The Efficacy of Images

Images at Work: On Efficacy and Historical Interpretation

an introduction to the special issue Images at Work, by Hannah Baader and Ittai Weinryb

The introduction begins with the example of a magical fly:

In an early thirteenth-century letter, the newly appointed general emissary to Puglia and the imperial chancellor Conrad of Querfurt (ca. 1160–1202), educator of the German emperor Henry VI and later bishop of Hildesheim, recollected one of the many legends associated with the city of Naples:

In the same city is a gate of the greatest strength, built like a castle, possessing doors of bronze which now the emperor’s troops control, on which Virgil had placed a fly of bronze. As long as it remained whole, not even one fly could enter the city.

imagesConrad here unravels unique relations between animals, men, and objects. Placed upon the walls of the medieval city of Naples, above the bronze gates, is a manmade object, produced in bronze in the shape of a fly, whose function is to prevent other, living, flies from entering the city. That object is more than just a physical presence on the exterior of the walls of medieval Naples and more than just a depiction. The bronze fly of Virgil is an image that “works,” so to speak. It is described as having a certain influence on the natural world. The object has a function; it is supposed to operate, to effect change. At the heart of the story is the manufacturer of the object, Virgil, the classical Latin author who, in medieval text and imagination, had been characterized as a sorcerer. The legendary qualities ascribed to Virgil and the legendary qualities ascribed to the object are played out in the natural world.

Such consideration of operational qualities forms the essence of the collection of essays in this special issue, with its notion that images and artifacts have an ability to “act.” To consider how the bronze fly worked is to consider how images operate within various times, spaces, regions, religions, and frameworks as well as or according to various disciplines, subfields of study, and different investigatory modes. It is to study how images operate, and to reflect on the sheer qualities of objects in a broader sense. They may attract or, in the case of the bronze fly, repel living organisms. The mechanism for images that repel is known as apotropeia, from the Greek verb “to avert.” The bronze fly was considered to have a practical effect or function—to keep other flies at bay. As such, the small fly is part of a larger ensemble, the large gate and bronze doors, built “like a castle,” protecting the city by their strength. From Conrad’s letter, we know that the fly hanging above the city gate was found above the now-lost bronze doors that formed a threshold at the same gate. In this way we can understand the bronze fly as part of a wider environment of crafted objects made out of the same materials (bronze or other copper-based alloy) and according to the same technique (lost-wax casting). The bronze doors thus formed part of a created world of similar material objects—demarcating the threshold of the city—a world that included a bronze fly with a specific purpose or effect.

The bronze fly is also a story of fabrication. In the Middle Ages, Virgil was associated in legend with various artisanal and mechanical capabilities, but rather than being described in such tales as a scientist, he was rendered as a sorcerer or magician. His ability to influence the natural world was understood not as a product of discovery and rediscovery of certain techniques (like bronze casting), but rather as an indecipherable practice with supernatural results. The bronze fly of Virgil is triggered by acts of secret knowing and making. It is immersed in tradition, ideas about antiquity, and the miraculous. Continue reading (full text of this introduction free online) …

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In recent years, art history has seen a shift in the historical understanding of the material object, drawing further attention to historical experience and potential historical efficacy as a means of historical interpretation. Anthropologists and art historians alike have established viable interpretive schemes for the exploration of material objects. This introduction to the special issue Images at Work outlines the various problems encountered in articulating notions about the historical efficacy of an object.

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HANNAH BAADER is Permanent Senior Research Scholar at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz, Max-Planck-Institut.

ITTAI WEINRYB is Assistant Professor of Medieval Art and Material Culture at Bard Graduate Center in New York City.

Images at Work: A Special Issue, Representations 133

NOW AVAILABLE

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Guest Editors

Ittai Weinryb, Assistant Professor of Medieval Art and Material Culture,

Bard Graduate Center

Hannah Baader, Senior Research Scholar, Kunsthistorisches Institut, Florence

Gerhard Wolf, Director of the Kunsthistorisches Institut, Florence

According to legend, the poet Virgil made a fly out of bronze and perched it above the gates of Naples. The fly’s sole purpose was to prevent other flies from entering the city. This Representations special issue explores the intention, function, and reception of images like Virgil’s fly: images made to influence the natural world. The essays collected here examine the theories behind the construction of these operative images, question the way the production of apotropaic images related to the production of art, and consider how such working images helped to fashion a world.

