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The Enlightened Vote

Stefan Collini: Ernest Renan, 19 December 2019

‘What Is a Nation?’ and Other Political Writings 
by Ernest Renan, translated and edited by M.F.N. Giglioli.
Columbia, 328 pp., £62, September 2018, 978 0 231 17430 5
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... Whatever may be the judgment of time on the intrinsic value of Renan’s contribution to the sum of knowledge, he can never lose his place among the few great names in the history of letters.’ This assessment from the 1901 edition of Chambers’s Encyclopedia, equally striking today for its confidence and its remoteness, summarises the conventional wisdom at the beginning of the 20th century ...

Back to the futuh

Robert Irwin, 1 August 1996

The Middle East: 2000 Years of History from the Birth of Christianity to the Present Day 
by Bernard Lewis.
Weidenfeld, 433 pp., £20, September 1995, 0 297 81345 5
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... a detailed narrative of the life of the Prophet Muhammed, prefaced this with a quotation from Ernest Renan on the origins of Islam: ‘Its roots are at surface level, the life of its founder is as well known to us as those of the Reformers of the 16th century.’ But in recent decades various scholars, working mostly out of Britain, Germany and ...

How are you finding it here?

Patrick Sims-Williams: Celts, 28 October 1999

The Atlantic Celts: Ancient People or Modern Invention? 
by Simon James.
British Museum, 160 pp., £6.99, March 1999, 0 7141 2165 7
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... etc, with various stereotyped literary conventions (Matthew Arnold and his unacknowledged mentor Ernest Renan were the chief culprits), and even with certain biological characteristics – ‘Celtic’ genes for phenylketonuria, cystic fibrosis and HLAA1, the B8 tissue antigen being the current fashion. Lhuyd cannot be held responsible for these ...

Reinventing Islam

Elias Muhanna, 4 March 2021

The Idea of the Muslim World: A Global Intellectual History 
by Cemil Aydin.
Harvard, 293 pp., £16.95, April 2019, 978 0 674 23817 6
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... on medieval Islam’s contributions to science, philosophy and art. In combating the theories of Ernest Renan and other Europeans who held that Islam was fundamentally fanatical and opposed to rational thought, 19th-century Muslim thinkers ‘essentialised Islam and Muslim identity on their own terms’ by conjuring an image of a glorious civilisation ...

An Absolutely Different Life

Michael Wood: Too Proustian, 7 November 2019

Sept conférences sur Marcel Proust 
by Bernard de Fallois.
Editions de Fallois, 312 pp., €20, January 2019, 978 1 03 210214 6
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Proust avant Proust Essai sur ‘Les Plaisirs et les jours’ 
by Bernard de Fallois.
Les Belles Lettres, 192 pp., €21.50, May 2019, 978 2 251 44939 5
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‘Le Mystérieux Correspondant’ et autres nouvelles inédites 
by Marcel Proust, edited by Luc Fraisse.
Editions de Fallois, 174 pp., €18.50, October 2019, 978 1 03 210229 0
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... infinitely appreciated them’. The dialogue ends with the appearance of the historian Ernest Renan, who seems to believe homosexuality is some sort of affectation, to be denied because it deprives men of the experience of heterosexual love as poetry or madness or both. ‘The pleasure of your senses,’ ...

Here you will find only ashes

Geoffrey Hosking: The Kremlin, 3 July 2014

Red Fortress: The Secret Heart of Russia’s History 
by Catherine Merridale.
Penguin, 528 pp., £10.99, May 2014, 978 0 14 103235 1
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... at any given time preferred their subjects to forget. Selective amnesia is not unique to Russia: Ernest Renan pointed out long ago that national memories are constituted as much by forgetting as by remembering. What is unusual is the sheer quantity and variety of dramatic and often bloody events in Russia’s past that historians, in accordance with the ...

About ‘The God-Fearer’

Dan Jacobson, 9 July 1992

... across my mind. Among these there suddenly appeared a phrase used by the French historian, Ernest Renan, in speaking about the history of the Jews during the early years of the Roman Empire. Somewhere I had once read an observation by him to the effect that those years had presented Judaism, then in one of its rare proselytising phases, with its ...

Wedded to the Absolute

Ferdinand Mount: Enoch Powell, 26 September 2019

Enoch Powell: Politics and Ideas in Modern Britain 
by Paul Corthorn.
Oxford, 233 pp., £20, August 2019, 978 0 19 874714 7
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... expressed with Powell’s intensity tends to repel historians, or at any rate to unnerve them. Ernest Gellner, for example, says he is ‘allergic to the history of ideas approach, because nationalism as an elaborated intellectual theory is neither widely endorsed, not of high quality, nor of any historic importance’. He argues in Nations and Nationalism ...

Textual Harassment

Claude Rawson, 5 April 1984

The World, the Text and the Critic 
by Edward Said.
Faber, 327 pp., £15, February 1984, 0 571 13264 2
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The Deconstructive Turn: Essays in the Rhetoric of Philosophy 
by Christopher Norris.
Methuen, 201 pp., £4.95, December 1983, 0 416 36140 4
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The New Pelican Guide to English Literature. Vol. VIII: The Present 
edited by Boris Ford.
Penguin, 619 pp., £3.50, October 1983, 0 14 022271 5
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... exile’. Two interesting essays at the end on the Orientalist writings of Raymond Schwab, Ernest Renan and Louis Massignon contain fascinating material, but Said’s French needs a lot of pardoning and I don’t know the subject enough to know whether this radically affects his discussion. Among the more strictly theoretical pieces the best is a ...

A Rage for Abstraction

Jeremy Harding, 16 June 2016

The Other Paris: An Illustrated Journey through a City’s Poor and Bohemian Past 
by Luc Sante.
Faber, 306 pp., £25, November 2015, 978 0 571 24128 6
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How the French Think: An Affectionate Portrait of an Intellectual People 
by Sudhir Hazareesingh.
Allen Lane, 427 pp., £20, June 2015, 978 1 84614 602 2
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... with raging fanaticism in their hearts’, eventually ‘deadly to the human race’? Or Ernest Renan on Islam and ‘the intellectual nullity of the races that hold, from that religion alone, their culture and their education’? Perhaps it’s wiser, with Algeria and Vichy lurking in the not-so-distant past, for ethnic conservatism not to ...

Reservations of the Marvellous

T.J. Clark, 22 June 2000

The Arcades Project 
by Walter Benjamin, translated by Howard Eiland.
Harvard, 1073 pp., £24.95, December 1999, 9780674043268
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... the Cross!’; or that the photographer Nadar was shortsighted to the point of blindness; or that Ernest Renan recoiled from the English word ‘comfort’ in 1859 with ‘I am forced to use this barbarous word to express an idea quite un-French’; or that after Thermidor, busts of Marat and Le Peletier were transferred, presumably from the high altar ...

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