****We have been watching Ken Burn's documentary series on the American Civil War. There are 9 episodes, each about 70 minutes long, and consisting entirely of old photographs, interviews with historians and readings from documents - letters and journal entries mostly. It is a testament to the film maker's art that such dry ingedients have been shaped into such a compelling and engaging narrative. I knew next to nothing about this most seminal conflict until a week ago, but now find myself captivated by the complexity, the horror, the inexorability of this great drama and of its larger than life dramatis personae: The bumbling Northern Generals and the audaciously talented Southern ones; the unpopular president whose integrity and genius was only gradually and retrospectively revealed; the men who, in their tens of thousands were led to the slaughter and the women who mourned them or nursed them back to health. The American Civil War was one of the first modern conflicts. The denial of essential humanity and the mechanised slaughter in the name of abstracted principles was a pattern that was to be repeated incessantly over the next century. The Civil War explains so much of what America is and of who we in the West are. It is such a celebration of humanity and an indictment of what we have become.
****I'm reading Iain McGilchrist's The Master and His Emissary, of which I will post a proper review in due course. It's a big book, but I'm not hurrying through it; there is so much to learn and so much to savour. Our brains are neatly divided down the middle, with the two hemispheres being structurally and functionally different and McGilchrist explains what those differences are, and how the brain works as a whole to simultaneously perform tasks which are so mutually contradictory that they require, in effect, two separate apparatus. He has helped me deepen my understanding of much of my life and thinking and relating. His chapter on the development of language alone is well worth the price of the book. He illuminates the way the two hemispheres work together, and then posits that in the West, over the past few centuries, the Left hemisphere has become dominant to the benefit and to the deep peril of us all. The dominance of the left hemisphere made possible, for example, the beginnings of anaesthetics and hygenic surgery during the Civil War, and the rifled muskets and Ironsides and Gatling guns which made them necessary.