The aim of the volume is to find the connection between historical moments and theories relating to efficacy as ascribed to objects or things. Each essay included does this a little differently: from Finbarr B. Flood’s thinking about the anthropomorphic eye and hand patterns in medieval Iran to Persis Berlekamp’s illumination of the protective dragons of 13th-century Syria, and from Tanja Klemm’s explication of Renaissance medical iconography to Christopher Wood’s theorizing on the artwork’s paradoxical lack in the face of anthropomorphism, and finally, in the last essay, to Gerhard Wolf’s witty engagement with thing theory and the material turn. Together these essays analyze the material artifact in light of historical circumstance, and the historical circumstance is in turn illuminated by the artifact.

Contributions to the volume both reflect and respond to recent shifts among art historians and anthropologists in the historical understanding of the material object, building on and furthering debates begun by David Freedberg, Jane Bennett, Horst Bredekamp, Lorraine Daston, Alfred Gell, Bruno Latour, and others. Notable contributors include guest editor Gerhard Wolf, Director of the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence, and Finbarr B. Flood, Professor of the Humanities at New York University and author of the prize-winning Objects of Translation: Material Culture and Medieval “Hindu-Muslim” Encounter.

Featured Articles

Images at Work: On Efficacy and Historical Interpretation*
HANNAH BAADER AND ITTAI WEINRYB

*For a limited time only, this article is available for free.

Animal, Vegetal, and Mineral: Ambiguity and Efficacy in the Nishapur Wall Paintings
FINBARR B. FLOOD

Symmetry, Sympathy, and Sensation: Talismanic Efficacy and Slippery Iconographies in Early Thirteenth-Century Iraq, Syria, and Anatolia
PERSIS BERLEKAMP

Life from Within: Physiology and Talismanic Efficacy in Marsilio Ficino’s De vita (1498)
TANJA KLEMM

Image and Thing, A Modern Romance
CHRISTOPHER S. WOOD

Image, Object, Art: Talking to a Chinese Jar on Two Human Feet
GERHARD WOLF

Visionary Dylan

Absolutely Modern: Dylan, Rimbaud, and Visionary Song

by Timothy Hampton

The essay begins:

In December of 1965, Bob Dylan gave a news conference in San Francisco. Following his rise to fame in the early 1960s as a writer of politically themed “folk” songs, Dylan had caused a stir several months earlier at the Newport Folk Festival by appearing on stage in a black leather jacket, accompanied by an electric blues band. Now he was beginning an extensive tour to play a new kind of music—music that he described in his press conference as neither folk, nor rock, nor folk-rock, but something called “vision music.” In this essay I want to consider what that phrase might mean.

images-2In what follows I will argue that Dylan’s famous turn to “electric music” is part of a larger stylistic shift in his approach to writing and performing—a shift that unfolds across the middle years of the 1960s. Imagery, lyric form, musical structure, and even the dynamics of performance are recalibrated through new strategies that emerge to replace the earlier interest in topical songs. This is what I will call a “visionary poetics.” It places Dylan in a tradition of visionary poetry reaching back as far as Dante. However, as I will show, Dylan’s development during this period takes shape through his dialogue with literary modernism. For mid-1960s Dylan, the visionary is the modern. My focus will be, principally, on the trio of great “electric” albums produced in the mid-’60s: Bringing It All Back Home (1964), Highway 61 Revisited (1965), and Blonde on Blonde (1966). What interests me is less the notion of “poetic inspiration” (often assumed to be part of some generational Zeitgeist) than the development of the specific literary techniques and musical innovations through which Dylan expands his songwriting range. I will trace the ways in which the expansion of his songwriting palette during this period generates a set of aesthetic and ethical problems that place pressure on the forms of popular song.

