Episode 15: The Not-Evolution of Theatre

Summary

In which Em and Jess discuss the important theoretical contributions of Tropic Thunder and Blazing Saddles to performance studies, thereby illustrating the important differences between performance, theatre, and ritual and vital questions about their respective origins.

Also, Jess calls Socrates evil, and then Em and Jess decolonize medieval theatre beginning with India and China.

(Aristotle loves theatre and therefore was not evil.)

Notes, Annotations, and Corrections

1/ Okay, to be honest–we didn’t talk about Australia, and that is a super colonized place that is ripe for a reevaluation–evidently, the period we refer to as “the middle ages” is typically called “prehistory” in Australia because there were no written records. (Refer to previous rant about the privileging of written records over other forms of memory.) Sometime we will have to circle back and think about this. [I read “super colonized” as “spider colonized” at first, which also rings true for Australia. But yes–we will definitely have to cover Australia and New Zealand!–JN]

2/ The dudes are emerging. [So many layers!!!–JN]

The new ice cream truck jingle by RZA. Turkey in the Straw information.

White Christmas “Minstrel Number”.

A NY Times article on the Met production of Othello. [Seriously, WTF!!! Come on, Met!–JN]]

I think the Ben Stiller/Spielberg movie was Empire of the Sun. [Yes, it was!–JN]

The Sean Penn movie was I Am Sam. I [Em] hadn’t heard of it, and–wow. Reading the summary, all I can say is it deserves whatever fun Ben Stiller was able to poke at it.

Also, as a face-blind person, the fact that so many actors become famous because they look like other actors is the bane of my freaking existence.

And here is the trailer for Satan’s Alley.

3/ [17:35] On performing parenthood: welcome to Em’s theory of how gender inequalities get perpetuated from generation to generation despite the idea that women shouldn’t have to do 100% of childcare and homemaking being a thing since at least 1989. (Actually probably a lot of women had this idea earlier, but 1989 is when The Second Shift was published.)

This doesn’t have too much to do with medieval studies, but whatever, sez I. [This was definitely an issue in the Middle Ages! We should have a medieval kid/parenthood episode.–JN] [I would totally be in for that.–Em]

4/ For Ishtar/Inanna’s Descent to the Underworld, see Episode 8 nt. 18.

Oedipus Rex, by Tom Lehrer.

5/ [29:59] “Socrates is evil…we’ll footnote that.” Stub footnote so Jesse can provide some proof or something. Otherwise we are going to get nailed on this by the ancient philosophy crowd. [I stand by this!! I have long rants on this, but I can boil it down to a few points. 1) Socrates’s students–specifically Critias–were responsible for a coup that overthrew the democracy in 404 BCE and installed the Thirty Tyrants, who were sympathetic to Sparta (to whom Athens had just lost the Peloponnesian War). 2) The Tyrants, especially Critias, were only in power for 8 months but managed to kill a LOT of people (maybe 5% of the Athenian population). Scholars have excused this over the years as “necessary” blah blah BS. IT’S FASCIST; THEY WERE FASCISTS. (Or more properly proto-fascist, I guess.) 3) Socrates hated democracy and loved the idea of an oligarchy composed of elite individuals. (Read Plato’s Republic.) Welp, turns out oligarchs are f**king monsters. 4) Critias again. 5) The democracy was restored in 403 BCE, and it was agreed that because SO MANY PEOPLE HAD BEEN KILLED by the tyrants, the newly restored democracy would only kill the tyrants themselves and their closest allies. Everyone else would be given amnesty. SOCRATES continued to preach oligarchy. 6) Seriously, read Plato’s early work. It’s not actually Socrates, of course, but it’s certainly influenced by Socrates. He was a classist, elitist snob. 7) Socrates was told to stop preaching oligarchy (i.e., the idea that the best government was one run by a few “qualified” individuals), but he wouldn’t stop. He was told to leave town; he wouldn’t. He couldn’t be executed directly for his role in the 404 BCE coup because of the general amnesty. (His role was difficult to prove anyway, despite Critias. The tyrants ordered Socrates to help in an execution, but Socrates said later that he just went home). So, “corrupting the youth” was a euphemism for “convincing people to overthrow the democracy.” 8) We celebrate Socrates as a martyr to education and freedom of speech, which is the most BS thing ever. He was a genius philosopher, and he’s had an astonishing impact on Western Civilization (via Plato). BUT he was pretty evil too. He is, of course, not the only philosopher to have felt that he isn’t responsible for terrible things done according to his philosophy.–JN]

Em: Okay, in my Introduction to Ancient Philosophy class (where we read Socrates’s Apology), we definitely did not talk about it in any sort of historical context, and…I don’t remember if we talked about what “corrupting the youth” actually meant. Huh.

6/ Recovering Ancient Greek music (including Euripides’s famous chorus of the furies from Orestes).

For more on Greeks and whiteness, see Episode 11, midway through note 15 (on the Elgin Marbles).

7/ I was in a play where we just sang A Health to the Company in the middle of Henry IV pt 1. I dunno, directing is hard, probably.

Also, to be fair to community theatre, setting all the songs to different Beatles tunes did work pretty well. I do love community theatre, it is the most punk of all available theatres.

8/ The Banana Song, for those curious:

Time to gather your arse up off the floor,
(have a bana-na)
Brush your teeth and go toddling off to war,
Wave your hand to sleepy land,
Kiss those dreams away,S
Tell Miss Grable you’re not able,
Not till V-E Day, oh,
Ev’rything’ll be grand in Civvie Street
(have a ban-ana)
Bubbly wine and girls wiv lips so sweet–
But there’s still the German or two to fight,
So show us a smile that’s shiny bright,
And then, as we may have suggested once before–
Gather yer blooming arse up off the floor!

This site has all the song lyrics in Gravity’s Rainbow. There are actually song lyrics in all of his books. Sadly, only one of the books ever got made into a film (Inherent Vice–it was weird).

Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves.

9/ Jesse: Here is the website of the Athens Epidaurus Festival. They live streamed Aeschylus’s Persians from Epidaurus this year when the festival finally reopened.

The theatre of Herodes Atticus.

10/ Hrotsvit was in episode 6 (note 18); she’ll also be discussed extensively in a forthcoming episode.

11/ Kalidasa, The Recognition of Shakuntala.

Sudraka, The Little Clay Cart.

The Natya Shastra.

12/ Things England brought back from India (an incomplete list):

  • Spices
  • Paisley
  • Sanskrit drama
  • Some really big diamonds
  • A lot of other artefacts, including a Buddha statue (the Sultanganj Buddha) that weighs over 500 kg (over 1,000 lbs)
  • Approximately $45 trillion worth of stuff (in 2017 USD) over 173 years

13/ Sanskrit is still a language that is around today and you can learn it. There are about 3 million people worldwide who speak it and maybe 25k speak it as their primary language, but I believe what they speak is different from the “perfected” version of Sanskrit you might learn on your way to a degree in Buddhism (in Em’s program, you had to take a semester or two of Sanskrit before you could take Pali, the primary language of Buddhist texts–note that Em did a different track and didn’t take either).

Also, incidentally, Thai derives a fair amount of its script from Devanagari (the script Sanskrit is written in), but not in a way that is obvious if you look at the two abrugidas side by side.

“When we speak of horses” is a misquote from Henry V, act 1, scene 1 (actual quote: Think when we talk of horses, that you see them / Printing their proud hoofs i’ the receiving earth).

14/ Chinese opera: Dear China, I say this with the greatest respect as a Sinophile and a lover of opera: your opera is pretty extra.

Also I (Em) forgot, when we had this conversation, that Samuel Ramey used to leap out of the orchestra pit when he played Mephistopheles. Maybe. I was told this at one point. [Yes, in Boito’s Mephistopheles! I saw it at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Great production! Also, it starts with something akin to the Dialogue in Heaven, a medieval tradition followed by Goethe in Faust (and hence by Boito in his opera about Mephistopheles and Faust). Goethe might have decided to include the Dialogue in Heaven specifically because of the influence of Sanskrit dramas, which apparently made prologues cool again. Anyway, the Devil shows up to talk to God and bets God that he (the Devil) can tempt Faust. It’s quite Jobian. Anyway, this is why Ramey lept from the orchestra pit (Hell) to the stage (Heaven) to have a chat with God.–JN]

Jesse: Also, a shout out to David Cangelosi’s Mime in Wagner’s Ring Cycle (in a production originated at Lyric Opera of Chicago), where he climbed around the set of his hut (hanging from the rafters and such). It was very exciting!

Zaju 雜劇 is traditional Chinese theater. The technical term for Chinese opera is xiqu (戲曲), I think.

The Injustice to Dou E, by Guan Hanqing. Technically I think it’s not “E” like the letter e, it’s “ə” (not in the sense of an unaccented vowel, just that’s the sound). Unless the pronounciation has changed since the Middle Ages–totally possible. Hm. We will also discuss this one more in a future episode.

The Chalk Circle by Li Qianfu.

Possibly, rather than a common source (although that would also be pretty cool), people have merely observed certain human traits that are universal? [Nope, there’s definitely a common source. I mean, it’s not hard to believe–Genghis Khan’s troops traveled in both directions, for example, but so did a lot of other people, and people bring stories–JN]

Jesse: Here’s a favorite scene–it’s the battle scene in White Snake. The legend is old. Briefly, the hero is a female immortal (a white snake), who falls in love with a mortal. An evil monk tries to separate them, and White Snake and her best friend (the female immortal Green Snake) rally their good troops to fight the monk and his evil troops. This scene is the fight–color symbolism of good vs evil abounds. There are a lot of dancers and acrobats in this battle scene, but the women playing White Snake and Green Snake are also singers. (More on this in an upcoming episode too.)

Here’s the first half of the opera, to hear the singing.

In medieval Chinese theatre, men could play women and women could play men. Much later, only men were allowed to perform on stage (probably because of the influence of Japan). Today, women again play female roles. However, Mei Lanfang was one of the most famous male Chinese opera stars of the twentieth century, and he specialized in female roles. Seeing him perform on stage inspired Brecht to theorize alienation (Verfremdungseffekt). Here’s a (poor quality because it’s old!) video of Mei Lanfang.

Here’s a reconstruction of a medieval mural of a Chinese acting troupe. The leader of the troupe is in the center in red, and she’s costumed in a manner that suggests she might be about to play a male lead role. The female actors appear to be dressed in robes that cover their feet, regardless of the gender of character they are playing. (This is not because of foot binding, which didn’t exist yet. Instead, It seems to be a way to signal to the viewer that these actors are women, regardless of how they are costumed. It might also have been a way for women playing male roles to disguise the size of their feet.) Also interesting, some of the men in the mural seem to have fake beards. On the left, we can just barely see a stage hand peeking out from backstage. In other words, this is a troupe in costume and ready to perform!

Here is the original mural. The text above the mural reads “Ráodū liked it. Zhōng Dūxiù, a famous actress of sǎnyuè performed here. The fourth month of year one in era Tàidìng.” This is how we know for sure that the troupe is led by a women, Zhōng Dūxiù.

15/ As Jesse says, we don’t often set new lyrics to existing tunes…but Weird Al and Tom Lehrer sure do. (Side note: Tom Lehrer is now 92 and still, as of this writing, alive.)

Jesse: Yaaay Tom Lehrer!!! Also, Weird Al tells the following story about “Smells like Nirvana:” Weird Al asked Kurt Cobain if he (Weird Al) could parody “Smells like Teen Spirit,” and Cobain said he liked Weird Al, but so many of his parodies were about food, and Cobain didn’t want this one to be about food. And Weird Al said–Don’t worry, it’s going to be about how nobody can understand your lyrics. And Cobain said yes.

I love this because A+ for both Cobain and Weird Al. And also, Weird Al was not wrong.

Episode 14: Decolonization and Asia

Summary

One night in Bangkok makes a hard man tremble.” Weird concept musicals by Abba members aside, Asia is a place that many in the West have a fairly Orientalist relationship with, seeing it as both exotic and primitive. In today’s episode, we explore that relationship; starting with the French “restoration” of Angkor Wat, we move on to the naming of countries and map making. Includes some digressions on CSI, lese-mageste laws, the play Cambodian Rock Band, and the fall of the Berlin Wall. If you’re not a regular reader of the notes, be sure to at least check out note 20 (around 1:10:40) for transcription of a bit that had to be cut because of recording issues.

