Monday, May 23, 2016
Saturday, May 21, 2016
One of Chesterton's most famous essays is an early one (1901) called "in defence of penny dreadfuls" – "penny dreadfuls" being what we might call "pulp fiction," but for adolescents. Apparently many cultural pedagogues of the time were exercised by the popularity of such "vulgar" stories and wished them to be replaced by genuine literature. GKC is half – puzzled and half – offended by this alarm. He has no wish to defend the dreadfuls as literature but he does want to defend them as "the actual centre of 1 million flaming imaginations." To Chesterton, "the simple need for some kind of ideal world in which fictitious persons play an unhampered part is infinitely deeper and older than the rules of good art, and much more important. Every one of us in childhood has constructed such an invisible dramatis personae, but it never occurred to our nurses to correct the composition by careful comparison with Balzac." In fact, he continues, "literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity." That is while we can live without Balzac, brilliant though he may be, the penny dreadfuls are actually vital to human well-being.
Tuesday, May 17, 2016
The Duke of Bourbon and the Poitevins left there, and they went before a place called le Faon, which was not encircled by trenches,where it would have water.. And so the place was strongly assaulted, but it was not taken on that day, except only the lower courtyard, where many good men were wounded. For there was there a Franciscan who was wondrous at firing the arbelest, with which he killed four gentlemen, and he was said to be the finest arbelister in Poitou, and well provisioned [with amunition]. And on the next day, the Poitevins and Bourbonnois assailed the keep in a fierce and strong assault, and those within defended themselves, and the Franciscan let fire [again], but it was such an energetic effort that the fortress was taken, and many men killed within, save for the Franciscan-arbelester, who had removed his habit and fled to his monastery. And then the whole army asked “where is the Franciscan?”, and it was alleged that he was in the church, on his knees before the altar. And so Sir Jean Roye hastened there, because the Franciscan had killed, by his shooting, one of his squires. And he took the Franciscan, along with his habit, and went to hang him from a tree, doing so circumspectly, so that the Duke did not know about it. And the Duke of Bourbon left le Faon.Here we see a course of action approved by the entire army but which other people might see as disgraceful. The killing of the Franciscan might harm the Duke of bourbon's reputation so Châteaumorand is careful to say that the Duke knew nothing about the hanging of the clerical Archer. Why might others disapproved? The telling of the tale makes it clear that the Franciscan was taken out of church and hanged. It looks to be that privileges of the clergy both in the case of the Archer and the church he was found in had been violated. Other observers could see this as an atrocity or a war crime. But John the Châteaumorand, Jean de Roye and the rest of the Army were angry and felt truly justified in hunting down and hanging the Archer. Very likely they saw the Archer as stepping outside of his role as a clergyman and taking on illegitimately the role of the combatant. He was trying to have things both ways, combatant and privileged noncombatant. The may be something more to it as well. It's well-known that men at arms did not see archers as their equals, even if they took part in combat as part of organize armies. It could be that Châteaumorand and his friends saw the Archer as a low class sharpshooter who had no right to be so effective and kill their friends.
Sunday, May 15, 2016
Why Can the Dead Do Such Great Things? Saints and Worshippers from the Martyrs to the Reformation, by Robert Bartlett
Bartlett, Robert. Why Can the Dead Do Such Great Things? Saints and Worshippers from the Martyrs to the Reformation
Reviewed by Diane Fruchtman
Robert Bartlett's Why Can the Dead Do Such Great Things? is delightful. Its acuity, readability, and impressive aggregation of fascinating details make it a compelling, useful, and thoroughly enjoyable read at any level of expertise. While the book is not without fault, its strengths as an avenue into the complex and multifaceted world of saints and worshippers in the Middle Ages far outweigh its shortcomings. Bartlett has a knack for selecting beautifully illustrative and compelling quotations from a wide range of primary sources to illuminate his points, allowing him to present, in glorious array, the diversity of the cult of saints. The book is a wonderful blend of judicious synthesis and confident command of detail, and its almost conversational progression of topics helps maintain and cultivate the reader's curiosity.