Certainly, Dylan’s expansion of his lyric range owes something to the work of the Beat Generation and, in particular, to Allen Ginsberg, who was seated prominently at the San Francisco news conference. It was no accident that the San Francisco visit included a pilgrimage to the beatnik mecca of City Lights Books, where Dylan was photographed in the alley behind the store with Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Michael McClure. This was the already aging royalty of the Beats, who had, in their own time, rejected the collective activism of the Old Left to pursue individual beatitude or “beatness.” Dylan was bringing Greenwich Village intellectualism to the epicenter of the emerging sensory-based West Coast counterculture, casting himself as the heir to an earlier visionary generation. Yet Ginsberg had been working in a visionary mode from his very first published poems. Dylan now had to make himself into a visionary; he had to develop a new poetic vocabulary and link it to the limited formal capacities of the popular song.

arthur_rimbaud_gThe touchstone for any study of visionary self-creation is neither Ginsberg, nor Ginsberg’s idol William Blake, but Arthur Rimbaud. It was Rimbaud who had given first voice to the brand of visionary modernism that Dylan would embrace. It was Rimbaud who had announced that the poet “makes himself into a visionary” (Illuminations, xxx). And it was Rimbaud who had codified, in his letters about poetry, the procedures and limitations of the visionary mode. My discussion here will set Dylan and Rimbaud in dialogue, less as a study of influence—though influence is part of the story—than one of affinity, using Rimbaud’s canonical accounts of visionary poetry as a template for tracing Dylan’s development. Continue reading …

Bob Dylan’s turn from “folk music” to “electric music” in the 1960s involves the development of a new visionary poetics. Through a consideration of his affinity with the French Symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud, this essay traces Dylan’s recasting of himself as a visionary and studies the pressures placed by this process on lyric form, on poetic diction, and on the representation of the self in popular music.

TIMOTHY HAMPTON is Professor of Comparative Literature and Chair of French at the University of California, Berkeley. His most recent book is Fictions of Embassy: Literature and Diplomacy in Early Modern Europe (Cornell University Press, 2009). He is currently working on a study of the history of cheerfulness.

Children’s Opera as Political Education

Brecht for Children: Shaping the Ideal GDR Citizen Through Opera Education

by Anicia Timberlake

The essay begins:

In the spring of 1969, students from the fifth through seventh grades at the Käthe Kollwitz Secondary School of Greifswald took the stage to perform the new children’s opera The Nightingale, an adaptation of the fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen. The performance was well received: reviewer Gudrun Hillemann praised the music’s “simple melodic and memorable rhythmic Gestalt” and concluded that, overall, “theatrical performance with music is excellently suited for aesthetic education and for supporting the artistic [musisch] climate at a school.” Although the piece was not new to local music circles, Manfred Vetter, a professor at the Institute for Music Education in Greifswald, raised a stink a few days after the secondary-school performance. How was it possible that the librettist Hella Brock, a progressive socialist, a member of the Socialist Unity Party, and Vetter’s own colleague at the institute, had chosen a fairy tale in which an emperor, the head of a feudal society, was moved—and redeemed—by music? The opera portrayed the emperor far too sympathetically and conveyed the wrong idea about the progress of history. When other faculty members endorsed Vetter’s opinion, further performances of the opera were canceled. Several months later, after the summer vacation, the secretary of the local party organization announced that the decision had been revoked, and the opera could be performed again. But it was too late: the children were half a year older, their voices had begun to change, and they had already put the disappointment of the canceled performance behind them. Brock suffered a nervous breakdown as a result of the incident and in 1972 left Greifswald to become a professor at the Karl Marx University, Leipzig.

kurt-schwaen-the-horatians-and-the-curiatiansOn one level, this was simply an example in miniature of the kind of late-stage attack common in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), as well as in the Soviet Union. Performances often made it through planning and rehearsals only to be savaged after the premiere. The classic Soviet example is Dmitry Shostakovich’s immensely successful opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, which premiered in January 1934 and was denounced by Stalin two years later. Similarly, Bertolt Brecht and Paul Dessau’s opera The Trial of Lucullus was suppressed on ideological grounds in the GDR in 1951 due to accusations of musical “formalism.” Where these famous cases demonstrate the arbitrary cruelty of official censorship, the silencing of The Nightingale shows how an individual, supposedly acting in the interests of the state, could transmute personal convictions about ideology and representation into official dictates on cultural policy. But even more, Vetter’s attack against a children’s opera—surely the most harmless and charming of performances—reveals the unsteady foundations of GDR citizen formation through music education. If we look a little more closely at the educational theories and practices that underpinned this incident, the idea of a coherent or unified GDR cultural and educational policy begins to unravel in disorienting and fascinating ways. In this article, I focus on children’s operas as a site of political education. The surviving documentation around the operas for children created and performed between 1950 and 1979, and policies and debates on children’s music education more generally, reveal considerable confusion about how best to mobilize German cultural heritage for a socialist purpose. These sources show educators drawing from diverse prewar pedagogical traditions to develop techniques they employed in addition to those that state policy had mandated for use in schools. As we shall see in the article’s final sections, Brechtian dramatic theory was an important element of these performances, and the study of the rehearsal process for a Brecht Lehrstück with which this article concludes shows how the theory of estrangement sometimes proved irreconcilable with older convictions about how children felt, moved, and behaved. What is more, the vicissitudes of pedagogy and rehearsal in the staging of Brecht’s The Horatians and the Curiatians make a revealing case study of what East German musicians, educators, and performers thought Brecht’s (vexed concept of) gestus actually was, and how it might function through music. Continue reading …

