The Logic of Forgiveness

Why Forgive Carlyle?

by Elisa Tamarkin

The essay begins:

Picture_of_Thomas_CarlyleIf, for Henry David Thoreau, “hospitality is the art of keeping you at the greatest distance,” then no one was more hospitable than Thomas Carlyle; after all, Carlyle’s ability to keep his friends at a distance was no less than his ability to keep them. Nothing Americans might think, after the publication of his Latter-Day Pamphlets in 1850, could heal over the wound they felt straightaway that Carlyle “mocked the admiration” he lived to gain and that, for all the gratitude he had toward us, he also, says Henry James Sr., “hated us.” There may have been “an inexplicable rapport,” writes Walt Whitman, between himself and Carlyle, but, judging by Carlyle’s anti-egalitarianism, bigotry, and scorn of democracy, Whitman was “certainly at a loss to account for it.” Who could excuse, and in any case who could deny, the harmful effect of Carlyle’s contempt for abolitionism, suffrage, and social reform? He “stands for slavery,” Ralph Waldo Emerson writes; he “goes for murder, money, capital punishment” and is as “dangerous as a madman. Nobody knows what he will say next or whom he will strike.” Apparently, vegetarianism bothered him. If you praised republics, he liked Russian czars. If you urged free trade, he remembered he was a monopolist. “Cease to brag to me,” says Carlyle, “of America and its model of institutions and constitutions…. They have begotten, with a rapidity beyond recorded example, Eighteen Millions of the greatest bores.” The press describes his work “On Heroes”—his attempt to substitute a new “hero-archy” for lost hierarchies in society and government—as a recipe for “unadulterated despotism” and “more especially how to catch masses of people and indoctrinate them with the feeling of obedience.” When we read his essay “Dr. Francia,” an apology for the supreme dictator of Paraguay, it is not hard to see why, by the 1930s, Carlyle’s theory of the hero seemed compatible with German fascism or that essays from that time, including “Carlyle Rules the Reich,” suggest that Hitler’s own belief in his “fulfillment of duty” to the majorities could “be expressed in familiar old phrases from Carlyle.” In 1945, when Joseph Goebbels tried to dispel Hitler’s sense of defeat, he read to him from Carlyle’s book on Frederick the Great–Hitler’s favorite book.

Never was “there a publication so provocative of rage, hatred and personal malevolence,” writes one newspaper of the Latter-Day Pamphlets, though the essays were only Carlyle’s most intemperate attacks on philanthropy and democracy. The effect of his intolerance was “convulsive,” so even if Carlyle exaggerated when he said the pamphlets “turned nine tenths of the world dreadfully” against him, it remains true that even his “old admirers drew back.” His estrangement from John Stuart Mill, for example, dates from this time. And while Carlyle’s violence or “scoffing vituperation” might strike us “more with the rhetoric than with the matter,” so that it might not mean what it is, and while “of course,” as Henry James says, “he has a perfect right to be what he is,” does it ever help us justify or make tolerable the critical confusion of Carlyle’s demand to Emerson over the course of two decades, or else to Mill in 1852, “Oh my friend, have tolerance for me, have sympathy with me”? On the publication of Carlyle’s essay “Occasional Discourse on the Negro Question” (1849), his willful apology for slavery, Mill writes, “I hardly know of an act by which one person could have done so much mischief as this may possibly do.” But it takes courage to answer mischief with friendship, and Carlyle found Mill “thin.” “Who cares that he wrote the ‘Nigger Question’,” writes Walt Whitman, since “there has been an impalpable something [for me], more effective than the palpable.” “About Anti-Slavery,” writes the National Anti-Slavery Standard, Carlyle “is unbearable, and about every philanthropic effort. He scoffs with cruel glee at all abolitionists, and all blacks…. Though all this is true, and though it is true that he is not amiable… it is also true, though one can hardly believe it, that he is the most lovable soul you can meet. His sayings against Anti-Slavery are of no consequence.”

