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This report is taken from PN Review 197, Volume 37 Number 3, January - February 2011.

Catchwords (10) Iain Bamforth

In 1176, medieval Jewish scholars in Provence claimed that the foundational text of kabbalism, which they called Sefer ha-Bahir (Book of Brilliance), had come down to them from the first Christian century in the form of scattered scrolls and parchments, a claim supported by the enigmatic quality of the text, which is full of interrupted commentaries, theological mystery and gobbledegook. Despite the title, its teachings are far from clear. One scholar with a particular understanding of transmission problems even suggested that the unbound pages of the Bahir had been caught up by the wind, scattered on the ground and reassembled by mere cribbers in an utterly incoherent order. This act of mischief was perhaps the doing of the mistral, howling up the Rhone valley.

The wind trembling in the leaves was the prime hallucinogen for the Greek oracles; in the Hebrew Bible it is announced as the very life of Adam, signified from the Divine. And Roberto Calasso adds: ‘The Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge looked like a single tree: when the branches rustled, that was the Vedas who were its leaves, speaking.’


Among the mutant homonyms in Michel Leiris’s glossary Langage Tangage, ou Ce que les mots me disent is a definition of Scotland: ‘Ecosse: est-ce que les os d’Ossian sont au sec dans sa cosse?’ Scotland is remembered in the mind of a finicky but philologically inventive French writer as the Eyptianised husk of an imagined body of ancient ...


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