In an Empire of the Dead

The Los Angeles Review of Books

“IN THE SUMMER of 1763, Samuel Johnson stubbed his toe. As the story is told, he and James Boswell were exiting a church in Harwich, having said a prayer to oversee the latter’s impending voyage. Discussing Bishop George Berkeley’s doctrine of subjective idealism, the belief that material objects are only products of mind, Boswell observed the impossibility of disproving such a claim. “I refute it thus!” roared his comrade, kicking a large rock so hard he rebounded. Gusto aside, Johnson’s theatrics proved little more than the durability of his footwear. Yet the anecdote shows how we turn toward things when words won’t do; how we find voice in the material world and its muteness…”