According to a story often repeated in late medieval prayer books, one day while St Bernard was praying especially fervently before a crucifix, the sc...moreAccording to a story often repeated in late medieval prayer books, one day while St Bernard was praying especially fervently before a crucifix, the sculpted Christ loosened himself from the cross in order to reach down and embrace the saint. The miraculous gesture confirmed the saint’s piety. Images depicting this event often accompany a prayer to the wounds of Christ, a prayer that a votary could read in order to try to achieve the same gift that Bernard achieved: propinquity with the animated God. Similar images appeared with different protagonists taking Bernard’s place, confirming simultaneously the piety of those depicted and the accessibility of Christ’s embrace from the cross. For example, one image from a manuscript made around 1500, possibly in Gheel, places an Augustinian sister at the base of the cross, eagerly accepting Christ’s embrace in the absence of St. Bernard (illustrated here). These stories and representations suggest that prayer, if sufficiently fervent, could animate the inanimate, be it the dead Christ on a cross or a non-flesh simulacrum of his dead body. We might consider such ideas wishful thinking, or more charitably, as potential imagined experiences of heartfelt devotion, but probably not as mimetic portrayals of real events. Sculptures depicting Jesus simply do not animate themselves and start interacting with the living, regardless of their devotion. Or do they?
Medieval sculptures depicting Christ functioned in altarpieces, as relics, within the context of (micro-) architecture, and as private devotional objects, but, unless they were in a procession, such as sculptures of Christ on a donkey that figured in Palm Sunday celebrations, they rarely moved. This general immobility renders all the more remarkable the Animated Sculptures of the Crucified Christ, which is the title of Kamil Kopania’s new book about sculptures of Christ, which were designed to participate in religious performances precisely by coming loose from the crosses to which they were affixed on Good Friday in annual re-enactments of the Crucifixion. Whereas most sculptures are static, the images in Kopania’s book do move. Or rather, they did move. Many of them have become brittle in the joints and are now suffering from a ligneous version of arthritis, such as one now in Döbeln that was made ca. 1510 in Saxony (pictured here). All of the sculptures in Kopania’s richly illustrated book have at the very least moveable arms, as does the Döbeln example. As Kopania argues, these would have made the sculptures appropriate for the _Depositio Crucis_ ceremonies. Participants in such rituals would have a difficult time placing a fixed and stiff cruciform figurative sculpture into a long narrow box, as the outstretched arms would prevent the upper body from sliding in. A sculpture with hinged arms, on the other hand, would therefore allow the custodians to reshape the sculpted body for the next episodes in the story, the deposition and entombment. In fact, these sculptures teeter on the boundary between devotional sculptures and enormous puppets.
_Suffer_ here is the operative word. Moveable sculptures of Christ, images that are animated, seem to have a capacity for suffering, and they therefore command an empathic response from the viewer. That is their point. While the sculpture in Döbeln might even elicit a strong reaction of pathos from a modern viewer steeped in somewhat detached museum-viewing culture, the image with its hinged, embracing arms might have inspired a strong feeling of ardent devotion in its original beholders in early-sixteenth-century Saxony. These movable arms might have even allowed the believer to have a concrete experience of embracing Christ’s body while removing it from the cross and placing it lovingly in a sarcophagus, a tangible ersatz for the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
In addition to movable arms, many of the sculptures that Kopania catalogues also have other animated features: hinged knees and hips, movable heads and tongues. The mechanical workings animating these expressive body parts are concealed within the hollowed-out recesses in the sculptures’ heads. Presumably someone hiding behind a screen manipulated the ropes and pulleys in order to make Christ’s tongue wiggle from side to side, or to cause his head to incline. All of these features animate the dying man, quicken him from a hunk of wood just at the moment when he is slipping from life.
Other features contribute to the illusion of animate form. Some of the sculptures, such as the example in Döbeln, have wigs of human hair and receptacles for liquid in the back, which, when squeezed, exude rivulets of blood from the side wound. The sculpture from Döbeln is also covered in parchment, which both smoothens over the articulated components and conceals them but also provides the sculpture with a surface that is, after all, skin. The greater the mimesis, the lower the barrier to perceiving human suffering and achieving empathy.
Kopania has assembled an impressive 126 examples of animated sculptures of Christ from the twelfth through the sixteenth centuries. Many are illustrated in the catalogue that serves as an appendix to the book. He organizes these by country: Austria (12 examples), Belgium (1), the Czech Republic (2), France (2), Germany (19), Italy (64), Norway (1 example), Poland, Portugal, Slovakia (2), Spain (16), Switzerland (3). In other words, constructing and using such images constitutes a pan-European phenomenon. While most of the sculptures in Kopania’s appendix have been previously published, they have largely appeared in regional studies in minor languages. His is the first study to assemble the extant examples from across Europe and to present them in English. This synthetic overview certainly demonstrates that such images were not isolated oddities but rather pervasive forms that captured a large swath of the late medieval imagination. I hope that his important book will shepherd these fascinating sculptures into mainstream discussions of art, late medieval piety, and theatricality.
