Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Number Fifty-Seven

"And what about little John Ruskin, with his blond curls and his blue sash and shoes to match, but above all else his obedient silence and his fixed stare? Deprived of toys he fondles the light glinting off a bunch of keys, is fascinated by the burl of the floorboards, counts the bricks in the houses opposite. He becomes the infant fetishist of patchwork. 'The carpet,' he confesses about his playthings, 'and what patterns I could find in bed covers, dresses, or wall-papers to be examined, were my chief resources.' This, his childish solace, soon becomes his talent, his great talent: that capacity for attention so pure and so disinterested that Mazzini calls Ruskin's 'the most analytic mind in Europe.' This is reported to Ruskin. He is modest. He says, "An opinion in which, so far as I am acquainted with Europe, I am myself entirely disposed to concur.'

"Of course, it's easy enough to laugh at Ruskin. The most analytic mind in Europe did not even know how to frame a coherent argument. The most analytic mind in Europe produced Modern Painters, a work soon to be known as one of the worst-organized books ever to earn the name of literature. Prolix, endlessly digressive, a mass of description, theories that trail off into inconclusiveness, volume after volume, a flood of internal contradiction."

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