Thursday, January 25, 2018

John Pemble's "The Rome We Have Lost"

John Pemble has been attached to the University of Bristol since 1977, where he is currently Senior Research Fellow. He has published a wide range of books and articles, including Shakespeare Goes to Paris, Britain's Gurkha War, and The Mediterranean Passion. He has written for The Listener, the Times Literary Supplement, and The Guardian, and is a regular contributor to the London Review of Books.

Pemble applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Rome We Have Lost, and reported the following:
Page 99 is a good entry point into the flow of my narrative, because it’s the beginning of a chapter called "Far-off Fields of Memory." This chapter explains how the ancestral Western rituals of pilgrimage, remembrance and mourning shifted from Rome to northern Europe after late nineteenth-century urban development and archaeological excavation had depopulated Rome of its dead, and the Great War had created in Flanders a new emblematic sepulchre of stricken empires and martyred youth. It’s essential to the book’s purpose, in that it carries forward the story of how and why the archetypal status that Shelley attributed to Rome (‘the Paradise, the Grave, the City, and the Wilderness’) was demolished by the exigencies of ‘modernity’ and ‘the modern mind’. Rome lost its kudos as supreme academy of art following nineteenth-century discoveries in Greece and Asia Minor; and it lost its cosmopolitan ranking and arcadian-biblical genius loci when, in 1870, the millenarian papacy was deposed and a drastic program of expansion and transformation inaugurated the city’s metropolitan existence as capital of united Italy.

My book sets this seismic shift of Rome from the centre to the margins of Western consciousness in a broad, historical-intellectual context. So the story is thematic rather than chronological, and I’m truly gratified that it has been judged ‘thought provoking’. But this doesn’t mean intimidating; you don’t need to be a specialist to appreciate the fascination of ideas. Hopefully, readers will find page 99 unproblematic and readable; if they do, they’ll endorse my belief that if you give words room to resonate – by not using ten of them when five will do – then it’s possible even now, at a time of verbal hyperinflation and obese books, to write an appealing short study of a great subject. The essay languished when computer technology overthrew the old, slow, pen-and-paper regime that had nourished it. But there are now signs of a renewed appetite for the laconic and the synoptic in literature as in the other arts, so maybe it’s due for a revival. I’ll be more than happy if what I’ve written (with pen and paper) helps in some small way to bring it back.
Learn more about The Rome We Have Lost at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue