Thursday, September 13, 2007

TLS, September 7, 2007

from Bettina Bildauer's review of Nikalus Largier's In Praise of the Whip: A cultural history of arousal:

Eighth-century hermits might have been the first to practise self-whipping, although the evidence is unreliable. Voluntary self-flagellation first became common in the eleventh and twelfth centuries in the monastic orders, where whipping had previously been used only as a punishment. The eleventh-century Benedictine writer St Peter Damian played a crucial role in popularizing this practice. It was incorporated into rituals of penitence and confession, of praying or singing the Psalter, but also into private devotion....In 1260/61, flagellation became a mass movement. The city of Perugia, perceiving itself in crisis, officially suspended work for a month in order to allow the citizens to repent and whip themselves. A procession went to Bologna, and flagellant processions soon started up throughout Europe, as people everywhere took out a month or longer to repent in this extreme manner. This movement quickly subsided, but flared up once more in 1349/50, partly as a result of the spirit of remorse induced by the Black Death. It then provoked theological criticism, but self-flagellation survived as a private practice, in some secret cults and in theatrical performance. Jesuits and other Catholic theologians reaccredited it in the sixteenth century, this time in the spirit of acknowledging that there are things that cannot be said in words, and that images and performances, like those of flagellation, offer legitimate access fo the divine (bold emphasis mine).

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from Patricia Fara's review of Heather Ewing's The Lost World of James Smithson: Science, revolution, and the birth of the Smithsonian:

For disciples of James Brown, Enlightenment Edinburgh's proponent of electricity and nervous excitability, "human bodies are like lighted tapers in a constant state of Combustion". How appropriate then that James Smithson (1765-1829), a temperamental Brunonian who shared his master's enthusiasm for blood-letting, pyrging and chemical stimulation, should not only burn himself out, but also be doubly destroyed by fire after he died. Having spent much of his time subjecting his frail constitution to energetic travel and self-medication, Smithson spun out his last years frequenting Parisian gaming tables, driven by his appetite for risk, and ignoring the sensible money-reckoning calculations of his distinguished mathematical friends. After disinheriting London's Royal Society in a fit of pique, Smithson bequeathed what remained of his massive fortune to the United States....Following twenty years of ungrateful prevarication over a sum representing around 1.5 per cent of the entire Federal budget, Congress eventually agreed to found an Institution named after him. Only ten years after it opened, a shoddily installed stove ignited the building, and Smithson's unpublished manuscripts and personal letters shot up in flames, surrounded by useless fire buckets whose water had frozen into ice. A century later, in 1973, Smithson's incendiary gremlin was busy again. During a bungled exhumation designed to glean information from his skeleton, the blowtorches being used to unsolder his coffin ignited its silk lining. Fortunately, this fire was quenched by energetic workers racing back from a nearby tap with water in their mouths.

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(At the newly established Royal Institution, which aimed to provide scientific education for all), the chemical lectures proved so popular among wealthy carriage-owners that a novel solution was invented for unclogging the traffic jams outside - London's first one-way street.


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from Thomas Marks' review of Helena Michie's Victorian Honeymoons: Journeys to the conjugal:

from Frankenstein to Tess, novels that try to represent the wedding-night disclosure of secrets or concealed knowledge veer into an uncomfortable, violent mood that Michie defines as "honeymoon gothic"....When sticky situations arise in fictional honeymoons they often prefigure sour marriages (as in the case of Dorothea Brooke and Edward Casaubon), whereas in reality many strong partnerships were bolstered by the shared experience of those initial difficulties.


JL: Uncharitable imagination but I can't help wondering how Thomas Marks knows this piece of reality.

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from J.C.'s NB:

Reviewing The Oxford Dictionary of Modern Quotations (Third Edition), J.C. highlights the series of boxes devoted to Catchphrases, Misquotations etc. In one box devoted to Last Words, Erskine Childers: "Come closer, boys. It will be easier for you" (to the firing squad).

Childers was Robert Erskine Childers, an Irish nationalist executed by the authorities during the Civil War. Wikipedia has his last words as "Take a step or two forward, lads. It will be easier that way," which may be more authentic, but certainly less sexy.

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