In the first two chapters, Kopania provides an overview of the state of the research and an overview of the body of works. The literature from which Kopania draws includes regional studies as well as texts, old and new, about Easter Week processions and dramas. Kopania also considers these sculptures through the lenses of puppetry history. (The author not only teaches at the Institute of Art History at the University of Warsaw, but also works at the Department of Puppet Theatre Arts in Bialystok.) He discusses a large body of works, not just the extant examples detailed in the catalogue, but also works that have not survived but are nevertheless known through records, many of which also help to contextualize the sculptures functionally.
In chapter III, the author discusses the construction of animated sculptures of Christ, including their hidden mechanisms. The functions of the sculptures during Holy Week form the subject of Chapter IV. These works were created primarily for theatricalised ceremonies of the Depositio, performed in the vernacular for the laity. Most of these ceremonies made use of architectural replicas of the Holy Sepulchre. In Chapter V the author considers how animated sculptures functioned outside Holy Week, chiefly as stationary devotional objects for the remainder of the year. The sixth and final chapter considers post-medieval examples, which suggest the enduring appeal of these works of art.
Now that Kopania has put these fascinating sculptures on the map, I hope that others will take up further studies about them, studies that might consider them through the lenses of anthropology and lay devotion, or in light of certain prayers in late medieval vernacular prayer books, or via miracle accounts. The book will have broad appeal among students, including advanced undergraduates. My own students have read it with eye-popping fascination. Kopania’s important book will certainly animate studies of late medieval sculpture and provide a lasting contribution to a little-known facet of medieval religiosity.
David S. Areford has written a lively and accessible book about the reception of early prints in Europe. He has aimed not t...more(orginally published on TMR)
David S. Areford has written a lively and accessible book about the reception of early prints in Europe. He has aimed not to study early printed images on stylistic grounds nor as part of regional "schools," as they are categorized in many print rooms, but instead to relate narratives about how late fifteenth-century recipients put them to use. This book joins several other recent titles that have brought this previously neglected topic into focus. Ursula Weekes and Peter Schmidt, respectively, have written accounts of how prints were used in place of miniatures in manuscripts of the fifteenth century in the eastern Netherlands and Germany. For the past few decades, Richard Field has written important studies and ground-laying catalogues of early prints. And there have been two important exhibition catalogues on related material: Susan Dackerman on painted prints, and Peter Parshall on fifteenth-century woodcuts, with an emphasis on their original contexts.  Areford has drawn upon these studies by discussing the hand- coloring, inscriptions, and manuscript contexts of early prints, while introducing many images that are studied here for the first time.
The title of the book recalls the great study by Hans Belting, Das Bild und sein Publikum, translated in 1990 as The Image and Its Public in the Middle Ages: Form and Function of Early Paintings of the Passion.  This was a rallying cry to consider the anthropology of the image. As with Belting's call for art historians to study the image rather than the more conceptually problematic art, Areford has succeeded in widening the scope of the image historian's domain to include the cheap, the serially-produced, the disposable, and the abject.
Areford divides his book into an introduction and a series of case studies. His "Introduction: The Aura of the Printed Image" lays to rest Walter Benjamin's famous but utterly flawed statement made in his article of 1936: "That which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art."  But as Areford points out, it is not the printed image, nor the cookie-cutter saint nor the stack of printed copies, that fascinates or exudes an aura; rather an image acquires power through the way in which each individual print is made singular. Sometimes this is the power of a cult object, as with the case of the Madonna del Fuoco, a printed image to which an entire chapel was built.
Continuing with this theme in Chapter 1, "The Materiality of the Printed Image," Areford outlines some of the operations that might render a print unique. Users shaped their prints to make them resemble textiles, embroidery, and manuscript illumination: this one is hand painted and gilt; that one has been printed in glue and dusted with lint to make it resemble velvet; and here is one has been pasted into a manuscript prayer book; another has been silhouetted and recontextualized into a group of other prints. In Areford's own words, he questions "ideas about the print as a stable and consistent medium dependent on a perfected and fixed graphic design" (26).
Areford considers owners' interactions with their prints in Chapter 2, "Acts of Viewing." Most of the acts he discusses in this chapter consist of owners' inscriptions. Some of these form a dialogue between the viewer and the subject depicted, such as the plea, "Ora pro me" (Pray for me!) written at the top of an image of St. Jerome. Alternatively, some owners trimmed their prints, cutting away distracting parts or changing the meanings of the subjects depicted. In this way, the owner/viewer becomes actively involved in producing meaning. Areford is to be lauded for finding such rich examples that demonstrate how people behaved with their prints, and how they made singular that which was serially produced.
