Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Deutschland, doucheland

The pleasantly-surprising headline review in the TLS last week (and which I got round to reading only this evening) was Rectifications along the Rhine, a review of David Blackbourn's The Conquest of Nature, a "wide-ranging and highly original study" showing that "the management of water has been central to the making of modern Germany". It features some startling facts - "More than 2,000 islands and outcrops – comprising a billion square metres of real estate – were excavated out of existence" - and is told from an array of perspectives: "His protagonists include engineers, fisherfolk and peasants, but also eels, alders and beetles."

At 500-pages, it begins to sound like one of those "ambitious" novels many readers seem to want; a grand delta of narratives promising to sluice free the congestion of modern consciousness into one big, becalmed sea. The reviewer Christopher Clark suggests the book is less anachronistic than that.
Blackbourn does not exactly "think like a river", as the environmentalist historian Donald Worster has suggested we should, but his book has a meandering, riverine motion.
This is because his writing
has always been informed by a critical awareness of how grand narratives – whether pessimistic or optimistic – can distort and impoverish our understanding by imposing retrospective coherence on a profusion of contradictory impulses.


  1. Hello Stephen, it's Todd from NYC!
    I've been reading you from the I have my own you go:

    Much more later,
    Todd Colby

  2. Great to hear from you again Todd! I was thinking of you only this week. 'bout time you had a blog too.



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