I began working on this manuscript some time ago and have been publishing synopses of my investigation of its imagery in blogs since 2009.
During the interval – now into its eighth year (minus one dedicated to another assignment) – Nick Pelling has offered my study and its results no recognition, nor any form of informed critique, or has he addressed any particular topic to offer advice, or constructive comment.
I should have welcomed it: informed comment of that type is how normal scholarship advances: not by theory-wars.
Through the previous years Pelling has avoided scholarly debate; offered no correction of detail; no informed alternative interpretation of any folio or section. Silence has been the rule.
His first and only response to these years’ careful investigation and exegesis of the primary source has been a rant on his blog today.
One must allow for the high importance Pelling clearly places on loyalty as a personal quality; his belief that theoretical constructs are a better way to ‘make history’ than mere exegesis and comparative study of a given artefact’s content; and his unshakeable belief that once he has come to a point of view, it is someone’s else’s business to present him an argument against it which he can accept.
Unfortunately, as we have seen recently in his refusal to accept that Jens Sensfelder’s identification of the archer’s bow was mistaken, what Pelling can accept by way of evidence depends chiefly on who makes the argument – an approach which I’m inclined to think anti-intellectual by definition, but I’m open to alternative views on that.
I’m aware that Zandbergen has often promoted the view that if the ‘source is dubious, the information is dubious’ and a fair bit of work has been put into circulating an idea that I am in some way or another ‘dubious’. Informed, detailed, reasonable and objective arguments might have been another way to go, but I expect it is perfectly clear that when it comes to a manuscript’s imagery, I know what I’m talking about.
The aim of the ‘central European Latin Christian cultural product’ argument is not to reach a better understanding of the manuscript, but to ensure that one theory ‘triumphs’ by eliminating all other voices. That’s the nature of the Voynich theory-war.
Personal slurs, determined avoidance, and an entrenched practice of stealing the conclusions of original research, then assigning credit to some other ‘more acceptable’ name is a tactic I’ve never encountered outside Voynich-land, and more precisely outside the circle of Zandbergen’s adherents, or to be nicer – adherents to the theory he was initially alone in promoting .
One could list at least a dozen original findings of mine, alone, which now circulate without correct acknowledgements and are absorbed in some fashion into the ‘Blob’ that is the ‘central European’ storyline. Its style of growth has been positively amoebic.
The “twist-and-absorb-and- re-attribute” technique has been applied to my work on f.86v, to my work on the botanical section, and looks fair to be extended to certain other work of mine which a couple of correspondents have described as ground-breaking or (in one case, with exaggeration, as) a ‘revolution’ in the way the manuscript is being understood. Obviously panic-time for those who cannot or will not discard theories in favour of conclusions from the primary evidence.
To all the theorists, including those who attempt to co-opt my results without having troubled to study the research which led to those conclusions, remember that a theory has to be explained, just like the result of a mathematical exercise. Where’s your working out? Show me the internal evidence, gained from the primary document, from which your initial premises were formulated.
Exactly what were the grounds from which Zandbergen’s theory of “German cultural origin” were formed? Tracking back through the decades he has held this notion, I can find nothing except a determination that it shall be so, a very dubious connection which one man suggested to the German Emperor Frederick II, and a deliberate distortion of a comment made by Irwin Panofsky. There seems, at base, no more to it. The rest is all a post-hoc effort to find something, anything, to support it. The Asian ‘cloud-band’ pattern, referred to by the German term wolkenband, was supposed one ‘proof’. That pictures of men with crossbows occur in German works (as well as in innumerable other sources and regions) was taken as another ‘proof’ about the content’s nature, and so on and on and on. It’s mostly flummery. The latest dictum from Zandbergen is that to study manuscripts other than those made in the fifteenth century is “irrelevant” and “mere contextualisation”. And nicely avoids the fact that the manuscript itself plainly shows derivation from earlier works, apparently of the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century. But if one mustn’t take off the blinkers which the Doctor ordered, disturbing information won’t be seen, will it?
Only Zandbergen would have the temerity to dictate the parameters of others’ investigations in that way. No-one else is so adept at being chummy and making attacks on others a pre-requisite for his approval. Only Zandbergen has such a peculiar idea of his relative importance that he would feel free to behave as a professor to students: handing out assignments, adopting the results of students’ work as his own, and retiring delicately while the latest independent thought is drowned in abuse of its proponent. Believe me, in one sense, the ‘central European’ storyline is the only sensible line to take. And that’s the truth of it.
Just imagine that you are in the real world, being asked by a collector to provenance the object.
Honestly, would you represent yourself as a person qualified and able even to evaluate and explain the imagery as it stands – let alone its evidence of historical evolution and content? What if the penalty for misrepresenting the content was an obligation to reimburse the collector to the full amount of its purchase price?
MS Beinecke 408 is not a virtual toy, conformable to your fantasy ‘theory’ about its nature, content or origin.
The theory of any all-Latin-Christian-European content is plainly, manifestly, demonstrably wrong.
Even trying to slip in references to the Armenians ( a matter I first raised by reference to their presence in southeast Asia, and which Thomas Spande then explored in detail, even acknowledging my role, bless him) or trying to obscure the fact that ‘Asian plants’ are only one element in a much greater pattern of internal reference, won’t see the ‘German cultural origin’ theory stand the test of time, though it may keep a proponent’s public and television image intact as long as they keep working at it.
I don’t feel any lesser regard for Pelling’s earlier efforts. I still recommend his work and posts about this manuscript up until about 2013.
For the rest, I shouldn’t dream of trying to tell you not to read the material produced by the German theorists or any other. Actually, come to think of it, I don’t believe there is any other view whose proponent has survived the pack-attacks, public insults, and back-room denigration by the adherents of that schematic history for which Rene Zandbergen deserves credit as author.
Is there any other view which is permitted to survive? Oh, perhaps the Nahuatl theory is still about. And poor Santacoloma’s fantasy of the work as a fake.
I don’t agree with either of them, of course, but … do read them, too, if you feel inclined and make up your own mind. Cite your sources for a non-central-European opinion only if you dare.
I continue to believe that there are out there people who have no interest in theory-wars, personal ambitions, or maintaining membership of any over-riding organisation or clique, and whose priorities put intellectual integrity higher than personal loyalties or photo ops.
I write for you. In Canada, in France, in Spain, in Belgium, in Germany, in America, in Brazil, even in Australia. I know you’re out there. Have a great New Year, and write to me if you like.
Looking forward to 2016, and thanks for being responsible for the latest news from wordpress that my readership is going ‘exponential’. The Voynich manuscript – the more you know it, the more you have to love it. Fascinating little thing.