January 02, 2006

Milton and Pullman

My friend Mo is wrestling with Paradise Lost. In conversation last night, I was saying that I found the 17th century pretty impenetrable, mostly because I really didn't grasp what people did and didn't know, and that I felt disconnected from how they thought about things and voiced their thoughts, and that I didn't know any [moderately painless] bridges to repairing those deficiencies.

I've been reading Philip Pullman's Golden Compass (consequent upon reading Laura Miller's review in the latest New Yorker), and what did I find this morning but:

Oh, this was in the seventeenth century. Symbols and emblems were everywhere. Buildings and pictures were designed to be read like books. Everything stood for something else: if you had the right dictionary, you could read Nature itself. It was hardly surprising to find philosophers using the symbolism of their time to interpret knowledge that came from a mysterious source... (pg 173)
This passage is about the alethiometer, "a device driven by Dust that is able to answer questions formed in the mind of the user. It is a symbol reader, with each of the 36 symbols having an infinite number of meanings..."

Posted by oook at January 2, 2006 09:04 AM