You know: in a foolish, undiscriminating way, I've been happy these last few months. I don't know why. I just am. I love my friends; I love my pupils; I love what I read; I -- dammit -- love my thoughts. I love the taste of oranges.
Thornton Wilder in a letter to Gertrude Stein, Aug 14, 1936

Sunday, June 5, 2011


The HieroglyphicsThe Hieroglyphics by Michael Stewart
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Harapollo Niliacus wrote his interpretations of Egyptian hieroglyphics during the fifth century CE. Some commentators think Harapollo might have been a pagan holdout in a rapidly Christianizing world, but in any event he knew very little about hieroglyphics. He ascribed moralizing meanings to the images, a practice that would remain popular into the Renaissance. You can read his work on the internet.

Michael Stewart has taken Harapollo's organization and his fallacious interpretations and entered into a dialog with the ancient writer. Stewart covers the seventy glyphs described in Harapollo's Book I, borrowing freely from the original text, bringing in semi-historical elements from the Old Testament, and creating an elliptical vision of his own society with its rituals, philosophy, and mores. The result is mesmerizing, most often hovering on the verge of revelations that would bring sharper focus to the place where Stewart has deposited us. The language is as matter-of-fact as dictionary entries, with an occasional, effective jolt of obscenity.

I usually hate it when reviewers say they look forward to "going back to [insert title here] frequently," because I never see much sense to that. But I had to go back to Hieroglyphics just to write the short review and enjoyed the experience. Rereading the book piecemeal, or even front to back, is not going to reveal some secret key to its meaning, but Stewart's world, wherever and whenever it is, remains a good place to poke around.

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1 comment:

  1. Hi Charles, I am trtying to get in touch with you about a photogrpah from your colelction. The email I have seems to be an old one. If you could get in touch with me at, I would really appreciate it.