Bartlett offers his readers a chronological introduction to the cult of saints before branching out to a thematic exploration. Part one, "Developments," includes chapters on "Origins (100-500)," "The Early Middle Ages (500-1000)," "The High and Later Middle Ages (1000-1500)," and "The Protestant Reformation." While Bartlett occasionally uses primary sources uncritically (for instance, treating the whole of The Martyrdom of Polycarp as a contemporary account ), and while some of his chronological choices are curious (for instance, waiting until the second chapter to introduce Christian ambivalence about the power of the saints' bodily relics), in general these chapters provide an excellent diachronic overview of Western Christian saint veneration, one that lays a solid and necessary framework for the thematic chapters to come. The narrative Bartlett offers is familiar and succinct, yet filled with enough astute observations to make even a seasoned scholar pause and ponder. The chapter on the Reformation is rather too brief: Bartlett touches upon Luther, Zwingli, the Tudors, and Calvin just long enough to register these Reformers' varied rejections of the cult of saints, though not long enough to explore the underpinnings and manifestations of those rejections. Furthermore, the Catholic Reformation, to which the cult of the saints was essential and whose impact on saint veneration was substantial, is wholly absent from Bartlett's narrative. Nonetheless, this historical sketch is an excellent and compelling invitation into the medieval world of saints and worshippers; not only does it provide an accessible historical trajectory for the reader's reference, it piques the reader's interest and prompts questions for further study, many of which are addressed in later chapters.
The second (and far more substantial) section of the book (Part II: "Dynamics") is where Bartlett's brilliance most shines through, as he examines the cult of saints from many different angles, turning the jewel, so to speak, so that we can fully appreciate each facet. These ten chapters, covering topics as varied as liturgical calendars, literary effusions, pilgrim garb, and satirical skepticism, are so wide ranging and engaging that they warrant individual attention here.
"A saint was not a person of a particular type but a person who was treated in a particular way. That 'way' can be summed up by the word 'cult' and its three key elements were public recognition of the name and the day of the saint; special treatment of the saint's bodily remains; and celebrations of the saint in writing" (95). With these parameters, Bartlett (chapter 5: "The Nature of Cult") offers a conceptual foundation for how we can identify saints and their cults. Though sainthood remains in the eye of the beholder, historians and scholars can identify a cult by establishing that worshippers maintained a special relationship to the saint's name, body, and textual traditions. This chapter also assesses the purpose of cult--briefly stated, it is patronage, on a level slightly more accessible than dealing directly with God. The saints intercede on behalf of their petitioners, can be invoked by them, and are bound by the patron's rules of reciprocity, such that saints could be "shamed" or "humiliated" should their intervention seem in need of prodding.
Chapter 6, "Saints' Days," addresses the timing of saints' veneration and celebration. Bartlett describes the development of various liturgies for the saints (showing, in compelling detail, how murky and unsystematic this process often was); the hierarchy of feast days; how the celebration of saints' days varied by locality and thus served to carve out and reinforce local identities; and finally, how those holy days were publicized and celebrated in the lay calendar. This short chapter shows in microcosm the strengths of the book as a whole--attention to detail, illustrative examples, and an overarching dialogic tone that first illuminates what scholars "know" and then problematizes that body of knowledge by addressing questions the reader may not have considered, ultimately providing a cautious and nuanced overview of the topic. Similarly compelling is chapter 11, "Dedications and Naming." Once again, Bartlett sheds light on lesser-noted aspects of the cult of saints: the politics, logic, importance, consequences, and power of naming children after saints; the history of popes taking on saintly names as they ascend to office; the regional patterns of naming conventions, etc.