One of the pleasant surprises in this book is the amount of early Italian material included. This field has been dominated by studies of prints from the Middle Rhine, the cradle of printmaking before 1500. Chapter 3, "The Ship and the Skeleton: The Prints of Jacopo Rubieri," tells the fascinating tale of a contested collection of prints in Ravenna's Biblioteca Classense. The prints, many of them the earliest surviving examples of Italian printmaking, had been glued into legal manuscripts by their original, fifteenth-century owner, until a late nineteenth-century curator decided to remove them. Areford reconstructs the manuscripts-cum-prints as far as that is possible and discovers relationships between the subjects of the prints and their original placement in the manuscripts. His work inspires me to go out and try to undo some of the more destructive collecting habits of the Victorian period. My only criticism is that he should have included photos of the legal manuscripts from which the prints were harvested. For example, he describes a page on which a print with a ship had been pasted down: "Inexplicably, no scholar has ever explored the ship's position in the manuscript or the fact that when in situ, its mast was topped by a perfect circle cut from white paper" which is "still glued to the page today" (143). Areford should have illustrated this page. By omitting this and other pages of the legal manuscripts and presenting only the prints, he is guilty of the same thinking as the nineteenth-century curator: that his audience would only want to look at the pictures, not the text manuscript. The promise to recontextualize falls short of providing the prints' full original context.
Chapter 4, "Little Simon's Body," tells the fascinating tale of how prints were exploited to create a cult of Simon of Trent, a boy supposedly murdered by Jews in 1475. Simon's body, laid out on an altar, started performing miracles. Prints helped to publicize the miracles and to demonize the Jews, who were depicted in a series of woodcuts made in 1475--thus, immediately after Simon's death. The prints show the Jews engaged in Simon's sadistic ritual murder. As Areford argues, the images were used as evidence of the atrocities. This chapter departs somewhat from the main themes set out in the Introduction, as it does not focus on users' manipulations of individual prints.
Chapter 5, "Printing the Side Wound of Christ," is drawn from Areford's widely-cited article of 1998, "The Passion Measured: A Late-Medieval Diagram of the Body of Christ,"  which has been substantially rewritten here. This chapter showcases images that treat Christ's body in pieces, including printed replicas of his freefloating side wound. Areford deftly argues that images depicting the measured side wound function as maps made to scale that negotiate the territory between symbolic and actual space; and that the medium takes advantage of the relationship between the printed image and the prototype. This is especially true of Speerbilder, images of the Sacred Heart which were to be pierced by the relic of the Holy Lance, housed in Nuremberg. The image was to be pierced by the very instrument that pierced Christ's side, thereby eliding the print with its prototype.
One persistent verbal tic will date this volume to the early noughts: "kind of." "[T]he illumination is designed as a kind of author portrait" (112). "[T]he print functions as a kind of moralizing commentary..." (137); "...the actual measurement of the opening made by the lance, becoming a kind of relic...of the side wound" (245). The construction appears scores of times, but I shall not get my knickers in a twist about it. With the small exception of the legal manuscripts discussed above, Areford handles the manuscript evidence adequately and handles the print evidence very adeptly. Methodologically, the book is an object lesson in grace. Areford follows the screenwriter's dictum: show, don't tell. He demonstrates his method by example, which, thankfully, basks in the materiality of the image. We need more books like this one, and with it, more scholars who are willing to roll up their sleeves and engage with the physicality of their subjects.
 Painted Prints: The Revelation of Color in Northern Renaissance & Baroque Engravings, Etchings & Woodcuts, ed. Susan Dackerman, (exh. cat., The Baltimore Museum of Art; The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2003); Origins of European Printmaking: Fifteenth-Century Woodcuts and Their Public, ed. Peter Parshall and Rainer Schoch with David S. Areford, Richard S. Field, and Peter Schmidt (exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington; Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg, in association with Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2005).
 Hans Belting, The image and its public in the Middle Ages: Form and Function of Early Paintings of the Passion, trans. by Mark Bartusis and Raymond Meyer (New Rochelle, N.Y: A.D. Caratzas, 1990).
 Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," in Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968), pp. 217-251. The essay originally appeared as "Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit," Zeitschrift fƒr Sozialforschung 5, no. 1 (1936).
 David S. Areford, "The Passion Measured: A Late-Medieval Diagram of the Body of Christ," in The Broken Body: Passion Devotion in Late-Medieval Culture, ed. A. A. MacDonald, H. N. B. Ridderbos and R. M. Schlusemann (Groningen: Egbert Forsten, 1998), pp. 211-238. (less)
I’d been putting off buying a book about procrastination for some time. I had bought a copy of Getting Things Done, but hadn’t read it, and inadverten...moreI’d been putting off buying a book about procrastination for some time. I had bought a copy of Getting Things Done, but hadn’t read it, and inadvertently picked up another copy, as I had forgotten about the first. By some miracle they ended up next to each other on the shelf where I sometimes keep the phone book. I was thinking of buying The Now Habit, but I can’t decide whether to get the paper version or the audible version. I’m going to put off this decision until I get some clarity. (less)
I read this on the train to Antwerp. The Centraal Station is next door to the zoo, and I was tempted to rescue a penguin and let my own absurd tale be...moreI read this on the train to Antwerp. The Centraal Station is next door to the zoo, and I was tempted to rescue a penguin and let my own absurd tale begin.(less)
(This first appeared in the Historians of Netherlandish Art newsletter.)
