Tag Archives: discontinuity

Communities of Violence

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Communities of Violence: Persecution of Minorities in the Middle Ages by David Nirenberg from Princeton University Press:

David Nirenberg's Communities of Violence from Princeton University Press


Nirenberg particularizes and differentiates the forms of violence against various minorities in 14th-century Aragon. By recognizing immediate functions and motives, he calls into question received metanarratives on the topic of the persecution of religious minorities. He makes rich use of both Christian and Jewish archival resources, including correspondence, edicts, and judicial and financial records.

In his opening arguments, Nirenberg criticizes what he calls a “structuralist” approach to the topic of medieval persecutions, exemplified by Robert Moore (but also present in the works of Norman Cohn and Carlo Ginzburg). He recognizes and objects to both romanticized histories of Iberian convivencia (e.g. N. Roth) and lachrymose history (Ytzakh Baer).

He theorizes violence and aggression as “forms of association” which help to reify cultural and religious boundaries, and to facilitate forms of coexistence. As a result, he comes to assert the interdependence of violence and tolerance in the multi-religious environment of medieval Iberia (and by implication, throughout medieval Europe).

In the last chapter and epilogue, he presents his most intriguing efforts to problematize the approach to medieval persecutions as symptoms of mentalites evolved over a long duree. On the one hand, he provides a detailed account of the anti-Jewish riots of Holy Week, to emphasize the ritual and customary dimensions of persecuting violence. In this case, he tries to outline a somewhat symbiotic “marriage of enemies” being transacted between Christians and Jews. And then as something of a counterbalance, he discusses the pogroms of 1348 and their context. In this case, he addresses the sense of narrative discontinuity and transformation in exemplary violence, suggesting that on this basis it should not be considered a barometer of persistent changes. [via]



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