Early Modern Times – Nov. 4, 2017

Early Modern Times - Nov. 4, 2017

Dear readers,

Welcome to the inaugural post of the EMSP blog, ‘Early Modern Times’! The blog will seek to enlighten and entertain you with news, events, and general insight into the inner workings of the Early Modern Studies Program, or to choose an apposite metaphor, the internal mechanism which makes EMSP’s clock tick.

And what better time to begin this blog than a week which saw the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, i.e., five centuries to the day on Oct. 31 that an obscure Augustinian monk and professor at the University of Wittenberg posted Ninety-five Theses or Disputation on the Power of Indulgences? The Early Modern Studies Students’ Society commemorated this anniversary in their unique irreverent way at their ‘Protestant Goes Punk’ party on Nov. 1 in the Wardroom. We look forward to pictures from their party, but I fear that the society has taken the Protestant critique of idolatrous images to heart. Perhaps they’ll compose some punk-hymns about the party instead?

Not that he likely nailed the theses to the door, as the legend goes, though this is perpetuated in the many stories on Luther, including this otherwise useful travel piece on Wittenberg: http://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20171023-how-martin-luthers-ideas-lasted-500-years?ocid=global_travel_rss&ocid=global_bbccom_email_25102017_travel

How should we assess the work and legacy of this Deutscher Höllenerhöher (‘German hellraiser’)? Will this blog post be the hitherto-undiscovered 96th Thesis, namely ‘Was Luther right in a) all of the above; b) some of the above; c) none of the above’? Is Luther’s reformation, intended only to reform the Church but eventually splitting western Christianity asunder, to be decried as the source of centuries of religious warfare or praised as a purification of the Christian religion–or more subversively, as the unintended beginning of modern secular freedom? The answer is within your conscience (a Lutheran cop-out); but first you may wish to listen to this interview with a Luther biographer on the CBC last Sunday: http://www.cbc.ca/radio/thesundayedition/the-sunday-edition-october-29-2017-1.4374949/martin-luther-s-powerful-dangerous-idea-1.4374969

Still undecided? Then you are duty-bound to attend Father Dr. Gary Thorne’s FYP lecture on Luther on Nov. 22.

Of course, one consequence often overlooked by historians is that the works of Luther, Melanchthon, Calvin, and other Protestants rendered not only Christianity itself fragile, but also Catholic kitchen furniture: hence the need for a Counter-Reformation to fix all the Baroque appliances. And perhaps the fragility of the church was due to voracious vermin burrowing through the wooden structures, much to the chagrin of members of the insect world who depended on the alms of the church? That would explain the Protest-Ants who decried the Diet of Worms.

Here I pun; I can do no other.

Meanwhile, in our classes: This week saw Dr. Laura Penny‘s EMSP 2000 class discuss Luther’s worst pupil, Prince Hamlet, a student at Wittenberg U. His report card stank so badly that his countrymen complained that something was rotten in the state of Denmark. More intoxicatingly, her course on narcotics, opiates, and stimulants looked at the gin-trade in 18th c. England, when a pint of gin was cheaper than a pint of beer! If only Luther had lived to see such prices: he would surely have indulged the nickname ‘Martini’ Luther (Christianity as shaken, not stirred?).

On the Catholic side of things, Dr. Jannette Vusich taught Bernini’s sculptures in her Baroque art class: encountering ‘The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa‘ would surely induce of any of us to get down on our ‘bare knees’ too. Her class on love, lust, and desire in Renaissance art learned about nuptial paintings, which when highly valuable, put the ‘money’ in ‘matrimony’.

At this turning-point from October to November, Dr. Kathryn Morris stoked her students’ bloodthirsty desires in her lecture on Bram Stoker’s Dracula in her class on the Vampire; avoided imprisonment on the charge of atheism by putting up Bayle in her class on early modern atheism; and gave a sizzling account of Francis Bacon in EMSP 3000.

My students in Asia & the West warmly welcomed this week a fabulous lecture by Sundar Sarukkai on science & Indian logic; and less warmly, my remarks on Herder & Hegel on Asia–and their German but un-germane assessments of Asian thought and culture. The students in EMSP 4000 finished Milton’s epic poem, Paradise Lost, but were left with the question, was it truly necessary to read 12 books of over ten thousand lines of verse based on the Book of Genesis? For busy modern people who don’t have time for blank verse, I leave you with an abridged version:

Milton’s Paradise Lost, Rendered in Doggerel Verse by S. Kow (Esq.)

There was an angel who rebelled against God,

And swore revenge against the tyrannical rod.

So he tempted Adam & Eve, who fell,

Then returned to reign in Hell,

But eventually his head Jesus would trod.


Till next time!

Simon Kow

Director, Early Modern Studies Program

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