kircher everywhere


Kircher has twice inspired the founding of peculiar societies. The intensely German Catholic Internationale Athanasius Kircher Forschungsgesellschaft (International Athanasius Kircher Research Society) materialized in 1968, and its languid devotion to Kircher, which seems to have stood in the way of the society producing its gloriously advertised publications, became the subject of a Dutch documentary and a novel by Anton Haakman. The New York–based Kircher Society held its first meeting in January 2007, staging an exuberant pageant of intellectual pyrotechnics. Among the special guests were Kim Peek, the modern human book-memorization machine who inspired Dustin Hoffman’s character in Rain Man, and Princeton University professor Anthony Grafton, who declaimed in ornate Latin the vivid description of the descent into Mount Vesuvius offered in Kircher’s Underground World (1665). Other entertainments included a display of Rosamond Purcell’s Kircheresque photographic portraits of natural curiosities and the staging of a scene from Romeo and Juliet translated into the nineteenth-century universal language Solresol (presumably in honor of Kircher’s own attempts at a seventeenth-century Esperanto). The evening concluded with an opportunity for guests to win a replica of a walrus-penis bone. That the Kircher Society has not met during the past six years suggests the difficulty of—or exasperation with—imagining feats of erudition stranger than those conceived by a very dead Jesuit.

more from Paula Findlen at The Nation here.