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Showing posts from October, 2016

Free Speech Fundamentals: Milton

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This one's for you, Milo.

I have a theory: people get anxious when they don't know where the ideas that they are asked to live by come from. Certainly, I get anxious, and I am a professionally trained historian. What must it be like for those presented with a concept like "freedom of speech" who have no idea why this should be a Good Thing except because their teachers tell them so--especially when their teachers are at the same time insisting such contradictory things as, "We all need to be respectful of each other's opinions," even as they model shutting those opinions down? Happily, Professor Fencing Bear is here to help.

Or, at least, to provide a few notes. Freedom of speech is one of those concepts that come to us (by which I mean, those of us living in the present) out of the tradition that many of my colleagues have spent the past several decades teaching their students to be suspicious of. The shorthand labels tend to be things like "the E…

Hate Trump? Blame Luther

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My therapist was concerned yesterday when I mentioned the blog post I had written about why I am not afraid of Trump. We were talking about the election and what I had learned on my travels in Germany to compete in the World Veteran Fencing Championships, and I had been telling her about the conversations that I and my fellow fencers had had with various Europeans about what we thought about the candidates. "Therapists have been reporting great anxiety on the part of their patients this election season, worse than they have ever encountered before," she said. "People are really scared." And yet, I assured her, I'm not, at least not of Mr. Trump, and not really of Mrs. Clinton, although I do worry greatly about the effect that her leadership is likely to have on our country. How is it that, unlike almost every one of my friends who posts about politics on Facebook, I am not anxious about him, and even as I dread a Hillary presidency, I seem to be able to remain …

Who's Afraid of the Big Orange Wolf?

More or less to a woman, my friends insist that I should be terrified.
Have you heard what he says about women? (I paraphrase.) He's misogynist, sexist, dangerous. He thinks he can grab women by the pussy without consequence. He judges women on their looks. He says mean things about them!  I am probably going to lose my feminist credentials here...oh, wait, I don't have any...but I'm not feeling it.

And, yes, I watched The Video. I saw a bus driving into a studio parking lot. I heard a man bragging to another man about trying to make a move on a married woman...by taking her furniture shopping. And confessing how he didn't manage to sleep with her because she was married. I heard a man talking about how beautiful another woman was, and the other man congratulating him, "Donald has scored!" At which the man calls the other man a pussy. I saw several other men get calmly off the bus, clearly professionals going about their jobs. I heard a man say he needed to ta…

Birds of the Word

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I know what you're thinking. Or, at least, what you should be: what are all those birds doing on a pulpit? I see an eagle, a turkey, a pelican, a crane, a rooster, a peacock, several that look like hawks, more eagles, most likely a dove or three. I'm not much of a bird-watcher, but all of them seem fairly specific, as if it mattered to represent them as true as possible to life.

Here's what the leaflet guide to the cathedral says: "The impressive pulpit in the nave...was originally created for St. Bernard's Abbey to the south of Antwerp. The birds and plants portray the frivolous diversity of creation." Frivolous diversity? Well. That's me told. No point in looking for any symbolism here.

My heart hurts. Here I am, sitting in a cathedral in a city in a diocese (according to the leaflet) all "dedicated to the Virgin Mary," and nobody seems to know why.
Again, from the leaflet, advising visitors on how to approach the experience of being in this …

Our Lady, the Ark of the Covenant

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Pop quiz: which of these two images represents the Virgin Mary? Hint: you can find both of them in the Cathedral at Antwerp, the one on the left on a pillar to the right of the altar, looking out over the people as they pray; the one on the right in one of the two main side chapels of the cathedral.

The answer, of course, as I am sure you have already guessed, is both of them, but I suspect you are wondering why. I remembered the pillar image from my first visit to the cathedral, eight years ago when my brother moved here and I came to see him the summer that I was starting on my current research project on the Hours of the Virgin. I had forgotten about the Ark, and yet there it was. Indiana Jones could not have been more surprised.

We like to think of the Ark primarily as a mystery of the Old Testament: the gilded box in which the ancient Hebrews carried the tablets of the Law written by the finger of God and brought down by Moses from Mount Sinai or Horeb (Exodus 25:10-28, Deuteronom…

Onze Lieve Vrouw

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I'm back! Eight years ago plus a month or two, I stood before the doors of this very cathedral wondering what I was going to be able to say in praise of the Lady in whose honor it was built. I had a plan: write something about the way in which medieval Christians prayed the Hours of the Virgin. And I had the inklings of a methodology: commentary on the texts at the heart of her Hours, most particularly, the antiphons and psalms. In the first year that I had on leave to work on this project, I made elaborate Excel charts of all of the different versions of the Hours that I could find in published form, as well as charts of the psalms of many Uses for which I had only the templates provided by the late Erik Drigsdahl at his Center for Handskriftstudier i Denmark (now hosted by Peter Kidd at manuscripts.org.uk). And I was able to write two chapters, one on the history of the Hours of the Virgin, a second on the way in which medieval Christians said the Ave, Maria, the invitatory ant…