Early Modern Times – a very Babel genius

Early Modern Times - a very Babel genius

Dear readers,

Early Modern Times celebrates the publication of the 2020 issue of the EMSP student journal Babel (which you can read here)! Babel is written, edited, and published by the Early Modern Studies Students’ Society. The 2020 issue was ready in March-April, but its physical launch has been postponed by the lockdown. As co-Editor-in-Chief Lea Paas-Lang writes in the Afterword, ‘The papers in this year’s journal, despite showcasing the variety of interests from EMSP students, all consider–to one degree or another–how the early moderns moved through spaces. Our authors explore how architectural spaces determine who belongs in them, how art changes space, and how academic work makes or takes space for oppressed populations.’ The articles are, however, far from spaced-out, and are as much spicy as spacey.

Reflective of EMSP’s strength in art history and visual culture thanks to the outstanding teaching and mentoring of Dr. Jannette Vusich in the past many years, and the upcoming and exciting contributions of Dr. Justina Spencer, half of the articles are devoted to art-historical topics. Isabel Teramura’s paper ‘The Rhetoric of Mary: Early Modern Italian Convents and the Architecture of Virginity’ examines convent architecture especially in the wake of the Catholic Counter-Reformation. The suffocating enclosure of nuns in these structures meant that they were lacking in con-ventilation. ‘The Paragone and the Formation of the Artist-Genius-Myth’, by Andrew Burroughs, addresses how painters’ imitations of nature in the Renaissance contributed to the myth of the artist as genius. Given the fleeting nature of fame, those artists whose work was deemed inferior were here today, Paragone tomorrow. In contrast, Mona Lisa is with us whether we like it or not: and so Caroline DeFrias argues in ‘Exploring the Mediating Forces Between the Artwork and the Art Observer: an Analysis of the Spectacle of Mona Lisa‘ that it is curation which has rendered Leonardo’s painting a global spectacle (and thus ‘canonised’ in the 1985 TV episode ‘The Final Problem’, as noted in a previous issue of Early Modern Times). As Caroline shows us, that which is curated may be overrated. And sometimes it might be X-rated: Ciara Gordon’s ‘An Act of Artistic Voyeurism: It’s Sexy Being Included!’ discusses how Giulio Romano’s 1524 painting, Two Lovers, implicates the viewer as erotic spectator. Gazing upon a depiction of two lovers along with prying watcher means that involvement here in inappropriate erotic viewership is una-voyeur-dable.

Speaking of ‘two lovers’, a couple of papers are written by two lovers of wisdom, i.e., on philosophical topics. Jacob Hermant’s ‘Justifying Pain Through Philosophy in Anne Conway and the Lurianic Kabbalah’ argues that Anne Conway drew upon the Kabbalah of Rabbi Isaac Luria in her philosophy of the intrinsic connection of mind and body, thus justifying pain and suffering as a form of spiritual redemption. Conway’s thought thus becomes a sort of philosophical pain-reliever, which both puts the ‘spiri’ in aspirin and depicts the journey of suffering souls aspirin’ to reach God. Graham O’Brien takes on the task of ‘Engaging with Kant’s Ethical and Political Philosophy in Light of His Early Racial Theory’, arguing that Kant’s rejection of slavery and colonialism in his ethical and political philosophy shifts away from his earlier racist theory, even if he may have maintained racist views in private. Graham endeavours to demonstrate that Kant’s philosophical system, at least, should be interpreted as a Critique of Pure (and Practical) Racism–such that his later philosophy can act as an architec-tonic to the racism of his early thought.

Finally, two papers tackle aspects of early modern social and political history. In ‘Raising the Standard: An Examination of Louis XIV’s Army under the Le Tellier’, Catherine Charlton delineates the standardisation of ‘regimental organisation, food distribution, and arms production and calibration’ in the army of Louis XIV under the leadership of Secretary of State for War Michel Le Tellier and his heirs. Presumably, if there were instances of homosexual behaviour in the French army, the policy was that of ‘Don’t ask, don’t Le Tellier’; while such rigorous standardisation could have led Louis XIV to declare, ‘the state is ar-my‘. Isabelle Reynolds takes to the high seas in ‘Rebellion and Piracy: Radical Community at Sea’, which argues that women pirates–such as Anne Bonny, Mary Read, and the most successful pirate of all time, Mistress Ching–as well as Jewish pirates used sea-robbery as a form of liberation and community creation. An appropriate anthem for such social and political radicals could be ‘the maritimes, they are a-changin”, sung while these pirates seas the opportunity for meaningful rebellion.

Congratulations to all of these authors, and to the EMSS for a fabulous journal!

Till next time,

Simon Kow

Director, Early Modern Babel-thumping Studies Program

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