Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Amazon review of John Banville's novel Dr Copernicus.--I find it engrossing and beautifully written.

Scientific, religious, and political revolution ByC. Collinson August 5, 2007 Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase This is the third Banville novel I have read and I find his writing exceptional and challenging. I first read The Sea and then Kepler. Doctor Copernicus, while less poetic than The Sea, is my favorite of the three. I think it is significant that Banville in his Acknowledgments mentions Thomas S. Kuhn's The Copernican Revolution as a major source. This becomes evident in the second half of the book where Banville does an exceptional job of integrating into novel form Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolution into the narrative structure of the novel. Yet, like the works of Iris Murdoch, the philosophy and science are woven seemlessly into the novel structure, never overpowering. John Banville will win the Nobel Prize for literature one day - mark my word. There are several strenghts in this novel that I would point out. First, Banville captured a medieval world of turmoil, disease, filth, ignorance, and death. Yet he also captures how exceptional intelligence may be embedded in this world, rise above squalor, develop an intellectual social network for passage of ideas, and produce a product that will communicate to the future ages. And yet, Banville's genius is also to negate these concepts by revealing that exceptional intelligence is still unable to grasp the thing in itself, the nature of reality. That human squalor is a reality in all times and that Copernicus distances himself from the human condition at a price. Copernicus is also a medical physician who is powerless against the horror of syphilis. Banville also allows us no illusion that science is a process of progress marching toward truth, but he has his character Copernicus recognize that his hypotheses in fact would soon be replaced by new truth systems and these new truth systems were only a micron closer to any final reality. Thus we are presented with a picture of human genius which is shown to be limited by the short life span of humans, our inability to focus and concentrate, the wild distractions of everyday life and the pain of the human condition. The life of Copernicus takes place during a theological revolution with political ramifications. Copernicus lives in Ermland, a Germanic state ruled primarily by his uncle, the Bishop Lucas. This tiny state falls between the Prussian and Germanic Lutheran forces and those of the Teutonic Knights and the Polish Catholic king. Thus Banville has his Copernicus experience the terrors of a theological revolution, as expressed when Copernicus must list the names of the over 2000 victims of the struggle between the Germanic states and Poland for the tiny Baltic states that lay between them. Whereas Copernicus, a Canon of the Catholic Church, no longer believes in the Medieval construction of God, neither Catholic nor Lutheran, he does cling to the rituals of Catholicism and believes that some human truth resides in these ritualistic acts that are independent of the current theology but may be linked to an ultimate reality beyond human comprehension. Thus he knows the process of revolution and he knows the revolution that his work will stimulate and he knows the costs of revolution. Banville creates a coldly calculating Copernicus, who uses the bright but egotistical Rheticus, to move his publications forward with strategic publications and timing. That this process was supported by Catholic Bishops would indicate that there is a sub-plot in the novel of subversion of the Lutheran faith and Germanic states by taking the manuscript deep into Lutheran territory for publication and distribution. Copernicus's theories were known and discounted by Martin Luther. The form of the novel was marvelously post-modern, using a distant all seeing narrator in the early chapters, letters and correspondence in later chapters, the acount of the angry Rheticus in the third quarter of the book, and Copernicus' death bed hallucinations as the final chapter. The character of Copernicus is dry yet we see how this orphaned boy, reared by the cold calculating Bishop Lucas, tortured by his hedonistic brother, and finally rejecting love that he feels for young Italian physician, prepare his cold soul for the distanced work of abstracting and producing his vision of a sun centered system of planetary motion. It is his angry rejected disciple Rheticus who tells us that the world has been fooled and that the Copernican model in fact does not place the sun at the center of the universe but only offers a model for planetary motion and that the sun now becomes a smaller force in a universe without a center. Thus the Biblical world becomes completely unhinged. The character of Rheticus is wonderfully written for he is bright but egotistical and this leads to his downfall and his being used as the method by which Copernicus could publish in a politically treacherous time. The conversations between Rheticus and Copernicus reveal that Copernicus grasped the nature of scientific revolution and thus was able to see his own work as launching a coneptual revolution with wide ramifications which one day would be overthrown also. This is an exceptionally well written novel, complex and rewarding. 3 people found this helpful