The first two sumptuous volumes of Illuminated Manuscripts in Cambridge (IMC)...more(This first appeared in the Historians of Netherlandish Art newsletter.)
The first two sumptuous volumes of Illuminated Manuscripts in Cambridge (IMC) have arrived. The series of catalogues covers, and will cover, medieval manuscripts in the Cambridge Colleges and the Fitzwilliam Museum (although excluding the manuscripts in the University Library, which will be catalogued separately). Part One, Volume One includes the Frankish Kingdoms, the Northern Netherlands, Germany, Bohemia, Hungary and Austria, with a total of 142 manuscripts; and Part One, Volume Two includes descriptions of the 110 manuscripts produced in the Meuse Region and the Southern Netherlands. The volumes have the look and feel of exhibition catalogues, with one or more crisp full-color reproductions illustrating each entry.
Some of the items will be familiar to readers of this journal who attended the spectacular Cambridge Illuminations exhibition held in 2005 at the Fitzwilliam Museum, where many of the manuscripts held in Cambridge colleges were exhibited and published for the first time. The manuscripts included in that exhibition were all thoroughly described by Paul Binski, Rosamund McKitterick, Teresa Webber, Nigel Morgan, Jonathan Alexander, Christopher de Hamel, Nicolas Rogers and Stella Panayotova in the accompanying exhibition catalogue, which was also published by Brepols. The volumes under review here draw upon that research and present much shorter catalogue entries. They present not just the lavishly decorated gems included in the exhibition, but all the manuscripts with even modest illumination, which will be published systematically for the first time. Many others have not been published since M.R. James produced a series of descriptive catalogues of manuscript holdings at the Fitzwilliam Museum (1895) and selected Cambridge colleges (1895-1913). To synthesize them all by region, incorporating the scholarship generated in the last century, and to have them all freshly photographed is an immense and worthy undertaking.
The first two volumes of IMC contain nearly 750 images, all in color. Within each regional category, the manuscripts have been arranged in approximate chronological order, beginning with a West Frankish Psalter from 883-884 (Cat. 1) and finishing with a book of antiphons made in the “Southern Netherlands” in the sixteenth century, in which dozens of illuminated fragments have been cannibalized from other manuscripts and pasted into the borders and initials (Cat. 252).
The usefulness of these volumes can be measured by the extent to which they stimulate the production of new scholarship; and isn’t “measuring outcomes” what matters most to the overlords of the humanities funding in the UK these days? Let those bean counters know this: because IMC has been published, Cat. 252 (Fitzwilliam Museum, MS 46) can now be connected to a corpus of manuscripts produced at the convent of Soeterbeeck. The contributors to IMC were mostly correct when they wrote that “the book is probably intended for Augustinian canons as suggested by the note “ousen [sic] heylighen vader Augustinus (fol. 25r)” (IMC I, 2, p. 254). However, if, as the comparison with the image reproduced here suggests, the Fitzwilliam manuscript co-originates with the Soeterbeeck manuscript, then both were made for—and possibly by—the female canonesses rather than male canons. There are 45 other manuscripts that were kept in the Soeterbeeck priory in Deursen near Ravenstein until 1997, when the Augustinian sisters gave the entire conventual library to the Radboud University Nijmegen. (See Hans Kienhorst, Verbruikt verleden. Handschriftfragmenten in en uit boeken van klooster Soeterbeeck, Edam: Orange House 2010). Because Illuminated Manuscripts in Cambridge brought Fitzwilliam Museum, MS 46 out of obscurity, this most richly illuminated specimen in the group can now be studied in its proper context.
Likewise, the reproductions and description in IMC of a German manuscript preserved in Trinity College (MS B.15.24, Cat. 109) make it possible to connect it to Paris, Bib. Arsenal, Ms. 212, which has a closely related miniature depicting the five animals in Hildegard of Bingen’s vision described in the Scivias; images from both manuscripts are reproduced here. The two manuscripts are related in size (Paris, Bib. Arsenal, Ms. 212 measures 275 x 205 mm, and Trinity College, MS B.15.24 measures 278 x 205 mm, but both manuscripts have been trimmed), script, decoration, and content. Both manuscripts contain a text in Latin for undertaking a virtual pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Studying them in conjunction with one another may reveal further clues about their origin, original audience, and function.
