|John Dee by an unknown|
Dee - Elizabeth I's astrologer, inter alia - enjoys resurgent interest some half a millennium after his death, largely thanks to Blur's frontman Damon Albarn whose stage Dee bio-musical premiers in Manchester in July. Expect much invocatory warbling as dry ice and flash light pass for alchemical spell-making.
Sadly, Duncan has not so much reviewed the book as used the space allotted him to pursue the fashionable atheistic agenda that dominates our newspapers; even the Daily Express. 'Occultists' we are assured are 'raving egotists addicted to publicity.' Unlike, say, Richard Dawkins, James Randi, Derren Brown, Prof Brian Cox or others on a long list of professional sceptics, atheists and 'scienters' who fill the daily prints with their quests to prove oblivion while raking it in from books, articles and showbiz performances. Egotist? Moi?
'Aren't occultists meant to be shy retiring types as trustees of secret, arcane knowledge?' is the implied question, based on caricature. Yet Duncan reports mockingly that Dee advertised his genius to many influential figures of the 16th Century, as if such a thing should not have been a means of self-advancement, as practised in all other walks of life, past and present. Today we would call such activity 'entrepreneurial' - certainly David Cameron would approve of such self-starting dynamism.
The 'review' conclusion on Dee's life is that it was 'high on fancy and negligible on achievement': an assessment that at least is masterly in its brevity. Perhaps Dee's only usefulness is as some sort of barium meal for scholarly X-rays of the gut of Tudor times. It's a wonder we're talking about him at all.
What fascinates me more than anything else is the uniformity of view to be found in mainstream publications on astrology, divination, alchemy, etc. I can't think of one professional critic, book reviewer, hack, editor or other commentator who does not peddle a gospel cobbled together from the ums and ers of a dreary lab. There's comfort in mass repetition, I guess.
Meanwhile, in the real world, many people experience things that science and its cultists can only blink at.
Still, I shall read Parry's book. More about Dee.