Fintan O'Toole on Tim Robinson's Experiments on Reality: Illuminating insight on the material world

Book review: Tim Robinson etches his moments on nature for us in indelible sentences

On Tim Robinson’s marvellous map of the Burren, you can just about make out a dot with, in tiny print, the enigmatic description “a strange field”. I have never gone looking for it but it would be hard put in any case to live up to the short passage in Experiments on Reality in which Robinson explains why he marked it.

Like everywhere else in the Burren, it is shaped by the carbonic acid released from the limestone slabs by eons of rainwater. “This field had been fenced with slabs set on edge that exhibited – the word is right – a great variety of amoeboid piercings that would have pleased the surrealist sculptor Hans Arp. Look through these weird windows, and what is on one side is as lugubriously anonymous as what is on the other.” Surely the real field would not be quite as wonderful as Robinson’s qualities of mind that are displayed here: the precision of the Cambridge-educated mathematician; the eye of the visual artist; the quiet humour of a man who contemplates the world on his own terms; above all the prose of a master.

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