Sunday, 27 January 2013


There is an entirely unexpected philosophical discussion in Poul Anderson's The Sign Of The Raven (New York, 1980), Chapter XI, "How The Host Was Gathered." Let me try to summarize it:

Harald: The scores of longships are a brave sight.
Elizabeth: Weapons and warships are the loveliest artifacts.
Harald: Not books or icons?
Elizabeth: Books and icons are holy. However, the instruments of death, neither gilded nor covered with twined serpents but serving a purpose, are clean and strong, like God's purposive creations - men, animals, mountains, sunsets etc.

That is quite a thought. As it happens, I do not believe that men etc were created for any purpose but nevertheless I can find some common ground with Elizabeth. She mentions:

"'...not only the aim of salvation but also the common purpose of eating and walking and working, of staying alive.'" (p. 182)

That common purpose I believe we were not made for but were naturally selected for so it makes sense to find an aesthetic in common between organisms selected for survival and artifacts constructed for a purpose. And I did not expect to have that discussion when starting to read The Sign Of The Raven.

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