Undoubtedly other students of Northern European medieval manuscripts, upon perusing the bountiful images and brief but useful descriptions, will be able to make further connections with existing manuscripts and other cultural documents. One of the functions of Illuminated Manuscripts in Cambridge—in which it succeeds admirably—is to make accessible a previously hidden body of manuscripts, which will certainly serve our scholarly community well. That having been said, I wonder whether an expensive (€200 or $290 for the two volumes) illustrated printed catalogue is the best tool with which to present a collection of manuscripts in the twenty-first century. Publishing the material on-line would have been less expensive (probably for the institution, and certainly for the user), no doubt faster, and would have allowed the editors to incorporate a continuously updated bibliography and attributions. A web version covering the same material would have allowed 7500 images instead of 750.
Among the many manuscripts that had not been adequately known and available until the publication of IMC are Cat. 200 (Fitzwilliam Museum, MS 108), a Book of Hours from the Southern Netherlands or Northern France made for Gauvain Quiéret (ca. 1433-before July 1470), who is pictured at least twice in prayer in grisaille miniatures. Although several scholars have published important studies about female owners of prayer books, their male counterparts have received less attention, and a student of gender studies interested in lay male piety might be able to build on the groundwork laid by IMC to assemble a relevant corpus and delve into this topic.
These volumes will also facilitate the study of manuscripts that have curtains sewn above their miniatures. Although many miniatures have a row of needle holes above their frames, indicating that they once had curtains attached above them, very few examples of the actual curtains survive, and two of the three fifteenth-century examples known to me appear in IMC. These are Cat. 163 (Trinity College B.11.14), a Book of Hours for Sarum Use, and Cat. 96 (Gonville and Caius College, MS 769/822), a German Psalter written for a Cistercian community dedicated to St Maurice, in which someone has sewn curtains over the modest historiated initials. The Fitzwilliam also holds an example from the twelfth century (Cat. 66, MS McClean 22). Although Christine Sciacca has recently addressed this phenomenon for Ottonian manuscripts, more work is yet to be done for manuscripts of the later period. If curtains were sewn in to protect the miniatures they cover, why do we often find them (or traces, in the form of needle holes) in such modest manuscripts? What was their real function?
Most of the entries are quite good and solid, with only a few occasional slips. While I feel quite petty pointing some of these out, they should alert readers that the catalogue was written quickly by the editors’ own admission (“Jonathan Alexander encouraged the Cambridge Illuminations project from the start and advised: ‘Keep it short and bring it out quickly,’” Introduction, p. 7). Correspondingly, the wise scholar will not repeat facts printed in IMC without checking them carefully. For example, the entry for Cat. 21 (Fitzwilliam MS 38) describes the script as textualis when the photo reveals it clearly as hybrida. Cat. 32 (Fitzwilliam Museum MS 271), in usefully listing manuscripts copied by Peter Zwaninc for the female Tertiaries at Weesp, lists one as “Haarlem, Episcopal Museum, MS 105.” However, the manuscripts from that collection were transferred to the Museum Catharijneconvent in Utrecht, most of them in 1976, and the correct signature should read “Utrecht, Museum Catharijneconvent, BMH h 105.” The entry for Cat. 29 (Trinity College, MS O.1.75) correctly indicates that the manuscript’s female noun and pronoun forms suggest that it was made for a female user, and that it has penwork associated with Delft; the entry does not, however, mention that St Augustine is listed as the first confessor in the litany and St Agnes as the first virgin, clues which connect the Psalter to the convent of canonesses regular in Delft called Sint Agnes in het Dal van Josaphat. These Canonesses demonstrably wrote and illuminated manuscripts, including, most likely, this one.
Each entry includes a useful section headed “Comments.” Many of the opinions presented in the comments of the Northern Netherlandish manuscripts are based on conversations and personal correspondence. This process is honest in so far as it gives credit where credit is due, but the procedure is problematic because the opinions presented have then been memorialized in a printed catalogue of overwhelming gravitas and authority but without having been filtered through the judgment of blind peer review. They have arrived there by some other alchemical process to which the average reader could not have had access and therefore cannot adequately evaluate. To be fair, the research team could not possibly have included sub-specialists in every region and era of manuscript production exemplified by the Cambridge colleges. The authors and editors must have found themselves in a Catch-22 situation, as very little has been written about many of these manuscripts, and they were correct to seek advice from members of our community. The corrective to this situation will be that the volumes will stimulate an abundance of new ideas, opinions, and literature, which the regular peer-review system will filter and evaluate.