Notes, Annotations, and Corrections

1/ Jesse: If anyone is wondering, the CSI:Miami episode is “Man Down,” season 5, episode 15 (aired in February 2007).

Em: Sir Archibald Mapsalot III.

2/ Emily: “So, Asia… uh… It’s really big.”

About Mongolia: There’s a lot of China that is farther west than Mongolia, but you could also say the same thing for a lot of South/Southeast Asia–China is very big. Technically, the US Department of State classes it as East Asia, but I don’t believe the UW-Madison Department of East Asian Languages and Literature had anything to do with it (go figure). Arguably it has more in common with a lot of Central Asia owing to having been ruled by various Steppe nomad tribes–although come to that, China was as well, and–

Anyway, enjoy this song by the premiere heavy metal band of Mongolia, the HU. [Great song!–Jesse]

3/ Anthony Reid’s Wikipedia page has a list of his publications. Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce vols. I and II are the ones that I read.

4/ The lese-majeste laws in Thailand basically limit what can be said about the royal family (as well as royal development projects, the royal institution, the entire Chakri dynasty, and any previous Thai king). Every couple of years, there’s a big case of some foreigner being brought up on charges for drunkenly punching a portrait of the king or stepping on a bank note or something. Unclear how this will change under the new king (Rama X), who is not as beloved as his father was. There have been a bunch of higher profile cases recently (a lot more protests recently).

The King Never Smiles, by Paul M. Handley, was an unauthorized biography of Rama IX (Bhumibol) and did not paint him in a good light (I believe it cast some doubt on the official story of how he came to be king as well–although other biographers, including the authorized biographer William Stevenson, have also proposed weird theories and gotten their books banned as a result). If all of this sounds very mysterious, go read Ananda Mahidol’s (Rama VIII) Wikipedia page.

5/ The mysterious book about Thai prisons may have been The Damage Done by Warren Fellows, but “Thai Prison Memoirs” is an entire genre–here’s a list of several. Note that they are disturbing.

QI clip about prison. [Most of QI is hilarious. This clip is not!–Jesse]

6/ Siem Reap, Cambodia. Lovely place. Be careful not to wander through random fields and be careful going out late at night–one of the unfortunate legacies of the various wars Southeast Asia has faced (both the Viet Nam War and the Khmer Rouge takeover) is that there are unexploded mines and other ordinance in many places–I believe Cambodia has the highest ratio of amputees per capita in the world because of this.

Em’s entire shpiel about Angkor is largely drawn from Penny Edwards, Cambodge, University of Hawai’i Press, 2008. Amazon link.

French Indochina was Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.

Three major types of Buddhism:

  1. Mahayana Buddhism (e.g., Zen): Anyone can become enlightened through meditation.
  2. Theravada Buddhism: We will support the monks so they can become enlightened. The good karma this generates will allow us to be reborn and become monks to become enlightened.
  3. Vajrayana Buddhism (e.g., Tibetan, like the Dalai Lama): Kind of Mahayana, kind of its own thing. It’s–weird. (Like, intentionally weird stuff–a lot of esoteric rituals.)

In general, you get Mahayana Buddhism in China, the Koreas, and Japan; Theravada Buddhism in mainland SE Asia + Sri Lanka; and Vajrayana Buddhsim in Tibet and its mountainous border regions (Northern India, Nepal, Bhutan), and also in Mongolia, Tuva, and parts of Western China (the Steppes, including, oddly enough, Kalmykia–a Russian federal subject with the population of Madison that is the only place in Europe where Buddhism is the most-practiced religion).

7/ Columbusing: Discovering Things for White People. [Reverse Columbusing is usually just assimilation. 🙁 –Jesse]

Old joke: What did Watson and Crick discover?
Answer: Rosalind Franklin’s research notes. [Love this, glad we could use it here!–Jesse]

8/ “There were Khmer people living in Cambodia…” Worth noting, though Em explains a bit later on that Siem Reap was not part of Cambodia when Mouhout found it, that the capital had been moved from Siem Reap to Oudong (not directly–it moved all over the place), possibly as a result of the war with Thailand that led to Cambodia losing the Siem Reap area in the first place. In 1865, the capital was moved again to Phnom Penh, where it remains to this day.

9/ For more on icons, see episode 10.

10/ The whole Khmer Rouge situation was way more complex than can be summarized here. (And I [Em] didn’t really want to talk about it in the episode, because there’s a TON of legit history in Cambodia, and not everything has to be about the KR.) But I think we talked about it enough that I should provide a few resources…I am trying to think of how I learned about it…and the answer is really when I visited the Killing Fields (Choeung Ek) in Cambodia, that was sort of when I started to find out about it (there was a bar that showed a documentary that I wound up watching too, and the next day I think I went to Tuol Sleng–there are a lot of really well-documented sites in Phnom Penh). But since flying to Phnom Penh is not a great option at the moment, you might want to check out this virtual exhibit by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The cliff notes version is something like:

  • The Khmer Rouge were a radical Communist/Marxist group that took over Cambodia in 1975 and held power until 1979. Saloth Sar, alias Pol Pot, was its leader.
  • Unlike other Communist groups in the region (like the North Vietnamese), the KR had this weird ideology that focused on the rural peasantry and a rejection of technology/intellectualism.
  • The KR was a brutal regime that singled out and killed intellectuals, city residents, religious practitioners (of any religion, I believe), and Cham and Vietnamese minorities. Even wearing glasses was enough to get you sent to one of their prisons, where you would be interrogated, tortured, and killed.
  • In 1979, the Vietnamese government got tired of Cambodian incursions into Vietnam and launched an attack, eventually toppling the regime. Although foreign journalists had been writing about the situation well before that (see, for example, the film The Killing Fields), the international community did nothing, and some intellectuals (like Noam Chomsky) actually denounced refugees, saying they were anti-Communist and therefore clearly lying about their experiences.
  • The KR were largely never brought to justice–Saloth Sar died in 1998, having been imprisoned on house arrest for about nine months, and many KR members continued to serve in the government of Cambodia for a long time. However, relatively recently a few of the surviving members of the regime were convicted by a UN tribunal. Part of the problem was apparently finding a definition of genocide that would include most of the people Cambodia killed (about one to three million people in all, about a fifth of the population of the country), but exclude “the killing of a specific class of people,” which would also have implicated Stalin (and thus made Russia–part of the international court–angry). My former colleague Dr. Michelle Caswell has written a lot about the KR, record keeping, and archiving–I suggest checking out her works.
  • Because a lot of Cambodians don’t like the Vietnamese much, there are still a lot of sympathies in the country for the KR–their legacy has been very politicized and the atrocities (somewhat) forgotten. Which is a weird and terrifying sentence to write. Also I met a woman who was with the Vietnamese army when they rolled in (I think everyone was required to serve–I don’t remember what her position was) and she mentioned how she would always remember the smell in Phnom Penh when they arrived…
  • Sorry, that got dark. Anyway, Cambodia is a nice place to visit now.

Jesse: We can all agree that the definition of genocide should have included Stalin, and that is all I have to say about Russia at the moment.

11/ Lauren Yee, Cambodian Rock Band. The play premiered at South Coast Rep, and the main actor Jesse is discussing is Joe Ngo. Check out this essay he wrote for TheaterMania about how his parents’ stories as survivors of the KR became integral to the play!

Also check out the music of Dengue Fever. This is the one you have possibly heard before if you are into Welcome to Night Vale. But they have a ton of other songs up on YouTube–just be sure to search for “Dengue Fever Band.” [Here’s a Spotify link to the Signature Theatre cast album of Cambodian Rock Band. Their album is also available to buy.–Jesse]

12/ Per the name of Thailand/Siam: Thailand was always known as “muang Thai” to the people who lived there (“muang” means city, but also state! Tricky). The name Siam seems to have a disputed source–possibly Pali, Sanskrit, Mon, or from the Chinese “Xian” (which, so the theory goes, would have been pronounced Shi-an and turned into Siam by Portugese traders). Anyway, “Siam” was the official name from around the time of King Mongkut (Rama IV, ruled during the 1850s-60s) until 1939, and then briefly again from 1946-48.

Officially, the US refers to the country-formerly-known-as-Burma as Burma. The UN uses Myanmar. Both names are related to the majority ethnic group (Barmar), one being a more literary form and one more colloquial. The country’s post-colonial government adopted the name “Myanmar” in 1989 as part of a project to kick British colonial romanizations/spellings out of English.

Jesse: Check out Guy Delisle’s work! Here’s the Burma Chronicles link.

13/ Otzi: the oldest known mummy found in Europe (i.e., the one from longest ago, not the actual oldest at time of death).

14/ I’m not going to link to all the various disputes we mention. The biggest things to remember about borders are: they are always porus; things flow across them, in part because ethnic/tribal/etc. groups tend to extend across them; China has a lot of border disputes.

15/ Les Blancs, by Lorraine Hansbury. Fun fact: Lorraine Hansbury attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison. [Yay!!!!–Jesse]

16/ [58ish] Actually, it’s “54°40′[N] or fight.” Incidentally, that is not where the border between the US and Canada wound up, which is more like 49° N (except for Vancouver Island). Also, in the 1840s, Canada was really the British Empire, so it’s not like we were going to fight Canada–we were going to re-litigate the revolution. (Although: that distinction doesn’t prevent (modern day) Canada from claiming credit for burning down the White House during the War of 1812 (different war than referenced in the 1812 overture, but still a good one). [Yes! Same War of 1812 referenced in this song, which is what the Candian version is based on. –Jesse]

17/ McGirt v. Oklahoma is the case.

Jesse: Our poet laureate is Joy Harjo.

18/ Map from June 2016.
Maybe from August 2019.

Jesse: Notice how empty the eastern US is…Trail of Tears, other forced migrations, and so much genocide.

More on map projections here and here.

London Underground map.

Also, true story: the DLR (“docklands light rail”) is on the same map (this is how you would get to Canary Wharf, to give a landmark you may have heard of), but if you’re at King’s Cross St Pancras, there’s no one who will tell you that you can actually change from the Jubilee line to the DLR. Em is apparently carrying a lot of unresolved bitterness about the London Underground. But she does love the Parisian Metro. It’s all about finding a language you understand. [I just want to reiterate how much I love subways and all trains and they are the BEST.–Jesse]

The London Underground is not a political movement.

Map of New York’s subways and burroughs. If you look at Central Park in Manhattan, you’ll see how wonky (“stylized”) the map is.

19/ Thongchai Winichakul, Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-Body of a Nation, University of Hawai’i Press, 1997. Amazon link. I think he is now professor emeritus.

Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, Verso, 1983. Amazon link (to revised ed.). Another classic by a scholar of Southeast Asia (although with a bit more broad application).

20/ At 1:10:40ish, we had a recording issue. Here is a transcription of what Dr. Jesse said:

…and so the maps that the navigator had created and learned showed the swells of the oceans. Right? Because islands have swells. And so you could tell when you were lying in the bottom of the boat, specifically [there were] four different swells and you could tell where you were in the island chain by the swells. Of course, European navigators mostly used the surface of the ocean, and didn’t have landmarks outside of islands. The idea that the swells themselves are landmarks is a sort of wonderful point. And something that it took Europeans a while to realize that this was the way they were navigating. And it’s also, of course, why people from the Pacific islands, those types of navigation are how they manage to travel from island to island and also manage to get to places like California and stuff. You have a sort of ability to recognize features that aren’t on most maps, but are there and recognizable nevertheless. Or if you think of something like an electrocardiogram, right? That’s a map, right?

[I know I have to stop saying “right” so much! I can’t help it–it’s a great way to get students to nod at you to show that they’re paying attention.–Jesse]

Sorry for the remaining buzz I was unable to remove.

21/ See Abel Buell’s 1784 map (with giant states of Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia) here and read up on it and him here.

Compare Buell’s 1784 map to the 1721 Catawba map sent to Francis Nicholson, the royal governor of South Carolina.

Yinka Shonibare. See also episode 11 note 21.

Here is the Hereford Mappa Mundi (World Map).

Here’s a video on Shonibare’s project on the world map.

Here are some articles about Shoibare’s project with good pictures and comments: Article 1, article 2.

22/ T and O Map.