Chapters 7 and 8 tackle "Types of Saints" and "Relics and Shrines," respectively. Chapter 7 begins with the difficulties inherent in the historiographic project of counting saints--not least of which is the question of whom one should count. After describing the benefits and limitations of several models (delimiting by time, geography, canonization attempts, successful canonizations, etc.) and offering some insight into the data we think we have, Bartlett proceeds to discuss all of the various categories of saints he can muster, including Mary, angels, apostles and evangelists, martyrs, confessors (including doctors of the church, bishops, abbots, and hermits), virgins, Old Testament saints, lay saints, and royal saints (with a subsection on female royals). Then, acknowledging that any identity-based schema will fall short, Bartlett explores saints categorized by their roles as patrons of specific churches, cities, "nations," and individuals. The short sections allow the reader to peruse closely the examples that Bartlett offers, making the chapter, despite its length and encyclopedic potential, immensely readable--it is concise without being inane, wide ranging without ever becoming list-like. The "Relics and Shrines" chapter is, likewise, well structured and clear. It spans the various forms of relics (including body parts and contact relics), the logistics of shrines (their location and management), the collection of relics (in reliquaries and as objects of trade and theft), the movement of relics (in translation, procession, exchange, and theft), how relics appear in legal and military scenarios, and disputes about relics (both about their possession and about their validity).
One of the most satisfying chapters in this book, chapter 9 ("Miracles"), combines survey and analysis, incorporating medieval theories of the miraculous as well as scholarly debates about how to approach, quantify, and analyze the miracles we see in medieval sources. The chapter moves from theorizing and problematizing the miraculous to highlighting and exploring various categories of miracles, first by type (healing, provision, visions, prophecy) and then by context (war, against demons, among animals, in response to scoffers).
Less satisfying is chapter 10, on pilgrimage. While the chapter as a whole is replete with excellently chosen and illustrative quotes, an array of scholarly perspectives, and useful information, Bartlett's frame is perplexingly unhelpful. The chapter begins with a discussion of "Origins and Definitions," which opens with the following: "Unlike Judaism or Islam, Christianity did not originally have the idea of pilgrimage, that is, journeying to a holy place, a specially sanctioned spot with intrinsic spiritual significance like Jerusalem or Mecca" (410). Not only does this ill-judged preamble assume a clear historical separation between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (such that we can accurately assess "original" practices, as if each tradition emerged neatly as a discrete and distinct entity), it employs a definition of pilgrimage that limits the phenomenon to the purely physical. At the end of the chapter, Bartlett mentions--almost as an aside--the idea that a human's whole life is a pilgrimage to God, but this idea is both early and ubiquitous in Christian thought, from New Testament injunctions that a Christian should live "as a stranger and a pilgrim" in the world (He13; 1 Pe11) to Augustine's repeated characterizations of life as pilgrimage. On the one hand, by circumscribing pilgrimage as physical, Bartlett has facilitated his description of what medieval pilgrimage to the shrines of the saints looked like, what it entailed, and how it was thought of; on the other hand, he has foreclosed exploration of the spirituality that lies at the heart of the Christian experience of pilgrimage and alienation more broadly. Nonetheless, the chapter does compass some excellent topics of focus, including the debates over the localization of sanctity in a tradition whose divinity is transcendent, the various accouterments of shrines and their visitors, and the nuts-and-bolts logistics of medieval pilgrimage.
Chapters 12 and 13, on "Images of the Saints" and "The Literature of Sanctity," once again represent Bartlett at his best. These vast topics are treated with attention to detail, superbly selected examples, and fair representations of current scholarship and historical debates alike, all suspended in a clear and helpful organizational framework. In chapter 12, Bartlett explores the rise of images in the cult of saints as "focused on devotion rather than just being mimetic or memorial" (472), and he gives a clear and sensitive overview of iconoclasm (both East and West) before discussing the manifestations of the iconophile victory in various media and contexts. Likewise, in chapter 13, Bartlett's treatment of the literature of sanctity explores the whys and wherefores of writing about saints (including a brief discussion of hagiography as both a genre and a source for historians of religious life) before addressing various manifestations in legendaries, miracle books, sermons, canonizations, and vernacular hagiography.
