zondag 19 juni 2016

Bread of Dreams - Digest: '6. The World Turned Upside Down'

"If winter was always very difficult for the poor, existence became all the more trying in the years of famine, and the most defenceless found themselves 'lying on the ground, poor and wretched'. They sought refuge inside the straw, on refuse and manure. Tormented by chilblains, racked by coughs, infested by lice and ringworm and emanating intolerable smells - wandering dung-heaps, who in 'their own dung even grow fat / I as if they were beetles or worms', unsatiated stomachs 'where the dung both leaves and enters' (Baldassare Bonifacio) - they slowly came back to life when the warm weather arrived and the pangs of hunger lessened; famine seemed in retreat. The exultation of the survivors fed the unjustified illusions of future health, strength and vigour. The discouraging images of prostration and starvation were put away." [...] The resurrection of the famished beggars - the 'half dead' with ashen and dried-out skin - and the abandoning of the bed of dung and the wrapping of straw, indicated the first part of a return to a more humansocial dimension. [...] The disasters of a hunger epidemic, of a seven-year famine (like the one which raged in much of northern Italy between 1590 and 1597), left marks too profound to be wiped out from one day to the next. [...] The accelerated deterioration of physical and mental health during the years of stupefying starvation was for many people an irreversible process towards intellectual disorderand degradation that the return to 'normal' - to the low level of daily undernourishment - would not succeed in wiping out."
(Camporesi 1996, '6. The World Turned Upside Down', pp. 78-79)

"The image of the world, seen from below, appears uncertain, flawed, ambiguous, unbalanced and unhomogeneous, as in the visions of the drugged and the possessed. [...] The natural and divine order is broken up and altered: chaos takes priority over a rational design that presupposes a centre towards which the whole immense periphery converges in unity. The 'expanded conscience' overflows everywhere. The same articulation of time changes the frame of reference:
'time outside of time' is posed as the anti-model of 'time that is within time'. The progressive is nullified in the regressive.
The city of Balordia (literally, 'folly'), kingdom of the idle, lives in a mythology of ebb and flow, unanchored in historical time. This compensatory dream projected from the popular utopia conquers ever more extensive territories in which 'superior' rationality no longer finds a place. [...]
The pauper/slacker lives in the 'time of laziness': the metahistorical time of predictability and insecurity institutionalized in security, set loose from working time, the risk of the future and the fear of history.

Bruegel, Het Land van Kokanje (Luilekkerland), 1567,  olieverf op paneel52 x 78 cm, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Alte Pinakothek, MĂĽnchen, inv. 8940

Land of Cockaigne, in the drugged logic of the impossible, becomes a driving image, able to penetrate the mental cosmos in which the natural (and the real) have been supplanted by the artificial and the unreal. In this dream universe, the mechanical and physical laws no longer make sense: macaroni falls from heaven like edible rain; the earth, no longer worked, miraculously produces pre-cooked foods; the trees do not toss down buds and leaves, but hams and clothes; the animals, their own butchers, spontaneously roast themselves for the comfort of men's stomachs. Work is abolished, time suspended, fatal old age staved off by the fountains of youth, and the women, in their bodily splendour, are triumphant over their straddled and subjected husbands.
But this dismal land of idleness - from which risk has been banished, untouched by the storms of history, without fear and without future - appears sunk in a perspective that is not only dream-like but positively funereal, in a world where plenty is reflected in the negative face of sterility: where nature, overturned, forms inhuman and monstrous landscapes, beyond every possible logic and far from every perspective of life. A 'nature' where the artificial has destroyed the natural, turning it upside down, altering its biological laws, the periods for the maturation of produce and even the time of animal gestation. [...]
(Camporesi 1996, '6. The World Turned Upside Down', pp. 79-80)

"Poverty and madness eventually coincide, in the way that the face of a child struck by athrepsia (a diseased condition caused by malnutrition), undernourishment or the mal dal simiot ('monkey disease', as it was known in Modena), his worn-out skin all wrinkled, appeared similar to that of an old senescent monkey.
The double face of puer/senex, dear to the mystic religions, was utilized at the popular level as the concrete image of the overturning of the natural order. The tiny malnourished senescent was placed on a baker's peel, put in the lukewarm oven and taken out three times with the incantation:

'Into the oven you go, and out
you come, so that the monkey
may remain inside.'

