistics was still in its infancy. The enormous cathedrals of the day were built not on the basis of cleverly worked out calculations, but on tradition and experience.
It is said that the order to build the Tower of Babel was given by King Nimrod, a grandson of Noah and the first mighty ruler in the post-diluvian history of mankind. Breugel depicts him here with sceptre and crown, and the masons before him on bended knee. At least one of the masons has gone down on both knees, an unusual form of reverence in 16th-century Europe, at least outside the Church. Of course, anyone who wished to present something to Charles V or Philip II, the Spanish Emperors, was required to kneel., but only on one knee. Here, Breugel presents an Oriental custom. Archaeologists have proved that the story of Nimrod's tower is based on a real precedent in ancient Sumerian culture, whose civilization reached its zenith in the 4th and 3rd centuries B.C. [...] So that the gods would be more inclined to descend from the heavens to the plains, the Sumerians built mountain-like temples for them. The tower was essentially a later development of the high temple. Alternatively, it has been suggested that the Sumerians thought the home of the gods was a mountain between heaven and earth; their tall temples were therefore imitations of the heavenly mountain, and were built in praise of the gods. [...] [...] Every town is thought to have had its own [tower]. Babylon - or Babel, as it was called in Hebrew, presumably had the greatest of all . Archaeologists discovered its foundations at the beginning of the twentieth century. It was square, and had sides that were 91 metres long. According to ancient scrolls, ithad seven floors, each one smaller than the one below it, and was about 90 metres high. Herodotus saw the tower (or rather, a later version of it) in 458 B.C. However, it was already a ruin when Alexander the Great visited Babylon some 130 years later. [...] [...] The oldest surviving illutrations of the Tower of Babel emphasize that the wrath of God was directed against the hubris of those who dared to think in such dimensions. God is shown destroying the tower - an event that is not described in the Bible - or scattering its builders over the face of the earth. [...] Painting the Tower of Babel became little short of a fashion in the 16th and 17th centuries. This was not merely due to the obvious parallel of Antwerp's rise to international fame, or to the spectacle of Christendom divided by the Reformation; it was also the attraction of painting imaginary architecture in realistic detail, depicting famous biblical edifices as if they were really situated in western Europe; in a Netherlandish port, for example. Realism of this kind was a comparatively new phenomenon and contrasted sharply with the previously dominant Christian world-view.
[...] [From Rose-Marie & Rainer Hagen, 16th Century Paintings, Taschen, Cologne, 2001, p.108ff.]
To briefly conclude this section, the fundamental difference between the depiction of the Tower of Babel is (other than that of medium: engraved title-page versus oil painting; and, of course, scale) is that of the moment illustrated. For in this instance of comparison, it is the moment which of fundamental importance. Verstegen's engraved title-page depicts the Tower of Babel already ABANDONED. The various groups and tribes responsible for collaboration in its construction already dispersed. And the Tower of Babel itself evidently already abandoned and forgotten by its builders/inhabitants. *
BABEL AND THE TUDOR AND STUART HISTORIOGRAPHERS & ANTIQUARIES.