One regrettable error in which the oral or written correspondence seems to have overshadowed published work appears in the comments of Cat. 42 (Fitzwilliam Museum, MS McClean 95), in which Klaas van der Hoek’s published work has been unfairly minimized and misrepresented. It should be noted that he wrote: “Although there is no reason to attach Spierinck’s name to [Amsterdam, Koninklijk Oudheidkundig Genootschap, MS unnumbered], Henkel did see aright, for it has been illuminated entirely by Master A of Ms McClean 95. In particular, comparison of the border decoration with the borders of Master A in MS McClean 95 leaves little doubt about the identity of its illuminator. Being consistently divided into panels filled in with stiff, coiled-up acanthus transferring into straight-pen-strokes with little petals, the borders in the KOG Book of Hours make an even more schematic and symmetrical impression. Two peculiar elements are added: a gold devil’s head and a gold, tufted pig’s head from which acanthus springs. Codicological data confirm the shared origin of both manuscripts: their justification, number of lines and script correspond” (K. van der Hoek, “The North Holland Illuminator Spierinck: Some Attributions Reconsidered,” Masters and Miniatures 1991, 277-278). The person who wrote the entry for Cat. 42 gives a false summary of van der Hoek’s article. It was van der Hoek drawing upon Henkel and not Korteweg in correspondence who first drew the relationship between McClean 95 and the KOG Book of Hours; likewise, it was van der Hoek who enumerated the hands in McClean 95.
These squabbles will be ironed out as students of manuscript illumination read, digest, and apply these immensely useful volumes, as I am confident they will do with deserved gusto. The first two beautifully designed volumes of Illuminated Manuscripts in Cambridge have all the indices and finding aids (including an index of biblical and non-biblical iconography) to facilitate further research. They are brimming with ideas, are full of dissertation topics, and are testaments to the bounty—intellectual and sensuous or even sybaritic—spread out before students of medieval manuscripts. (less)
The bored author in search of a subject gets himself to Spain and decides to eat his way porkwise across Galicia. This gives him license to attend all...moreThe bored author in search of a subject gets himself to Spain and decides to eat his way porkwise across Galicia. This gives him license to attend all-night costume parties of the peliqueiros (“the pelt-wearing ones”) in Laza where locals boil pigs’ heads, and chase wild-goose style up mountain cliffs in search of pigs’ trotters.
His journey is a inversion of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Instead of moving toward a millennium-old goal (the shrine of St James), over hill and dale on foot at tremendous physical and mental cost, the author here drives his porkmobile, his most spiritually shaking experiences induced by a few narrow rutted mountain roads, in the pursuit of satisfying his gut.
There’s something sadistic about the way he delights in ordering a Cockaigne-full of pork stew, and stomaching the great slithering bulk of it, in front of his quiet (and even more bored?) vegetarian girlfriend.
Besides that, the problem with this book is that it’s a big fat gimmick. It reminds me of My Year of Living Biblically, calculated to boast of a perverse feat (follow the Bible literally, eat an entire pig). Someone with an essentially dull life gives it shape by dabbling in the ridiculous for a year then writes about it. (less)
This book was on Molly Hite’s syllabus for Postmodernist Fiction when I took her class at Cornell ca. 1990. Then the Ayatollah issued the fatwa callin...moreThis book was on Molly Hite’s syllabus for Postmodernist Fiction when I took her class at Cornell ca. 1990. Then the Ayatollah issued the fatwa calling on Muslims to kill Rushdie and his publishers, and Hite summarily removed the book from the syllabus (putting in its place The Female Man), although we had already bought it. Just as well: I had tried to read it, but kept losing my interest after about 10 pages.
Twenty years later, I’ve taken up the book again, but now in a changed form: as an audio book, read aloud by the actor Sam Dastor, who was born on the Indian subcontinent and now lives in England. Did Mr. Dastor consider that he might be risking his life when he agreed to read the novel aloud from cover to cover (which yields, by the way, 21 hours and 34 minutes of recorded time)? Although Rushdie remains alive as of this writing, several translators of The Satanic Verses have been murdered.
Sam Dastor is one of the most talented readers I’ve encountered, and I can’t imagine anyone else so ably creating the 50-or-so voices of the characters in TSV, from Mumbai to London to South America to New York to the desert in the Middle East, who populate this series of interlocking stories. Indeed, voices are a recurring theme in the story, as are actors creating voices and characters hearing them. Of the main characters, one is a Bollywood film actor who is also, in his dream life, is also Mahound the messenger of God, who hears God’s voice and either conveys it straight-up or interprets it. Two of the other characters are radio voice-over actors who create the voices for packets of talking ketchup.
The book, in true post-modernist style, doesn’t “add up,” is not strictly possible and certainly not linear. Its many narrative threads address, among other things, the painful process of a polytheistic culture being forced into monotheism in the deserts of the Middle East, and the equally painful process of losing that religion in 20th-century London. It’s about transformations of men and women into Gods, messengers, lovers, goats, and devils, sometimes all at once. And the metaphor of the film star as god.
The Satanic Verses themselves are unstable. At once they are the verses from God’s messenger allowing for a few extra (female) archangels; and nursery rhymes spoken in creepy voices by a phone breather that can make a lover begin to hate his beloved.
Another theme is the role of the writer. Should we be surprised that the author gives Baal, the writer of satirical verses and painful truths, an entire harem?
