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Martin Luther and Visual Culture  

Elke Anna Werner

In the mind of Martin Luther, images were first and foremost adiaphora and, as such, neither good nor bad. However, Luther spoke out firmly against the worship of images, as did other reformers. Based on his own anthropology, he countered the misuse of images by suggesting correct ways of using them, on the basis that man could only discover true faith through the mediation of images. For many years, researchers emphasized Luther’s negative attitude to images as a medium and highlighted the shift from a pre-Reformation culture of piety to the reformatory emphasis on the Scriptures. However, more recent examinations of liturgical practices and the link between art and politics, involving innovative methods, as well as some degree of imagination, have not only traced the development of a specific visual culture in Lutheranism but also highlighted their identity-creating function in denominational conflicts. What follows is an overview of the major image and media categories as portraits, allegories, altarpieces and epitaphs which influenced the visual culture of the Reformation. Lucas Cranach the Elder (c. 1472–1553) and his youngest son Lucas Cranach the Younger (1515–1586) were at the very center of this activity, together with their productive Wittenberg workshop. From the very beginning of the Reformation right through to the 1580s, both liaised with Luther, Melanchthon, and other Wittenberg reformers, respectively accompanying and decisively shaping the development of Protestantism with their pictures. What is more and of equal importance, the influence of their work is reflected in the popularity of their style in Protestant territories throughout the Empire during the 16th century.

Article

Daemonic  

Angus Nicholls

The term daemonic—often substantivized in German as the daemonic (das Dämonische) since its use by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in the early 19th century—is a literary topos associated with divine inspiration and the idea of genius, with the nexus between character and fate and, in more orthodox Christian manifestations, with moral transgression and evil. Although strictly modern literary uses of the term have become prominent only since Goethe, its origins lie in the classical idea of the δαíμων, transliterated into English as daimon or daemon, as an intermediary between the earthly and the divine. This notion can be found in pre-Socratic thinkers such as Empedocles and Heraclitus, in Plato, and in various Stoic and Neo-Platonic sources. One influential aspect of Plato’s presentation of the daemonic is found in Socrates’s daimonion: a divine sign, voice, or hint that dissuades Socrates from taking certain actions at crucial moments in his life. Another is the notion that every soul contains an element of divinity—known as its daimon—that leads it toward heavenly truth. Already in Roman thought, this idea of an external voice or sign begins to be associated with an internal genius that belongs to the individual. In Christian thinking of the European romantic period, the daemonic in general and the Socratic daimonion in particular are associated with notions such as non-rational divine inspiration (for example, in Johann Georg Hamann and Johann Gottfried Herder) and with divine providence (for example, in Joseph Priestley). At the same time, the daemonic is also often interpreted as evil or Satanic—that is: as demonic—by European authors writing in a Christian context. In Russia in particular, during a period spanning from the mid-19th century until the early 20th century, there is a rich vein of novels, including works by Gogol and Dostoevsky, that deal with this more strictly Christian sense of the demonic, especially the notion that the author/narrator may be a heretical figure who supplants the primacy of God’s creation. But the main focus of this article is the more richly ambivalent notion of the daemonic, which explicitly combines both the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian heritages of the term. This topos is most prominently mobilized by two literary exponents during the 19th century: Goethe, especially in his autobiography Dichtung und Wahrheit (Poetry and Truth), and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in his Notebooks and in the Lectures on the History of Philosophy. Both Goethe’s and Coleridge’s treatments of the term, alongside its classical and Judeo-Christian heritages, exerted an influence upon literary theory of the 20th century, leading important theorists such as Georg Lukács, Walter Benjamin, Hans Blumenberg, Angus Fletcher, and Harold Bloom to associate the daemonic with questions concerning the novel, myth, irony, allegory, and literary influence.

Article

Yiddish in Interwar Berlin  

Marc Caplan

Berlin in the interwar era of the Weimar Republic (1918–1933) was not a center for Yiddish culture so much as a periphery dependent upon more dominant locations of Jewish life such as the United States, Poland, and the Soviet Union. In this respect, the status of Yiddish reflects a greater sense of marginality and dislocation then characterizing German culture, which, at the time, felt unmoored from its imperial coordinates of the 19th century and under the sway of more innovative international cities such as Leningrad, Paris, New York, and especially Hollywood. The draw of Berlin for Yiddish-language writers or community activists was therefore not the allure of Weimar culture or the hopes of attracting large audiences among German Jews. Instead, the economic disorder of the Weimar Republic, paradoxically, offered financial windfalls and business opportunities for migrants with foreign currency—particularly for writers with contacts to the American Yiddish press. Moreover, Germany, unlike Poland, maintained diplomatic and economic relations with the Soviet Union, which allowed writers and activists sympathetic to the Bolshevik Revolution a safe haven while the home front remained riven by military conflicts, scarcity of basic necessities, and an uncertain political future. The heyday of Yiddish activism in Berlin was relatively short-lived, only dating from about 1921 until about 1926. After that date, the Soviet Union had achieved political stability and began to invest, at least for the next decade, in a wide series of Yiddish-language cultural institutions including publishing houses, newspapers, centers of higher education, and popular entertainment. Although it would be an exaggeration to claim that Yiddish culture made a deep or lasting impact on the German culture of the Weimar Republic, for Yiddish readers, the literature produced in Germany ranks among the most important and innovative achievements in Yiddish culture of the 1920s. The most significant writers to have resided in Berlin during this era include Dovid Bergelson, Der Nister (Pinkhes Kahanovitsh), and Moyshe Kulbak.