23/ Czechoslovakia, for the young ones in the audience, existed from 1918 to 1993. Subsequently it became the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

The USSR ended in 1991.

The story about the fall of the Berlin Wall being reported while I was in the back seat of my mom’s station wagon on I-90 outside of Chicago (I feel like we were stuck in rush hour traffic (probably near O’Hare) and maybe going through one of those awesome Midwestern thunderstorms) is true as far as I remember. Official demolition of the wall began in June of 1990, so I think that is when we had the conversation, rather than when the Brandenburg Gate officially opened in 1989 or when demolition was completed in November of 1990.

The fact that she was upset says a lot about what being Jewish was like in the US after WWII. For more on this, read Maus. [READ MAUS. Just…read it.–Jesse]

Episode 13: Decolonizing Africa

Summary

In the words of the great philosopher Toto, “I bless the RAINS down in AFRICA.” [This song plays every year at the Saturday night dance at the International Congress on Medieval Studies, otherwise known as Kalamazoo. Very medieval. –Jesse]

We explore Africa from a decolonizing viewpoint, including words of wisdom from deceased UW–Madison professor Dr. Harold Scheub, an interesting conversation about the Crusader or Shah ‘Abbas Bible, and the traditions of Ethiopian Christianity, and a few digressions about Mt. Rushmore, trans people and film, the movies Coming to America and The Last Samurai, and some discussion of the spread of religions and Jewish genetics.

Notes, Annotations, and Corrections

1/ The creation of global trade routes and a global system of economics is a major theme of Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle, which covers approximately 1649–1715.

2/ The Chinese did “discover” America in 1421. Allegedly. According to a book by a British man who had no particular training in history and, in fact, not even a bachelor’s degree; also the book was allegedly worked on by over 130 ghost writers and no one fact-checked it. SO, uh. Probably not. Incidentally, the explorer given the honor of discovering the US was Zheng He, who I think we mentioned in another episode–he was a Muslim eunuch, explorer, and diplomat who became an important figure at the court of the Yongle Emperor.

3/ Various pipeline projects have been cancelled. Sort of. [Yeah, the US Court of Appeals already set aside the verdict of the lower court and said the Dakota Access Pipeline can keep running while the court battle rages on. –Jesse]

4/ The guy who carved (part of) Mt Rushmore (he died) and (a non-surviving part of) the monument to the Lost Cause of the Confederacy (he was kicked off the project and his work blasted off the mountain; this is the monument we mention carved on Stone Mountain, near Atlanta, GA) was Gutzon Borglum. (The LCotC bas relief DOES feature Traveler, in case you have been keeping track, along with the horses of Jefferson Davis (Blackjack) and Stonewall Jackson (Little Sorrel). Neither of the other two horses is cool enough to have their own Wikipedia page though.) Borglum was an odd duck–he was a child of Mormon polygamist immigrants, Freemason, and if not an actual Klan member then someone who was deeply involved in Klan politics. He also carved a bust of Abraham Lincoln from a six-ton block of marble, won a prize for carving Union General Philip Sheridan (one version stands in Washington DC, one in Chicago), and did another statue of progressive IL governor John Peter Altgeld. His son, who took over Mt Rushmore after his death, was named Lincoln.

5/ Netflix documentary: Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen. Apparently 80% of Americans don’t know any trans people. That’s so crazy. Apparently I know a lot more trans people than average. [I’m not giving links to D.W. Grifith, but definitely look him up if you want to. More importantly, look up Susan Stryker. She has great books; check them out at your favorite local library or bookstore.–Jesse]

6/ The Nazi anatomy text was Topographische Anatomie des Menschen by Eduard Pernkopf.

The remark about how white supremacy is the playing field we all stand on was something Fran Lebowitz (a writer who exists primarily to occasionally be interviewed by the New Yorker, as far as I can tell) said (in an interview with Vanity Fair). It was something she said in 1997. Actual quote:

The way to approach it, I think, is not to ask, “What would it be like to be black?” but to seriously consider what it is like to be white. That’s something white people almost never think about. And what it is like to be white is not to say, “We have to level the playing field,” but to acknowledge that not only do white people own the playing field but they have so designated this plot of land as a playing field to begin with. White people are the playing field. The advantage of being white is so extreme, so overwhelming, so immense, that to use the word “advantage” at all is misleading since it implies a kind of parity that simply does not exist.

Judith of Bethulia.

I don’t know where the idea I had that Jefferson had many children with enslaved Black women came from–we know that he had six with Sally Hemings (who was actually his deceased wife’s half sister. Four of the children survived to adulthood and were freed; the youngest, Eston Hemings, brought his family here to Madison, WI, where he changed his last name to Jefferson and lived as part of the White community and is buried here). Anyway, you can read The Memoirs of Madison Hemings here, and see the reflections of some of his living descendents here. The Madison Hemings piece suggests that he didn’t have children with other Black women that MH was aware of. [As far as I know, Sally Hemings is the only enslaved woman who people know Jefferson raped. (She was a slave and didn’t have the power of consent, although their “relationship” may have started in France, where she was technically free. Why didn’t she stay in France? No one really knows.) That being said, I agree emphatically with Em here because there’s no reason that I know of to be sure that Jefferson didn’t rape any other enslaved women, even if he didn’t have children with them. Assuming that he didn’t is a way of making his “relationship” with Hemings seem more legitimate.–Jesse]

7/ The story that Jesse tells about our mutual great grandfather is, as far as I know, absolutely true. He entered the US via Rotterdam (having traveled with one suitcase, leaving the rest of his belongings behind) in September of 1904, married the woman from the ship in 1910, and became a naturalized citizen in 1917, according to the notes I have. (Also, he spoke seven languages, which makes me wonder if that’s where Jesse and I get it from.)

8/ Harold Scheub obit. The Angelina Jolie film was probably The Good Shepherd, which was not entirely set in Africa but included some scenes set in the Congo (with, probably, no or few actual Africans in them, or at least none with speaking parts). On the other hand, Blood Diamond is more of a White savior thing.

Weirdly, I (Em) was living in Viet Nam when Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt adopted a kid from there (renamed Pax Thien). For whatever reason, the Vietnamese people I spoke to at the time were big fans of hers because of this. Also one time, a businessman on an airplane (flying from HCMC to Laos, I think) asked me what I thought of her and then gave me a lengthy lecture about having kids before  my eggs dried up (I was 24?). Luckily it was in Vietnamese, so I only understood about half of it.

This is the attack in Nairobi, Kenya I mentioned.

This article has a good collection of African book covers.

9/ Eclipsed, by Danai Gurira.

Eddie Murphy: Coming to America. Also he apparently flew to the US on the CONCORD. Because it was 1988 and he was classy AF.

You’ve already seen it, but here’s the trailer for Black Panther. In ten years they will remake this with Michael B. Jordan’s character as the hero. [Well, he kind of already is. The problem is that his desire to pillage and destroy Wakanda to make up for colonialism isn’t the answer either. Luckily, Black Panther learns a lot from Killmonger.–Jesse]

Key and Peele were amazing. For example. (This sketch has nothing to do with anything except it’s amazing. No one even has any lines until 3:30 into a 3:40 sketch.) [This sketch is amazing no matter what, but I think it reaches new heights if you grew up during the 80s. Just sayin.–Jesse]

10/ Hidden Figures. Kevin Costner’s character was named Al Harrison. Also, apparently in real life Katherine Johnson just refused to walk all the way to the other bathroom and used the White one, which is a much less dramatic solution.

11/ Bus Stop, by Gao Xingjian. Its initial run was apparently shut down by a holdover from the Cultural Revolution. Wow.

12/ I don’t really remember the plot of The Last Samurai except that a guy hit Tom Cruise in the head with a stick a bunch. Oh, also it turns out that the old phrase, “He who lives by the sword dies by he who lives by the Gatling gun” is true in many situations. One thing I will say about it as a film is that all the Japanese characters appear to have been played by actual Japanese people, which is…often not the case in Hollywood films (Memoirs of a Geisha, I’m looking at you).

13/ The Crusader or Shah ‘Abbas Bible.

St. Louis, aka King Louis IX of France. He led two crusades and, during the second, died of dysentery. Most interestingly, he exchanged letters and eventually sent an envoy to the Mongols. Sainte Chapelle is an amazing chapel.

Judeo-Persian is a bit similar to Ladino (Jewish Spanish) and Yiddish (Jewish German)–syncretic languages typically spoken by Jewish communities in a given area. In this case, Judeo-Persian is a literary form of New Persian with some Jewish idiosyncrasies, and also it is typically written in Hebrew characters (as it is in the Shah ‘Abbas Bible). (There were many more spoken dialects in this region, often referred to as Judeo-Iranian.)

14/ Christianity was adopted in Ethiopia during the fourth century CE (converted by a missionary name Frumentius). By that time, enough people were practicing Judaism that they rebelled when the king tried to change the kingdom’s religion.

The Kebra Nagast is a 14th century Ge’ez epic written by Is’haq Nebura-Id of Axum.

The Ark of the Covenant is claimed to be held by the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (an Episcopal Church–sorry, Dan Brown) in Axum. They don’t really show it to people, sorry.

15/ Okay, this discussion about Judaism in Ethiopia and how it was interesting to come to terms with the idea that Judaism was originally not primarily a White religion, begins with me (Em) mentioning something I saw a former classmate of mine post on FB. Since we taped this episode, I’ve become aware that the quote is weirdly similar to some statements made by some anti-Semitic people (Nick Cannon among them) in the media lately. Obviously, the idea that Black people can’t be anti-Semitic because they’re the “original Hebrews” is problematic, and I believe some of the conspiracy theories go on to suggest much worse things. This makes me pretty uncomfortable; I definitely don’t want anyone to point to our podcast as evidence that Jews subscribe to these destructive beliefs, but I thought the discussion of genetics and race was useful, so I kept that in. For the record, I don’t believe the person I saw posting this actually believes all of this (“this” meaning the anti-Semitic stuff).

Anyway, I just wanted to say that as a disclaimer. And this.

Jesse: I love Dave Chappelle! To be fair though, Nick Cannon apologized and may have meant it (he’s been talking to a rabbi, and apparently his grandfather on his mother’s side was a Sephardic rabbi, which Cannon acknowledged he did not want to use as an excuse). Better yet, here’s the ever-incredible Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s take on recent events.

The anti-Semitic rhetoric in question stems from the Nation of Islam, which is an important and influential African American organization. The Southern Poverty Law Center lists the Nation of Islam as a hate group due to the “deeply racist, antisemitic and anti-gay rhetoric of its leaders, including top minister Louis Farrakhan.” This is the rhetoric that Cannon and others have recently been popularizing. Be warned: if you click on the SPLC link you will see some truly horrific quotes.

Episode 12: The Americas Before Colonization

Summary

Welcome to part two of our series on decolonization. This week, Em and Jesse discuss what the Middle Ages looked like in the Americas before the arrival of colonizers. We take brief looks at the Mayan, Aztec, Mississipian, and Moche civilizations and a few of their many achievements. With some fun digressions about the Confederate battle flag, Em’s panic-inducing trip to the Cu Chi tunnels, and the noises that eagles make.

Notes, Annotations, and Corrections

1/ Daily Show from 2001 reminds us that Colbert is a master. [OK, this was 19 years ago! My sense of time during my own life is bad.–Jesse]

Daily Show 2015

Daily Show in 2017 on Confederate Memorial Day

On Bree Newsome’s removal of South Carolina’s Confederate flag.

Jesse: Trevor Noah is amazing, but I miss Jon Stewart soooooooooooo much. Why can’t we have both? (I guess we’ve proven we don’t deserve such bounty.) Many, many sobbing emojis.

2/ Berlin Wall: 1961–1989 (or 1991, depending on how you’re counting).

3/ Madison had statues of Forward (a lady who is kind of our symbol?) and Hans Cristian Heg pulled down. HCH is an interesting case because he was a Norwegian immigrant and an abolitionist, anti-slavery activist (who led Wisconsin’s anti-slave-catcher militia), politician, and prison reformer who died of wounds received at the Battle of Chikamauga. However, just because he was pretty great for his time doesn’t necessarily mean that he would be great by our standards today–I’ve seen some allegations that he wasn’t exactly pro-Black (which aren’t really substantiated in any news article, so I don’t know); he was also a “49er,” meaning he went West to participate in the Gold Rush–incidentally, Wisconsin’s motto, “Forward,” is partially about Westward expansion, which is, you know, a lot about the Federal Government massacring (or permitting the massacre of) various indigenous peoples in order to permit (White) settlers to move in. (Also it feels weird to think about Wisconsin as “West.” Hmm.) So–I get it. I don’t totally believe that the people who pulled down the statues were aware of these things when they were doing the destruction–I think they were just angry. Buuuuuut you know, whatever, seems justified.

