May 11

wtf moments rereading kipling #6

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“The Cantor of St Illod’s being far too enthusiastic a musician to concern himself with its Library, the Sub-Cantor, who idolized every detail of the work, was tidying up, after two hours’ writing and dictation in the Scriptorum. The copying-monks handed him in their sheets — it was a plain Four Gospels ordered by an Abbot in Evesham — and filed out to vespers. John Otho, better known as John of Burgos, took no heed. He was burnishing a tiny boss of gold in his miniature of the Annunciation for his Gospel of St Luke (…).” From 1920’s ‘The Eye of Allah’, published in 1926’s Debits and Credits. As you maybe recall, the two monkish antagonists in Umberto Eco’s 1980 novel The Name of the Rose (translated 1983), were named William of Baskerville and Jorge of Burgos, the latter widely considered (and somewhat deplored as) a portrait of Jorge Luis Borges — who was of course explicit in his admiration of Kipling’s writing.

Anyway, the shock of potential recognition here — by the middle of the story’s third sentence, and the phrase “of Burgos” — is that it was Kipling’s short tale that inspired Eco’s much longer one. And the somewhat unsettling realisation, just 20 pages later, is that Kipling really had anticipated most of the subtext and deep subject of the successor work, in his compact, allusive way: both are about optics, science and medicine, the relationship of faith, the church, reading, writing and libraries to wisdom and knowledge, their propagation and their suppression; and the society of senior monks at work, and relaxing socially afterwards; about where the rules lie and what may happen when you challenge them. Both have a point to make, Kipling’s the more layered in ironies intended and unexpected…


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    […] The most recent entry was on a story I hadn’t read, The Eye of Allah, which deals wonderfully in its few short pages with amongst other things neo-platonic microbiology, theology, futuristic optics, song, illustration, monastic office politics, dreams and visions, and secular science v spiritual restraint. […]

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