Wooden Eyes: Nine Reflections on Distance

Overview

"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

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Overview

"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.

Columbia University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Times Literary Supplement
The essays show familiar qualities of Ginzburg's writing, his preference for unconventional perspectives, the vigour and sharpness of his reasoning and his mercurial yet highly disciplined intellectual zest.

— Luigi Meneghello

Choice

Although the text ranges over diverse sources, the essays are succinct and thought-provoking.

Times Literary Supplement - Luigi Meneghello

The essays show familiar qualities of Ginzburg's writing, his preference for unconventional perspectives, the vigour and sharpness of his reasoning and his mercurial yet highly disciplined intellectual zest.

Place and Environment Ethics

Given Ginzburg's astonishing intellectual range - he dances with intimidating ease across half a dozen languages and two and a half millennia of writings, quoting his authorities with the easy familiarity of deep study - the essays dazzle as much as they inform. The book is an intellectual banquet.

Choice

Although the text ranges over diverse sources, the essays are succinct and thought-provoking.

Booknews
Prolific writer Ginzburg's (U. of California-Los Angeles) primary message here is that familiarity, which is in the last analysis bound up with cultural belonging, cannot be a criterion of what is relevant. The essays, three previously unpublished, result from challenges the multi-cultural milieu in California brought to his research agenda. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Kirkus Reviews
How far from an object or event do we need to be to see it clearly? In nine connected essays, noted Italian intellectual Ginzburg ponders the nexus between distance and vision and thus explores the relationship between the difficulties of objectivity and the confusions of subjectivity. From this stimulating starting point, Ginzburg (History/UCLA and Univ. of Bologna; "The Cheese and the Worms", not reviewed, etc.) acts as intellectual cicerone for an arty/smarty jaunt through the ages. The heavyweights of the western tradition are trotted out, poked, pondered, and plundered as he teases new insights from an impressive array of materials. The scope of his primary sources-philosophers from Aristotle to Adorno, authors from the gospel writers to Proust, artists from Caravaggio to Magritte-befits a thinker of dazzling erudition and innovative brio. Chapters typically begin with a quick distillation of a moment of cultural concern, such as Pope John Paul II's apology for Catholic anti-Semitism, third-century Biblical scholar Origen's "Homilies on Exodus," or Alan Sokal's postmodern hoax in "Social Text "that rocked the ivory towers of academia in 1996. Ginzburg stitches one thinker to another, piecing together a world of disparate geniuses into a unified analysis of human perception. In one of many memorable passages, he analyzes the moral implications of proximity by probing a moment from Balzac's "Le Pere Goriot", in which two characters muse over the necessary emotional distance to commit murder. He persuasively argues that questions of distance and perception are inextricably tied to matters of myth, morality, conscience, deceit, representation, and culture. Ginzburg's work represents thefinest in philosophical musings, as he coaxes the reader into new perceptions of the seemingly simple concept of distance, which he renders startlingly fresh. His breadth is intimidating, his depth daunting, and his conclusions staggering. (26 plates)
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Carlo Ginzburg teaches at UCLA, where he is the Franklin D. Murphy Chair of Italian Renaissance Studies. His other books in English include The Cheese and the Worms, No Island Is an Island: Four Glances at English Literature in a World Perspective, Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches'Sabbath and The Night Battles: Witchcraft and Agrarian Cults in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries.

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents

1. Making it Strange: The Prehistory of a Literary Device2. Myth: Distance and Deceit3. Representation: The Word, the Idea, the Thing4. Ecce: On the Scriptural Roots of Christian Devotional Imagery5. Idols and Likenesses: A Passage in Origen and Its Vicissitudes6. Style: Inclusion and Exclusion7. Distance and Perspective: Two Metaphors8. To Kill a Chinese Mandarin: The Moral Implications of Distance9. Pope Wojtyla's Slip

Columbia University Press

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