Why forgive Carlyle? Continue reading …

This essay discusses the troubled relationships, both intellectual and intimate, of nineteenth-century essayist Thomas Carlyle to understand why Ralph Waldo Emerson and other contemporaries decide to forgive him, while despising his ideas. Coming to terms with the intensity of their affection was also to admit that their forgiveness was inappropriate to their principles and beliefs. Thinking through forgiveness as a kind of convexity, or dispersal of focus, the essay asks what it means to object, but love anyway, and what the challenge of forgiving Carlyle says about the logic, and the relevance, of their critical judgments.

ELISA TAMARKIN is Associate Professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of Anglophilia: Deference, Devotion, and Antebellum America (Chicago, 2008). She is completing a book on ideas of relevance and irrelevance since 1800.

Image and Thing, a Modern Romance

Image and Thing, a Modern Romance

by Christopher Wood

The essay begins:

Romance is a plot driven by interaction among willful, desiring persons within constraining envelopes of social conventions and natural laws. In romance, both the desire-shaping resistance to will and the acquiescence of the world in human ambitions are concretized in things, naturalia and artifacts alike, endowed with unexpected powers. Characters acquire, exchange, hide, and converse with rings, swords, articles of clothing, trees, birds, and the like. According to Italo Calvino, “The magic object is an outward and visible sign that reveals the connection between people or between events.” Such tokens function as protagonists in medieval legends and sagas, chivalric romances, the neochivalric epics of Ariosto or Spenser, and the modern novel. “Around the object there forms a kind of force field that is in fact the territory of the story itself.” The thing arrests and then restarts the plot. Interactions with things or animals substitute for interpersonal, psychological relations when the literary means to represent such relations are lacking. The bundle of shifting desires and emotions that is a person can more easily “settle” on a jewel or a horse than on another unstable person.

In the romance, the thing provides a background against which personhood is profiled. The thing shares some qualities with persons but lacks other crucial attributes such as will, voice, or conscience. The effects of agency granted to things within the fiction intensify awareness of the nonhuman qualities of such things outside the fiction, in reality. The gem or the ribbon comes into focus as a thing, as the reduced double of a person, inside a narrative. The thing is a precipitate of story that arrives to assist the story. The thing decenters personhood and is at the same time anthropomorphic, in the sense that it stands in for something that is prior to or outside the human, but is customized by the story for human apprehension. The anthropomorphism of animal or artifact in romance is uncanny because partial.

In the last several decades the device of partial anthropomorphism, or attribution of some human qualities to nonhuman entities, has been favored within critical and historical writing across several disciplines. The project signaled by the phrase “Images at Work,” title of the conference from which the present special issue arises, is a good example. Someone who writes or speaks about what images “want,” the “life” of things, or “things that talk” would seem to be making a claim, against common sense, about reality. I am personally unconvinced that pictures desire anything, or that images think, or that things live. Awaiting better demonstrations of such unlikelihoods, I can only speculate about what people really mean when they speak this way.

In the literary mode of romance, partial anthropomorphization signals not only an awareness of the limits of narrative to convey the whole of personhood but also an awareness of the limits of a person’s ability to control his or her own destiny. Similarly, the modern critical trope of anthropomorphization signals a recognition of, perhaps even a resignation to, the limits of personhood. To speak about nonsentient things as if they were almost persons is to ironize the concept of the person. It is a way of speaking that calls attention to the way persons win unearned prestige by inserting themselves in advantageous positions within sentences. Sentences create subjects by associating substantives with predicates, including verbs. The subject is the source of the movement produced by the predicates. Grammar invites anthropomorphism, for inside a sentence or a plot you can simply replace “she” with “it,” and the verb does the rest. Sentences and plots threaten to expose the human subject as an artifact of grammar. The trope of misanthropic anthropomorphism is basically contending that people are things that have been activated by grammar. The trope is antifictional, discrediting modern stories—not just romances, but any story that exaggerates the autonomy of the person. The trope is antihumanist, if humanism is defined as the attribution of too much humanity to people. Writing reveals that from a standpoint outside writing, things would look more like persons and persons would look more like things. To redescribe reality as a series of interactions among persons and things is to replace the hierarchy of animate and inanimate entities with a nonhierarchical network.

The discourses of the “life of things,” actor-network theory, and object-oriented ontology restore credence to pre- or nonmodern anthropomorphisms and animistic psychological habits. The tactical, calculated anthropomorphisms of modern scholarly discourse overturn the modern common sense that rejects animism as superstition, undoing invidious hierarchies of enlightened and unenlightened, Western and non-Western, modern and unmodern. Enlightened thought dismissed belief in an animated cosmos as a fiction permitting people to imagine that they participate in an external world greater than they are. Enlightenment was an assault on anthropomorphism, dedicated to replacing comfortable human-shaped fictions such as “God” with the impersonal laws of physics. The modern critical discourse of animism exposes hidden anthropocentrisms within enlightened thought that support an “imperialism” of people over animals, the earth, or things. The deepest aim of the new, counter-Enlightenment animism may not be so remote from those of traditional animisms, namely, to persuade each other that we participate in something greater than ourselves: if not a cosmos, then an ecology or a system.

The visual arts are well suited to this project, even better suited than the literary arts, because images, anyway, have limited means of reproducing the words or gestures that carry interpersonal relations. A simple, effective way of reducing the person is to deprive  him or her of speech. The image or picture delivers a partial person, outside grammar. Within a picture, the leveling of people and things is already half-accomplished. “In iconic communication,” according to Gregory Bateson, “there is no tense, no simple negative, no modal marker.” Modality, or open-endedness, is a key to any ambitious model of the person as emergent, contingent, and unlimited. Because art has difficulty reproducing emergence, intersubjectivity reappears within art as misrecognition and misunderstanding, as if people all along, each time they try to communicate, have been mistaking things for people. The pictorial arts, where persons and things share a mutism, give the cue to the recent critical discourses—materialist, antihumanist, and antihierarchical—that redistribute agency across a spectrum of entities. It is especially in art history, art criticism, and art theory that the anthropomorphizing discourses of the thing have taken hold. Continue reading …

This paper argues that the “anthropomorphizing” discourses that attribute agency to images and things, stressing their efficacy and power, are motivated by a perception of a lack in the artwork, or in art itself.

CHRISTOPHER S. WOOD is Professor in the Department of German at New York University. He is the author of Albrecht Altdorfer and the Origins of Landscape (1993, reissued with new afterword, 2014).

Enigma at Nishapur

Animal, Vegetal, and Mineral: Ambiguity and Efficacy in the Nishapur Wall Paintings

by Finbarr B. Flood

The essay begins:

Between 1935 and 1947 excavations led by the Metropolitan Museum of Art at Nishapur, one of the four great medieval cities of the eastern province of Khurasan, brought to light some of the earliest extant wall paintings of the Islamic period from Iran. These included a remarkable series of painted plaster dadoes found in a rectangular room measuring almost thirty square meters within a large complex identified by the excavators as an administrative or palatial structure, located in a western suburb of Nishapur known as Tepe Madrasa. The iconography of the paintings, which can be dated to the ninth or tenth centuries, is unique; although some antecedent traditions can be identified, the bizarre congeries of leaves, limbs, and scales evoked in the medium of paint at Nishapur is without any immediate parallel in Islamic art. The absence of contemporary epigraphic or textual materials that might shed light upon the idiosyncratic imagery of the paintings compels one to fall back on analogical reasoning, which suggests that the paintings were invested with apotropaic or talismanic properties directly relevant to their strange appearance. Given the lack of any related contextual data, any attempt to analyze the paintings with respect to their proposed apotropaic imagery must necessarily be speculative. Nevertheless, even such a tentative approach to the paintings may be useful in highlighting aspects of the relation between materiality and representation relevant to the efficacious functioning of apotropaiac and talismanic imagery in general. In particular, the unusual conjunction of anthropomorphic, lithic, and vegetal imagery in the Nishapur paintings raises interesting questions about efficacy, ontology, and the apotropaic image, questions underlined by the metaquality of the Nishapur images as painted abstractions of natural forms and media. Continue reading …

A series of enigmatic ninth- or tenth-century wall paintings from Nishapur in eastern Iran seems to have been imbued with amuletic, apotropaic, or talismanic properties. Recapitulating while exaggerating some of the properties of marble, the paintings also include anthropomorphic and vegetal imagery. Their idiosyncratic iconography seems to highlight a tension between physis and technē that may be relevant to the ambiguous ontology of efficacious images in general.

FINBARR B. FLOOD is William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of the Humanities at the Institute of Fine Arts and Department of Art History, New York University. His publications include Objects of Translation: Material Culture and Medieval “Hindu-Muslim” Encounter (2009), which was awarded the 2011 Ananda K. Coomaraswamy Prize of the Association for Asian Studies. He is currently completing a major book project, provisionally entitled Islam and Image: Polemics, Theology, and Modernity. Other projects include a collaborative project entitled Object Histories: Flotsam as Early Globalism, for which he and Professor Beate Fricke, of UC Berkeley, have just been awarded an ACLS Collaborative Grant.

Renaissance Aesthetics and Medical Talismans

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

by Tanja Klemm

The essay begins:

Marsilio Ficino’s De vita, published in 1489 in Florence, is exclusively dedicated to the physical well-being of the sensible living organism—or the corpus animatum, as it had been called since late medieval times. In the proem to the work, Ficino makes it clear that in De vita he writes not as a philosopher, theologian, or priest but as a doctor, a scholar of medicine—of medicina theorica and of medicina practica. And indeed, with its focus on the regimen of intellectuals, of litterati, all three books of the treatise are deeply rooted in contemporary medical knowledge. In this sense, in De vita everything revolves around human physiology, which in that period was understood as the doctrine of nature (physis) dedicated to the understanding of natural processes in living organisms and the constitution of life. In the third book, entitled De vita coelitus comparanda (On Obtaining Life from the Heavens) this physiology is amplified into a cosmological doctrine of life and living matter: throughout the text it is connected to astrology—to the macrocosm and to the living stars and planets. To modern eyes, Ficino in De vita coelitus comparanda leaves the realm of physiology and, contrary to his statement in the proem, enters philosophy—or better, natural philosophy. But in premodern times philosophy was part of the medical curriculum, and thus medicine and astrology were tightly linked.

Pseudo-Augustine, Libellus de anima et spiritu, early thirteenth century. Trinity College, Cambridge, MS 0.7.16, 47r. © The Master and Fellows of Trinity College, Cambridge.

Pseudo-Augustine, Libellus de anima et spiritu, early thirteenth century. Trinity College, Cambridge, MS 0.7.16, 47r. © The Master and Fellows of Trinity College, Cambridge.

In the following pages, I would like to focus on the fact that within this cosmological physiology De vita coelitus comparanda develops a consistent phenomenology of imagines efficaces (efficient images). One could also call these imagines “medical talismans,” because, according to Ficino, they act on the spirit, body, and soul of a person—as does medicine, prescribed in the right way. Further, they can absorb powers from the heavens— as can medicine. Thus, in De vita coelitus comparanda, both imagines and medicine are embedded in an astrological framework—and this makes them both talismanic.

Ficino however does not use the term “talisman” in his treatise. Instead, he speaks throughout of imagines (sometimes effigies) or figurae. Imagines, per Ficino, refer to artifacts “made out of metals or stones by astrologers,” that is, to three-dimensional artifacts produced by specialists. He also goes on to specify their production, this time with assistance by “ancients” like Ptolemy, Haly Abbas, Platonist thinkers, and the Egyptians. In order to be useful (utilis), he explains, imagines can be formed according to the planetary constellation or the “celestial aspect” (vultus coelestis) whose healing power one wishes to attract. Figurae, on the other hand, do not designate three-dimensional artifacts in Ficino’s terminology. They refer instead to the figures and signs incised in imagines.

