Knossos and the Prophets of Modernism by Cathy Gere - review by Peter Washington

Peter Washington

‘These Fragments I Have Shored Against my Ruins’

Knossos and the Prophets of Modernism

By

University of Chicago Press 272pp £16 order from our bookshop
 

In Darwin’s bicentenary year the cultural chatter is inevitably all about the importance of evolutionary biology to our understanding of the world, but it could be argued that other Victorian sciences were at least as significant, especially geology and archaeology. The three are closely related and Darwin drew on them all. Each reconstructs a version of the past from evidence in the present. As anyone who reads Poe and Conan Doyle will know, these disciplines flourished at the same time as the new genre of detective fiction, which adopted a similar approach to crime. But forensic criminology is not only reconstructive; it is also prophetic. At a certain point in the investigation the detective often finds himself able to predict the identity of the criminal and even his future behaviour. In some cases the denouement of the story depends on this ability, most touchingly in ‘Silver Blaze’, which turns on Sherlock Holmes’s feeling for equine psychology.

The notion of history as the source of augury is hardly new – the Old Testament could not exist without it – but, except for a few individuals little regarded at the time (Boehme, Blake, Herder), the Enlightenment silenced prophetic voices from

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