Comradeship and justice
April 18, 2020, 7:49 am
Filed under: brave new world, chronotopes | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Saving Hieronymus Bosch from the devil

Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights

Our understanding of the medieval world is on the whole negative: long centuries marked by superstition, plagues, illiteracy, feudal bondage, and wars. We see it as a dark age bracketed by the relative brilliance of antiquity before and enlightenment after. The victors write history and much of what we believe about the medieval world was written in the 19th century to propagate this carefully crafted historical narrative.

The collapse of empire, the crusades, feudalism, and plagues are indeed dark, but there is a lot about the medieval world that is attractive: its mysticism, social life, art and architecture, and stories. Similarly, if we’re honest, there’s an awful lot to not recommend in the Western canon world we live in: its alienation, rationalism, instrumentalism, blind faith in humanism, reason and capital.

As an example, in the realm of work G. K. Chesterton noted that the medieval view was human and redeeming and our modern system decidedly debased:

The principal of medieval trade was admittedly comradeship and justice, while the principle of modern trade is avowedly competition and greed.

G.K. Chesterton, William Cobbett, 1926

Strange how the highly religious medieval world comes up with such modern concepts to organize the world of work: comradeship and justice; yet we, drawing on the grand rational traditions of ancient Rome and Athens, the Renaissance, Enlightenment, and Industrial Revolution, evolved a system of backwardness and superstition: competition and greed. We have high priests – robed flunkies – to flog this ignorant ideology; its influence is airtight, profound, omniscient, omnipresent. They use propagandas which are part of the air we breathe: Survival of the Fittest! Healthy Competition!

Tom Hodgkinson describes the outcome of our ‘enlightened’ dark age:

The theory is that competition leads to good quality and reasonable prices in goods. But the reality is the opposite: unfettered competition, that is, commercial war, and the endless expansion that necessarily goes with it, inevitably results in monopolies, as one giant company swallows up its failed competitors.

Tim Hodgkinson, The Freedom Manifesto, p84

That’s not enlightened. We’ve no doubt entered one of Dante’s circles, or the hellscapes of Hieronymus Bosch.

It would be unfair to not at least ruminate on the effects on life built on a commitment to comradeship and justice. As we’ve seen, there is a lot of poor scholarship that pushes a view of the desperate nature of the life of the Medieval peasant; no life at any time has been a bed of roses. But we know they held to these commitments and thereby built for themselves meaningful, faithful, and social lives. And we can too.

The rocky path
April 15, 2020, 7:45 am
Filed under: chronotopes | Tags: , , , , ,

Why Medieval Serfs Had More Vacation Time Than You Do Today ...

For the medievals labour was first a burden. It was a penance: in which God is feared.

Then it became the difficult means on a path toward freedom. It was an instrument: in which God is bargained with, and even a collaboration: in which God, in the Armenian sense, is a coworker.

Medieval men initially viewed labor as a penance or a chastisement for original sin. Then, without abandoning this penitential perspective, they place increasing value upon work as an instrument of redemption, of dignity, of salvation. They viewed labor as collaboration in the work of the Creator who, having labored, rested on the seventh day. Labor, that cherished burden, had to be wrenched from the outcast position and transformed, individually and collectively, into the rocky path to liberation.

Jacques Le Goff

the banks of the seine
June 9, 2009, 7:48 pm
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , , ,

Here is a description of the consuming role education played for those lucky enough to get it in the Middle Ages in France.  Education was tied to the church but was broad enough to include, beside theology, medicine, law and the arts.  It was worth giving over everything for; a consuming passion.  For the student, in a very real sense, knowledge became home.

the wandering student, passing from Laon to Chartres to Angers, or to some obscure monastery made temporarily famous by a new teacher, would come at last to the banks of the Seine … There he would seek out, or drift to one master or the other.  There, as often as not, he stayed.

-E. R. Chamberlain, quoted in A Traveller’s History of Paris, by Robert Cole.

just-do-it junkie
December 18, 2008, 10:03 pm
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , , , , , ,

It has been a long time since the Middle Ages, but it still seems incredible how things have changed since then.  For example religious doctrine, everyone’s favorite topic.  In the following quotation from Tom Hodgkinson’s The Freedom Manifesto, we learn that the Christian church during the Middle Ages preached against work because to work is to rely on oneself instead of fully trusting in God.  Man, things have changed.  Puritan/evangelical bait and switch – accomplished with ease by shuffling and twisting the same basic script – and hey presto now work is god.

We’ve been told religion is an opiate, and that entertainment is an opiate, that TV is an idiot box, that we are amusing ourselves to death.  The bright light of scrutiny has been for generations trained on religion and entertainment, and we’ve come to define them both as … ‘hobbies’, lesser pursuits or maybe follies.  And the strength of that scrutiny has allowed leisure and mystery’s stern corollary work, to remain unchallenged.  It’s time to swing the lamp around and see what else is lurking in the dark corners of the room.  As opiates, religion and entertainment don’t come close to the high that work gives in this just-do-it junkie culture.

Here is the quotation from