December 12, 2016 (Monday)

by Yule Heibel on December 11, 2017

When I went downstairs this morning, it was still pitch black. There was some snow on the car, but it’s raining – just raining – heavily now. A few houses have lights on, the bright glare of a street lamp on the street below is slowly dimming it seems, or else it just appears that way as a general level of “luxity” tries to have an impact. The sky – it’s impossible to describe it as light in any sense, yet since it’s not as dark as it was when I first got up, it stands to reason that it’s at least lighter. Very overcast, not a single ray of sunshine anywhere, not at the horizon, not through any break in the clouds higher up. There are no breaks, their cover is deep if uneven. Above me, landscapes of cloud, topographies of towers, mountains, and valleys and flatlands have formed since yesterday’s bright skies disappeared. A world was built on top of us, made of atmosphere, of which we discern a modulated flatness, seen from beneath. Were I to fly over this layer, I’d see its other nature – wild form.

Yesterday, at the last minute, we zipped down to Boston College’s McMullen Museum (new building addition, very nice) to see their third (actually, quite a bit more than a third: Boston College’s share is the largest) of Beyond Words, medieval manuscripts and illuminations. The show at the McMullen closed last night, so we made it just in time. Harvard’s Houghton Library is on for another couple of days (hope to go on Tuesday), and Isabella Stewart Gardner’s is on through the holidays into early January. The Boston College-McMullen Museum show was huge. We were able to spend over ninety minutes there and I felt like I didn’t take in more than a smidgen. Visually, of course, it was daunting – so much material, so much to see, but also such low light conditions, such small works often, and a presentation that sometimes meant opening the book just a bit – not laying it flat – in the display case, of course, at waist level, so that viewing the works took effort and was ultimately tiring on the eyes. I can’t imagine the scribes working on these pages, with perfect, absolutely perfect, handwriting. Especially the earlier, 12th and 13th century works, were astonishing: tiny books, tinier script, practically requiring magnifiers, densely written… Later works became more generous in their use of scale, layout, materials (more, more). But also perhaps less exacting, less precise.

So, visually daunting, but also intellectually and conceptually. So very different from our world, except perhaps the Christine Pizan book, whose feminist and self-realizing concerns resonate for us – and in this way make themselves “understandable” (or so we self-flatteringly think…) as well as memorable. Some of the other concerns in turn appear arcane, and thus forgotten.

Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: