Early Modern Times – sadistic treasures

Early Modern Times - sadistic treasures

Dear readers,

The title of this post does not, of course, refer to a most stimulating upcoming event: a talk and reception hosted by EMSP in honour of Dr. Ronald Huebert’s retirement on Tuesday, Jan. 16, at 7:15 in the Senior Common Room at King’s. Dr. Huebert will be speaking on ‘John Donne on Horseback’. Donne, one of England’s greatest poets, lived from 1572 to 1631 and is known for his intense erotic, social, and religious poetry. But why would being on horseback be of significance? We can only speculate at this point that he was fleeing his unpleasant brothers Ichabod and Oberon (both of whom history has rightly forgotten): Ichabod, a traveller to the Caribbean known as I. Guana Donne, was a particularly cold-blooded fellow with outmoded views and thus nicknamed ‘the dinosaur’; while the eldest brother Oberon, Master O. Donne, was a hirsute elephant-of-a-man who constantly took baby-brother John to tusk.

Also not to be missed for those interested in the early modern period: on Thursday, Jan. 18 at 7:30 pm in the KTS Room, the Night FYP lecture series presents a free performance by the Villain’s Theatre of Colleen MacIsaac’s adaptation of Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World. If this performance goes well, the Villain’s Theatre could consider staging that fiery dessert recipe by the seventeenth-century paleo-diet guru, Margarita Cave-dish’s The Blazing Swirl.

While these events will be unmitigated pleasures for all, the same cannot be said for the imagined victims in the works of the notorious Marquis de Sade. And yet, as reported in a recent issue of The Guardian Weekly, ‘The French government has stepped in to declare Marquis de Sade’s manuscript, 120 Days of Sodom, a national treasure as it was about to be sold at auction in Paris’. The Marquis was freed from the Bastille when the French prison was stormed on July 14, 1789 (a largely symbolic gesture depicted in the contemporary painting by Jean-Pierre Houël, above), but his unfinished manuscript (pictured in the article) was left behind and believed lost. Safely tucked away in his cell, however, it was recovered a few decades later, though only saw publication in the twentieth century. It then became one of those scandalous books that librarians would attempt to squirrel away from the hands of curious readers–before, of course, the internet’s democratisation of smut at century’s end.

Far less controversial, but rightfully neglected as the dullest memoir in eighteenth-century Europe, was 120 Days of Sodding by the French philosophe d’herbe Marquis de Sod. This second-rate agricultural thinker also tried to imitate Sade’s Philosophy of the Bedroom with his own Philosophy of the Barn-room, an unreadable depiction of the sadistic treatment of farm animals and a woefully unsuccessful attempt at creating the new literary genre of ‘barnography’. But Sod did reach a wider readership with his single foray into detective fiction, featuring an eccentric, mustachioed Belgian manure salesman travelling on the train from Paris to Istanbul: Merde-er on the Orient Express.

More stimulating and fragrant topics in our classes this week: Laura Penny continues the barnographic imagery in EMSP 2000 with the agricultural correspondence between G.W. Leibniz and proprietress of valuable cattle, Maria Cudworth, and begins discussion of Voltaire’s voyeuristic novel Candide-camera.

In EMSP 3000, Kathryn Morris‘s students will examine Isaac Newton’s failed endeavour to systematise a science of making royally-good unleavened bread, the Princely-Pita Mathematica. Students of Witchcraft will hear about early views of magic and witchcraft, including the mincing words of John of Salisbury-steak (suggested accompaniment: princely pita), while Dr. Morris will take a distinctly anti-Scholastic stance on The Body in Early Modern Europe in her account of the famous ana-Thomist Andreas Vesalius.

Jannette Vusich will explain why Renaissance print-makers, like their European predecessors, disproportionately suffered from splinter wounds in her class on the earliest western woodcuts, and discuss Giorgio Vasari’s account of Leonardo Da Vinci in his Lives of the Artists of 1568, the far better written companion-piece to his 1567 muckraking biographies of the celebrity spouses of Renaissance painters and sculptors, Wives of the Artists (published by National Enquirer).

In EMSP 4000, we’ll turn to The Spirit of the Laws, written by the ponytail of Field Marshal Montgomery which achieved self-consciousness during World War II and took on the name ‘Monty’s queue’. The Pirate and Piracy course ends its survey of piracy in the ancient world and turns to pirates in the middle ages, who were not totally malevolent but only ‘mid-evil’. In the Automatons lecture series, Theresa Heffernan of Saint Mary’s University will lecture on ‘Imagining Automatons’, which may include daydreaming about automatons when listening to ‘ro-, ro-, ro- your bot,…’

‘Til next week,

Simon Kow

Director, Early Modern Studies Program

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