mercredi, février 08, 2006

Praise of Folly

Extracts from 'Civilisation' by Kenneth Clarke:

Early in his journalistic career he [Erasmus] produced a masterpiece - the Praise of Folly. He wrote it staying with his friend Thomas More, he said it took him a week, and I dare say it's true. He had an amazing fluency; and this time his whole being was engaged. It's not unlike Voltaire's Candide. To an intelligent man, human beings and human institutions really are intolerably stupid and there are times when his pent-up feelings of impatience and annoyance cannot be contained any longer. Erasmus' Praise of Folly was a dam-burst of this kind; it washed away everything: popes, kings, monks (of course), scholars, war, theology - the whole lot. (...) He goes very far - one wonders that it was tolerated; and it's interesting to see certain similarities with Leonardo as wehn Erasmus mocks those philosophers who 'speak with confidence about the creation of innumerable worlds, measuring sun, moon and stars, and never hesitating for a moment, as though they had been admitted into the secrets of creation: with whom and with whose conjectures nature is mightily amused'. In the ordinary way satire is a negative activaty, but there are times in the history of civilisation when it has a positive value, times when a glutinouos mixture of conformism and complacency holds the spirit down. This was the first time in history that a bright-minded intellectual exercise - something to make people stretch their minds, and think for themselves, and question everything - was made available to thousands of readers all over Europe.


Erasmus had seen enough of the religious life to know that the Church must be reformed, not only in its institutions but in its teachings. The great civiliser of Europe was aground, stranded on forms and vested interests.


(On the Peasant's Revolt) For example in the Lady Chapel at Ely, all the glass was smashed, and as the beautiful series of carvings of the Life of Virgin was in reach they knocked off every head - made a thorough job of it. I suppose the motive wasn't so much religious as an instinct to destroy anything comely, anything that reflected a state of mind that an unevloved man couldn't share. the existence of these incomprehensible values enraged them. But it had to happen. If civilisation was not to whither, or petrify, like the society of ancient Egypt, it had to draw life from deeper roots than those which nourished the intellectual and artistic triumphs of the Reneissance. And ultimately a new civilisation was created - but it was a civilisation not of the image, but of the word.

(and from Shakespeare)

Thou rascal beadle, hold thy bloody hand!
Why does thou lash that whore?
Strip thine own back;
Thou hotly lust to use her in that kind
For which thou whipst her...
None does offend, none - I say none.


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