THAT (that) wrote,

2018 Book #3 - The Waning of the Middle Ages, by J. Huizinga

Book number 3. The Waning of the Middle Agesby J. Huizinga.

I started this last May, I think. Possibly even earlier. It's very enjoyable but also very dense and presupposes familiarity with a very great variety of medieval sources, most of which I'm completely unfamiliar with. (I've read the Decameron, the Canterbury Tales, a few other things from the time, and only a couple of books on the Middle Ages, my favorite being A Distant Mirrorby Barbara Tuchman.) So I know I missed out on many of the finer points.

The overall thrust of the book is a consideration of the forms of thought in culture in France and the Netherlands in the 1400s. Despite the fairly abstruse material, I found his writing lively and persuasive. He's very keen to stress the complexity of his subject and how over-simplified our conceptions of the Middle Ages are. Here's an example of an observation that I underlined.

"Symbolism at all times shows a tendency to become mechanical. Once accepted as a principal, it becomes a product, not of poetical enthusiasm only, but of subtle reasoning as well, and as such it grows to be a parasite clinging to thought, causing it to to degenerate."

Assertions like this are supported by numerous examples.

So, not light reading, but I'm glad I stuck with it. It's invigorating to eavesdrop on the musings of someone brilliant, deeply immersed in their subject, even if you can't always keep up.

Tags: 2018 book reviews
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