The Tower of Babel's historical importance (and even veracity, even despite the account provided in the Old Testament) seems to have been problematical to the antiquaries and historiographrs of Tudor and Stuart England. For instance, by the time that Sir Walter Raleigh's History of the World was republished in a much-altered form, entitled An Abridgement of Sir Walter Raleigh's History of the World, In Five Books, 1698, mention of the Tower of Babel is largely excised, dismissively mentioned in a brief parenthesis - part of a longer sentence. How does the treatment of Babel meted out (or excised) from the Abridgement... compare with the text of the original? - And the answer to this question is that even in the full text of Ralegh's History of the World of 1614, Sir Walter evidently had little patience for the discussion of this topic, which is left in a state of deferral; however, this imputation of impatience on Raleigh's behalf may be to malign the erstwhile scholar and much more successful privateer. After all, the History... was a text composed during his long years of imprisonment, after his fall from Elizabeth the First's favour. Although he fared better than many in the Tower, imprisonment is fundamentally not only confinement; but also, the systematic removal of one's possessions. It is to be conjectured that most of Raleigh's mammoth history is derived from a study of the one book to which all literate prisoners were granted access: namely, the Bible; and to the imaginary library of his evidently prodigious and detailed memory, especially where books were concerned. Moreover, to add to the complexity, Raleigh's History... is a most problematic and at time erratic text, inasmuch as it is neither a chronicle (in the sense understood by Carion, mentioned above). Nor are its principles and intentions those of historical research and exposition in the modern sense. * The philoopher and historian Samuel Puffendorf is one of those figures who stands uneasily between the methodologies, epistemologies and outlooks of the seventeenth century, and those of the early decades of the eighteenth century, which eventually flowered into the period still usually termed that of the Enlightenment. (A term which is now being questioned from sundry angles by a new generation of intellectual and cultural historians; a problem which lies beyond the scope of this study.) Samuel Puffendorf, albeit cosigned by history toone of the lesser leagues of philosophers and writers, in his own lifetime, enjoyed great prestige; his works were disseminated throughout Europe, in a variety of translations, even though he did not live at any of the hubs of the European intellectual scene, spending most of his time as Counsellor of State to the King of Sweden (the climate of which contributed to the rapid decline of Descartes' health). The acount from which the following is taken (and considered) from a derivative translation/adaptation of Puffendorf's more voluminous writings. An Introduction to the History of the Kingdoms and States of ASIA, Africa and America, Both Ancient and Modern, According to the Method of SAMUEL PUFFENDORF, Counsellor of State to the Late King of Sweden. London. 1705, small 4to. [...]
Now when Noah [...] had seen the Families of his Three Sons multiplied, he divided the whole World between them; and thereby Japhet, who was the Japetus of the Greeks, became Possessor of Europe, Sem had Africa, and Cham Syria, Egypt and Africa [sic]. But not to digress much from our intended Purpose, the Children of Noah having multiplied so fast on the Earth, that they saw themselves no longer able to continue together, but must disperse, and go take Possession of their respective Divisions. They undertook an Enterprize that was a pregnant Argument of their Folly and Vanity, as the Divine Writ takes Notice: As they journeyed from the East, they found a Plain in the Land of Shinar, where they dwelt,and they said to one another, Go to, let us make Brick, and burn them thoroughly; and they had Brick for Stone, and Slime for Mortar; and they said, Go to, let us build us a City and a Tower, whose Top may reach unto Heaven, and let us make us a Name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the Face of the whole Earth. To overthrow this extravagant Design of theirs, the Divine Power confounded their Tongues, so that it was impossible for them to understand one another; wherefore being necessitated to leave the Work of their Vanity unfinished, and to disperse themselves over the Face of the Earth, this gave Occasion to call their Work the Tower of Babel, or of Confusion. [Puffendorf, p.4f.] It is notable that Puffendorf's account varies but slightly from that in the King James Bible. [However, it may be that the anonymous translator of this summarized version, turned to the Bible, simply adding minor adjustments in order to make his task easier, and to economize on time and linguistic effort, for the early years of the eighteenth century witnessed