A Letter To My Students

Written by: Dr Jake Blanc.

A letter to my students:

I do not want to be on strike. None of your lecturers do. We would rather be inside our classrooms giving a lecture, or in a seminar room discussing a reading, or holding office hours to talk through an essay assignment. And given that the outside temperatures have been hovering in the low single digits, coming out to the picket line every morning is far from an easy or cheerful decision.

But we cannot come back in, at least not yet. And please believe me here when I give the reason for why we have to stay outside a little longer. We are on strike for you, our students.

You probably hear that a lot around universities these days. Touch-screen panels in every classroom: for the students! A new survey every week: for the students! Two-for-one Dominos pizza: for the students!

But when I say that me and my colleagues are on strike for you—for the students—it reflects something much more important. Choosing to leave our classrooms, to forego our salary, and to hold up signs on a frozen sidewalk in your name, that is a deeply sincere statement.

Nobody goes into academia for fame or fortune. Unless you study celebrity culture or business history, you are unlikely to experience either or those two words in your daily academic life. Instead, the overwhelming majority of our time is spent thinking about, planning, and delivering pedagogy and mentorship to our students. And I would say that for almost every academic I know, that is precisely why we love our jobs.

But over the past many years (and decades!) universities have changed in ways that make it increasingly difficult, if not outright impossible, for us to give you the education you deserve. You likely have heard that our current strike has four core demands, relating to issues of casualisation, fair pay, equity, and pensions. Like any job that aims to be both part and a model of an inclusive society, ours relies on the foundation of steady employment, adequate compensation, equality amongst all employees, and the security of a dignified livelihood once we stop working. And each of the four relate to vital threads of what allows us to have the personal, financial, and mental wellbeing to come to work every day to help create the type of learning environment in which all members of a university community can thrive.

I won’t go into detail here on the four demands. That information is available elsewhere and, moreover, as a relative newcomer to the UK, I do not want to presume the cultural and institutional knowledge to properly talk through each item. (Though let’s not kid ourselves, our struggle here in Britain is part of the same struggle I would have faced if I had stayed in the U.S. or gone to teach anywhere else in the world).

Instead, I want to reiterate that I see you, that we see you. All of us, your lecturers, your tutors, your supervisors, your support staff, everyone. We all see you. We know that our decision to strike makes you stressed and worried. We know that our choice to keep you from your usual class routine makes you nervous about essays and exams. I’m sure it might even feel like we’re doing this in spite of you—or even worse, against you. Nothing could be further from the truth.

We’re doing this because we are frustrated, and tired, and overworked, and to be honest, pissed off. We are angry that the university has let our conditions, and our workloads, and our hiring practices degrade to such a point that we have to abandon our classrooms just to have our demands be taken seriously. A strike is not a strategy to be used lightly, it is a last-resort, break-glass-in-case-of-emergency type of option. And we are currently in that sort of moment.

Personally, I am three years into what I can hope will be a long career. I’d love nothing more than to devote my professional life to working with several generations of students, where my history courses can serve as a platform for students to make sense of the past, to learn to think critically, to write well, and to engage one another with empathy. If I’m lucky enough, many of you might even follow suit and become my colleagues one day, and then you’ll get to share in the joys of what, when supported properly, is the best job in the world.

But those hopes are contingent on something changing. And for us, that something can only come about by going on strike. We’ve exhausted all other options. Believe me, we don’t want to strike. But we care too much about doing our job well, and we care too much about you and your future, to not see this through.

So thank you for your support. And if not your support, then hopefully at least your trust that when we say we’re doing this for our students, we mean it.

Dr Jake Blanc

Lecturer in Latin American History

Flora MacDonald – Heroine or Traitor?

Written by: Isabelle Sher.