Also they (i.e., the same group that pulled down the statues) beat up a state congressperson, but no one was upset about that for some reason. (He is a Democrat, and Republicans control the House and Senate here, so that’s probably why we didn’t hear too much.) He has since co-sponsored legislation with Republicans that would make it a crime to pull down statues. I feel like he might be taking the wrong lesson from this.

I wanted to add a note on the guy who got arrested (Yeshua Musa, who was a local BLM activist), because while I think I gave the story as I understood it at the time, it’s worthy of thinking more about–he has been indicted on federal extortion charges and faces up to 40 years in federal prison. Also, he wasn’t demanding money from local businesses (as I suggest in the podcast discussion), he was demanding a meal. Whatever else I have to say about his behavior, I do pretty much feel like the Justice Department has made the decision to charge the heck out of him in order to use him as an example. I guess I don’t know too much about the situation (my suspicion is that a lot of stuff isn’t really getting covered by the papers), but I’ve noticed that political activist groups, like BLM (and other similar local ones), are not nostalgic or petty, and when they get angry about someone getting arrested there’s probably a real (and strategic) reason behind it. The anger about Mr. Musa’s arrest has persisted, and a few other local activists have also been arrested, which is very suspicious in my opinion.

Jesse: I think that this is an excellent example of why we should spend more money on social services and less on police. Many Americans have been taught to believe that police protect us from crime, and that can absolutely be true, but that is not the main function of the police. As the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) points out, the verb “to police” comes from “Middle French, French policer to administer, govern, control (1461 in Middle French).” **Control** is the operative word in this definition. The noun “police” is best understood today as the OED’s definition 5a: “The civil force of a state responsible for maintaining public order and enforcing the law, including preventing and detecting crime.” We frequently assume that the most important words here are “preventing and detecting crime,” but one of the most important functions of the police has always been “maintaining public order and enforcing the law.” “Maintaining and enforcing” tends to lead directly to the final verb in the OED’s definition of “to police”–i.e., control.

The police are the civil arm of the state, and their main purpose is to control citizens who are seen as in need of “maintaining and enforcing.” This is why African Americans are stopped when driving “nice” (i.e., expensive) cars in “nice” (i.e., white) neighborhoods, or when entering their own houses (in “nice” neighborhoods). The goal is a surveillance state that controls citizens by watching them–i.e., policing them–and, most importantly, by ensuring that those citizens know that they are being policed and have no power to change the system because they lack knowledge of the system and how it works. Meanwhile, white citizens–and particularly white wealthy citizens–have intimate knowledge of the system’s inner workings because they are born into the institutional hierarchy, allowing them to get off with a warning or to receive sentences below the legal minimum for all sorts of crimes including rape–the same crime for which many innocent African American men have been lynched–because these (white) men supposedly have “bright futures.”

The more citizens are controlled, the more they rebel. Until we can solve homelessness and hunger, provide mental and physical health care to all who need it, and ****treat everyone with equal respect**** (instead of making some people feel that they are being watched their entire lives by a civil force just waiting to throw them in jail), we will not solve violent crime. More police do not make us safer. If everything looks like a nail to a hammer, police are similar–they only have the tools to look at people as “criminals” or “not criminals.” Police are not trained or equipped to do anything else. The more police you put into “violent neighborhoods” without social services, the more violence there will be. The more hammers you buy, the more nails you use.

Thanks to Michel Foucault for the theory on knowledge, power, and surveillance. Check out Discipline and Punish.

4/ By the way, if you’re interested in law enforcement spending as a percentage of city or county budget AND you live in Wisconsin, my running buddy Tamarine put together this super useful website.

5/ I have no idea why right around 10 minutes it sounds like Em is speaking from inside a paper bag. Crinkle, crinkle. Sorry about that.

6/ Far Side comic: Didn't Like Dances with Wolves Society

(All credit to the great Gary Larson.)

For the record, I (Em) am opposed to all films with the basic plot of “white man joins a foreign culture and becomes its most awesome member.”

Custard’s Last Stand was in Janesville, WI. They made really good frozen custard (I think custard is a Wisconsin thing? It’s like ice cream but creamier, because they add more egg yolk). And to be fair, General Custar was never portrayed by them as a hero in any sense. [Seems more like they were celebrating his death with delicious desert.–Jesse]

Jesse: The actual traditional (Lakota) name for the Battle of Little Bighorn is the Battle of Greasy Grass. (Little Bighorn is the river nearby.)

7/ Ledger drawings. I had never heard of this but it’s super cool.

Jesse: Here’s the Battle of Greasy Grass (Little Bighorn) as recorded in Lakota ledger art by One Bull: Custer’s War, c. 1900, 39 x 69 inches (irregular), pigments, ink on muslin (Minneapolis Institute of Art)

For a photograph of One Bull (Henry Oscar One Bull/Tȟatȟáŋka Waŋžíla [Hunkpapa Lakota]) see here.

8/ Buffalo Calf Road Woman, also called Brave Woman, is credited with knocking Custer off his horse. Moving Robe Woman is credited with stabbing him. There were actually a lot of women warriors present at the battle.

9/ [18:25] The locals, by the way, do not pronounce it fon du lac.

Is “Mendota” a fake Indian name? Sort of. According to the Wisconsin Historical Society, it was suggested by surveyor Frank Hudson around 1850ish, claiming it comes from the Dakota language, mde (lake) ota (great). He also suggested “Monona” for our other lake, claiming it meant “wild rice” in Potawatomi–of this one, the WHS adds,

The word Monona I have sought in a good many Indian vocabularies without success, yet I trust Mr. Hudson had reason to say that its import is beautiful

(James Davie Butler)
Later scholars have reason to doubt all of his etymologies. The names (and those of several of our other lakes, Wingra, Waubesa, and Kegonsa) were basically chosen because they sound Native American and were easier to pronounce than the actual Native names. The original Ho-Chunk name for the area was Dejope (sometimes romanized as Taychopera), meaning “Four Lakes.”

And as a palate cleanser, here’s Alice Cooper schooling us all about the source of the name Milwaukee. [Yes, for about a decade after the movie came out everyone repeated this speech constantly!–Jesse]

Various etymologies of the name Chicago.

10/ I mean, when you live in a world where Maxwell House sponsors Passover Haggadot, it seems plausible that Colombian coffee would sponsor a World’s Fair in Chicago. Maybe. Anyway, the country of Colombia, by the way, does take its name from Christopher Columbus–it was named by a Venezuelan revolutionary named Francisco de Miranda who had originally envisioned liberating all the Spanish New World colonies and creating an independent empire that would be named that. (How did things work out for him? Badly. Died in prison in Spain, buried in a mass grave there. So it goes.)

11/ The exhibition Em was thinking of is probably the Paris Colonial Exposition, which was held in 1931. Although there were a lot of similar exhibitions, for example the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, aka the Crystal Palace Exhibition, held in London in 1851, or the Japanese Village in Knightsbridge (also London) in 1885, whose denizens were involved with the creation of The Mikado.

Also I want to point out these cards that the Singer Sewing Machine company printed for the Colombian Exposition! They’re actually pretty interesting, in that often they depict people from around the world posed in their native costumes with sewing machines–sometimes they are sewing what look like native textiles, and sometimes not (e.g., Japan). Anyway in grad school I (Em) worked for a professor who was obsessed with these, so I did a bunch of research on them (all of Singer’s records are held at the Wisconsin State Historical Society). Some of them have pretty awful text (like one that implies that the aboriginals in India–meaning, like, Indian people–have no literature–WHAT?), but the artwork is often pretty interesting. Anyway, sewing machines are actually really an important part of women’s liberation!

Erik Larson wrote a book about the Chicago World’s Fair called The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America, but I think it is mostly famous for the parts about H.H. Holmes.

The tribe that left was the Labrador Inuit.

Jesse: Chicago’s Columbian Exposition actually took place in 1893 (not 1892) because…you know, these things take time. Here are some pictures.

Also, Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gomez-Peña created a performance piece in 1992 called The Couple in the Cage: Two Undiscovered Amerindians Visit the West. The piece critiqued colonialism and the Columbian Exposition (which reinforced Columbus’s colonialism by displaying people as exhibits). Fusco and Gomez-Peña performed their piece around the world, particularly in museums and other locations linked to colonialism. Audiences/visitors were never explicitly told that it was a performance art piece, and many people apparently thought it was real. Fusco and Gomez-Peña performed at the Field Museum, and some people canceled their memberships (believing that the Field Museum was once again displaying human beings as exhibits). Being from Chicago, I remember the controversy incredibly well. Probably my first real introduction to performance art! Here’s the video that Fusco and Gomez-Peña made of their performance piece.

12/ Scott Joplin’s 1911 opera is called Treemonisha, and it actually sounds like a pretty interesting piece–Joplin was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer for it. For those with shorter attention spans, the overture is here, and for those with longer ones, here’s an entire production (runtime is 1:40).

Jesse: Treemonisha is a gorgeous opera–here’s a video of Houston Grand Opera’s full production.

13/ The Field Museum’s website is here.

Here is the Field Museum’s original announcement about the renovation of the American Hall (to open in 2021, hopefully). Here is the website for the new exhibit Apsáalooke Women and Warriors that was supposed to open in March 2020. Here is the exhibit announcement.

14/ Franz Boas. Somewhat weirdly, he died suddenly in the arms of Claude Levi-Strauss, another major anthropologist.

Zora Neale Hurston. He taught her in New York, by the way, not Chicago (she was a student at Barnard College, he was a professor at Columbia University, which at the time did not admit women). [Jesse: Hurston’s book Mules and Men is an extremely important ethnographic study (and really interesting read, obviously). Amazon link.

Em: Weirdly, a lot of fiction writers have degrees in anthropology, including Kurt Vonnegut.

15/ [32:xx] “When people go look in the Yucatan…” Meaning, probably, when anthropologists go and look… There’s a non-zero chance that for every news article announcing the finding of a new “lost” city, there’s a group of indigenous people going, “What do you mean, lost?”

16/ For those interested, you can click here to read about the Cu Chi tunnels. They have set up a few for visit by Westerners–meaning they made them wider for us. I remember very little of the visit beyond the centipedes, and also discovering that pitch black tunnels that may somewhere contain very large bugs will give me a panic attack. There are also a lot of short stories by Vietnam vets that are assigned ad nauseum in English classes that feature them. With no slight intended, if I never have to read “The Things They Carried” again I will be a happy revolutionary.

17/ If you’re interested in the history of the Mexica, Tenochtitlan, this is one of the videos I saw about it that gives an exciting view of how cool the city was.

For reference, Skara Brae is the Neolithic settlement in the Orkney islands Em was referring to. Built around 3180 BCE.

18/ Patricia Seed, Ceremonies of Possession in Europe’s Conquest of the New World, 1492–1640. I won’t recap it here, but if you are interested in how the various powers perceived the worlds they came to, this website has a pretty decent summary. And of course, Eddie Izzard also reminds us of the importance of flags in claiming things.

Jesse: Planting a flag is purposefully phallic. Colonialism involves rape in both the metaphoric and very, very literal senses.

19/ From Ulysses, end of section 2:

—Mr Dedalus!
Running after me. No more letters, I hope.
—Just one moment.
—Yes, sir, Stephen said, turning back at the gate.
Mr Deasy halted, breathing hard and swallowing his breath.
—I just wanted to say, he said. Ireland, they say, has the honour of being the only country which never persecuted the jews. Do you know that? No. And do you know why?
He frowned sternly on the bright air.
—Why, sir? Stephen asked, beginning to smile.
—Because she never let them in, Mr Deasy said solemnly.
A coughball of laughter leaped from his throat dragging after it a rattling chain of phlegm. He turned back quickly, coughing, laughing, his lifted arms waving to the air.
—She never let them in, he cried again through his laughter as he stamped on gaitered feet over the gravel of the path. That’s why.