a proliferation of publishing concerns; many of which were less than scrupulous in their dealings with authors and translators. Perhaps the chief culprits in these acts of sweated intellectual labour and wilful literary piracy were Tonson and Curll. Indeed, the whole world of publishing had sunk to such underhand dealings, that it forms the central focus of Alexander Pope's Dunciad, in the second edition of which (1729) the satirical text is itself supplemented with a further stratum of satire of an even more scathing nature, within the hilarious and often semi-scatalogical footnote annotations and spuriously academic commentaries - which are, in fact, diatribes against those whom Pope despised - and their number is indeed legion in this edition!] However, to return to Puffendorf's text, one may state by way of concluding this section and the remarks on this particular tome, that he adds (at least, in this edition/translation) very little which is not already set forth in the Bible. This is in itself unusual, inasmuch as it was at precisely this time that philosophers were beginning to reconsider the nature of language, and of the plurality of languages; of their similarities and differences. The question of language had been the subject of sporadic yet considered debate in the circle of the Royal Society. And, indeed, problems of language were the subject of many of the ongoing discussions of the Society of Antiquaries from the time of its (re)establishment in 1707, when, thanks to the undertakings of Thomas Hearne, many of the early papers delivered on the problems of linguistic proliferation, decay and renovation were collected in two volumes, small 4to, entitled A Collection of Curious Discourses [...] 1771. * Thus, in the 200 years separating the text of Caruin's Chronicle, from the papers colected in Hearne's A Collection of Curious Discourses... the whole conceptual status of Babel had fundamentally changed. In fact, the motif of the Tower of Babel was no longer central to ongoing studies. In place of Biblical, Old Testament exegesis and commentary, a new field had opened up, rendering this former quite obsolete; little more than a curious byway in a neglected field of study. Babel could no longer be taken seriously by the historiansand philosophers of the Enlightenment. Their concerns and aspirations were fundamentally different. * I do not wish to openly espouse and follow the arguments of Michel Foucault, in his hypothesis that the birth of the modern era - of modernism - could be traced back to the concepts and arguments which were first elaborated in the Enlightenment. For, if - as some historians have maintained - the culmination of the Enlightenment led to the French Revolution, it is to be argued that this was nothing but a revisitation of Babel upon a much grander scale. And, moreover, transplanted into the largest city of Europe at that time: namely, Paris. One of the aspirations of the Revolution was to standardize the language of one of the largest - geographically and demographically - countries of Europe, and hence of the world at that time: namely, France. How many were tortured, made the subject of what would now be termed ‘biological engineering' within the walls of the Bastille and other prison-strongholds? Within Sade's complex corpus, the description of elaborate forms of sexual deviation and depravity are, in terms of word-count of content, illustrations of AN EXPANSION, IN THE MOST LOGICAL FASHION, OF THE RATIONALIZATION OF LANGUAGE. FOR, WITHOUT SUCH A RATIONALIZATION OF LANGUAGE WHERE ‘ANYTHING GOES', SO DOES THE DIGNITY OF THE HUMAN SUBJECT - IN SADEAN TERMS ‘THE VICTIMS' = TOUT COURT. IT IS POSTULATED AS BLUNTLY AS THAT. AND, FOR DEMONSTRATING THE RATIONAL/IRRATIONAL SUBTLETIES OF MANIPULATION INVENTED BY THE REVOLUTION AND THE TERROR, SADE SPENT MUCH OF HIS LIFE EITHER UNDER HOUSE ARREST; AND FINALLY, WITHIN THE BASTILLE. A DOMAIN OF DEGRADATION AND ENCLOSURE, OF LINGUISTIC MANIPULATION, FAR MORE EXTREME THAN ANY OF THE CHATEAUX SECLUDED IN THEIR COUNTRY PARKS WHICH FIGURE IN SADE'S VOLUMINOUS, REPETITIVE PERMUTATIONS OF PENETRATION AND VIOLATION UNTO DEATH. FOR SADE, LANGUAGE REPRESENTED NOT ONLY THE OVERWEENING DESIRES OF HUMANITY TO DEFY NATURAL AND DIVINE LAWS. BABEL, SODOM AND GOMORRAH AND PARIS BECAME INTERCHANGEABLE, A QUARTET OF THE PERVERSE, FOUNDED UPON THE MANIPULATION OF THE DIVERSITIES AND AMBIGUITIES OF LANGUAGE. * THE UPMOST, HIGHEST STAGE OF THE STORY/STOREYS OF THE TOWER OF BABEL. TWO TWENTIETH-CENTURY INSTANCES. 