A quintessential example of what we like to find: a book that could be placed in any of our categories with ease. Carlo Ginzburg makes a careful interrogation of language, imagery, morphology and history from antiquity to modern times with the aim of enabling us to better perceive reality. This is, in the truest sense, a reflection in which he holds his theme and works it over like a worry-stone in hand, mind and heart until the subtle connections and differences are understood. The result is a history of interpretations, a history of ideas, even a history of histories, through which Ginzburg masterfully investigates the process of representation: how to re-present the absent and estrange the familiar in the pursuit of a clearer perception. Here a proper distance is vital in helping us be near enough to see and far enough to see beyond. Using the literary device of defamiliarization (to separate ourselves from the subject) Ginzburg investigates myth, spending four chapters on the tension of word and image throughout religious history. His analysis is stunning, providing an important perspective on the use of distance to enlarge our reality.
An Eighth Day View:
"I am a Jew who was born and who grew up in a Catholic country; I never had a religious education; my Jewish identity is in large measure the result of persecution." This brief autobiographical statement is a key to understanding Carlo Ginzburg's interest in the topic of his latest book: distance. In nine linked essays, he addresses the question: "What is the exact distance that permits us to see things as they are?" To understand our world, suggests Ginzburg, it is necessary to find a balance between being so close to the object that our vision is warped by familiarity or so far from it that the distance becomes distorting.
Opening with a reflection on the sense of feeling astray, of familiarization and defamiliarization, the author goes on to consider the concepts of perspective, representation, imagery, and myth. Arising from the theme of proximity is the recurring issue of the opposition between Jews and Christians -- a topic Ginzburg explores with an impressive array of examples, from Latin translations of Greek and Hebrew scriptures to Pope John Paul II's recent apology to the Jews for antisemitism. Moving with equal acuity from Aristotle to Marcus Aurelius to Montaigne to Voltaire, touching on philosophy, history, philology, and ethics, and including examples from present-day popular culture, the book offers a new perspective on the universally relevant theme of distance.