I rest my case.

20/ Cryptojews in New Mexico? (This is a minor but incredibly cool plot point that comes up in Neal Stephenson’s The Confusion (book 2 of the Baroque Cycle), IIRC.)

21/ In a lot of places that aren’t Canada/the US/Europe, racism still involves skin tone, with lighter skin tones being favored over darker ones–so racism does exist but as an echo of the way it exists in majority White countries. [Colorism is a huge issue everywhere, and we’ll probably talk about it on a future episode.–Jesse]

22/ Cahokia.

The interesting thing about the size of cities is that you have to work out ways to deal with things like waste removal as the population gets more dense, or else you will get a lot of disease. You have to figure out really good farming methods, because in general people in cities aren’t doing farming, so you need surplus calories for them. Big cities are complex cities.

Jesse: Images of the North American (Mississipian) copper plates I’m talking about vs an image of an Old English copper bird.

23/ I forgot to ask–would slaves have been counted in the 1790 census? (Em)

Jesse: Here’s the info: Essentially, enslaved people were counted as members of their owner’s household (but only statistically, not defined in any way by name, age, sex, or birthplace, which is why it’s so difficult for African Americans to trace their ancestry). The infamous Constitutional decree (Article I section 2) that enslaved persons count as 3/5ths of a person is specifically for taxation and representation (in the House of Representatives). These purposes (taxes and representation) are the real reason the Census exists, not to learn just for funsies how many people live in the USA. The point was to keep the South from benefiting (through tax revenue and representation) from a huge population of people who lived in the South but did not themselves benefit from tax revenue or representation. The problem is that even though egregious issues (like the 3/5ths rule) have been discarded, many of the compromises that were made between free states and slave states (and big states and little states) still cause immense harm and deny full representation to many people.

24/ Here are some various Colbert clips about eagles. Not really relevant but hilarious. [LOVE.–Jesse]

25/ Long-nosed god maskettes.

Jesse: See the copper bird comparison above in Note 22.

Here is the website for the brilliant, wonderful exhibit at the Cycladic Museum in Athens Picasso and Antiquity.

Em: Impressionists and ukiyo-e art.

Jesse: Albert C. Barnes (1872–1951) was a chemist who became incredibly wealthy and had a fundamental belief in a humanities education. The workers at his factory spent two hours a day discussing subjects like philosophy and aesthetics. Barnes viewed his art collection as educational, displaying it in groups he called “ensembles” that emphasized the influence of (for example) African art on the Modernist movement in European art.

Barnes was definitely not perfect, but the Barnes Foundation did some things that were extraordinary for an art museum at the time (and even today). In fact, most articles about the Barnes Foundation mainly (or even solely) discuss the European art in the collection. Christa Clarke’s 2015 book African Art in the Barnes Foundation: The Triumph of L’Art nègre and the Harlem Renaissance is one of the first to discuss the incredible importance of African art to Barnes’s collection and to his own philosophy of art. As this review states: “Aside from collecting African objects, Barnes instructed architect Paul Cret to implement African motifs into the plans for the original Barnes Foundation building in Merion, Pennsylvania. The entrance to the facility featured designs replicated from African masks and other sculptures in the collection, thus making a strong visual statement that African art has a place among other great art. It is noteworthy that Barnes chose to emphasize African decorative patterning over European examples in his collection. Once inside the building, Barnes specially arranged his collection into what he called “ensembles,” arranging disparate works of art in relationship to others to provoke formal connections for greater aesthetic appreciation. He displayed African and European artworks alongside each other to emphasize the relationship of modernist painting to African sculpture. In the collection’s current location in downtown Philadelphia, the artworks are displayed in Barnes’s original ensembles. However, the new building does not invoke explicit connections to African art like its predecessor, although a few visible references remain.”

The Barnes Foundation’s move to a new building (amidst lawsuits and such) is a conversation for another time. However, we applaud his desire to shift the way Americans thought about art, starting with the Foundation’s building (unlike most art museums that attempt to look like ancient Greek temples, thus whitewashing and appropriating ancient Greek culture for the West).

26/ Em: I remember having a discussion about art in college based on an article in the NYT Magazine, and I think the upshot was basically, “Things that are art are art because they’re in an art museum”–that is, that the things that can actually constitute art are now so weird and varied that it takes the legitimizing gaze of the art museum (well, probably the curator) to discern what is and isn’t art. Along with some snobbery about artist versus artisan, which I guess was maybe once upon a time a distinction that made sense, but now “artisan” refers to how people bake bread or make ice cream, the people formerly referred to as artisans are now makers of folk art, and artists usually don’t make art in the sense by which the word “art” is typically meant–like for example Judy Chicago sets colored smoke bombs in different landscapes, Christo and Jeanne-Claude wrapped buildings in colorful cloth, and Ai Weiwei just raised $1.4 million for charity by selling surgical masks with a woodcut of a middle finger silk screened onto them. So WHO EVEN KNOWS is what I’m saying. Dada dada dada dada dada.

Okay, let me try this again now that I have had a night’s sleep. What is the difference between this quilt and this quilt? Answer: one is held by an art museum and one is held by a history museum.

Jesse: Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party can be seen in person at the Brooklyn Museum when it reopens and also here. Feminist art is fun.

Also, art and performance are both nebulous concepts in many ways, but that doesn’t mean that they’re unimportant. Not everything is Art (or Performance), but it’s important that we’re starting to realize that the supposedly legitimizing gaze of a museum is NOT necessary for something to be Art. Museums are–like many institutions–inherently bigoted, and it will be some time before that changes in any meaningful sense. The bigotry of such institutions not only keeps out certain artists but also certain audiences. Thus, we widen our definitions to include things that are more accessible to both artists and viewers, like graffiti and outdoor murals. Like cave paintings, these have always been art because they require talent, self-expression, an ability to create, and a desire to converse and/or critique. However, the very fact of their inclusivity probably reinforced the “vandalism” label that they so often received. Only now, when artists who were inspired by street artists (or who used to be street artists) are selling for very exclusive amounts of money has everyone decided that it’s art. (No, I’m not just talking about Banksy. Check out the links.)

27/ The Moche people of Peru–100–700 CE. Check out their art on that Wikipedia page–be forewarned not all of it is safe for work.

28/ Phallus tree.

Jesse: I just watched the National Theatre’s 2017 production of Amadeus (first performed in 1979), in which Peter Shaffer portrays Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart as an astonishingly childish human being–someone who never matured emotionally past the age of 6, when kids repeat swear words and scatological phrases with glee and gusto because the words and phrases are “naughty.” Amadeus is a great play, and it’s very, very fictional. Nonetheless, watching it reminded me that the representation of Mozart is based on the modern (Puritanic) concept that “real” adults don’t enjoy scatological or sexual humor and that Mozart’s enjoyment of same (seen here) is somehow the result of a stunted emotional maturity instead of excellent evidence that Mozart had an awesome sense of humor and probably would have enjoyed movies like Bridesmaids or TV shows like South Park (or, you know, any one of a million other movies and TV shows with similar sensibilities). Apparently his whole family wrote to each other in this vein, and his wife (Constanze Weber) thought the letters were extremely witty. (The Wikipedia article linked above includes a quote from Hermann Abert’s book W.A.Mozart (translated by Stewart Spencer): “Although in dubious taste, the letters to his cousin are full of wit and deserve mentioning, although they cannot of course be published in their entirety.

29/ Jesse: Neanderthals may also have marked stones in purposeful (possibly symbolic or artistic) ways.

30/ Note that when Jesse starts talking about the four-character dance drama (around 1:10:10), she means Sor Juana’s Loa, i.e., the prologue, not the full play that came after the Loa (i.e., The Auto Sacramental of the Divine Narcissus).

Jesse: Yes, we’ll talk more about both of these in our Decolonizing Medieval Theatre discussion! The Mayan K’iche’ dance drama is the Rabinal Achi. Here’s a fun UNESCO heritage video. Here is Dennis Tedlock’s book about Rabinal Achi (including a translation). Also, the Wikipedia article.

This excellent collection includes a translation of both Rabinal Achi and Sor Juana de la Cruz’s Loa for the Divine Narcissus (the four-character dance drama). [Quick note that the translation of Rabinal Achi in this collection has been Christianized, so the two warrior characters known as “Thirteen Yellow Jaguars” and “Thirteen Yellow Eagles” have become “Twelve Yellow Jaguars” and “Twelve Yellow Eagles” instead (for example). In addition, the translation of this play ends with the defeated warrior being executed via sacrifice, with his chest opened on a sacrificial stone, even though the performance tradition simply executes him via beheading. Presumably this death was too European (while the “13” in the warriors’ names was too pagan). Can’t win for losing. Anyway, Tedlock has some great things to say about this in his book.]

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1648–1695) was of Spanish descent but was born, lived, and died in Mexico Despite her position as a colonizer, she was also an educated woman in a society that did not necessarily value educated women (or any women). She seems to have recognized the similarities between her own position and that of the colonial subjugation of the Aztecs, and she knew Nahuatl well enough to incorporate it into some of her work.

Cruz’s Loa for the Auto Sacramental of the Divine Narcissus (a Loa is essentially a prologue) is a fascinating work. Cruz constructs the Loa in many ways as an Aztec dance drama melded with a European morality play, theatrically representing her premise that Catholicism was syncretically aligned with Aztec religion.

As promised, we will discuss both Cruz’s Loa and the K’iche’ Rabinal Achi further in a future episode.

Episode 11: Decolonization: Theory and Practice

Summary

“Pulling down statues isn’t erasing history….erasing history is the fact that you live on land stolen from a people you can’t name.” Em and Jesse dive into  the theory and practice of decolonization–what does it mean, what are post-colonial studies, and how can we put this knowledge into practice, reforming our views of our modern American lives as well as the Middle Ages? This episode has a lot of the decolonization theory, and coming episodes will have a lot more of the practice part, but this episode does have some fun discussions of pulling down statues, weird characters in Thomas Pynchon novels, non-English versions of Shakespearean plays, and various forms of Orientalism in fine art, like the odalisque and the picturesque.

Notes, Annotations, and Corrections

Continue reading “Episode 11: Decolonization: Theory and Practice”

Episode 10: Icons and Iconography

Summary

In which we discuss iconography (the study of icons), primarily so we can talk about the protests relating to/attempting to tear down the Robert E. Lee (and other major Confederate) statue(s) in Richmond, VA. But there’s also some good stuff on Medieval iconography, Kehinde Wiley, GB Trudeau, and Beyoncé.

Notes, Corrections, Annotations

Continue reading “Episode 10: Icons and Iconography”

Episode 9: Heretics and Saints

Summary

If heretics go directly to hell, and saints go directly to heaven, what happens if you burn as a heretic someone who later turns out to be a saint? Em and Jesse talk about Dante, sainthood and the inquisitio process, and finally look at the cases of two female saints, one of whom was initially burned as a heretic, and one of whom was treated, ultimately, as a saint rather than a demoniac.

Annotations, Corrections, and Notes

1/ In fact, George Floyd was murdered on May 25th, so even though on the 31st it felt like the protests had been going on for weeks already, it was only one week, as noted, when we recorded this episode. Viva la revolution!

2/ Caroline Walker Bynum and Paul Freedman, Last Things: Death and the Apocalypse in the Middle Ages, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999 (link). [Quote from page 1.–Jesse]

3/ Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, Good Omens. The miniseries (available on Prime) is extremely charming.

Jesse: For more on Margery Kempe, see episode 6, note 29; episode 7, note 23; and episode 8, note 4. For apophatic mysticism, see episode 7, notes 12 and 15 (and the whole section on Marguerite Porete.)

4/ Jesse: [The millennium] has to mark something. What does it mark?
Em: Bigger fines at Blockbuster video.

For our younger listeners, during the “Y2K Crisis,” people were worried that when the year turned to “2000,” computers would read it as “00” and assume it was 1900, thereby somehow messing up a bunch of things. This was solved by people updating computers to read a date stamp with a four-digit year instead of a two-digit one, and nothing happened, except in a few cases overdue videos were found to have absurd fees (which were then waived).

For our even younger listeners, Blockbuster Video was a place you could go to if you wanted to rent video cassettes and DVDs in the days before internet-based streaming services.

The last functioning Blockbuster Video is in Bend, OR.

