The King of Carnivalesque, Mikhail Bakhtin, is famous for celebrating François Rabelais’ joyfully satirical world-turned-upside down, in which grotesque bodies eat, belch and excrete their way across a fantasy of early modern Europe. Despite (because of?) his own time spent in Holy Orders, Rabelais was no fan of organised religion: his monks are venal, greedy, and incontinent — and frequently destined for an unpleasant end!
For our conversion Carnivalesque, we’ve tried to bring in both Carnival and Lent, celebrating some great posts which handle religious literature and history, but also remembering that ‘conversion’ itself can embrace ‘Transposition, inversion’ (OED n.4), and extending our gaze to moments of transformation, hybridity and change.
A guest post from Mary O’Grady at Executed Today brings home the urgency of questions of conversion and confession in our period, as she charts the execution (and sadly-belated overturned conviction) of Jean Calas, a Huguenot resident of eighteenth-century Toulouse. The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice raises the spectre of incomplete execution in a history of making sure the dead are dead (making sure they stay dead is the subject of an entirely non-early modern book recommendation, Scott Kenemore’s Zombio, Ohio – recent holiday reading for a member of the project team!).
From dying to dining — a tenuous link, but we’re keen on foodways and the movement of cultural knowledge (as brilliantly celebrated by Ken Albala at last month’s RSA), so here’s a hint from Homo Gastronomicus on how to find the best turtle-soup in town if all the early modern blogging makes you peckish.
Mercurius Politicus celebrates the rare-books nerd factor by exploring a collection of sermons, offering both a view of increasingly radical, millenarian 1640s Puritanism, and a sense of the adventures of some of its readers.The urgency of mid-seventeenth century religious divides finds comic expression in a charming woodcut of opposing responses to a bountifully-bearded Christmas at The 1640s Picturebook (and there’s more hair available for conoisseurs in Historic Book Person of the Week at the Providence Public Library blog).
Emily Brand, over at The Georgian Bawdyhouse, finds some irreligious language on the streets of our project home-town, York — we’re happy to report our women are still brawny and brawling, though it’s too long since we’ve told someone they ‘lie like an Almanack maker’ (one to try in tutorials next week). Some better-behaved women showed up at The Collation, which offered a fabulously-illustrated post on a hybrid and ‘personalized miscellany of reflections on life and death’ based around Mary (Sidney) Herbert’s translation of Philippe de Mornay’s Excellent discours de la vie et de la mort as A discourse of life and death.
If we’re thinking of change and re-appropriations, the museum seems a good place to go. There are more hybrid moments at the Courtauld’s Gothic Ivories project, which showcases numerous devotional objects, like this delicately-carved Life of the Virgin (putting the kitsch into conversion? the tusk into testament?). On the Tudor Trail drew our attention to the forthcoming exhibition of a Wycliffite Bible with an interesting provenance, whilst, now closed, the recent British museum exhibition on Hajj: Journey to the Heart of Islam displayed the objects and souvenirs of pilgrimage from the middle ages to the present day. The Medieval Manuscripts crew at The Walters Art Museum Manuscript Department continue to delight by tweeting daily images from both the Christian and Islamic traditions (and this irresistible mouse holding the reins of a camel).
Conversion has a long history as a mathematical term, as well as a religious one (in 1557, The Whetstone of Witte — a misleadingly-titled tract on arithmetic — told readers that all sorts of Cossike numbers [numbers expressed by letters] ‘maie by be diuided, by conuersion into a fraction’). This month, The Renaissance Mathematicus opened up the links between religion and science by putting a Jesuit mathematician on the moon, while Samuel Pepys moved smoothly from the science of lenses to the joys of peeping in Church in a recent diary entry. Early Modern Thought Online continues to explore how religion and matter coincided in theories of creation ex nihilo.
In modern terms, conversion is perhaps most often something we do to buildings (as it was, in rather different ways, during and after the English Reformations, of course!). As part of a superb blog on ‘Remembered Places and Invented Traditions: Thinking About the Holy Land in the Late Medieval West‘, Anthony Bale explores a building which attempted to bring Jerusalem to Flanders, asking whether this material remediation of Calvary is a souvenir or a replica.
Over at The Shakespeare Blog, Sylvia Morris reminds us of the transformations taking place as part of the World Shakespeare Festival, which opened on 23rd April. Three-Pipe Problem offers both a TV recap service, and an interesting insight into adaptation and accuracy as Hasan Niyazi blogs Showtime’s The Borgias, whilst at Wine Dark Sea, Michael Witmore asks how google books could build in new scholarly tools as part of the work of converting page to image. At Dispositio, Holger Schott Syme finishes up his series on marginal annotations in the Folger’s collections of early modern drama with a look at some references and non-references to Shakespeare (remember to join Paul Edmondson in wishing him happy birthday, over at Blogging Shakespeare!), and reflections on readerly conversions of books to particular purposes.
There’s more re-inscription and re-purposing at Anchora, as Adam Hooks re-members Shakespeare. The Beinecke blog accompanying the Remembering Shakespeare exhibition has a multitude of posts, all showcasing adaptations, appropriations, and clues of various kinds. (AND! A belated addition, since it was published in February, but, with mermaids the conversionary creature par excellence, and some lovely prints converted to other uses, we’ll throw in the beautifully-illustrated interview with Suzanne Karr-Schmidt over at Res Obscura as well.)
Matthew Heintzelman continues to detail the adventures of Books from the HMML Basement, puzzling over how to identify books without title-pages and convert the data into cataloguable form. But who will end up cataloguing the books from the Birmingham Medical Institute Library, currently in the process of being auctioned off to raise funds? Thankfully, the gorgeous Gospel Book of St Cuthbert has found a new home at the British Library, a move charted by James Freeman at the Centre for Material Texts.
Thanks for all the suggestions and nominations, and for making this such a fun Carnivalesque to host. The next one arrives in May 2012 — get your bids in to welcome it to your blog!