Article

Poiesis  

Thomas Martin

Poiesis is not the lyrical impulse associated with poetry as much as it is the making by which the poet (poietes) produces lively enactments associated with literature as it reflects on the nature of things. Moving beyond Plato’s notion of mimesis as a literal or passive copy of what happens to be, Aristotle conceived of poiesis as ranging over what might be in order to create a high-level product of the human intellect for reflection and the development of character. Across the literary tradition, poiesis developed into a full-fledged theory of literary creativity. Operating between a realist pole and an imaginative pole, poiesis countenances both probabilities and improbabilities as it creates its lively enactments according to changing forms and contexts. From Aristotle’s poiesis to Fowler’s poioumenon to Tolkien’s mythopoiesis, the term shifts back and forth between the act of making, the thing made, and the world made. Although any number of determinist accounts have attempted to explain poiesis, poiesis in our time ultimately becomes an indispensable product of human consciousness. Poiesis expands awareness beyond the immediacy of what is apparent in order to understand the nature of things close and remote, real and unreal, in local settings vividly realized through the medium of literary art.

Article

Greek Myth  

Greta Hawes

Myths frequently intersect Greek religion, but Greek myth is neither coterminous with ancient ritual nor merely an appendix to it. The ancient poets and writers who took up the tasks of narrating, explaining, and expanding it did so with considerations which went far beyond the strictly religious. In antiquity myths were a repertoire of narratives which took place in a story-world located in a distant past which stretched from the beginnings of the universe to several generations after the return of the Heraclids to the Peloponnese. This repertoire featured episodes, events, genealogies, gods, and heroes that were shared across the Greek world, but within this common cultural paradigm there was broad tolerance for continual invention and improvisation: contingent local concerns fueled constant creation and manipulation of these stories. This apparent contradiction between a common canon and the mass of mutually contradictory variants and versions that it comprised is paralleled by the way that these myths could be simultaneously held up as paramount expressions of Hellenic culture while intersecting in significant ways with the traditions of the Greeks’ neighbors. Myths were used among ancient Greek communities in broadly etiological ways: they explained why the world of the present was as it was. Myths existed to explain landscape features, political structures, regional alliances, ethic affiliations, cultic rituals, and theological principles. Myths could also be used in rationalistic modes to offer up a historicist vision of the past and in allegorical modes to illustrate philosophical paradigms. Greek myth remains a rich and varied body of stories with an intricate reception history. Nonetheless, what we know of it in antiquity is limited by the patterns of its survival. For the most part, preservation was through written sources (extant poetic and prose literature, documents from epigraphy, and papyri) and material evidence (statuary, votives, vase painting, wall painting, coins, and decorative objects). Although the context of these sources can offer radically different perspectives on myths, the viewpoint is most typically that of the elites.

Article

The Politics and Aesthetics of Utopian Literature: From the “Golden Age” Myth to the Renaissance  

Antonis Balasopoulos

From its earliest beginnings in the Western world to the end of the Renaissance, utopian literature has developed in four primary ways: as myth about the blissful but vanished past of humanity; as prophecy about a future state of bliss, particularly in millennial visions of the post-apocalyptic kingdom of God; as explicitly posited philosophical and rationalist speculation on how an ideal or at least plausibly better city and society could be attained; and as full-blown fiction, which deploys a range of fictional speech acts. Though in certain ways its ideational origins lie in a rich interplay of topoi derived from mythic antiquity and from the Hellenistic, Roman, and early Christian cultural world, utopian literature in its most formally complex form—that of the utopian fiction—only arises in the Renaissance. In this form, which will ultimately yield the utopian novel of the 19th century, the literary utopia occupies an idiosyncratic position between realism and fantasy fiction, lacking grounding in verisimilar space or time, but also eschewing the ahistoricism and escapism of fantasy. Utopian literature has been mostly understood in terms of moral and sociological functions, ranging from its utility as an instrument of anticipation, or at least fertile speculation about the possible and desirable, to its ability to posit norms and regulatory ideals or, more negatively, its penchant for dogmatism and the abstractions of blueprint and method. A different picture emerges, however, if one considers utopias from the standpoint of how they produce social meaning—an approach that foregrounds the role of textual and semiotic factors without making ethical assumptions about the better or worse character of utopian textual worlds. At stake, rather, is the grasp of utopian literature in terms of an organizational imaginary, according to which society is something that can be beneficially re-formed and rearranged after first being critically analyzed as to its constitutive elements and institutions. At their earliest, utopias were the repository of myths about a world free from the pains of labor and the horrors of war, from greed and often from private property as well. By the time of Plato’s philosophical writings in the 4th century bce, utopian vision had become at once more modest and more realistic and technical, most prominently in its connection to social engineering. The earliest elements of playful fictionality emerge in the Hellenistic world, which incorporates the theme of travel and the element of the marvelous, often in a satirical vein. The early Christian world tends toward a divide between allegorical abstraction, particularly in elite versions of Christian Neoplatonism, and the more heterodox possibilities of divinely mediated subversion of established social forms and structures in the millenarianism of the lower classes. The Renaissance utopia, finally, emerges after Sir Thomas More’s homonymous text of 1516 as a complex synthesis and mediation between elite and subaltern pursuits, antiquity and modernity, Christian morality and scientific materialism, constituting utopists themselves as mediators and guarantors of social harmony in an otherwise rapidly changing and turbulent world.