How did australopithecines develop into Homo erectus? The traditional answer has been that the use of tools allowed them to hunt, and that the increas...moreHow did australopithecines develop into Homo erectus? The traditional answer has been that the use of tools allowed them to hunt, and that the increased protein in the diet allowed the developmental spurt toward a bigger brain. But there are two, not one, major jumps in development along this road toward Homo sapiens. Richard Wrangham argues that the first, as has been established, resulted from hunting and eating more meat (and not just consuming scavenged meat), but that the second came from cooking food, which implies controlling fire.
I almost put the book down after the first chapter, “The Quest for Raw Foodists.” The author denigrates vegetarians and raw foodists in such a way that I wondered whether he had had a relationship with a salad lover that had gone south, which might account for his contemptuous tone. That aside, he uses anecdotal and indirect evidence to suggest that cooked food allowed homo erectus to evolve, and that the species can not longer thrive on a raw food diet for any extended length of time.
Fascinating was the report of the Evo Diet, an experiment conducted in 2006 in the UK with patients suffering from life-threateningly high blood pressure. They submitted to a raw food diet for 2 weeks, consisting of 50 kinds of raw fruits, veg and nuts in huge quantities (except for one man, who snuck chocolate in week 2). The all brought their blood pressure down to less dangerous levels, but the diet had an unintended side effect: they all lost weight, about a pound each day.
The rest of the book argues that cooked food releases more energy (calories) than the same food would release if it were raw. This is true for both meat and plant-based foods. And the implications of this fact/argument are surprising.
1. Cooking softens food, and soft food is more easily digested and requires less energy to utilize than hard food. Among rats that were given hard pellets and the same pellets “puffed” like children’s cereal, the soft-food rats became obese in a matter of months, even through they were consuming the same number of calories as the hard pellet rats.
2. Soft food allowed homo erectus to develop smaller digestive organs. Because of the “conservation of total bodily organ mass,” this allowed h.e. to develop much larger brains.
3. In all hunter-gatherer societies, women gather and men hunt. Cooking food further differentiated the gendered division of labor, so that women also became the keepers of the fire and the cooks. This also made women vulnerable, since smoke from a cooking fire can be seen from a mile away. Women received protection and occasional meat from men, and men received a cooked meal from women, and voila, marriage was born. My question though: if men are off hunting, how can they be protecting the hearth at the same time?
4. This model challenges the convention, as anthropologists usually see marriage as “an exchange in which women get resources and men get a guarantee of paternity.” In this model, however, men marry so that they are guaranteed a hot meal.
I’m not a specialist in this field and would have to do much more reading to evaluate this properly, but I wonder just how many of the ideas presented in this book are Richard Wrangham’s. Ailello and Wheeler had (by Wrangham’s own description) attributted the increase in brain size to the invention of cooking. Furthermore, we’ve known for a long time that large-grain whole wheat bread is less fattening than highly milled white bread (because the whole grain bread costs us more energy to digest, and we eliminate many indigestible particles), and that cooked carrots have a much higher glycemic index than raw carrots (which is why some people choose a raw food diet to lost weight).
Richard Wrangham’s greatest contribution might be telling these facts in a series of anecdotes. You’ll have to read about the snake experiments yourself, but I’ll tell you about the Inuit diet. It won’t be too much of a spoiler. The sub-arctic Puiplirmiuts eat frozen caribou dropping like berries (thus raw), whereas most other neighboring tribes find this a waste of good food and take the partially digested lichen pellets (=euphemism) and boil them in blood soup. Maybe the most valuable contribution of this book is that it explains why there are no Inuit restaurants in London. (less)
Since imitation is the highest form of flattery, here’s my homage to David Eagleton’s Sum.
You’ve been sick for a while and taking large...moreSince imitation is the highest form of flattery, here’s my homage to David Eagleton’s Sum.