Confidence in the cult of saints, generally speaking, was a consistent feature of Christian life in the medieval Latin West. But in every generation there were objectors, Christians who felt that the cult of the saints was ridiculous, idolatrous, polytheistic, pointless, or simply distracting. This "Doubt and Dissent" forms the subject of chapter 14. Beginning with Vigilantius, Bartlett moves from early medieval dissenters to the "Western Heretics" (the Cathars, Waldensians, and Lollards), finally proceeding to address the more diffuse skepticism that pervaded medieval cultures: the "bubbling broth of mockery, disrespect, doubt, disbelief, disdain, and derision" that stood in contrast to the "serious and principled" objections of the "heretics" (596). Recorded in hagiographies (where these doubters were invariably overcome) and in satire (where true sanctity is inviolate and sham sanctity a comedy of errors), this "skepticism and scoffing" usually served to reinforce the cult of the saints, rather than to undermine it. Bartlett ends the chapter with a section on "policing the saints"--how the Church controlled the proliferation of veneration and in effect instituted its own internal and ultimately cult-preserving systematic doubt and dissent. This chapter is essential to the book, providing a much-needed counterbalance to the attitudes seen in other chapters. And its placement at the end, concentrating all naysayers in one final content chapter, serves well to highlight positions that, if dispersed among other topics, might have been overwhelmed. It leaves the reader with a strong sense that there is much more to be known and to be questioned than she has already encountered. On the other hand, the separation of "doubt and dissent" into its own chapter replicates the impression that these positions were marginal and worthy of exclusion from the general discussion of saint veneration, an impression only underscored by Bartlett's unqualified use of terms like "heretic" and "orthodox."
The only thoroughly disappointing chapter is the final one, "Reflections," which is preoccupied with the conceptual origins and transcultural touchstones of the cult of saints. Bartlett explores whether saint veneration was an extension of pagan devotion to the gods, an offshoot of nature-worship, a negotiation of ancient mortuary practice, a consequence of Abrahamic views about inhumation, and/or a cousin to ancestor veneration. In each case, Bartlett presents the possibilities alongside scholarship that has assessed them, and in each case unsurprisingly finds the cult of saints unique in some way, not entirely attributable to one or another theory of origination. The question is: why do these possibilities, so long and so clearly discredited and so reductive of the topic itself, need to be aired? They are certainly less illuminating than a phenomenological or theological analysis of saint veneration would be. Singularly problematic is the final section, "Comparisons and Conclusions." The evenhanded diplomacy, helpful documentation, and reader-focused progression of topics evidenced elsewhere in the book are all lacking here, and Bartlett's comparisons are facile and unhelpful. He makes unsubstantiated comparisons between martyrdom in Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, resorting, for example, to the historically incorrect commonplace that Christian martyrdom is "marked off" from "Muslim martyrdom by its almost exclusively passive character" (634); furthermore (and once again with no supporting citations), he asserts that "in their radical asceticism Christian saints are closer to the holy men of Hinduism and Buddhism than to those of Judaism or Islam" (634). Comparisons between and across traditions must not be grounded in superficial external similarities but in contextual study that respects the intricacies of each tradition in the appropriate historical moment. Without sufficient care, comparisons are at best academically useless and at worst politically irresponsible. It was disappointing to see such carelessness here, at the end of such a strong book.
Also disappointing is the absence of an answer to the title's query: Why can the dead do such great things? Intermittently throughout the text we catch possible glimpses of medieval reasoning regarding the theology, anthropology, and soteriology behind belief in the efficacy of saintly intercession, but the question is never an object of focus or direct discussion, despite the fact that, for medieval thinkers, it often was. Of course, it would be impossible to address all of the cultural and theological logics that made the cult of the saints intelligible to practitioners, but given Bartlett's elsewhere evident talent for presenting disputed ideas in a productive and illuminating way, the omission of this central topic, a key feature of medieval spirituality and the medieval logic of sainthood, is jarring. Bartlett's is not a history of theology, but a history of practice, overwhelmingly¬--the two must be considered in tandem to be fully understood.
