Justin Evans's Reviews > The Major Refutation

The Major Refutation by Pierre Senges
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Feb 12, 2017

really liked it
bookshelves: fiction

I assume that everyone wishes literature were just vituperative rants saturated in scholastic detail, but devoid of characters, plot, and description. Voila. The Major Refutation, written by Antonio de Guevara to his confessee, Charles I of Ghent, later Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, reveals to us that the discovery of the New World was a fraud perpetrated by more or less everyone other than Antonio himself: the Catholic monarchs, the merchants, the slave-owners, the goldsmiths, the Jews (though Antonio understands that they're sinned against, rather than sinning), the explorers, and most of all Antonio's arch-nemesis, Peter Martyr. Essential: Bernhard writing in the 16th century.

Pierre Senges has done us the favor of translating it into French, and adding a scholarly epilogue on the many other great lost books and revelations of fraud in literary history. And then Jacob Siefring has done an excellent job putting Senges' French into English. The book is a wonderful take-down of the Age of Exploration, and therefore also of the New World supposedly discovered during that age, and therefore also of the 'Old' World that glutted itself on potatoes and tomatoes and gold and slaves. Since the Old and New Worlds are both as existent as they ever were, it's also eerily relevant.

The whole thing is worth reading, though I have more than a few questions for Siefring: in English, this really is like a more oratorical Bernhard; was the French more authentically 16th century? Are the anachronisms, winked at in Senges's epilogue, Senges's fault, or Siefring's, or intentional on one or both their parts?

But I have no questions about the worth of reading the book. The project itself, the skeptical assault on events we know to have been real, is genuinely discomforting. Readers of texts like this tend to pride ourselves on our skepticism and our doubting; here, the skepticism is gloriously productive of insults and scorn, and the insults and scorn are often well-deserved, but ultimately we, the readers, know that the skepticism was misplaced. Is ours, too, misplaced?

"When faced with a lie, every man thinks it his duty to pronounce the truth, and believes that he just as soon dissolves it, just as Christ with a single word drove off the demon, composed of sarcasm and sulphur; when faced with liars, every man yearns to crack open the safes of the secretaries and sift through the documents, because he eagerly awaits the triumph, tardy perhaps but nonetheless effective, of experts and jurists over boasters and sham sailors, bona fide bastards and speculators... truth has the disadvantage of being prudent, circumspect, and of keeping quiet as silence is its least impure form... and adumbration fails when it comes face-to-face with the lie, the lie being sprightly, performative, incontestable as a blemish, and possessing the authority of a tocsin or call to prayer."

On the one hand, you want to quote that to every Trump voter you meet. On the other hand, it was written by a man who was, sincerely or not, lying through his teeth.
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Started Reading
February 11, 2017 – Finished Reading
February 12, 2017 – Shelved
February 12, 2017 – Shelved as: fiction

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