You’ve been sick for a while and taking large amounts of ativan and morphine. When you open your eyes and look around, you find yourself on a small island with a meadow and some trees, and dozens of barnyard animals. It might be an effect of the drugs, but you could swear you’re in a paradisaical petting zoo. There are a few hundred cows, but it doesn’t resemble a pastoral landscape in upstate New York, where all the cows are a single breed. No, this herd is of mixed breeds, Holsteins and some Black Angus and a few soft-eyed Guernseys. And secondly and more strangely, all the cows gaze at you longingly. A few goats that were trying to climb to the top of the hillock at the center of the island stop long enough to look at you and bleat. A group of spring lambs gambol toward you. You back away from the sheep, as you’re terribly allergic, and back into a woman with a gash across her face. “Well, you did it again,” she says. “Did what?” “Ran into me.” “Sorry, but do I know you?” “No, not technically, but I know you. I’m on your island.” She sees that you are puzzled and explains. “You have died, and you have to spend all eternity with those whose deaths you caused.” Jolted you look out into the landscape and see hundreds of beef Wellingtons on the hoof, a yard full of prosciutto crudo rooting through the brush. The woman anticipates your next question. “You didn’t notice me when you were driving, probably fumbling with the radio. I was on a bike. But don’t fret too much. I’m not in any pain now. I would have liked to have finished my dissertation, though.” You are taking in this new reality and gazing with horror at the deaths you have caused. “I like the animals, though. It’s too bad you didn’t have a dog that you had euthanized. The dogs from the Vietnamese restaurant are making their way around the islands and will be back probably this evening. They’re a bit intimidating. They stir up the goats.” She waves a make-shift shepherd’s crook. One of the goats spots you from its sand mound and trots toward you with – is that revenge? –in its eyes, butts you in the thigh and demands to have its ears scratched. Forgiveness is so cheap around here, you think. The contented goat begins nibbling on your surgical tubing. You begin a cascade of apologies. She has been waiting for you for ten years and her anger has softened. “I’m glad you’re here. Sometimes Gladys and all these cows grate on me.” “Who’s Gladys?” “It looks like she can introduce herself.” Gladys—or the woman who would most probably turn out to be Gladys—was stepping out of a boat on the beach behind you. She marches up to you and announces, “You sneezed on me! In the lettuce section at Loblaw’s in 1986. Didn’t your parents ever tell you to cover your mouth? You gave me a rabid case of pheumonia. It might as well have been TB! Because at my age, it finished me.” The cycling accident victim jumps to your rescue and suggests that the ferryman take you to one of the other islands, as he’ll have to leave soon. With the accident victim reassuring you that Gladys is an acquired taste, which fortunately you’ll have the time to acquire, she guides you into the boat. The ferryman paddles you to a large, noisy island of a former dictator, but you leave quickly because half of the inhabitants seem sullen, and the other half are armed and organizing a demonstration. You visit the island of a doctor who had inadvertently given tainted blood to her patients in the early 1980s: they all crowd around her and try to comfort her as she weeps with remorse. Every patient who bends down with a desperate “there, there” makes her cry even harder. And finally he paddles you to the small island of a vegetarian. There are no animals or people on his island. He had eaten nothing but lentils. He now has no guilt but is terribly lonely.
This book is designed to look like an auction catalogue, not one from Christie’s or Sotheby’s with their glossy pages and generous white space and the...moreThis book is designed to look like an auction catalogue, not one from Christie’s or Sotheby’s with their glossy pages and generous white space and their ample superlatives in the item descriptions, but rather a catalogue from a slightly lower-brow auction house, in this case, the fictional Strachan & Quinn Auctioneers. The items to be auctioned off: the personal memorabilia collected during the relationship of Lenore Doolan, a New York Times columnist, and Harold (Hal) Morris, a freelance photographer who travels the globe. Birthday presents they’ve given to each other. Notes they’ve left for each other. His collection of hotel key cards. The smudging stick he used to get the ghost out of their summer house, which she was convinced was haunted. Photos of the couple at an annual Halloween dress-up bash. The hand-made menus from the Valentine’s dinners she made him over the course of their 4-year relationship. The auctioneer lays out the items in chronological order, from the early days of enchantment (love notes sent in scrabble tiles) to disillusionment (stacks of self-help books).
What to call this work? How to classify it? It’s not a text, as the images constitute an integral part of it. It’s not particularly poetic. It certainly is undeniably creative in its conception. I think I’d call it a novel, as it has character, whom we know through the objects they pick out and the scraps of text they leave behind. It has a story arc, although we know how it’s going to end before it begins. The relationship is going to fall apart, otherwise they wouldn’t have to jettison these memory-laden objects from their lives.
While reading this book I thought of the Delacroix painting, the Death of Sardanapalus (1827). Having learned that he faces uncertain military defeat, Sardanapalus orders all his favorite possessions be brought to him on his gigantic bed. He will turn all the voluptuous beauty, all the gold work, all the concubines, even his favorite Arabian horse, into his funeral pyre. If he can’t have it, then no-one else shall, either. In Important Artifacts, the couple aren’t jealous of their possessions; rather, they’re finished with the relationship and are now just done with them.
This decade is emerging as one of lists, or rather, of catalogues (which are annotated lists). We’ve always had them, but haven’t always noticed them as a category that could be charged with such passion. This trend has culminated in Umberto Eco’s new exhibition catalogue, The Infinity of Lists.
I’m giving it three stars for the story and an extra star for the creativity of the form.
George Saunders, one of my favorite fiction writers, has a comic wit, a talent for the absurd, and a great sense of timing. The Brain-Dead Megaphone i...moreGeorge Saunders, one of my favorite fiction writers, has a comic wit, a talent for the absurd, and a great sense of timing. The Brain-Dead Megaphone is his collection of non-fiction pieces of varying lengths, in which he applies all the qualities that are so appealing in his fiction. The results are practically unreadable. Some of the stories, such as “The New Mecca,” a first-person account of a trip to Dubai, read like Dave Barry articles: forced comedic journalism. The title piece refers to the culture of television, which is the best piece in the book (and for which I’m giving this review a single star). Saunders has not yet found his non-fiction voice.(less)