River of Ink: Literature, History, Art

River of Ink: Literature, History, Art

by Thomas Christensen


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Thomas Christensen’s previous title 1616: The World in Motion looked at a single year in the age of early maritime globalism--PW gave it a starred review, calling it “a stunning overview of the nascent modern world.” By contrast his new gorgeously illustrated River of Ink ranges widely across time and cultures and offers what amounts to a magisterial history of literacy.

The book’s title refers to the sacking of Baghdad in 1258 when the Tigris ran black with the ink of books flung into the water by Mongol invaders. Other essays range from the writings of prehistoric Chinese cultures known only through archaeology to the state of book reviewing in the US today to the heroic efforts of contemporary Afghanis to keep the legacy of their ancient culture alive under the barrage of endless war.

Christensen’s encyclopaedic knowledge of both world art and a vast understand of literature allows him to move easily from a discussion of the invention of moveable type in Korea to Johannes Kepler’s search for the harmony of the spheres to the strange journey of an iron sculpture from Benin to the Louvre. Other essays cover the Popul Vuh of the Maya as exemplum of translation, the pioneering explorations of the early American naturalist John Bartram, the balletic works of Louis-Ferdinand Celine.

It is Christensen’s unparalleled gift to seemingly see the world whole and to offer a wealth of absolutely vital connections adequate to our position as citizens of an ever more rapidly globalizing world.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781619028333
Publisher: Counterpoint Press
Publication date: 12/13/2016
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Thomas Christensen’s previous books include New World/New Words: Recent Writing from the Americas, A Bilingual Anthology , The U.S.–Mexican War, and The Discovery of America and Other Myths as well as translations of books by such authors as Laura Esquivel, Carlos Fuentes, Julio Cortázar, Alejo Carpentier and Louis-Ferdinand Céline. He is director of publications at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco and lives with his wife in Richmond, CA.

Read an Excerpt

As the fifteenth century was drawing to a close, William Caxton,
England’s first printer, traveled to the Flemish city of Bruges. Today
the city, with its late medieval architecture and meandering cobbled
streets, seems a museum piece, but then it was a lively trading center
where Italians, Germans, Spaniards, and others met and exchanged
goods — and ideas. Arts and culture flourished, and new technology
was everywhere. Visitors were assured of eating well thanks
to the invention of drift nets, which resulted in an abundance of
seafood. Followers of Jan van Eyck and Hans Memling were filling
the city with paintings in a medium new to northern Europe,
oils. And the printing press with movable type — the machine on
which Johannes Gutenberg had printed his 42-line Bible a couple
of decades before—was changing the intellectual life of the city.
(Printing on movable metal type was well established in Korea, and
information about it could have traveled through the vast Mongol
empire to West Asia, and from there to Europe.)

There in Bruges, at a table overlooking a foggy canal, over a
meal of mussels and ale, Caxton would discuss the new printed
texts with scholars and artists who were arriving from all across
Europe. Among those joining him would have been Colard
Mansion, a Flemish scribe who printed the first book using copper
engravings, as well as the first books in English and French.
Also at the table would have been Anthony Woodville, the second
Earl Rivers, an English Francophile and translator,
had recently completed a translation of a French text called Dits
Moraulx des Philosophes. The book was a compendium of the wisdom
of ancient philosophers. Would Caxton have a look at it?

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