Beyond the Witch Trials: Witchcraft and Magic in Enlightenment Europe

By Owen Davies; William de Blécourt | Go to book overview

2
Pro exoneratione sua propria coscientia:
magic, witchcraft and Church in early
eighteenth-century Capua

Augusto Ferraiuolo

The following discussion is concerned with accusations of magic, which were formalised as denunciations heard by the Inquisition of the Archdiocese of Capua, a city twelve miles north of Naples, during the first half of the eighteenth century. What the following discussion will not be doing is providing a detailed socio-cultural exploration of the magical practices and the ecclesiastical attitudes towards them, as has been done so ably by David Gentilcore.1 Rather, it will examine the stylistic and rhetorical mechanisms that emerge from the documents. It will approach the records as texts rather than as accusations.2 In this way it is possible to define a narrative that, within its own rules of creation and moulding, resulted in a specific social transaction.3 It is also possible to explore the cultural models pre-dating the narrated events, which determined the narrative lines of the formal record.4 Conducting a semiotic textual analysis allows us to individualise a hypothetical replicable level, and an equally hypothetical logic of possible narratives.5

Marc Bloch commented that documents do not just show up here and there by the will of God. Their presence or absence in an archive or a library depends on human activities which are open to analysis in different ways.6 Thus even the problems connected with their transmission are matters of historical interest. These issues were highlighted in all their importance by Foucault, who expressed his perplexity about the idea of the document as inert matter, through which historians reconstruct what other people have said or done.7 He propounded the idea of a documentary texture where it is necessary to insulate, assemble, make relevant, relate and cluster a multitude of elements. History transforms documents into monuments, suggested Le Goff.8 In other words, the document is not neutral.9 It is the result of a conscious or unconscious construction made by history. The document, from this point of view, is an attempt by those in the past to impose on the future a certain image of themselves. According to Le Goff, therefore, every document is a lie. This is why it is necessary to deconstruct the document as a cultural artefact with the purpose of analysing the nature of its production.

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