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    Tulips. Longitude. Spices. A fashion in book-making has come upon us. You take a hitherto
    little considered, even on the face of it banal, subject and you narrate, analyse, historically
    contextualise, morally parse and culturally locate the hell out of it. No resonance goes untested.
        -REVIEW : of  The Mirror: A History. By Sabine Melchior-Bonnet (Godfrey Fitzsimons, Irish Times)

                     Rogers: It is also about this one particular church.
                     What was the thinking behind this project?

                     Visser: Well, just more of the same. What I do is
                     take a concrete thing. It all began with the radio
                     because you couldn't see people in radio. Take
                     something that people know something about, an
                     orange or a potato, a thing that everybody
                     recognizes. And then you go into that thing. It's
                     much more interesting to concentrate on that thing,
                     ask questions about it.

                     So, instead of a meal, I look at a building. Like a
                     meal, a church has a plot, a beginning, a middle and
                     an end. And it enabled me to hold it all together,
                     limit the subject matter.

                    In the last book, if someone said, "Why didn't you focus on the tomato?"
                    I could say, "It wasn't on the menu."

                    In this book, if someone asks, "Why didn't you focus on Thomas
                    Aquinas?" I can say, "Well, he's not in the church."

                    Rogers: The church, St. Agnes outside the Walls...

                    Visser: Yes, I picked this one because it's small, and it's in Rome. But, it
                    represents all churches.

                    I want people to feel free to do with their church what I did with this
                    one, if you have time. It took me four years of work.
                         -Interview with Margaret Visser, This Morning (CBC Radio)

One of the more popular modern writing crazes is to take an object from everyday life and to dissect it : the materials used to make it; its history; its uses; etc..   Margaret Visser's Geometry of Love is a fairly representative example of this genre, better than some, no worse than most.  In it she concentrates her attention upon the Sant'Agnese fuori le Mura Church near Rome.  By the time you finish the book you know everything you could possibly want to know about this church, which most of us have never heard of and will never see, except for one thing : why are churches in general, or this one in particular, unique ?

Much of the book is interesting, some sections are even fascinating, but, perhaps because of the nature of the task she's set herself, describing the church as a physical structure, it never comes alive as a house of God.  Admittedly, as a Baptist, I've always considered church buildings themselves to be secondary to the function they serve, as a gathering place for like-minded worshippers.  But I found the book to be something like the parable of the three blind men describing an elephant, and Visser to have failed to make the church anything more than the sum of its parts.  In his marvelous study, Mont Saint Michel and Chartres,  Henry Adams observed two of the great churches of Christendom and perceived not merely their unity, but the unity of the culture that produced them.  Margaret Visser looks at Saint Agnes and sees the particular features of the building.  The difference in perception seems significant.


Grade: (C)


See also:

Book-related and General Links:
    -Margaret Visser (Author Web Site)
    -BOOK SITE : Geometry of Love (FSB Associates)
    -Compass : A Jesuit Journal (Margaret Visser, Contributing Editor)
    -EXCERPT : CANOPIES from Geometry of Love
    -ESSAY :  A Sixties Scrapbook : Fit, Young and Casual Were the Trinity (Margaret Visser, Compass)
    -ESSAY :  St. Simeon the Stylite : He Dug Deeper and Ended Up High (Margaret Visser, Compass)
    -ESSAY : On Awful Offal (Margaret Visser, george, jr.)
    -ESSAY : Baked Beans: An Apotheosis (Margaret Visser, george, jr.)
    -ESSAY : TAKING A SHOWER (Margaret Visser, george, jr.)
    -INTERVIEW : Margaret Visser: Anthropologist of everyday life (THIS MORNING - CBC Radio, 10/00)
    -INTERVIEW : Margaret Visser :  The Real Meaning of Table Manners (Melanie Fogel, CM: A Reviewing Journal of Canadian Materials for Young People)
    -REVIEW : of The Geometry of Love by Margaret Visser (Independent uk)
    -REVIEW : of Geometry of Love (David Jays, The Observer)
    -REVIEW : of THE RITUALS OF DINNER The Origins, Evolution, Eccentricities, and Meaning of Table Manners  By Margaret Visser (1991) (Molly O'Neill, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of The Way We Are (Katharine Whittamore, Salon)
    -REVIEW : of MUCH DEPENDS ON DINNER. The Extraordinary History and Mythology, Allure and Obsessions, Perils and Taboos of an Ordinary Meal. By Margaret Visser (John Gross, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of MUCH DEPENDS ON DINNER The Extraordinary History and Mythology, Allure and Obsessions, Perils and Taboos, of an Ordinary Meal. By Margaret Visser (1988) (Laura Shapiro, NY Times Book Review)

    -Churches of Rome: Sant' Agnese fuori le mura