Plinius

Monday, May 1, 2006

Books and beginnings

Filed under: admin, books — plinius @ 10:33 am

More and more, I discover, I am concerned with voice. The way things sound. The way things are said.

As blogs and other communication channels develop, the gap between official gobbledygook – and the personal and unpremeditated human voice – becomes wider.

Form and content make a whole. The way organizations speak, reveal their nature. Or rather their nurture, their culture, their attitude towards life. Which may be changed.

Now I have imported previous postings from Blogger to WordPress.

I guess Pliny will be (even) more informal than my Norwegian blog Plinius. Plinius has now a definite audience. I write for my library colleagues in Norway. Professional matters from a personal point of view. I write Pliny for myself, for fun, freedom and the future.

Books in my life

And I want to write more about the books in my life (like Henry Millers fascinating essay).

To the right, then, a cover image from Jaromir Maleks book on Egyptian art, in the elegant Phaidon series. When I get tired of words, words, words, I turn to visual books.

There was never a shortage of words in my life. But when I first started reading – in 1946 my parents told me – the world was graphically gray. Since then our visual environment has exploded.

First on the consumer, and then on the producer side. With a decent camera in my cell phone, I observe things differently. Not always, but every now and then I really watch – stalking images with a framing eye. ….

Stockholm

Last week in Stockholm (where I spoke about library 2.0), I started on a biography of Carl XII. This famous Swedish king (a favorite of the Swedish Right) was shot during the siege of Fredriksten Castle in 1718, trying to invade Norway.

By one of his own officers, it seems. He was a great military tactician – and a horrible strategist. vain, taciturn and obstinate.

In Europe, absolutism developed as a way of integrating states. The time of Carl was also the time of Louis XIV and Peter the Great. But absolutism lacked the checks and balances that England was developing at the same time (after 1688). Carl managed to lose nearly all Swedish possessions in the Baltics and Germany.

The Scandinavian Sonderweg

We Norwegians have a close, but uneasy, relationship with Sweden – as with an elder and stronger brother. The various regions of Spain, Italy, France, Germany and Great Britain now form one country. Castile and Galicia, Catalonia and Andalucia used to be separate states. Only Portugal escaped fra the Spanish cauldron.

German historians often discuss the German Sonderweg – comparing Germany's late arrival as a unitary "national" state (1866) with the slow and organic growth of France (the paradigmatic European nation) and England.

Fisher's great book about Germany's geopolitical goals during World War 1 is very convincing – and led to a turbulent debate (German page) when it was first published, in 1961.

So did the various regions of Scandinavia (or Fenno-Scandinavia). Sweden is close family – but also subtly and surprisingly different. More class-conscious, more academic, more industrial and haughty bourgeois. National borders matter, since different forms of interaction develop.

We Norwegians feel uncomfortable with money. In Scandinavia the nobility and the merchants preferred to stay in Sweden and Denmark. Norway is a Third Estate country: We are poor peasants and nouveaux-riches at the same time.

Global English

Next book – a fascinating study of the world, seen through the varieties of English. Similar excursions could be made with many other languages: Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Sanskrit …

In a Stockholm book shop last week I found bilingual editions of the Sanskrit classics – in English and Sanskrit – next to the honourable Loeb Greek and Latin series. The Sanskrit texts had been transcribed into Latin letters from the Devanagari script.

David Sifry reports that Chinese and Japanese together now account for more than fifty percent of all blog posts – and Korean is hotting up. This, the 21st, will certainly become the Asian century – after the American 20th ("safe for democracy") and the European 19th ("Rule Britannia, rule the waves").

Before we all end up in a global hodge-podge mixtum compositum jamboree jumble of cross-over cultural memes and artifacts. With Zhongguo – the Middle Empire – in the center of the cyclone?

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