5/ Back in the late 90s/early 2000s there was a series of movies about Americans fighting the end of the world: Independence Day, Armageddon, Deep Impact, The Day After Tomorrow, and The Core are just a few of the films in this genre. Will Smith does actually literally punch an alien in the face in Independence Day. [I love Will Smith, and I love this scene (relevant moment at 0:46.)–Jesse]

Jesse: Monster movies can signify many things, but Godzilla’s apocalyptic sensibility is a direct response to nuclear war, which had made the end of the world suddenly appear to be an achievable goal for humanity. Specifically, Godzilla is a response to the US dropping two atomic bombs on Japan and causing a humanitarian catastrophe in a manner not previously seen in global history. So while the movie contains the message that humanity has caused its own destruction (by awakening Godzilla), there’s also the stark reminder that only the US has ever dropped a nuclear bomb on a country, and that country was Japan.

6/ Supernova records: Supernova SN 185, which appeared in 185 CE, was the earliest supernova to make it into human records, although some researchers have suggested that HB9, which happened around 4600 BCE, may have been captured in rock carvings in Kashmir, India.

7/ Eschatology: The study of the end of the world. [Quote from Bynum and Freedman, page 3.–Jesse]

Jesse: For an example of Christ at the Last Judgment in a rainbow nimbus, see Giotto’s Last Judgment in the Scrovegni or Arena Chapel. The Doomsday pageant from the Middle English York Cycle play was produced by the Mercers, and a very famous document (the Mercers’ Indenture) from 1433 details all the items used in the pageant, including “A cloude & ij peces of rainbow of tymber” or “a cloud and two pieces of rainbow made of timber.” Presumably, the cloud and rainbow covered the “brandreth of Iren” (or iron) that Jesus sat on when he was lowered from and lifted back up to heaven at the beginning and end of the pageant. The document is reprinted in the Records of Early English Drama (or REED) York, volume 1, pages 55–56.

8/ The poem is “Harlem” by Langston Hughes. The play is A Raisin in the Sun, by Lorraine Hansberry.

Jesse: Lorraine Hansberry’s father case, Hansberry vs. Lee, deals specifically with restrictive covenants.

Harlem by Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Em: Redlining was a relatively common practice for quite a long time–technically, the term is used for any systematic denial of services to any group(s) of people. So if a bank were giving loans to White people with lower incomes but denying loans to Black people with the same or higher incomes, that is redlining. But so would be the police or fire department refusing to go to certain neighborhoods. The term originated from a time when banks drew on actual, paper maps to mark areas that were considered good and bad for investment–red lines meant risky area, do not invest here. In response, communities would create racial covenants in their housing deeds that would be used to keep non-White and Jewish people out of certain areas, thus creating the ethnicly/racially segregated neighborhoods we often associate with big cities without any need for the city’s government to do anything. In some places (like in nearby Monona, WI), there are some neighborhoods that still carry covenants within their paperwork stating to whom houses may or may not be sold–although they are unenforceable now, they can be extremely difficult to remove from deeds and such, so they remain as an unsavory reminder of our recent past. This article on racial covenants and redlining has a good overview. Covenants were declared illegal by the Supreme Court in 1948, but they persisted a while longer before falling into disuse. Redlining and other forms of housing discrimination have sadly persisted a lot longer.

The Root video on redlining.

Adam Ruins Everything video on redlining.

9/Jesse: Dante’s Inferno, Canto 19–the Simoniacs! For more on simony see Wikipedia. When I say “good pope” or “bad pope,” I am voicing Dante’s opinion, not my own.

Italian unification was in 1861. Papal infallibility is established in 1869–70. Vatican City is established as a modern independent city state in 1929.

For more on all this, see below, notes 11 and 12.

10/ Odysseus (aka Ulysses) is in the eighth ring of the eighth circle, along with Diomedes, reserved for counselors of fraud–because of all his schemes used to win the Trojan War. Dante would have been referring to the version of the Trojan War recounted in The Aeneid, so of course he doesn’t see Odysseus as one of the good guys. [To be fair, Homer wrote around 750 BCE. Once we get to 5th century Athens–i.e., democratic Athens during the 400s BCE, the century of the Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides–Odysseus is no longer a hero. The classical Greek plays depict Odysseus as Dante depicts him, because a man who can scheme and convince anyone to do anything by verbally manipulating them is obviously a danger to a democracy.–Jesse] [Em: I am weirdly disappointed to know this. Odysseus forever.]

11/ We talked a little about the pope losing the papal states in the notes from episode 8 (note 10). It was around 1870. The era in which the pope was basically a prisoner in the Vatican is called the Savoyard era and it stretches from 1870–1929. See also the first two minutes of this video.

12/ Specifically, the doctrine of papal infallibility was proclaimed in 1870 (first Vatican council), and it states the pope cannot “err or teach error when he speaks on matters of faith and morals ex cathedra” (source). Meaning that if you ask him what the weather is going to be and he tells you he thinks it will rain and then it doesn’t rain, there’s not considered to be a contradiction. However, per that same NYT article, it seems as though if he doesn’t declare that he’s speaking infallibly, it doesn’t necessarily count as infallible–the doctrine doesn’t mean all teachings the pope gives are assumed to be infallible ex post facto.

13/ Pope Nicholas III apparently got the job of pope through family connections (some connections!) and was never a priest until that point (although he was a cardinal earlier? Catholicism is weird).

14/ The next evil pope, per Dante, was Boniface VIII. Nicholas also predicts another evil pope, Clement V.

15/ New question: Who would we ADD to Dante’s Hell? You can only choose one. Clearly Stephen Miller belongs in the 8th circle / 8th ring. (Okay I will save it for the “Em Is Angry about Politics” podcast.)

The modern circle of Hell that can replace the sodomites is people who call meetings for things that could have been an email. (Clearly this is a form of pride? But a specific one that deserves mention.)

16/ “Our grandfather was taught to baptize kids…” Our grandfather was a cardiologist, so if he was taught to do baptisms it must have been part of the standard medical curriculum, because I don’t think he spent too much time doing deliveries. [All doctors were theoretically supposed to be able to reassure a parent that their child had been baptized in the case of a stillbirth. I don’t know if he *really* knew what to say, and I imagine that once Vatican II took hold it was no longer an issue. He did have a wonderful story about safely delivering a healthy baby in a car–just outside the hospital, I think–as a med student. When he proudly recounted the tale to one of his fellow residents, the guy just wanted to know what kind of car it had been.–Jesse]

17/ Michael Camille, “The Pose of the Queer: Dante’s Gaze, Brunetto Latini’s Body,” in Queering the Middle Ages, Glenn Burger and Steven F. Kruger, eds. University of Minnesota Press, 2001. (Link). (PS If you buy and read this book, please leave it a nicer review than the current one that is up there on Amazon, which is crummy. Like dude, why did you do that.) This is the illustration:

Borrowed from Wikipedia, but it's public domain.
Dante and Virgil meet the Sodomites. From Dante’s “Divina Commedia”, Cantica del Inferno. Ms.597/1424,folio 113.Italian,first half 14th.

As a side note, Brunetto Latini was a respected politician and philosopher who, among other things, was married (he had a daughter). A lot of the paper can be read here.

Jesse: Camille’s essay is great! Many gay and bisexual people throughout history have been married, of course, specifically to have children to carry on the family name and/or fortune, etc. Latini seems to have written at least one love poem to a man (one poem has been discovered so far), possibly to Bondie Dietaiuti. It’s important to note that Dante and Latini were friends, and they’re glad to see each other in this scene. It’s truly fascinating, because Dante draws a brilliant portrait of his former mentor Latini. Dante clearly admires and respects him, using the formal you/voi form that Dante presumably used in real life when Latini was alive. The scene is extremely moving, and it’s tempting to think that Dante treats Latini this way because homosexuality is a love-based sin. Presumably this is not how Dante viewed it when he wrote the Inferno, since he makes homosexuality a Seventh Circle-level sin (a sin of violence). Interestingly, Dante may have changed his mind about homosexuality by the time he wrote Purgatory, where homosexuality is a sin of incontinence (lust), the same as heterosexual sinners who sinned because of lust. So–maybe what we see here is Dante’s indecision on the sin of homosexuality. At any rate, Latini certainly isn’t ashamed (even though he’s in the Seventh Circle, which is fairly far in), and he and Dante have a wonderful conversation.

18/ Agnes Nutter explodes in episode 2 of the Good Omens miniseries.

19/ Kevin Smith, dir., Dogma. [Morgan Freeman has frequently played God, but that doesn’t manifest in possession, just in an awesome portrayal of God.–Jesse]

20/ Feast of Corpus Christi: See episode 6, notes 14 and 16 (and accompanying audio, of course).

21/ Jesse: For more on Dyan Eliot, Proving Woman, see episode 6, note 11. This comparison on testing people like gold is from page 282 (and check out Fallen Bodies as well). Latin probare (to prove). A probatio is a proof (the test itself or the evidence).

22/ [35:40] “The way you test people… is compared to the same test…that you gave a gold coin to prove that it is real.” For a minute I legit thought Jesse was going to say you bite the person making the claim (you bite a gold coin to look for teeth marks, which indicate gold + lead, a softer metal, and therefore a forged coin). But this is a slightly different type of test. (I know that there was at least one neurologist who wrote about it, and I think it was Harold Klawans in Toscanini’s Fumble, but it has been so long since I read it that I am not altogether sure.)

Jesse: Ha! Biting might work too. (Does she feel it? If not, the possession might be divine.)

23/ Jean Gerson: See episode 6, notes 25, 27, and 33 and also episode 8 (he’s mentioned in the audio accompanying note 9) because he keeps coming up for some reason.

Jesse: To find these Gerson’s “On distinguishing true from false revelations” (1401) in English translation, see McGuire’s Paulist press collection Jean Gerson: Early Works. Gerson compares testing the coin of spiritual revelation to testing gold on page 338. For more on Gerson’s texts mentioned here, see Elliott’s Proving Woman, 283–284. See Elliott’s introduction for this quote: “Ultimately, the distance between saint and heretic practically disappeared” (6).

An inquisitio is a seeking, searching, examining, inquiring.

24/ University of Paris, aka the Sorbonne: originally emerged in 1150 in association with the cathedral school of Notre Dame de Paris, it was officially chartered by King Philip II in 1200 and recognized by Pope Innocent III in 1215. It was the second oldest university in Europe (the University of Bologna being the oldest; although Oxford claims to be older) and, following a suppression during the French Revolution, was reestablished by Napoleon as the University of France in 1806 and remained open continuously until it was divided into thirteen autonomous universities in 1970. So…is it the same university today that opened in 1150? This is a Ship of Theseus question.

Jesse: a scholastic disputatio is an arguing, reasoning, or debate. As Dyan Elliott notes in Proving Woman, “[i]n the disputatio, a scholar first isolates an area of investigation in the form of a proposition, which is presented as a quaestio. The quaestio is then interrogated so that two opposing sides emerge,” one for the proposition and one against it (234, 236). The disputatio is also closely related to the inquisitio or inquisitional procedure. An inquisitio is an inquiry into heresy in which the inquisitor often “combines the roles of prosecutor and judge” (234).

Elliott comments that “the scholastic disputatio can be regarded as but another version of the inquisitio,” an academic variation in which “the verdict [is] preordained, the same side always wins” (234). This preordained ending is obviously dangerous, and helps explain why Gerson could not effectively defend Joan of Arc.

25/ Famously, Christopher Hitchens served as an advocat diaboli for Mother Theresa’s sainthood inquisition. Spoiler alert–she was still sainted. [Yes, but we don’t canonize people the way we used to, and it’s not just because of modern skepticism—a lot of it is based on medieval sKepticism (and sexism).–Jesse]

26/ Please at this juncture check out “The Inquisition,” from History of the World, Part I. Thank you (note, this is not 100% G rated, although you could probably show it on network TV). Additionally, nobody expects…the Spanish Inquisition.

27/ Joan of Arc (1412-May 30, 1431). Podcast recorded 589 years one day later. [Yay! She’s still awesome.–Jesse]

28/ Concerning the burning of witches.

Jesse: Quick language note–Henry IV was the first English king after the Norman Conquest to speak English as his first language. During the reign of Richard II (whom Henry IV deposed in 1399 and murdered in 1400), English had become an important literary language (see Chaucer, for example).

