medieval art history, navel gazing, horizon scanning
Monday, April 11, 2011
A Graphic Morality
Castration of Saturn, MS Douce 195
Yikes! This one might make the audience wince. It's actually Saturn's turban I'm interested in more than his demise (he did after all, eat his children, so, you know, comeuppance and all). I'm doing it! I'm writing my talk and loving every minute of it and I should go to bed (and I will) but I'm excited and wanted to check in here and kind of see where I'm going, too. I like this paper because it isn't just representations of Orientalism - it's not just the turban, it's what it means. And what it means (ultimately, after I've made all of these connections in the talk) is a whole series of moral concerns: for justice (the castration of Saturn is the end of the Golden Age); for continuity (it takes the planet Saturn 30 years to circle the sun just once); for wisdom (in all that time, Saturn develops wisdom); and prudence (that castration, argues Christine de Pisan, makes him tread softly ever after). And these ideas are pulled from Arabic manuscripts (such as Kitab al-Bulhan (The Book of Wonders) by the 9th-century Persian astronomer Albumasar. Late medieval Orientalism, I'll be arguing, was not Said's Orientalism (the book of 1978), in which a Western colonial power produced knowledge about the Middle East that it then used to construct it (to an image befitting Western colonial expansion). There is colonialism (the Crusades), there is expansion (eight (8!) Crusades in all from 1099 to 1270) - but there are also appropriations and this term I will be working out: a speculative morality - one based on seeing (note graphic image above), and objects (both philosophical and economic), and one that shows a hesitancy (between rendering the Muslim different enough to justify conquering him, but not so much that he cannot convert - tricky business this global Christian empire business...). So, writing every day a lot until Wednesday, then, rehearsals and edits, then the talk Friday. Let's see how this idea of "speculative morality" goes - I'm keen to find out!
Jupiter and the art of agriculture
Just so you don't think I'm a total sadist, here is another god in a turban from the same wonderful manuscript of the Roman de la Rose, illuminated by Robinet Testard and owned by Louise de Savoie (bedtime reading for François Ier, her son?): Jupiter sowing seeds, practising the art of agriculture - a necessary art now that Saturn's Golden Age is over. It was nice that Golden Age: it had no desire (desire is born when Venus is - and she, let's not forget, is born from the foam that Saturn's genitals cast-off into the sea create). And in having no desire, it had no necessity for laws or kings. Ethics, a good morality, came as naturally as breathing. But nothing gold can stay, and so we learn to sow, and reap what we sow, and we have laws and kings. I truly love this image of this turbaned Jupiter (see turban, think Arabic astrological manuscripts and their moral repercussions) in a farming field. I love to think of the mundane gesture of sowing and the heavy morality of reaping. The medieval mind took leaps that require a running start for us moderns.