Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Another Book

This one is one of -- I was about to say that it was part of the best book bargain I ever had, but I've gotten quite a few books for free. The public library in Anchorage discarded a lot of books and periodicals, set them out on tables for anyone who wanted to take them away. Mostly stuff pretty much nobody would want, but a lot of perfectly good stuff, too. Why did they discard all that good stuff? The most striking example of perfectly good stuff I found on the discard table was the first volume, Das Land ohne Tod, of Alfred Doeblin's three-novel trilogy Amazonas.A hardcover copy from the Walter Verlag collected works of Doeblin. So now I had one hardcover volume of Doeblin to go with a couple of paperbacks, and the library had a hardcover collected works of Doeblin with one volume missing in the middle. I went and checked, the collected works on their shelf now seemed to be complete except for the volume I now had. I felt like going to someone who worked at the library and say, Hey, seems like you made a mistake here, there's no way you actually wanted to throw this away, right? But I was angry that they did such a stupid thing, and I already dealt, more then I wanted to, with library employees who didn't know what I was talking about when attempted to borrow items via ILL.

Clearly, I am seriously out of touch with a lot of the world around me. It's evident in libraries and bookstores, and in the prices of various items at library book sales and, to a lesser degree, in used-book stores. I can rant about it, or I can continue to function somewhat like those birds who live off of the crud on rhinoceri, or the small fish who follow big sharks around and clean them off.

This book, the subject of today's essay, Die Geschichte Der Paepste. Die Roemischen Paepste in Den Letzten Vier Jahrhunderten,The History of the Popes. The Popes of Rome in the Last Four Centuries, by Leopold von Ranke, was part of the haul I made the first time I visited a thrift store near Amsterdam and 96th St in Manhattan, which I might never had noticed, had they not had a sign out front saying "Fill a bag of books for a buck." Why, yes, thank you! I believe perhaps I shall!

Turned out you could fill a bag with books for three bucks any time there. The one-buck special happened I believe once a week. This store had a large basement, about one-half of which was overflowing with books. They didn't seem to have a lot of people coming there to buy the books. Besides the Ranke I found two little harbound copies of plays by Gerhart Hauptmann; Ihr werdet Deutschland nicht wiedererkennenby Walter Hasenclever -- not the Expressionist writer Walter Hasenclever who emigrated from Germany to France in 1933 and took his own life in 1940 rather than fall into the hands of the Nazis, but his less-well-known son of the same name whom he had sent to the US; some things in French, some in Italian, some in Hungarian -- it was a haul. I don't remember exactly what all was in that first bagfull, I just remember that it was tremendous. I went back to that store on a few other days before I had, from my point of view, cleaned them out. It didn't matter to me whether on a particular day the bag cost one dollar or three, either way, I was getting treasure for nothing.

I'm supposed to be talking about the book by Ranke, but I seem to be rambling a la Tristram Shandy;or at least I assume I'm being Shandyish: I've had a copy of Sterne's novel on my shelf for some years now, but I haven't yet read it. So much to read, you know, and only one of me. But a writer whom I very much admire once said of some of my writing that there was a Tristram Shandy-ish flavor to it, and he said that he meant it as a high compliment. He was brilliant and angry and always at odds with the drudges who ran the university English department in which he worked as an MA and an Instructer, many times more brilliant than any of those PhD's and Full Professors would ever be... It's a familiar story. Flee, young writers! from the English departments!

My copy of Ranke's Paepste is from the K.G. Kohler Verlag edition of 1953, with an introduction by Friedrich Baethgen. It's got over 1400 pages but it's not a big volume, not thick at all; it's printed on those very thin pages on which Bibles are often printed, for which there may not be a word in English, which the Germans call Duenndruck; the volume has a pleasantly heavy and solid feel. The last several hundred pages contain "Analekten," analects, gleanings from the source material, mostly in Italian and Latin, interspersed with Ranke's comments in German. Ranke (1795-1886), the most widely-admired historian before Mommsen (1817-1903), in Germany at least, and perhaps in parts of the wider world as well, was for a time a mentor to Jacob Burckhardt (1818-1897), who declined to follow Ranke in the extra-special super-dooper-prestigious chair of history at Berlin -- trust me, Germans take such academic positions much more seriously than, for example, Americans. This seriousness has both its good and its bad sides -- and who in his turn was a mentor to Nietzsche (1844-1900) at Basel. Maybe I make too much of these personal relationships, first between Ranke and Burckhardt, then between Burckhardt and Nietzsche. But I enjoy thinking about this intellectual dynasty, this succession, which may exist mostly in my head.

Ranke's history of the Popes appeared in the in two volumes in 1834 and 1836, and was placed on the Catholic Index in 1841 -- why?! Why?! Ranke was a Protestant, and he had his opinions, but his works were and are thoroughly inoffensive, it would seem to me, to anyone, Catholic, Protestant, atheist, Moslem or what have you. It would seem to me that almost anyone would have to admit that Ranke was objective and fair, if anyone ever was. But libraries and the Vatican do not consult me before they act. Nor, I scarceley need add, do they always seem to me to be objective or fair.

No, seriously, Ranke's very good, you ought to check him out.

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