And De vita coelitus comparanda goes even further: it tells us how the forces of imagines—with or without figurae—are connected to both the human organism and the realm of the heavens. Within this framework, it provides a model of perception based on embodiment, immanent embeddedness, and participation rather than on visuality and observation. It focuses on how imagines or medical talismans worked and how the efficacy of these artifacts was conceived, perceived, and experienced. It explains the belief that talismanic powers had to be mingled with the forces—the spiritūs and virtutes—of the human organism in order to be felt or to lead to any kind of psychophysical metamorphosis, be it the cure of disharmonies of the corporeal humors or the refinement of the corporeal spiritus required to perform intellectual work or to enhance the proper generative (that is, procreative) forces. In short, De vita coelitus comparanda gives us an idea about how efficient images were perceived in the Renaissance. It is this consistent historical phenomenology of efficacy that makes Ficino’s text so original. Continue reading …

In his medical treatise De vita (1498), Marsilio Ficino describes the force of medical talismans and their efficacy on humans against the background of a cosmological physiology. This article focuses on the question of how—according to Ficino—the powers of medical talismans were experienced by humans, by the living, sensible body (corpus animatum). Discussion of this question also leads to theoretical considerations about the efficacy of artifacts in the Renaissance.

TANJA KLEMM is an art historian currently working as research assistant at the Morphomata Center for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Cologne. She is the author of Bildphysiologie. Körper und Wahrnehmung in Mittelalter und Renaissance (2013) and co-editor of Sind alle Denker traurig? Fallstudien zum melancholischen Grund des Schöpferischen in Asien und Europa (2015). Currently she is preparing, with Stephanie Dieckvoss, a monographic issue for Kunstforum International on the formation of artists in a global perspective.

Dragon Theory

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

By Persis Berlekamp

The essay begins:

In the early thirteenth century, the Islamic lands were theoretically united under the authority of the Abbasid caliph in Baghdad, but in practice the caliphate was weak, and princes in various regions, including several as close to Baghdad as northern Iraq, Syria, and Anatolia, operated with de facto autonomy. While the caliph paid special attention to the protection of Baghdad, other princes assumed responsibility for protecting the civic and commercial institutions under their control. Among these rulers were the Ayyubids in Syria, the Seljuks in much of Anatolia, the Zangids and their Atabegs in Mosul, and the Arturqids in the region at the upper reaches of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers known in the medieval period as the “Jazira.” Campaigns to build or fortify citadels, city walls, and secure stopping places for traveling merchants, or to protect the congregational mosques that were the central institutions of civic life, were part of this endeavor. From Iraq to Anatolia, walls and doors provided protection not only through their physical effectiveness as barriers but also through their talismanic qualities, which derived from the various and combined powers vested in inscriptions, antiquities, materials such as stone and bronze, and the iconographies of specific forms. Multiple theories that circulated at the time, and that I will refer to as theories of symmetry, sympathy, and sensation, suggested different explanations or models of why these qualities, separately or in combination, might have effective protective power. In other words, they offered multiple models of talismanic efficacy.

This article considers the slippery relevance of iconography to some of these models. Among the various iconographic forms that seem to have had talismanic significance, those with dragons and lions positioned near each other provide a starting point. As several of the structures these apotropaia enhanced are no longer extant, the degree to which they can be considered in their initial architectural context varies, but it does seem clear that lions and dragons were often positioned near each other like guards on the walls and gates of cities and citadels, and at the entrances of mosques and caravansarays. It is widely accepted that medieval Islamic dragons, particularly those with knotted bodies, played an apotropaic role. Likewise, the use of lion guardians in the pre-Islamic cultural heritage of the region is well known, and the resonance of that tradition in medieval Islamic memory is recognized. It has been noted that dragons and felines often appear together in this period, and that they have heraldic or royal significance. However, the early thirteenth-century cultural habit of combining the talismanic powers of the two beasts to protect cities and civic institutions has not been examined as such. Neither has there been very much consideration of why and how various viewers might have expected them to effectively serve a protective function. Continue reading

Talismans drawing on the combined iconographies of lions and dragons proliferated on the walls and doors of cities and civic institutions in early thirteenth-century Iraq, Syria, and Anatolia. This article examines them in light of three different medieval theoretical models, seeking to shed light on why intelligent people in their original milieus might have expected such talismans to have protective power.

PERSIS BERLEKAMP is Associate Professor of Art History and the College at the University of Chicago, where she teaches a range of topics in the history of Islamic art and architecture She is the author of Wonder, Image, and Cosmos in Medieval Islam and is currently writing a book on Islamic talismans.