Aside from these (perhaps parochial) disappointments, the book is both a fantastic resource and an enjoyable read. Despite its concatenation of sources and exempla, the book never feels list-like or tedious, and the author's skill in selecting topics, quotations, and references makes the reader more than usually inclined to use this as a jumping-off point for further exploration--a
quality that makes this work particularly well suited to casual readers seeking an exciting overview of the medieval cult of saints, upper-level undergraduates in classroom settings and exploring independent research projects, and academics interested in pursuing conversations across areas of specialty. Frankly, it is difficult to imagine a scholar who would not glean something new from reading this work
Friday, May 06, 2016
A New book in a new series:Would you like to hear what the knights of the Hundred Years War had to say about their personal experiences of the conflict? Jean Froissart, the era's greatest fan of chivalry, devoted his life to interviewing the knights who participated in the war and to create his vast, vivid Chronicle. On the Road in the Hundred Years War shows us Froissart in his natural environment, crossing war-torn France, and talking with the warriors who knew the history of the country they passed through and the men who had fought there. On the Road (volume 1 of the new series Tales from Froissart) brings to life the military camps, the princely courts and the inns where those who followed the wars gathered and talked of their way of life. This volume is available in Kindle format and in paperback. The print version is very reasonably priced and the Kindle version is much, much cheaper. Both are illustrated (print interior is black and white, other illustrations are in color). Available in print: https://www.amazon.ca/Road-Hundred-Years-War/dp/0994755651 or http://www.amazon.com/Road-Hundred-Years-Tales-Froissart/dp/0994755651? ie=UTF8&qid=1462548915&ref_=tmm_pap_swatch_0&sr=8-1 Available in Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/Road-Hundred-Years-Tales-Froissart- ebook/dp/B01F5LNDIE?ie=UTF8&keywords=froissart%20on%20the%20road%20steve %20muhlberger&qid=1462548456&ref_=sr_1_fkmr0_1&sr=8-1-fkmr0 or https://www.amazon.ca/Road-Hundred-Years-Tales-Froissart-ebook/dp/B01F5LNDIE
On the Road in the Hundred Years War -- stories of 14th century warfare from the chivalric historian Jean Froissart.
Wednesday, May 04, 2016
Saturday, April 30, 2016
Friday, April 29, 2016
There are numerous articles I've seen this morning talking about the emerging "gender war" in the 2016 general election, which now seems officially underway. 'Trump’s ‘woman’s card’ comment escalates the campaign’s gender wars', 'Trump escalates his gender war' are just a couple examples. There's plenty of misogyny in our society and our politics. Women face various campaign or perception hurdles men do not. Is this female candidate tough enough to be president? Is she too tough ("angry", "abrasive") and therefore not likable? Etc etc. But the simple fact is that if you are explicitly fighting a 'gender war' with a female candidate, you're already losing and probably losing badly, as Tierney Sneed's article this morning confirms in the polling numbers. It comes down to a simple issue of the 19th Amendment: women can vote! And in addition to being able to vote, there are slightly more women than men and they actually vote a bit more. But it really comes down to: women can vote! In electoral terms, the dynamics of gender and race are different in various ways. But they're pretty similar in this way. If you are thematically invoking racial or gender stereotypes without doing so openly or explicitly you can mobilize societal prejudice in your favor - what we sometimes generically call 'dog-whistling'. But if you're attacking your opponent as a women - and yes, attacking her as only doing well because she's a woman or 'playing the woman card' - that's not a gender war. It's a gender massacre and you're the one being massacred.
Sunday, April 24, 2016
Saturday, April 23, 2016
Saturday, April 16, 2016
It would be easy enough to call the show "steampunk" except that the technology that sets the pace in the show is electricity. Murdoch, the lead character, is a Toronto detective who is enthusiastic about modern technology -- x-ray machines, electrical automobiles, movie cameras -- and uses it very effectively to solve crimes. In the course of his adventures he also runs into many leading figures of the time – Alexander Graham Bell, Henry Ford, Tesla, Marconi, Andrew Carnegie, Winston Churchill. He does not run into Sherlock Holmes, but he does run across somebody who thinks he is Sherlock Holmes.
