Friday, October 02, 2009

Heart and soul

In the next little while I will be reviewing Mark Pegg's A Most Holy War (on the Albigensian Crusade) for the Michigan War Studies Review. I am just now looking at it. It is a rather slim volume, and I rather expected that it would be an up-to-date -- or not -- summary of what is known about this 13th century crusade in southern France. But now I don't think so. For one thing, I was surprised and impressed by the preface in which Pegg lays it all out on the page, why and how he does history, which is with a great deal of personal involvement. Vide:
Any meditation on the past that starts with the presumption that some things are universal in humans or human society -- never changing, ignorant, immobile, -- is to retreat from attempting a historical explanation about previous rhythms of existence.... Arguing for immutable values from biology is no different from arguing for immutable values from theology -- selfish genes, selfish doctrines, they both deny history. Assuming that why we do what we do, what we think what we think, is somehow or other beyond our control, and that we would be this way in mind and body whether we lived in Cleveland in 1952 or Toulouse 1218, forfeits the vitality and distinctiveness of the past to the dead hand of biological determinism, cognitive hotwiring, psychological innateness, liberal pleas for bygone victims, conservative pleas for God-given principles, and amaranthine mush about authenticity.
I have nothing much to say about this except: I know (and have loved) the word amaranthine from the Gormenghast books I read 40 years ago, ("By all that's amaranthine" said the doctor) and I've yet to find an opportunity to use it myself. Pegg obviously tries harder.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Paul Halsall said...

It looks like he is attacking evolutionary psychology as per Steven Pinker's _The Blank Slate_.

1:40 PM  
Blogger Bavardess said...

I'll look forward to your review. The Albigensian Crusade has long been a research interest of mine, and it sounds like Mark Pegg may take a fresh approach to the usual interpretations. I thought the idea of a universal and immutable human nature was something we'd managed to leave behind in the 19th century. It's frustrating to see it being revived in new clothes as sociobiology and genetic determinism. And 'amaranthine' is a lovely word.

5:58 PM  

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