Talking to a Chinese Jar on Two Human Feet

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

by Gerhard Wolf

from the special issue Images at Work, Representations 133

Through “conversation” with a more than four thousand-year-old Chinese vessel, this essay engages with some of the fundamental principles of the discipline of art history espoused in recent decades. In particular, it situates Bildwissenschaft and thing theory and the material turn within ongoing debates on art and artifacts and delineates a more fluid approach to the study of image, object, art (Bild, Ding, Kunst).

The essay begins:

Jar on two human feet, earthenware (China, Gansu or Qinghai Province, perhaps Qijia Culture, 2nd millennium BC). Permanent Loan, Meiyintang Foundation, Inv. MYT 2095, Rietberg Museum, Zurich.

Jar on two human feet, earthenware (China, Gansu or Qinghai Province, perhaps Qijia Culture, 2nd millennium BC). Permanent Loan, Meiyintang Foundation, Inv. MYT 2095, Rietberg Museum, Zurich.

It is hard to say why I stopped in front of you so much longer than before your neighbors, while walking through the collection of Chinese ceramics at the Rietberg Museum in Zurich recently. Is it because the base of your body has the somewhat simplified shape of two human feet? They carry a smoothly protruding “belly,” which contracts upwards into a neck that widens, in turn, into a collar, the whole (some 25 cm high) formed in brownish clay, with vertical scratched lines ornamenting the body and a kind of rhythmic incision at the upper circular edges that defines the border between inside and outside. Perhaps there are some remains of color, but I am not sure about this. If there were no vitrine separating us, one could handle you, have a closer look, and, while talking to you, perhaps my voice would resonate through the cavity of your “belly.” Must speak with your curator. The label reveals that your exact provenance (Gansu or Qinghai, Qijia culture?) is as uncertain as the date of your production, which is roughly the second millennium BCE. No way to write your biography, to know about your dwelling in the nearly four thousand years of your existence; most probably you were excavated in the twentieth century and sold by an art dealer to a collector, who loaned you on a permanent basis to the museum. I am intrigued by your feet, not because they give you an anthropomorphic dimension; to my eyes, it rather works the other way round, in the sense of giving feet to a thing: in fact, I would not describe your overall body in either human or animal terms, even if I have already used such terminology for reasons of convenience and convention. There is an owl-shaped jug on your left side, and it is quite different. Your feet remind me of Bertrand Russell’s rather rhetorical question concerning how we can know that things do not disappear once we turn our back to them. I read this early in life, a time when one sometimes wonders if the tables and chairs might not walk away only to return the next morning. Well, in your “case” you would need to escape from the glass that enshrines you, a container in a container, and your steps would be short and shuffling. Even if you do not do this, your (relatively small) feet on the one hand indicate a polarity of stability and potential movement, and on the other they give your self-sufficient thingness a directionality resulting in a front, profile, and back view, thus “orienting” you in space. One cannot avoid considering them when one wants to “place” you somewhere. The feet thus have an effect similar to a handle; however, they don’t seem to be attached to you, as handles often are (as animals climbing up a vessel or hanging on its side, for example). I imagine that your feet are hollow inside, taking part in shaping the volume that the layer of clay circumscribes, becoming the jar you are, to be filled with wine or water or another liquid.