I am also impressed by the depiction of the city of Toronto. Toronto circa 1899 is shown as being multi-cultural and multi-ethnic, wrestling with a variety of political, racial, and social conflicts, which are reasonably realistically portrayed. One of the main characters, for instance, gets in trouble for promoting contraception, which is illegal at the time. Other characters are properly shocked by this and there is a bit of a riot.
I think there may be more in-jokes in the series than I'm picking up. Two days ago I saw an episode where I was pretty sure two characters were modelled after Toronto's Ford brothers. The characters were not politicians, but they looked like the Fords and their personal interactions with each other matched what I know of the Fords.
All too often we think that people in the past were old-fashioned fuddy-duddies. In some places in some areas that is undoubtably true. But in other times people -- or many of them – are seized by an awareness of modernity. One of the great virtues of Murdoch's Mysteries is that it reminds us of that fact. "We live in a new and incredible age," says one character, and she is quite right.
Sunday, April 10, 2016
However, other people have stepped in to cover most of those expenses. The Canadian Cancer Society is providing me with accommodation and transportation -- at least the great bulk of it - at no cost. And it's not a personal benefit. Large numbers of people are receiving similar help through a network of volunteers. Do you know that you are surrounded by a network of volunteers turning the wheels of the world? (I hardly think that Ontario is unique in this?) I am a happier person knowing about this great collective effort.
"Two Worlds Become One: A 'Counter-Intuitive' View of the Roman Empire and 'Germanic' Migration" by Guy Halsall
Here is the abstract:
The Roman Empire and barbaricum were inextricably linked throughout the Roman Iron Age. By late antiquity, Germanic-speaking trans-Rhenan areas were inundated with imperial inﬂuence. Migration was two-way and in various forms, all of which, including large-scale ‘folk movement’, were normal: part and parcel of the imperial frontier’s dynamics. The counter-intuitive conclusion is drawn from this that the relationship between the existence of a formal frontier and signiﬁcant migration is quite the opposite of the one we have grown used to imagining. The collapse of the frontier took with it the mechanisms for migration. Therefore I have to modify my 2007 epigram that ‘the end of the Roman Empire produced the Barbarian Invasions and not vice versa’. The end of the Roman Empire put an end to the barbarian migrations. This conclusion helps us contribute more responsibly to modern debate on migration. It also contributes to a discussion of the formation of Germany. The end of migration changed the political dynamics of the regions between Rhine and Baltic. The latter became more inward-facing and from these, eventually, emerged ‘Germany.’
Here is the complete text
Saturday, April 09, 2016
amazing early-morning set at Woodstock.
It has long been fashionable to make fun of Woodstock but it was the site of an amazing effloresence of music. Perhaps equally astonishing is the high quality of audio and video recording that was accomplished in what was a weather disaster. Here's to the sound engineers, cinematographers and all the other hardworking people who preserved this wonderful music.
Monday, March 14, 2016
Note that great armor!
Then there is the Harp Twins doing Metallica's One: Thanks to Nicholas at http://quotulatiousness.ca/ for putting me on this track.
Wednesday, March 09, 2016
Today "The Current" talked about the changes in the lifestyle of people in Newfoundland and Labrador resulting from the collapse of oil, gas, and mining revenues. Not exactly unprecedented, that collapse, and the resulting economic uncertaintly in NL has happened time and again over the last 500 years. Newfoundlanders move to where the jobs are, as best they can.
But they don't forget home, and many of them return for the short term or the long.
One younger Newfoundlander quoted John Crosby, a past prominent NL politician of national stature: "You can tell the Newfoundlanders in heaven. They are the ones who want to go home." I laughed and laughed -- that quip brought Crosby back to life.
I also noticed that the famous Newfoundland dialects seem to be fading out -- if the young and middle-aged interviewees are typical