Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Unmitigated Cunliffe

Relaxing in the corporate-affiliated café of a chain bookstore, having lined up with people ordering 24-ounce ventis.

I'm here browsing more Barry Cunliffe, whose book Britain Begins continues to offer a stimulating, plausible account of the peopling of Great Britain. Among the results of the population movements are those great Neolithic monuments I love to visit. (Call me old-fashioned, but part of me feels the world has been going straight to hell since the onset of the Bronze Age.) A summary chronology: Barrows came first, then passage graves, then the circular "henges," one of which you might know. Historical context only enhances the monuments' power to inspire awe. I now half-expect to visit examples in the Orkneys for next year's pre- or post-Crimefest trip.

Cunliffe also redeems himself for his earlier misuse of mitigate with this entertaining passage:
"The basis of subsistence was now much broader and much more reassuring than in past times, when survival depended on unmitigated reindeer eked out by horse meat."
I don't know about you, but I find unmitigated reindeer beguiling, not least for the images it conjures of Neolithic children complaining: "Reindeer again? This stuff sucks!" Cunliffe's correct use of eke out is a bonus.

All is forgiven, professor.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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11 Comments:

Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter


I think his argument is a pretty compelling one. Alas this book will sell 1% of the works by Graham Hancock and his lost Atlantean civilization...

June 26, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

I think you are being too forgiving. The "unmitigated reindeer" word combination, had I seen in student writing, would have been flagged with a circle and a big question mark. So, the reindeer are unchanged or unaltered? I can understand if the numbers are unchanged, but I do not think I care to ponder the "unmitigated" animal. It is just weird. Sometimes, diction can be technically correct (or at least that might be argued) but it remains clunky and ought to be avoided. This one wins the clunky award.

June 26, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, I had not heard of that Hancock guy, but yikes, what a nut.

Oddly enough, Cunliffe's passing remarks about the anatomical alighments of some of the big Neolithic monuments made me think of the old Erich Von Daniken Chariots of the Gods craze. I wondered whether such lunatic schemes find an audience in particularly desperate times.

June 26, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., I give Cunliffe this one based on context. The surrounding discussion and the rare but effective touches of humor make iclear that he 1) means reindeer as a food rather than as an animal; and 2) unmitigated is intended to convey amused sympathy for the exasperation the people in question might have felt at the sameness of their diet. If you were to be fed mashed turnips every day for a year and were then asked to write an essay about the experience, you might well write that your diet consisted of unmitigated turnips.

Cunliffe’s light touch with what could me heavy material helps make the book a pleasure to read.


June 26, 2013  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

RT

I dont want you to think that we're ganging up on you but I too am with Peter on this one.

I thought Cunliffe's paragraph was very funny and for humour I'll forgive almost anything.

I suppose it depends what you language to do - convey meaning in simple terms or to delight the senses or a bit of both. I thought Cunliffe's use of unmitigated did both very effectively.

June 26, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

Hey, go ahead and gang up on me. I can take it.

In any case, perhaps my disconnection witb what others perceive as humor militates against what have become my excessive and irrelevant blog postings these days.

Perhaps I need to mitigate my leisure activities.

Adieu!

June 26, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Advocating peaceable relations, I invite R.T. to read Cunliffe and see if viewing the passage in its context changes his mind. I suggest it's not that he fails to appreciate humor but rather that the passage, in isolation, did not let him see it.

As for me, I say Cunliffe might be one of those serious scientists who nonetheless makes his subject exciting and enjoyable.

June 26, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., I just defended you, damn it.

June 26, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

- convey meaning in simple terms

Right. How many writers could make a sentence about the monotony of a prehistoric diet interesting? Besides, Unmitigated Reindeer is a good name for a band.

June 26, 2013  
Blogger Kelly Robinson said...

He may be forgiven but can we forgive you for being in the corporate-affiliated café of a chain bookstore?

June 27, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

No, you cannot, not even if I claim I was there just to make fun of the acromegalic ventis or to snap photos of the store's ludicrously solemn murals of writers.

June 27, 2013  

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