1. LIBRARY, LABYRINTH, TOWER AND PARADOX. NOTES TOWARDS BABEL IN THE WORK OF JORGE-LUIS BORGES. The Tower of Babel, the Library, and the Labyrinth. These are the three predominant themes in the short stories of Jorge Luis Borges. They are, moreover, motifs which seem to emerge from his unsconscious in his critical writings, collected under the title of The Total Library The Total Library Both Collected Fictions and The Total Library are largely predicated upon the analysis and variations of the theme of Babel. For even his stories of the Argentine Gaucho and of low-life in Buenos Aires are to do with crumbling houses, developments which have proven too large and cumbersome for their entrepreneurs, ad worked a baneful influence over their inabitants; and now stand depopulated, crumbling. The traditional short story is dependent upon a set-piece of narrative etiquette. The reader, or ideally the listener, is presented with a tale which will conform to a specific pattern: that of the beginning, the middle and the ending. However this is an accepted structural criterionwhich Borges continually overturns or subtly undermines. For, to his way of thinking, and from his immense, eclectic reading of texts from all over the world, and from all ages, he bacame acutely aware that such expectations or formulae were by and large clumsy, makeshift patterns which to all intents and purposes had changed little since the formulae elaborated within the oral tradition, inherited, on the one hand, from Mediterranean storytellers in the agora or marketplace; and, on the other, predicated upon the nordic tradition of the bard reciting is entertainment in the smoke-filled hall. Whether it be the warmth and openness of the marketplace at dusk, or in the smoke-filled low halls of Sandinavia and northern Europe, the same episodic use of language was used. In other words, the stories were so many building-blocks (readily-dressed, learned by rote by the professional storyteller) and arranged with the occasionallly additional quirk of personal ‘transgression' by the storyteller in order to literally captivate and mesmerize their audiences. In thus listening, the specificity of the language, the analysis of intonation, of structural grammatology (to cull a phrase from Jacques Derrida) were generally overlooked by the hypnotized audience. Stories built, disappearing into the unreality of the empyrean. Edgar Allan Poe coud conjure up such scenes of mystery and imagination. However, to what extent this ability was in fact a necessity for Poe has been by and large passed over in silence - even in one of the most erudite studies of these writers: namely by Alethea Hayter in Opium and the Romantic Imagination, Faber, London, 1968. - Even though Alethea Hayter's text appeared at the height of the drug-chic culture of London, there are lacunae in the text. Researches had been done into the ways in which the brain - and communication - worked or dysfunctioned under the influence of both narcotics and stimulants in both America and England, It as Lacan (following and elaborating the notions and paintings of Dali) who observed, in his consultative ward Practice in the Hospital of Saint-Anne, Paris, that many of hs patients suffered from a severely impaired awareness of spatial orientation. Among the most common and severe of such distortions were those of temporal dislocation, for which the soft watches of Dali acted as an ideal, makeshift motif for Dali. Secondly, in their accounts of spatial orientation, whether on the level of the real, the symbolic or the imaginary, Lacan noticed that in many of these cases, the notion of the horizon was eliminated. Although remarks on Babel were promised from time to time by Lacan (and it was intimated that he had already both studied and written up his findings), due to seemingly endless litigation over ownership and copyright and the correct transcriptions of the tapes of his Seminars, these remain one of many aspects of Lacan's polymathic thought to be properly published, whether in tape or textual form. More is the pity. For Lacan reiterated on various key occasions: language is the condition of the unconscious. And what, precisely, happens to the unconscious and the realm of the symbolic (and of human communication) when language itself suddenly crumbles and fragments as the small fissures become yawning chasms? - And here again, the building of the Tower of Babel and language-building seem to be metonymically-dialatically related. * At which point, this work in progress - like the construction of this text, like the construction of the Tower of Babel - has attained its uppermost storey. There is NO final flourish; no succinct, concluding phrase of formula. I wish merely to, imaginarily, to conjecture, what the builders saw from atop their unfinished edifice: built upon a desert plain, as the Bible implies, it was probably an horizontal line. Imagine this, however minimal it may be. For they could not look upwards, for fear of being blinded by the sunlight. Nor down, because of the building confusion, and the sense of vertigo. It is this sense of vertigo with which the linguistic confusion (the ‘crossmess parzle') of James Joyce's Finnegans Wake begins, as Bygmester Finnegan, perhaps under the influence of too much porter and potheen, slides from the roof of the house he is building - whether in reality or in a dream. They could look out over the land of Babel, seeig a distant horizon : thus: