Academic journal article German Quarterly

Blutige Worte: Internationales und interdisziplinäres Kolloquium zum Verhältnis von Sprache und Gewalt in Mittelalter und Früher Neuzeit

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Blutige Worte: Internationales und interdisziplinäres Kolloquium zum Verhältnis von Sprache und Gewalt in Mittelalter und Früher Neuzeit

Article excerpt

Medieval and Early Modern Literature and Culture Eming, Jutta, and Claudia Jarzebowski, eds. Blutige Worte: Internationales und interdisziplinäres Kolloquium zum Verhältnis von Sprache und Gewalt in Mittelalter und Früher Neuzeit. Gottingen: V & R unipress, 2008. 232 pp. euro38.90 hardcover.

"Actions speak louder than words." Jutta Eming and Claudia Jarzebowski challenge the accuracy of this old saw with their edited proceedings of the International Interdisciplinary Colloquium on the Relationship between Language and Violence in the Middle Ages and Early Modernity (Free University of Berlin, September 2006). The collection provides convincing proof that in pre-modern cultures words were no less powerful than deeds: it reveals the extraordinarily violent potential of language at a time when speech was perceived not only as hurtful, but even equaling physical action in its efficacy (8), as suggested by the volume's title, Blutige Worte.

Eleven contributions by scholars on both sides of the Atlantic cover roughly six centuries (12th- 18th C), with the late Middle Ages represented the most (Koch, Eming, Lindorfer, Herberich, and Röcke), followed by the high-medieval (Lützelschwab, Westphal-Wihl, and Müller), and two 17th- and one early-18th-century studies (Noak, Bahr, and Jarzebowski, respectively). Despite two obvious omissions, the early Middle Ages and the 15th- 1 6th centuries, one strength of this volume is its chronological and thematic breadth. It addresses both secular and religious traditions as well asa variety of genres, including courtly romance (Westphal-Wihl), medieval comic tales oiMären (Müller), religious moral-didactic writings (Lindorfer), passion plays (Eming), saints' lives (Koch and Lützelschwab), memoir (Jarzebowski), and drama (Noak).

The challenge facing editors of such collections is how to bring their diverse materials together. Here, the claimed solution is an interdisciplinary dialogue between historiography and literary studies. Yet, as the editors themselves acknowledge in their introduction, several historians who had participated in the original colloquium chose to publish their presentations elsewhere (11). Fortunately, the quality of the selected contributions compensates for this imbalance, and the predominance of one perspective ultimately works to everybody's benefit, resulting in a more homogeneous, even if more literary-oriented, volume.

Many articles echo one another, thematically or conceptually. For example, the essays by Elke Koch and Jutta Eming apply Judith Butler's and J. L. Austin's modern theories of performativity to stories of struggle and suffering, such as St. Catherine's legend or Aidsfelder Passionsspiel, i.e., to texts that lend themselves particularly well to the study of violence - physical or verbal. …

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