29/ Jesse: Christina the Astonishing or Mirabilis (1150-1224) from Sint Truiden (St Trond in French). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christina_the_Astonishing

Barbara Newman “Possessed by the Spirit: Devout Women, Demoniacs, and the Apostolic Life in the Thirteenth Century” Speculum Vol. 73, No. 3 (Jul., 1998), pp. 733–770.

WorldCat link to the translation of Thomas of Cantimpré’s Life of Christina the Astonishing.

Thomas of Cantimpré (1201–1272) was a Dominican who wrote a number of Lives of holy women.

30/ Richard Kieckhefer, another Northwestern scholar. Interestingly (for those of us who are devoted readers of fiction, anyway), there’s a fair amount about the Inquisition in The Name of the Rose without really discussing that the Inquisition was not the organized machine we usually think of (whose main weapons are fear, surprise, and an almost fanatical devotion to the pope–).
Jesse: See Kieckhefer’s “The Office of Inquisition and Medieval Heresy: The Transition from Personal to Institutional Jurisdiction,” in The Journal of Ecclesiastical History 46.1 (Jan 1995), pp. 36–61.

Conrad of Marburg (1180–1233)

Elizabeth of Hungary (1207–1231)

Pope Benedict XII (Jacques Fornier) (1285–1342)

31/ If I recall correctly, the records of the torture/questioning of the main character (Menocchio) in The Cheese and the Worms were quite detailed. But that’s a tale for another day.

Episode 8: Hell and Damnation

Summary

Come with us into Hell. We’ll accompany Dante and Virgil as they pass through the nine circles and out into purgatory and heaven. On the way, we’ll chat about Margery Kemp and Julian of Norwich, Hellboy, D&D, Giotto’s Scrovengi Chapel, and the tendency of ogliarchs to use philanthropy to try and make people like them.

Notes and Annotations

1/ Minne/affective piety: see episode 7, note 1.

2/ Hildegard: see episode 6, notes 17 and 23.

Marguerite Porete: see episode 7, notes 15 and 17.

3/ Jesse: Julian of Norwich: see episode 5, note 3 and episode 7, note 22. Jesus tells Julian that “Sin is necessary, but all will be well, and all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well” and “What is impossible to you is not impossible to me” (225, 233). This translation is from the Paulist Press translation of Julian’s Showings, translated by Colledge and Walsh. The original is in the Watson and Jenkins edition, pp. 209, 223.

4/ Jesse: Margery Kemp: see episode 6, note 29 and episode 7, note 23. Margery Kempe wrote one of the first (if not the first) autobiographies in English: The Book of Margery Kemp. Also see the British Library page. I recommend the Norton Critical translation by Lynn Staley, which I’m quoting in this episode (p. 117). The original is edited by Barry Windeatt (p. 303 for the quotes in this episode).

5/ Dante: Writer, failed politician, egoist. [“Failed politician” is a little unfair–he’s probably a better person for having been on the side that got exiled. I think he’d agree though–and with “egoist” too. –Jesse]

7/ For the terminally curious, here is the D&D Chick tract. I like that this comic includes two young women in the D&D group and…apparently the DM is some older woman? Anyway, it’s extremely unrealistic that the DM would just kill off a character like that. It’s very rude. Serious D&D players can hang onto their characters for years, and killing off a character permanently is a pretty intense situation. Also I have never been invited to join a coven devoted to ANY deity after participating in D&D, which honestly is a little disappointing.

Interesting and relevant side story, I’ve also been involved in the creation of a D&D adventure that started in limbo and worked its way through Dante’s Inferno. [So awesome! I want in on that adventure.–Jesse]

Jesse: In Medieval Crossover, Barbara Newman points out that “for us, the secular is the normative, unmarked default category, while the sacred is the marked, asymmetrical Other. In the Middle Ages it was the reverse” (viii). She goes on to comment that “the secular had to establish a niche” within the sacred paradigm that framed medieval society (viii). Barbara Newman, Medieval Crossover: Reading the Secular against the Sacred (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2013)

8/ I think Jesse had read the Hellboy pancakes comic because I bought the collection that included it while I was staying with her in Manhattan one weekend, and true to form she read the whole thing before I flew out. [Yes that’s right!! I actually hadn’t read that one before, probably because it’s not based on . . . uh . . . myth/folklore. Now I own the complete Hellboy in nice editions, and I have a small figurine of young Hellboy with his pancakes. The figurine is marooned in my office on campus, and I can’t get back in the building without special arrangements because of quarantine, which is why I can’t include a picture of it sitting on my desk. When it comes to Hellboy, the Mignola illustrated ones are the best, but they’re all amazing, and the stand-alone short stories are all phenomenal. Mignola spoke at VCU last year, and it was magical.–Jesse]

9/ Jesse: Here is the Isaac Bashevis Singer book, The Power of Light: Eight Stories for Hanukkah (not the miracle of light, oops–it’s been a while!).

Jean Gerson: see episode 6, notes 25 and 27 and 33.

John Ciardi, The Inferno. Here is the collected translation.

For more on the famous inscription over the gate of Hell (and the complete translation and original text) see episode 7, note 25.

10/ [27:15] “Some [popes] . . . are much more bent on conquest and territory.” For those unfamiliar with the history of the Catholic Church, during this period the Pope had control not just of tiny Vatican City, but also a much larger swath of territory called the Papal States. This YouTube video is a good explanation of the origins of Vatican City.

11/ Interestingly (or not), Guelph is now the name of a suburb of Toronto.

12/ Purgatory, canto 6. I had no idea that there was ANY basis in reality of Romeo and Juliet. [The Montecchi and the Cappelletti–known to us as the Montagues and the Capulets–were apparently two factions in the political feuding of time.–Jesse]

13/ Sleeping and mortality: See episode 3, note 27.

Jesse: The beasts are a leopard, a lion, and a she-wolf (taken from Jeremiah 5:6). They symbolize (probably but not necessarily in this order) malice and fraud, violence and ambition, and incontinence (i.e., lack of self-restraint–sins like avarice, gluttony, and lust).

14/ On the dark lady of Shakespeare’s sonnets: As the local nerd, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention there’s an episode of Doctor Who (new series) in which it’s implied that the Doctor’s companion Martha Jones is the dark lady.

15/ Re names: is this related to the choice of “Beatrice” as a character in Much Ado About Nothing? [Probably! It becomes a famous Italian name because of Dante.–Jesse]

16/ “We know nothing about what Dante’s marriage was like . . . they had kids.” Crucially, they had kids before he started writing Inferno. Also, interestingly, his daughter took the name “Sister Beatrice” when she became a nun. [Yes, which I think is a positive sign that means Dante was a good dad?–Jesse]

Jesse: We’ll have an episode on the vernacular at some point, but in the meantime check out episode 4 note 16 for St Francis’s vernacular poetry.

17/ Jesse: Not the Georgics! The moment occurs in Virgil’s Eclogues (specifically Eclogue 4). Here is the Wikipedia page about it!

18/ List of trips to the underworld: see episode 3, note 32 (and corresponding discussion in episode).

Jesse: Here’s Inanna’s Descent to the Underworld (Sumerian text recorded c. 1750 BCE).

I should have said that Virgil was buried in Naples. His tomb is still there, but his remains seem to have disappeared. Dante is buried in Ravenna. He’s never left, but he’s had a hectic afterlife (mostly to prevent stealing him–no wonder Virgil disappeared!). Check it out!

19/ [41:24ish] Elijah is carried up to heaven in a fiery chariot in 2 Kings 2:11. And at the end of that chapter, Elisha commands two bears to tear apart a bunch of kids who make fun of him for being bald. So. Interesting section of the bible overall, that. [Jews frequently believe that Elijah bodily entered heaven–still alive–but Christians frequently do not, because of the importance that Jesus was first and that Mary is the only other so assumed into Heaven. By this reasoning, Elijah was carried away but not directly into heaven. Elijah is worthy of a whole episode, so I kind of hurried on by him. Sorry Elijah!–Jesse]

Jesse: Belief in Mary’s Assumption arises fairly early in the Middle Ages but isn’t officially celebrated until the 8th century and isn’t dogmatically defined until 1950 (by Pope Pius XII). Also see The Ancient Traditions of the Virgin Mary’s Dormition and Assumption by Stephen Shoemaker.

20/ River Lethe. There’s also apparently a river in Alaska called the Lethe.

21/ Jesse: Here’s a great series of Dante maps. Here is the site’s direct link to all three of Dante’s worlds combined. Notice that half the world is land and half (where Mount Purgatory is) is covered in water. Dante takes this from classical mythology, which at least as far back as Homer viewed the world as surrounded by ocean.

The mystic or celestial rose (like rose windows in a cathedral) is the final level of Paradise before God. The flowering rose is a symbol of divine love and light, while the tiered petals reflect the hierarchies of heaven. See this link.

More Dante maps.

22/ Saturn is the outermost planet that was known at the time; Uranus had been observed possibly as far back as 128 BCE but wasn’t identified as a planet until 1781.

23/ “They thought the stars were fixed . . . in an orbit, like the planets.” Ted Chiang also wrote a short story about this: “Omphalos,” from Exhalation. [Clarification–this all works a lot like electron shells, except that the Middle Ages didn’t know about electrons. The Middle Ages envisioned the universe as a nesting doll, but with spheres. The Earth is in the center, and it is enclosed by numerous (increasingly large) spheres. The planets were thought to be able to move in their individual spheres like electrons in an electron shell, but the stars were all thought to be fixed in one single sphere that moved as a whole (like sparkles on a twirling Christmas ornament). It’s easy to demonstrate and draw but hard to explain in words!–Jesse]

24/ Jesse: Catherine of Cleves (1417–1476) is most famous for her Book of Hours (from Utrecht, ca. 1440). Books of Hours were personal prayer books (frequently divided by days of the week) and medieval bestsellers. Catherine’s Book of Hours was illuminated by one of the greatest Dutch masters of the time, known to us only as the Master of Catherine of Cleves (active ca. 1435–60). Here is the Morgan Library’s homepage on the book.

Monday was devoted to the Hours of the Dead (their pains supposedly ceased on Sunday but were renewed on Monday). The opening page has a man dying (with a lot of drama around him!), and there are souls in the mouth of Purgatory on the page opposite him (because he hopes to go to Purgatory). Yes, this is technically a “Purgatorymouth” not a Hellmouth, but hey. Check out the full description and see the image here.

Next up, two more images from the Monday Hours of the Dead: an angel feeding the souls in the Purgatorymouth (a bit of hope brought to these souls presumably due to the person praying these Hours on their behalf), and finally an angel leading them out of the Purgatorymouth (again, possibly due to the person who is so tearfully and sincerely praying the Hours on their behalf).

This AMAZING triple Hellmouth (Do you see the mouth in the red of the middle mouth?) is from the Office of the Dead, which was prayed to free friends and relatives from Purgatory. That being said, this image of Hell was a reminder of what happened when people went beyond redemption. The Office of the Dead does them no good.

Michalangelo’s Last Judgment (1536–1541).

Giotto’s Last Judgment in the Scrovegni or Arena Chapel (c.1305).

25/ I think David Koch also has a fountain in front of the Met. Super weird; really threw me the first time I was in NYC.

26/ Chester Mystery Plays

Chester Harrowing (original text)

27/ N-Town Plays

N-Town Harrowing (Middle English text: part 1; part 2)

28/ Gehenna

29/ Ultramarine blue: Seriously, look at the chapel (see note 24 above). It is gorgeous. But this is like in modern terms putting gold or platinum on every surface of your private jet. Ultramarine blue is made from lapis lazuli, which was only mined in one area in Afghanistan.

Jesse: Chartres blue is the equivalent for stained glass windows. There’s a myth that we don’t know how to make it anymore, but really it’s just that we can’t necessarily recreate it exactly the way the medieval glassmakers made it (or, more specifically, we can’t be sure that we’re recreating it the same way they did–medieval recipes and instructions can be difficult to follow). Check out the Virgin window (the Notre Dame de la Belle Verriere)!

Episode 7: Love and Hell

Summary

What is the purpose of sin, and why is it allowed? Why does Hell exist? When people go to Hell, do they stay there forever, and is there any way of getting them out? Em and Jesse take a look at the Medieval personification of God’s love and how several major female mystics tackled these questions, and then dive into Dante’s vision of Hell in The Inferno.