The ambiguous, enigmatic, entangled and reversible logic of popular mental stereotypes presents itself as a cultural anti-model which, because of its subtle attraction, also contaminates the rationalistic Aristotelian culture. In the folk vision of the world, preceded by ingenious anachronism, space is presented as a dimension of time and the universe as a place of ordered chaos where the possible and the impossible dwell together in the same percentage of probabilities. Time is either still or is measured with the unabstract metre of sweat and toil. The land that can be ploughed with a pair of oxen from dawn to sunset becomes a day: a unit of time substitutes for a unit of surface area. The years are counted in terms of empty and full, the seesaw of famine and plenty. The 'year of hunger' is placed in the centre of the calendar of the poor. The 'longest day' is the one during which one does not eat. Time becomes an expandable and shrinkable variable, articulated by the stomach's pulsations, the gut's thinning out or filling up and the fatigue of labour. The popular ceremonial of eating also reproposes a different use of time, alternating long days of the most frugal nourishment - a regimen of survival bordering on starvation - with interminable ritual excesses, dietary orgies and colossal feasts, disorder and drunkenness quite different from the noble banquet based entirely on the aesthetic values of food, a visual cuisine to be displayed."
(Camporesi 1996, '6. The World Turned Upside Down', p. 82)

"It is in this social panorama, traversed by profound anxieties and fears, alienating frustrations, devouring and uncontrollable infirmities and dietary chaos that adulterated and stupefying grains contributed to delirious hypnotic states and crises, which could explode into episodes of collective possession or sudden furies of dancing. The forbidden zones, those most contaminated by the ambiguous, ambivalent magic of the sacred, seemed to emanate perverse influences and unleash dark energies. Psychological destitution, together with the torment of an ailing body, acted as detonator of the epileptic attacks and tumultuous and surging group fits, in which men were attracted and repelled by centres of powerful fascination and places of sacrifice, like the altar. The pathological trance into which entire groups fell [...] forms the alarm call originating from a feverish world: a social body altered in its physiological and psychic equilibrium, where 'marvel' could be confused with 'miracle', which in its turn could appear as 'trickery', 'enchantment' or 'diabolical invocation'.
The horrible dances of the sick inside churches, where the troubled presence of the contaminated and the impure was united with the consecrated and the supernatural, resulted in spectacular, bewildering performances. [...]"
(Camporesi 1996, '6. The World Turned Upside Down', pp. 83-84)

"At Ferrara in 1596, according to the Modenese chronicler Giovan Battista Spaccini, it is believed that the cause of many illnesses, of which numerous people even die, is the bad breads which the people eat, namely that of beans, cabbage and plain oil'. (G. B. Spaccini, Cronaca modenese (1588-1636), ed. G. Bertoni, T. Sandonnini and P.E. Vicini (Modena: Ferraguti, 1911), I, p. 38)
The dark spectre of food poisoning and the crisis (even fatal) of 'evil' breads weighed heavily on
the cities of the Duchies and Papal Legations. Because of the criminal intervention of cynical speculators, 'vulgar' bread could sometimes hide destructive traps. Or else, as happened at Modena in 1592, it could lead to a dangerous slide into the dull and delirious senselessness of intoxification.
Adulterated breads had been put into circulation by the untori of the Public Health: criminal attacks orchestrated by the 'provisionary judges' who were supposed to oversee the well-balanced  provisioning of the public-square.

'On the 21st, a Sunday, with Monday approaching, Master ...
[blank in the manuscript] Forni, Judge of provisions in the square
of Modena, was arrested, along with the bakers, for having had
forty sacks of bay leaf ground to be put in the wheat flour to make
bread for the square, where it caused the poverty to those who
bought it to worsen, so that for two days there were many people
sick enough to go crazy, and during this time they could not work or
help their families.'  (Spaccini, Cronaca modenese, I, pp. 3-4)"

(Camporesi 1996, '6. The World Turned Upside Down', pp. 84-85)

"Temporarily losing their reason or permanently weltering in hunger, many peasants preferred to leave home and turn to begging rather than helplessly witness their children's agony. Changed into a 'house of death', the hut becomes a murderous trap and tomb for the least protected:

'a few days ago [April 1601] in the town of Reggio . . . a peasant,
along with his wife, so as not to see their three sons perish from
hunger in front of their eyes, locked them in the house and set out in
the name of heaven. After three days had passed the neighbours,
not having seen them, decided to knock down the door, which they
did. And they found two of the sons dead, and the third dying with
straw in his mouth, and on the fire there was a pot with straw inside
which was being boiled in order to make it softer for eating.'
(Spaccini, Cronaca modenese, II (1919), p. 117)"

(Camporesi 1996, '6. The World Turned Upside Down', p. 85)

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