(I know, I have changed the title for the umpteenth time!)
We have a saying, in Italian: Una ciliegia tira l’altra (a cherry leads to the next). Books are very much like cherries. More than that: it seems to me there is a kind of grass-roots intertextuality , as if books were plotting something, or at least trying to guide our choices. A book I bought in Manchester and two my husband got soon after we came back seem to be in a conspiracy of some sort.
Since we came back from our unofficial school-trip in Yorkshire I have been reading How language works, a brilliant introduction to linguistics by David Crystal. I don’t often read general linguistics any more, but I used to like it very much at the uni, so when I saw this Penguin on sale at the Portico Library in Manchester I thought it would be nice to go back to it. Crystal writes clearly and pleasantly; the paperback would be a perfect introduction for a neophite, but it is also very good for consultation, or revision. I am going slowly, though, because in the meantime my darling husband got me Zero: history of a dangerous idea by an American scholar, Charles Seife. It is about zero and infinity, and how the Greeks and Christianity struggled to keep both out of their world- view. Because it has, if not a plot, at least a chronologic development, I’m reading this faster. Besides, in agrees with my grwing -how shall I call it? allergy? to the phylosophical side of classical culture: Seife confirms my opinion that we have wildly overestimated Greek thinkers; we took their mistakes and obsessions and made them into cages that trapped us for centuries. It’s their art we can admire. Their poetry. Some of their science. We should have thrown Aristotle and his colleagues down the drain long, long before we finally did. But I am digressing…
Yesterday afternoon as I was correcting stuff my husband offered to read me a quick passage from a novel he had just started: Laurent Binet’s The seventh funcion of language. It is a detective story about Roland Barthes’s death, very meta, with many critics and professors as characters, including Michel Foucault and Umberto Eco. I could do with a little interruption, so he read to me a passage in which a lecturer on popular fiction explains Bond’s badge number 007: while 7 is odd, a prime number ( indicating uniqueness) and is shaped like a hatchet, the double zero indicates the licence to kill and being killed because death is emptiness, void, nothingness, and zero (Nought) is the only possible cipher for it.
I picked up the novel earlier today, to read the start: and it begins very much like How language works, by telling the difference between languages and other codes of communication. It seems I have to read it .