Annotations and Corrections

1/ Minne: love personified. [Minne is also German/Germanic and is part of the medieval courtly love tradition (“Lady Love”). The women in this episode frequently make use of the conventions of courtly love–for example, portraying Christ as a knight. However, Minne also extends far, far beyond courtly love in the philosophies of affective piety described in this episode. Minne becomes a pillar of these women’s philosophies, and consequently it takes more than one episode to describe Minne fully. But we tried to provide a start! I specify Dutch here because of Hadewijch, who wrote in Middle Dutch.–Jesse]

2/ Hadewijch of Brabent or Antwerp. If you’re really interested in more on her philosophy, check out episode 237 of the History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps podcast.

Jesse: Hadewijch lived in the first half of the thirteenth century presumably (based on her writings in the Brabant region). Her Wikipedia article is here. For more on Hadewijch and Minne, also see McGinn, The Flowering of Mysticism, pp. 199–222.

3/ [5:55] For reference, the printing press was invented in the West around 1440. (It was invented in China about 900 years earlier, in 593.)

4/ Carlo Ginzburg, The Cheese and the Worms. We should definitely talk about this as soon as we finish this series on mysticism and Hell. Also, this was one of my grad school readings, thanks.–Em

5/ We talk a bit in this episode and in several others about the change from writing in Latin to writing in “the Vernacular”–whatever the local language was. Dante and Chaucer are two early examples in their respective languages, but I’m not certain exactly when it became a “thing.” Certainly I think it must have started as education moved out of monasteries and into universities in the 12th century. [This seems like part of a future episode! I love the question of the vernacular. Manuscripts, writing, and illumination might be a future episode as well.–Jesse]

Booker T. Washington is an example of someone who taught himself to read English.

6/ The Crusader Bible in our site header is actually in Latin, Persian, and Judeo-Persian (Persian written in Hebrew characters). See the Citations tab for links to more info on it!

7/ Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179)–see Episode 6 beginning around 34:00 and notes 17 and 23.

8/ Jesse: Poem 16 (this is a short excerpt, the full poem is pp. 168–171) in Hadewijch: The Complete Works, introduced and translated by Mother Columba Hart O.S.B. This is part of a series I mention frequently, The Classics of Western Spirituality, published by Paulist Press.

9/ Arma Christi: Episode 5, note 24.

10/ Phaedrus: I remember it as one of the more interesting of the Platonic dialogues, primarily because the main character in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance refers to himself as “Phaedrus,” and also because Socrates really seems to be low-key trying to seduce the guy he’s interviewing.

Symposium: Probably the second-most famous of Plato’s dialogues (The Republic is the most famous). Here is Neal Patrick Harris singing the song “Origin of Love,” which is the story Jesse is referring to. (Wikipedia describes John Cameron Mitchell as “deeply Roman Catholic,” so there’s a chance he knew about Hadewijch. He’s also a former member of the Northwestern Theatre Mafia.)

Gnosis: Knowledge. See also Gnosticism. The character of Tommy Gnosis in Hedwig is very purposefully named.

11/ South Park: I believe this is the episode under discussion. [Yes!! Say what you will, South Park can be brilliant. This episode really illustrates the “unpayable debt” quite well. Also, it’s Kyle (the Jewish character) who buys the unlimited credit card of course, NOT Stan. Kyle essentially lives out a parallel of the Passion throughout the episode. Cartman is obviously Judas.–Jesse]

12/ Apophatic mysticism: Here’s the Wikipedia article, but really you should check out the books on Marguerite Porete. See note 15 below.–Jesse

13/ Ted Chiang, “Hell Is the Absence of God,” in Your Life and Others, Tor, 2002. It feels like Chiang has written stories about a lot of what we talk about.

14/ Jean-Paul Sartre, No Exit. I don’t have a preferred translation or anything, but here’s the Wikipedia page for a summary.

15/ Marguerite Porete: History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps did an episode on her, too. Interesting fact, from the 12th century on, Middle Ages glass mirrors would have been made by blowing a sphere of glass, flattening it, and then cutting it to the desired shape and backing it with steel or silver. Prior to that, mirrors were usually just polished metal (and probably after that, too–glass mirrors were very expensive).

Jesse: Marguerite Porete (d. 1 June 1310). Here is her Wikipedia page. Aside from Porete’s own book The Mirror of Simple Souls, also see McGinn, The Flowering of Mysticism, pp. 244–265; Sean Field, The Beguine, the Angel, and the Inquisitor; Amy Hollywood, The Soul as Virgin Wife; and John van Engen “Marguerite (Porete) of Hainault and the Medieval Low Countries” in Marguerite Porete et le Miroir des Simples Ames: Perspectives Historiques, Philosophiques et Littéraires, edited by Sean L. Field, Robert E. Lerner, and Sylvain Piron, (Vrin: Paris, 2013), pp. 25–68.

16/ Meister Eckhart. As I mentioned above, universities really kicked off in the late 12th/early 13th centuries, and Meister Eckhart, who studied at both the universities in Cologne and in Paris, was a beneficiary of these, earning a Master of Theology in Paris in 1302.

Jesse: Meister Eckhart c.1260–c.1328). John of Ruusbroec (1293/94–1381).

17/ [31:20] “…you could match up specific passages with the trial transcripts…” The Inquisition kept very good records.

Jesse: In 1946, Romana Guarnieri identified Marguerite Porete as the previously unnamed beguine author of the Mirror. This dovetails nicely with Episode 6 note 29 on Hope Emily Allen’s identification of Margery Kempe’s Book. There was work done on the Mirror prior to 1946 (in the early 20th century) as the book of an unknown mystic, and this work was also done by excellent female scholars, Evelyn Underhill and Clare Kirchberger (although they attributed the work to a male author, probably based on the fact that the translator of the Middle English manuscript refers to the author as “he”). Women recognizing and writing about women seems like a good topic for the future. (Also, it’s important!)

Guarnieri found a Latin text of the Mirror in the Vatican, thereby proving that all the copies of the condemned text had not been destroyed despite the fact that they were supposed to have been destroyed (along with the condemned Porete herself). Instead, the Mirror exists in multiple translations–“no fewer than six versions in four languages with thirteen manuscripts, making it among the more widely disseminated of the vernacular mystical texts of the Middle Ages” (McGinn, Flowering, p. 246). The languages are Middle English, Latin, Middle French, and Medieval Italian. The original Old French does not seem to have survived (or just hasn’t been discovered yet!).

Guarnieri “based her claim [of Porete’s authorship] on the near identity between the three condemned passages cited in the trial documents and the chronicle of Nangis and portions of the Mirror” (Hollywood, Acute Melancholia and Other Essays, p. 137).

Guarnieri published her discovery in “Lo Specchio delle anime semplici e Margherita Poirette,” in L’Osservatore Romano, 16 June 1946. It’s reprinted in Guarnieri, “Il movimento del Libero Spirito,” Archivio Italiano per la storia della pietà, Vol. 4 (1965), pp. 661–63. For more on Marguerite Porete as the author of the Mirror, see Sean Field, Robert Lerner, and Sylvain Piron “A return to the evidence for Marguerite Porete’s authorship of the Mirror of Simple Souls” in Journal of Medieval History, 43.2 (March 2017), pp. 153–173.

18/ Jesse: Council of Vienne (1311–12). I’m quoting p. viii from the Foreword by Kent Emery, Jr. of the Colledge, Marler, Grant translation published by University of Notre Dame Press.

McGinn, Flowering, chapter 5! The specific page numbers are cited above a lot.

19/ In the intervening time, it seems both Eckhart and Porete have been rehabilitated with the Church–or at least, The Mirror of Simple Souls was published by Burns Oates and Washbourne, LTD (publisher to the Holy See) with nihil obstat (meaning “nothing objectionable”) and imprimatur (meaning it was authorized by the Church).

20/ Julian of Norwich. See episode 5 note 3 and below note 22.

21/ [43:00] It has often been observed, mostly by writers of children’s stories, that children have a remarkable ability to accept punishment to bad people as appropriate and not seem especially frightened by it. However, there are plenty of adults today with traumatic memories of watching when Bambi’s mom gets shot or the evil queen comes after Snow White who serve as evidence that a lot of what kids are responding/not responding to is the presentation rather than (exclusively) the content. When you read a kid a Grimm Brothers story at bedtime, you’re probably not acting it out like you were C3PO telling the Ewoks about Darth Vader, while on the other hand movies make everything more vivid and dramatic. The reason kids are okay with Henry the train getting walled up in a tunnel is that it’s not presented as a terrible thing to have happen but as an appropriate punishment for someone who is being naughty. It’s only as adults that we become aware of the larger context (i.e. being bricked up in a tunnel forever is terrifying) and understand that what’s being presented is often quite horrible. On the other hand, my child is terrified of Kermit the Frog right now, so clearly presentation isn’t everything.–Em [Kermit is definitively the best.–Jesse]

22/ “Sin is necessary”: I was told a long time ago about a theory that the fall of man (i.e., original sin) was necessary, possibly because if people never had free will to choose between sinning and not sinning (between good and evil), salvation would be meaningless. But Google is not bringing this theory up, so maybe I made it up in my head? –Em

Jesse: No, no this is absolutely true. The “felix culpa” or “fortunate fall” refers to the idea that Adam’s sin/fall actually made things better for humanity. One common explanation is that without sin Jesus would not have been needed to save humanity, which would deprive humanity of the full extent of God’s love. This theme is discussed around Milton a lot.

However, Julian does not seem to be aiming at the idea of “felix culpa.” Goodness of any kind, for Julian, cannot come out of sin (which exists outside God’s Love and goodness). In the episode, I’m quoting from the Paulist Press translation of Julian’s Showings by Colledge and Walsh, pp. 224–225 and 233. The original is in the Watson and Jenkins edition, pp. 207 and 209; 221 and 223.

23/ Jesse: The Book of Margery Kemp. and the British Library page. I recommend the Norton Critical translation by Lynn Staley. See pp. 16–17 on banking credit, p. 38 on Kempe saving people with her tears, and p. 117 on Kempe’s worries about people being damned. The original is edited by Barry Windeatt. See pp. 79–81, 136, and 302–303.

24/ Lollards: followers of John Wycliffe. See episode 6, note 9.

25/ Dante. Wrote some books. We’ll talk more about him next time. Jesse has promised to transcribe the Italian of the gate text, so this is a stub for her to do that.

Jesse: “I shall the effect of this good lesson keep
As watchman to my heart. But, good my brother,
Do not, as some ungracious pastors do,
Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven
Whiles, like a puffed and reckless libertine,
Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads
And recks not his own rede.” (Ophelia to Laertes in Hamlet, I.iii).

The inscription over the gate of Hell opens the third canto of the Inferno. My English translations of Dante are always John Ciardi’s translation.

Italian is from here.

I am the way into the city of woe,
I am the way to a forsaken people,
I am the way into eternal sorrow.

Sacred justice moved my architect,
I was raised here by divine omnipotence,
Primordial love and ultimate intellect.

Only those elements time cannot wear
Were made before me, and beyond time I stand.
Abandon all hope ye who enter here.

Per me si va nella città dolente,
per me si va nell’etterno dolore,
per me si va tra la perduta gente.

Giustizia mosse il mio alto fattore:
fecemi la divina potestate,
la somma sapienza e ‘l primo amore.

Dinanzi a me non fur cose create
se non eterne, ed io eterna duro:
lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’entrate.

26/ Jesse: I can’t believe I got this slightly wrong (and also didn’t trust my instincts enough to say it was Blake, because who else would it be?): “The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels & God, and at liberty when he wrote of Devils & Hell, is because he was a true Poet and of the Devil’s party without knowing it” (William Blake in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell).

Episode 6: Mysticism and Motherhood

Summary

From the feast of Corpus Christi to the mystical marriage between St. Catherine of Siena and Jesus Himself, Em and Jesse dive into the world of Medieval mysticism and affective piety, exploring the ways in which women were able to co-opt the stereotypes of men into positive portrayals of female piety. Brief content note–there’s nothing explicit, but we do mention circumcision in this episode.

Annotations, Notes, and Corrections

Continue reading “Episode 6: Mysticism and Motherhood”