East German music educators developed new children’s operas on the model of Brechtian Lehrstücke to teach critical, “dialectical” thinking, a skill they considered essential for young socialists. This essay examines how the operas offered an alternative political education to the GDR’s official program of state-loyal patriotism and explores the conflicts that arose when Brecht’s theories of gestus and estrangement came into contact with the fairy tale tradition long thought to be the center of German children’s culture.

ANICIA TIMBERLAKE works on the politics of children’s music education in the German Democratic Republic. She is a C3: Creating Connections Consortium Postdoctoral Fellow at Williams College.

Quirk Historicism: A Special Forum, Representations 132

In the wake of New Historicism, eight music scholars reflect on the recent tendency to use objets trouvés and historical micronarratives for interpretation. The editors of the forum, Nicholas Mathew and Mary Ann Smart, introduce the thread of the quirk historicist phenomenon and contemplate its implications.

ELEPHANTS IN THE MUSIC ROOM: THE FUTURE OF QUIRK HISTORICISM

This introduction begins (free download):

hans-and-maguerite

Jean Pierre Louis Laurent Houël: ‘‘Les eléphants représentes dans l’instant de premières caresses qu’ils se sont faites après qu’on leur a fait entendre de la musique,” in Histoire Naturelle des deux Elephants, male et femelle, du Muséum de Paris (Paris, 1803).

Despite a suffix that suggests kinship with taxonomic enterprises such as zoology or the earliest phases of anthropology, musicology may rank as one of the most permissive of humanistic fields. In journals and at conferences, philological research and source studies rub shoulders with work on the philosophy of music, close readings, reception history, and microhistory. Yet, as in literary studies, one central question has troubled the field for at least a quarter-century: that of the status of the “texts” (musical works, as notated or performed) whose interpretation and explanation traditionally anchored much musicological writing. As both the canon of works that merited this type of attention and the analytical tools used to explicate them were destabilized, scholarly energies turned toward narrating historical accounts of musical environments. In the wake of this suspicion of close reading, many musicologists became collectors of curiosities, assembling and scrutinizing disparate objects, events, and documents in order to understand how past communities of listeners and practitioners used music, why they created and cared about the kinds of music they did.

Before this collecting impulse took hold, history often meant “context.” Musical works could be enriched, but at the same time shown to be functional and contingent, by accounts that placed them in ready-made historical frames supplied by the locations in which art was produced or by big-picture histories—the French Revolution, the Third Reich, the Napoleonic Wars. And like most such cross-disciplinary borrowings, the imported concepts were sometimes flattened out, as if they had passed through the brain’s “abstract thought” region, as imagined in the Pixar movie Inside Out. As the kinds of history practiced by music historians have become more fine-grained and more material, there is a temptation to look down on earlier approaches as schematic or simplistic; but it is worth remembering that those contextual dyads (“music and . . . ”) were welcome and necessary excuses to talk about music—even instrumental music, symphonies and the like—in relation to categories such as gender, race, and nation, whose admission into musicological thought was long overdue.