I wonder if you may be called a kind of Heideggerian thing, and what this would mean. Heidegger is concerned not with the shape or making of jars and jugs, but rather with the jugness of jugs and the thingness of things; this self-referential nature of things (as predicates of themselves) he strongly distinguishes from the “objecthood” of “objects”: the “thingness” of “things.” He mentions the handle and spout once en passant, and insists on the German verb schenken in the double sense of “pour” and “give.” However, he doesn’t work out the resulting directionality intrinsic to the dynamics of such a potential flow; he rather privileges the gathering in roundness, the thing as a ring. He may not have liked your feet either, insofar as they suggest the object standing in front of me (as Gegenstand = object), or he would not have cared about them at all. But I do, for what fascinates me about you, as my remarks suggest, is this hybrid but “unified” combination of a part of the human body with a body that does not represent a living being, animal or human, iconizing with these parts a function proper to them, for which they “stand,” and that vessel and human body share—the function, in fact, of standing, emphasizing further the nonhuman nature of your overall shape. As a historian I cannot be content with my own intuitive approach or bodily experience; I must ask what images and concepts of living bodies were current at the time of your production. A quick look around that rich collection does not offer me clear hints. As for the elegant tripods next to you, they look to me like communicating organs, standing on three points and thus easily set on a fireplace. There are Chinese ceremonial bronze food vessels, called Ding from the second millennium onwards, very rarely decorated with a human face; they usually carried dragon ornaments. Heidegger may have liked them, for they apparently correspond more to his concept of Vierung, the fourfold gathering of heaven and earth, mortals and immortals, than you do, an “innocent” jar standing in your vitrine on your feet, so to speak. Even if I like the originality of your shape, I won’t call you a work of art, but rather an artifact. However, this is not my major concern. Over the last years, I have named my research department at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence “Image, Object, Art,” or in German Bild, Ding, Kunst, not because I think these terms form an inextricably fatal triangle, but rather because they can open to a rich semantic field, in a variety of constellations: as a triangle within a complex system of lines, as overlapping circles or pluri-dimensionally entangled universes. I understand “image,” “object,” and “art” as cumulative terms in a nonessentialist way, for example, embracing image and picture, object and thing, art and aesthetics. My interest is precisely to experiment with them in working out open conceptual tools for descriptive as well as analytical purposes as a way of reworking and refining the research process itself. In this way, you might be addressed as an artifact with an iconic aspect, meaning that your objecthood, if not thingness (despite Heidegger, I do not see a need for a sharp differentiation here), can be understood in aesthetic as well as anthropological categories. In fact, more generally, the techniques, practices, and aesthetics of containment are among the elementary interactions of humans and the environment, in the form of interference in, or interruption of, “flux” and other natural processes. This can happen by means of gathering and collecting; by transport, storage, and conservation of liquids or solids. Containment is thus one of the major conditions of the existence of “things”: containers or vessels are not only things in themselves; they can guarantee a relative stability of their content over time and space as well. Yet they can also be the site of metamorphoses or transubstantiation, as in the case of cooking pots. Containers can be understood as shells, constituting an inside and an outside. There is an aesthetics and poetics of containment in relation to function, transcultural agency, and biographies of objects, as well as the (not only) aesthetic practices that surround them: tea rituals, symposia or other rites of communality, pouring and drinking in religious ceremonies, measuring liquids and solids, the display and handling of drugs, packing suitcases, opening carton boxes in the archive, unloading ships, cooking pasta, or playing a violin. For the world of vessels and boxes is multisensorial, beyond the visual it involves touch, smell, taste, and, last but not least, acoustics: one thinks of musical instruments, often enshrining a volume that is essential for their production of sound, or beyond that, of the sheltering of objects by means of cases, often lined with textiles. According to Aristotle, a place (topos) is a sort of perfectly tight case enshrining or encapsulating things.

Turning to the three terms “image,” “object,” and “art,” I see the danger of fetishizing them or, rather, of following certain traditions and current practices of doing so. If art in the narrow sense of the European tradition is set as an absolute, universalist category, “image” and “thing” are easily drawn into the game, which then tends to become a fatal triangulation. My suggestion, however, is not to renounce speaking about “art” (a term with a kind of global success), but rather to try to free it from the connotations of the early modern “system” as it was established in Europe, to abandon the traditional hierarchies of artwork and artifact and to rediscover the notion of aesthetics as an open category well suited for transcultural research. If I see it correctly, there is at present a tendency toward just this in various parts of the world. Continue reading …

GERHARD WOLF is Director of the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz, Max-Planck-Institut, and Honorary Professor at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. His current research topics are Mediterranean and global art histories, sacred topographies in an interreligious perspective, theories of the image in religion and art, and the interrelations between artistic and scientific worldviews. His many 2015 publications include Littoral and Liminal Spaces: The Early Modern Mediterranean and Beyond (co-edited with Hannah Baader), Bild, Ding, Kunst (co-edited with Kathrin Müller), and Images Take Flight: Feather Art in Mexico and Europe, 1400–1700 (co-edited with Alessandra Russo and Diana Fane).

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.