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Ladder of Shadows

Reflecting on Medieval Vestige in Provence and Languedoc

Gustaf Sobin (Author), Michael Ignatieff (Foreword)


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Bits of late Roman coinage, the mutilated torso of a marble Venus, blue debris from an early medieval glassworks, and the powder rasped from the reputed tomb of Mary Magdalene—these tantalizing mementos of human history found scattered throughout the landscape of southeastern France are the points of departure for Gustaf Sobin's lyrical narrative. A companion volume to his acclaimed Luminous Debris, Ladder of Shadows picks up where the former left off: with late antiquity, covering a period from roughly the third to the thirteenth century. Here Sobin offers brilliant readings of late Roman and early Christian ruins in his adopted region of Provence, sifting through iconographic, architectural, and sacramental vestiges to shed light on nothing less than the existential itself.
Foreword, by Michael Ignatieff

Apt: Reading an Antique City as Palimpsest

Desolate Treasure

Crypto-Christianity: The Sarcophagi of Arles, I

Terra Sigillata

Relics: Membra Martyrum as Living Current

Venus Disfigured

The Blossoming of Numbers: The Baptistery at Riez

The Deletion of Shadow: The Sarcophagi of Arles, II

City of God

Laying the Dragon Low

The Dark Ages: A History of Omissions

The Blue Tears of Sainte-Marthe

The Blind Arcade: Reflections on a Carolingian Sarcophagus

Celestial Paradigms

Vaulting the Nave

The Dome: Architecture as Antecedent

Classical Roots, Evangelical Branches

Vanished Scaffolds and the Structures Thereof

Incastellamento: Perching the Village, I

Incastellamento: Perching the Village, II
(The Circulades of Languedoc)

Faja Oscura


The Fifth Element: From Manna to Exaction

Mary Magdalene the Odoriferous

The Death of Genesis

Gustaf Sobin (1935-2005) was a poet, novelist, and essayist. His books include the novel The Fly-Truffler and Luminous Debris: Reflecting on Vestige in Provence and Languedoc (UC Press).
“In Ladder of Shadows, Gustaf Sobin is 'always in search of the kind of phenomena that might, potentially, confer sense upon one's own existence.' In the course of this search, Sobin's essays enact a lovely and compelling labor of making the past present, while also making the present unfold and open itself to history.”—Joshua Clover, author of The Totality for Kids

“Gustaf Sobin's Ladder of Shadows is to Provençal consciousness what his perfect sensorium of poetry is to a rose and the sound of a river. Sobin's writing is a gift that we never learn to expect; it always surprises.”—Michael McClure, poet and playwright

“I feel as though I just walked across southern France from 27 B.C. to A.D. 1200 accompanied by a really smart, articulate, and avid local insider. Along the way he introduced me to monks, potters, stonemasons, architects, glassblowers, farmers still using late Neolithic methods, woodcutters, and salt dryers. Perhaps the reader should be warned not to open the book unless there are several days of free time available. It is almost impossible to put it down.”—Dean MacCannell, author of The Tourist: A New Theory of the Leisure Class

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