Once musicologists began to take notice of New Historicism, any such tidy or schematic versions of history quickly fell by the wayside. New Historicism’s trademark deployment of the anecdote upended the apparent clarity and coherence of context and blurred the distinction between texts and contexts, dispersing both into more complex discursive constellations. The kinds of historical material potentially available to the music scholar thus became nearly endless, the relevance of any particular detail depending mainly on the ingenuity and persuasive gifts of the writer. Such a précis could, with a few adjustments, apply to almost any humanistic discipline in the 1990s and 2000s. But in musicology, the objets trouvés and historical micronarratives that once obediently fell into contextual patterns or acted as isolated anecdotes have staged a kind of mutiny, multiplying in the service of a narrative logic that overwhelms and even supplants any larger critical goals. It is this tendency that we are calling quirk historicism. Continue reading … (free download)

FORUM CONTENTS

JAMES Q. DAVIES
On Being Moved/Against Objectivity

EMILY I. DOLAN
Musicology in the Garden

ELLEN LOCKHART
Pygmalion and the Music of Mere Interest

AOIFE MONKS
Bad Art, Quirky Modernism

BENJAMIN PIEKUT
Pigeons

BENJAMIN WALTON
Quirk Shame

NICHOLAS MATHEW is Associate Professor of Music at the University of California,  Berkeley. He is the author of Political Beethoven (Cambridge, 2013) and co-editor, with Benjamin Walton, of the collection The Invention of Beethoven and Rossini.

MARY ANN SMART also teaches in the Music Department of UC Berkeley. She is the author of Mimomania: Music and Gesture in Nineteenth-Century Opera and editor of Siren Songs: Representations of Gender and Sexuality in Opera. Her new book, Waiting for Verdi, will be published by the University of California Press in 2016.

Nietzsche on Education

How the Philologist Became a Physician of Modernity: Nietzsche’s Lectures on German Education

by Paul Reitter and Chad Wellmon

The essay begins:

In January of 1869, Friedrich Nietzsche was offered a peach of a job—a professorship in classical philology at the University of Basel. Nietzsche was just twenty-four and far from completing his dissertation, but the university’s standards for employment were looser than those of its German counterparts. Nietzsche was delighted, so much so that upon learning the good news, he broke into song: he spent the rest of the day singing melodies from Tannhäuser, his favorite opera. The position, to be sure, had what some scholars might have considered a drawback. On top of teaching eight hours a week at the University, Nietzsche would be required to give an additional six hours of instruction at a local Gymnasium But this wouldn’t be a problem, Nietzsche had told his Doktorvater, Friedrich Ritschl, one of Germany’s most renowned classicists. Ritschl passed that message on to the hiring committee, along with his imprimatur, and the appointment was made.

nietzsche-musicWhen Nietzsche set off for Basel, then, Ritschl likely felt confident that he had helped launch another brilliant academic career. Yet only a year later, Nietzsche had begun to move away from the kind of work—studies of Diogenes Laërtius, contributions to an Aeschylus lexicon, analyses of Roman and Greek meter—that had so enthused his mentor, prompting him to tout Nietzsche as the most precocious student he had ever seen. Nietzsche had also begun to show signs of deep disillusionment. Indeed, he pledged to a friend that he would “publicly expose” the whole Prussian system of education.

Nietzsche soon made good on his promise through a series of lectures titled On the Future of Our Educational Institutions, which were held at Basel’s city museum between January and March of 1872. In these presentations, Nietzsche took aim at all of Germany’s chief institutions of postprimary learning: the Realschule, the Gymnasium, and the university. He also attacked individual academic specializations, including his own field. Philology, he maintained, was both a key symptom and a cause of a larger process of cultural decline. Nietzsche’s Basel lectures are notable for a number of reasons, including the new urgency and depth gained by Nietzsche’s early reckoning with his discipline and the German educational system as a whole. When situated within the conditions and debates to which they respond, the lectures reveal how Nietzsche the philologist became the physician of modernity and its ills. Continue reading …

This article makes the case that the lecture series On the Future of Our Educational Institutions, which Friedrich Nietzsche held in 1872 and scholars have long neglected, marks a crucial point in the development of the philosopher’s outlook. In doing so, the article shows that Nietzsche’s lectures resonate in suggestive ways with twenty-first-century debates about higher education.

PAUL REITTER is the director of the Humanities Institute at Ohio State University, where he also teaches in the German Department. His most recent book is Bambi’s Jewish Roots and Other Essays on German-Jewish Culture (Bloomsbury, 2015).