Article

The Indian Novel in the 21st Century  

Amardeep Singh

The Indian novel has been a vibrant and energetic expressive space in the 21st century. While the grand postcolonial gestures characteristic of the late-20th-century Indian novel have been in evidence in new novels by established authors such as Vikram Chandra, Amitav Ghosh, and Salman Rushdie, a slate of new authors has emerged in this period as well, charting a range of new novelistic modes. Some of these authors are Kiran Desai, Aravind Adiga, Githa Hariharan, Samina Ali, Karan Mahajan, and Amitava Kumar. In general, there has been a move away from ambitious literary fiction in the form of the “huge, baggy monster” that led to the publication of several monumental postcolonial novels in the 1980s and 1990s; increasingly the most dynamic and influential Indian writing uses new novelistic forms and literary styles tied to the changing landscape of India’s current contemporary social and political problems. The newer generation of authors has also eschewed the aspiration to represent the entirety of life in modern India, and instead aimed to explore much more limited regional and cultural narrative frameworks. If a novel like Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children (1981) took its protagonist all over the Indian subcontinent and indexed a large number of important historical controversies in the interest of broad representation, Padma Viswnanathan’s The Toss of a Lemon (2008) limits itself to a focus on a single Tamil Brahmin family’s orientation to issues of caste and gender, and remains effectively local to Tamil Nadu. There is no central agenda or defining idiom of this emerging literary culture, but three major groupings can be identified that encapsulate the major themes and preoccupations of 21st-century Indian fiction: “New Urban Realism,” “Gender and Secular History,” and “Globalizing India, Reinscribing the Past.”

Article

Erotic Representations of the Divine  

Yudit Kornberg Greenberg

Erotic representations of the divine occupy a pivotal place in religious myths, poetry, liturgy, and theology. Reading eros as a category of religious love highlights its ubiquitous presence in sacred literary sources; moreover, it renders the nexus of erotic love and the divine critical to comprehending religiosity as an immanent and embodied phenomenon, rather than as an abstract idea. As an embodied phenomenon, religious love is subject to an investigation of topics such as gender and sexuality, and its multiple cultural meanings and contexts. Western philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, (Pseudo-)Dionysius, and the Neoplatonist renaissance thinker Leone Ebreo, delineate a hierarchy or a “ladder of love” differentiating lesser and higher subjects and objects of love from love of the particular, to the universal, cosmic, and divine. An interrelated distinction is ascertained between “desire” as a state of lack often seen as a lower state, and “love” as the higher state, in which fulfillment and joy of the union with the object of one’s love is achieved. Love and desire as marked yet interrelated emotions are contextualized in religious phenomena cross-culturally, most obviously in theistic frameworks in which a personal and intimate relationship with the divine is an ideal. Poetry and autobiography are the most common genre of depicting the intimate and passionate encounter of human and divine. Despite the prominence of male voices in the sources, the contributions of medieval Christian and Muslim women mystics to this literature are significant. Key base-texts from which mystics and philosophers are inspired and draw upon to elucidate their own personal experience of yearning for the divine, include the biblical Song of Songs, Bhagavata Purana (Book 10), and the Gitagovinda. Although the yearning for the divine, associated with an emotional, embodied state and therefore seen as problematic from a rational perspective, this yearning is also a cherished state, even for rationalists such as the medieval Jewish thinker Moses Maimonides. The significance of erotic love for the divine is confirmed, not only by Sufi and Hindu bhakti poets such as Rumi and Jayadeva, but also by philosophers such as Ibn Arabi and Rupa-Goswami. The idiom of erotic desire and love for God is particularly poignant and integral not only in poetry but also in theology, as exemplified in Hindu bhakti and Christian theology. Exploring the meanings of erotic love in religious poetry, theology, liturgy, and the history of religion more broadly offers a rich scholarly and personal medium for contemplating the reality of human and divine nature.