Thinking has come to life again; the cultural treasures of the past, believed to be dead, are being made to speak, in the course of which it turns out that they purpose things altogether different from the familiar, worn-out trivialities they had been presumed to say.

Source: Mark Lilla: The Reckless Mind, p. 12.

I would like to ask what noun the relative clause ("in the course of which…") modifies. Is it really "the past"? I am familiar with the phrase "in the course of time" but in the course of the past seems to me very odd.

  • 1
    Logically, it should be "and in the course of that speech". IMHO, of course. Or maybe it's "in the course of being made to speak"? That would be strange. Commented Dec 30, 2015 at 16:31
  • in the course of being made to speak.
    – TimR
    Commented Dec 30, 2015 at 22:47

2 Answers 2


This is the second time someone here brings up the writings of Mr. Lilla and, once again, the OP is stumped by his sloppy writing. I can only assume that the OP has already read all the good literature (Shakespeare, Thomas Paine, G.B. Shaw, William Faulkner, Nabokov, and Douglas Adams) and has no choice but to turn to less refined, and less intriguing, authors.

That said, it's pretty clear what the author meant to say.

It is the process of "making the cultural treasures of the past to speak" that is being modified: it is in the course of that process that "it turns out..." etc.

  • Thank you for your reply but one tiny correction: This excerpt comes from Lilla's book but it is actually a citation from H. Arendt's text.
    – bart-leby
    Commented Dec 30, 2015 at 18:54
  • @bart-leby: Yep. The previous one quoted her as well, and was just as sloppy.
    – Ricky
    Commented Dec 30, 2015 at 19:00

I think "in the course of" attaches to "being made to speak", but I'm not clear on that. Despite the relative rarity of this usage, "in the course of /present participle/" seems perfectly natural to me.

So, when we made the cultural treasures of the past speak again, we found that the things they say are altogether different than the familiar worn-out trivialities we had presumed they said.

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