CHAD WELLMON is an associate Professor of German at the University of Virginia and author, most recently, of Organizing Enlightenment: Information Overload and the Invention of the Modern Research University (Johns Hopkins, 2015). His  “Touching Books: Diderot, Novalis, and the Encyclopedia of the Future” appeared in Representations 114 (Spring 2011).

James Davies presents “Romantic Anatomies of Performance”

Davies_book_Oct_chatJames Q. Davies, Associate Professor of Music Scholarship at UC Berkeley, will present a talk at UC Berkeley entitled “Romantic Anatomies of Performance.” Part of the Berkeley Book Chats series sponsored by the Townsend Center for the Humanities, the event will take place on Wednesday, October 14, from noon to 1pm in the Geballe Room, 220 Stephens Hall.

Davies’s essay, “On Being Moved/Against Objectivity,” is forthcoming in Representations 132. Part of a special forum on “Quirk Historicism,” the essay identifies the ‘‘soft modernist’’ provenance of recent scholarship through an account of musical rocks named and mythologized in the nineteenth century.

 

Rebel Animals: John Gower’s Visio Anglie

Gower and the Peasants’ Revolt

by Ian Cornelius

 

The essay begins:

In June of 1381 the English government briefly lost control of significant portions of the realm. Sometimes called the Peasants’ Revolt, this concatenation of local insurrections was the largest rebellion of unenfranchised people in medieval England. It began as a tax rebellion: the first violent incident was against a royal commission investigating tax evasion in Essex and seeking to raise missing sums. In the following days, coalitions of peasants, laborers, and artisans in towns and villages across southeastern England organized themselves into a new authority directly opposed to the authority of the landlords and royal government. Properties belonging to the king’s hated councilors were destroyed; legal documents were seized from landlords and county officers, carried to town squares, and publicly burned; prisons were broken open and prisoners released. Many of the insurgents’ victims were directly involved in tax collection; others were well known as prominent officials of the county government. As news of the insurrection spread to neighboring counties, so too did insurrection itself. Meanwhile, detachments from Kent and Essex converged on London, where they hoped to present their grievances to the young king. When Richard retreated into the Tower and declined to hear the accusations against his councilors, the rebels struck out on their own. On June 14, at Tower Hill, the king’s chancellor and his treasurer were summarily executed as traitors to the realm. The murder of these two men belonged to the same series as the first events of the rising: the chancellor had presented the government’s enormous subsidy request at the Northampton Parliament the previous November; the treasurer had presided over collection of the tax. However, motives and grievances had now generalized well beyond matters of taxation. The demands that the rebels made to the bunkered king in London included regularization of terms of land tenure throughout the realm, removal of protective restrictions on the sale of agricultural produce, removal of the statutory prohibitions against free negotiation of wages, and abolition of serfdom.

The insurrection was broken almost as quickly as it arose, though with greater loss of life. Soon afterwards, the London poet John Gower wrote a new poem. A lawyer and rentier, Gower was distinguished from the principal targets of the rebels’ violence by his physical remove from the peasants whose surplus he extracted, and by his apparent abstention from government service. In 1381, Gower may already have been living in the Augustine priory of St. Mary Overie, situated at the southern end of London Bridge, over which the Kentish rebels crossed into the city on June 13. Gower’s poem on these events is named Visio Anglie in recent scholarship. It joins the Anonimalle Chronicle, the Westminster Chronicle, and the chronicle histories of Thomas Walsingham, Henry Knighton, and Jean Froissart as the most substantial literary treatments of the largest popular rebellion in premodern England. Visio Anglie is distinguished from these chronicles, however, by Gower’s unbridled fictive imagination, beside which the inventions of Walsingham and Froissart appear tame. In a different way, the fictive imagination of this poem distinguishes it from Gower’s own previous compositions. The poem on the rising is a vertiginous dream vision in Latin elegiac couplets. At the beginning, the Gower persona imagines he has taken a stroll into the fields to collect flowers on a pleasant summer day. He reaches the green space of aristocratic pleasure, only to find that “diverse hostile types of ordinary people were loitering in the fields in innumerable bands” (Diuersas plebis sortes vulgaris iniquas / Innumeris turmis ire per arua vagas). The dreamer is dazzled by fear and contempt. God’s curse falls upon the ordinary people and transforms them into animals. A second divine intervention causes each of the animals to abandon its own nature and take on the most homicidal qualities of wild, mythical, and scriptural beasts. They viciously presume to the status of noble animals, that is, of animals cultivated by nobility. They become fire-breathing, God-denying, property-thieving monsters. The rebel-animal-monsters unite under the leadership of a garrulous jay (the rebel leader Wat Tyler in Gower’s roman à clef) and storm the walls of Troy (that is, London). The great city is betrayed; chaos and devastation ensue. The defeated aristocrats entrust themselves to a ship representing the Tower of London. It floats out to sea, now pursued by the rebellion in the form of an ocean gale. Against that final incarnation of rebellion all defenses are futile, excepting only prayer.

194xpkry7xofhjpg As even this brief sketch demonstrates, Visio Anglie delivers an intoxicating blend of topicality and fictionality. Modern understanding of the poem has been advanced by a distinguished series of studies bearing on three interrelated compositional features. First, Gower’s depiction of rebels as deranged beasts has received astute commentary, clarifying the ideological work performed in that representational choice. The poet lingers over the braying, mooing, grunting, barking, howling, and screeching of the assembled rebel-animals (Visio, 799–830); he renders their political intentions utterly incoherent. A second node of scholarship, subtly qualifying the first, has attended to Gower’s borrowings from earlier Latin poetry. Gower routinely derived metrical phrases and whole lines from earlier poetry, especially Ovid. The poem is a dense texture of borrowed and repurposed language. Once scorned as “school-boy plagiarism,” these procedures are now understood to activate alternate and expanded contexts for the poem’s reported action. The metamorphosis of persons into beasts remains a judgment about the character of the rebels; but attendant allusions to Ovid’s Metamorphoses (inter alia) displace the whole represented action into a literary domain. The storehouse of Latin poetry accordingly attains an unlikely importance: it figures in Gower’s poem as the mental equipment necessary for a proper understanding of contemporary events. The result is that the insurgents are again denied any possibility of self-understanding: for them, meaning is simply foreclosed. More significantly, Gower’s citational procedures would seem to place limiting conditions on even the most qualified readers. The meaning of the rising will emerge only through and within an exercise in literary interpretation. Any such exercise would presumably need to account for the poem’s violent transgressions of literary decorum as well, and this brings us to the third major line of inquiry in recent scholarship. Thomme, Symme, Bette, and Iakke do not belong in a Latin poem in classical measures; their appearance in this one (Visio, 783–92) expresses, at the level of prosody, the offense committed by English laborers who forced their way into the homes and into the thoughts of their social superiors in June of 1381. The poem’s mash-up of earlier Latin poetry; its surrealistic shifts in character, setting, and generic mode; its extravagant mélange of Christian and pagan allusion; and even the first-person speaker’s bathetic indignity may all be read along similar lines: rarefied literary language resorts to self-harm at the limits of representation. Continue reading …

This essay examines the moral and political thought of John Gower’s poem on the English Rising of 1381, situating it within three contrastive fields: Gower’s moral project, his Virgilian intertext, and the practices of moral community employed by the rebels of 1381.

IAN CORNELIUS is Assistant Professor of English at Yale University. His work is focused on the literature and culture of late medieval England.

The Shape of the Modern Week

Hebdomadal Form: Diaries, News, and the Shape of the Modern Week

by David Henkin

The essay begins:

On a September Saturday in 1846, Alabama medical student Charles Hentz scrambled to account for lost time in his diary. “As I have been negligent for another week, in keeping up my journal,” he wrote, he resolved to revisit the events of the past seven days. “I must make a kind of Hebdomary.” The following May, Hentz again referred to his “regular hebdomary,” excusing his failure to live up to the diary-keeping habits he had undertaken a year earlier with a distinctive lexical diversion and a common practical refrain. “So many things occupy me during the week, that I find it impossible to be regular in my journal.” Hentz was hardly alone among nineteenth-century American diarists in noting that weekly intervals often separated the entries in a book defined around the norm of daily regularity. The diary genre reckoned and homogenized days, but users habitually inscribed additional temporal patterns in their pages.

diaryThe particular weekly pattern that Hentz observed in his own handling of the diary impulse evokes a familiar modern temporality of retrospective accounting. It is utterly commonplace to consider the week in review, to take stock of our lives in seven-day inventories. But the power of that accounting practice reflects a larger and generally overlooked development in the history of timekeeping in the West over the past few centuries. As saints’ days, market days, informal festivity, seasonal rhythms, and other systems and strategies of calendrical differentiation declined in Western Europe, North America, and elsewhere, the regularity of the seven-day week became more conspicuous.

The historical significance of this development remains clouded by the week’s status as an anomalous institution in the history of modern time reckoning. The week is in one sense an ancient regime, often invoked by traditional cultural critics as a bulwark against the encroachments of modernity. But it is also a mechanical tracking device, indifferent to natural rhythms, that has proven especially congenial to market relations, capitalist reorganization of labor, the demands of long-distance communication, and the cultural logics of impersonal society—including the oft-cited homogeneity of time associated with the industrial era. The ostensibly homogeneous days of industrializing America, for example, conformed to a rigorously observed seven-day cycle and were marked in complex ways by their placement in that cycle. Even as the image of daily repetition enshrined itself in modern consciousness as a compelling symbol of ordinary activity and uneventful occurrence (expressed in metaphorical invocations of the quotidian and the everyday), seven-day rhythms and seven-day intervals helped organize the modern regime of the day. Modern weekly rhythms are complex historical artifacts, rooted in long histories of liturgy and labor. But they are also entrained in literary practice and encoded in texts. It is worth considering how proliferating habits of reading and writing may have helped confer weekly form upon daily order. Continue reading …

The spread and intensification of seven-day regimes remains a remarkable and understudied feature of the making of modernity. This essay explores the role of written form in that historical process in the United States during the first half of the nineteenth century, arguing that diaries and newspapers, two literary genres associated with the construction of the day as a measure of temporal significance, also registered and reinforced awareness of the week as a structuring rhythm in ordinary life.

DAVID HENKIN, Professor of History at UC Berkeley, is the author of City Reading, The Postal Age, and (with Rebecca McLennan) Becoming America.

From Death Mask to Portrait Bust

A Case of Corporate Identity: The Multiplied Face of Saint Antonino of Florence

by Urte Krass

The essay begins:

Strolling through an Italian diocesan museum or an exhibition on the art of the Italian Renaissance, a visitor will inevitably encounter many images of saints, alone or in groups, presenting themselves and their attributes to viewers inside and outside the picture within which they are framed. After a while, any reasonably observant viewer will notice that there is one face that stands out from the crowd of painted saints: that of Saint Bernardino of Siena, the Franciscan preacher and vicar general who died in 1444 and was canonized only six years later. One of the innumerable examples of this uniquely recognizable face is Antonio Colantonio’s Saint Francis Giving the Rule to His Disciples in the Museo di Capodimonte in Naples (fig. 1). In the group of men on the left, the saints have been given individual faces by the careful artist. But Bernardino’s face seems markedly different; it seems to stem from our own world, whereas the individualization of the neighboring saints reminds us more of faces in the medieval sample books used in workshops. The beholder’s gaze is compelled by Bernardino’s authentic, emaciated, recognizable features, which are in stark contrast to the other saints’ obviously fictive faces.

KrassPrintFig1

Figure 1

Bernardino of Siena is the first saint whose face, that is, its recognizable physiognomy, is his most important attribute, and the first saint who, thus, can always be recognized even without other identifying characteristics. This is explained mainly by the fact that he was the first Christian saint whose death mask left its traces in further representations of him. Painters and sculptors would copy this mask when they wanted to represent the venerated mendicant friar. As a result, in fifteenth-century Italy, a new visual medium was invented for representing the saints: the veristic saint’s portrait bust, modeled after—or even directly from—the death mask. Continue reading …

This article focuses on the development of portrait busts of saints beginning in the early Renaissance. The category of the portrait bust, which emerged slightly before 1440, is characterized by its reference to—and at times even integration of—the death mask of the recently deceased saint. As such, these images must be seen in close relation to traditional head and bust reliquaries. The particular group of busts showing the features of the Florentine archbishop Antonino Pierozzi is here analyzed through hitherto obscure written sources, and the proliferation of Pierozzi’s bust is then related to that of other saints.

URTE KRASS works as Assistant Professor at the Institute for Art History of the Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich. Her research focuses on saints’ images from icon to photography, on early artistic theory in the Italian novelle of the fourteenth century, and, more recently, on the political use of images in Portugal and its overseas empire in the early modern period.