On the 16th of April 1746, the Jacobite rebels were defeated at Culloden by Government troops under the command of William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland. Following the catastrophic defeat of Charles Stuart (better known as ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’), those who remained loyal to the Prince’s cause sought to help him negotiate a means of passage to France, all the time braving the possibility of discovery of his escape by the ‘Redcoats’. In June 1746, Charles and his few remaining loyal supporters arrived at Benbecula, where they enlisted the help of Flora MacDonald. 

Time does little to alter the vivid images of those two short weeks. I have nothing else to occupy me here. The heat in London rages on; the stench of death and fear overpowering. I pray that he, at least, is safe; to regret my own actions is a lost cause. With each fresh sensation of regret I intend to displace it by a determination to rid from my mind what has passed, and what cannot be altered.

I ought not complain, I repeatedly tell myself. I have not been imprisoned in The Tower but placed under the close watch of one of the King’s own messengers. I think of my dear brother Angus and the sheep, the little white specks just visible in the distance of the never-ending twilight of June in Benbecula. I close my eyes and dream of peace. I wonder at the hearts of those Government soldiers, as they rampage across the land like savages; burning all they find. I think back to that fateful night when Hugh O’Neill and Charles Stuart arrived to speak with me. I imagine one could never forget a sight such as the one summoned to stand before me. The prince reeked overpoweringly of alcohol; an abhorrence I could forgive under the circumstances. His deathly pallor contrasted unnaturally with his peeling sunburnt skin. Upon his head was his filthy, louse-ridden periwig, Lord knows why. The men’s voices rasped in a silence disturbed only by gently breaking waves and the odd sheep. They had little regard for how my assistance might ruin the reputation of my chieftain Sir Alexander MacDonald. That wretched O’Neill. I cannot fault my dealings with him, sharp as they were, for inherent in his manner was a detestable cheek. I repeatedly asserted that I would have no part in assisting the Prince and yet against my better judgement I allowed my mind to be turned. My family are no sympathisers to Charles’s cause and were it not for his pitiful condition, and the merciless way in which the Government forces treated our Highlanders, I am certain that even fewer would have come to his aid.

Even then the wretch hardly helped himself; dressed as my maidservant in women’s garb, he did nothing to keep up appearances, though doubtless his drunkenness and pain from the scurvy did little to help. Though I did not think much of it at the time, it is curious to think that the rightful heir to the throne was acting as my own named maidservant, Betty Burke.

I shift uneasily in my cramped confinement. The sun burns brighter still, hot on my face. I long for a breeze. I can hear the men laughing. They can make merry. I can only be melancholy.

I was aghast at the conduct of the Prince, who behaved in such a manner as to arouse the suspicion of everyone on the island following our crossing to Skye. I suspect he was too proud to play the part of a woman, for he would insist on being armed, despite mine and the party’s protestations that a thorough search by Government forces would give him away.

My arrest came several days after the prince and I parted ways. God willing, my life will be spared. From Fort Augustus I was moved to Edinburgh Castle, and then to London. I pray that nothing more terrifying befalls me again, for the unfairness of what has become of me is, I believe, undeserved. I only did as I believe any kind-hearted soul would have done when confronted by so pitiful a man.

The summers are too warm here. I long for the roaring winds and treacherous seas of my homeland. There at least I can witness the liveliness of the world. If it were not for the sheer number of people residing in and amongst this city, London would stand quite still. They say it will begin to cool in a month, for it is nearing September. I hope that they are right.

I wish the prince Godspeed, I tell myself, but I cannot ever wish for his return. 

Image: The Field of Prestonpans, Coloured lithograph by Mouilleron after Sir William Allan, printed by Lemercier, published by E Gambert and Company, 25 Berners Street, London, 1 September 1852. https://collection.nam.ac.uk/detail.php?acc=1971-02-33-303-1

The Ideological Barriers faced by Renaissance Women Humanists

Written by: Joshua Al-Najar.

On a preliminary reading, humanism appears to be wrought with misogynistic tendencies, providing little space for women’s engagement. Joan Kelly-Gadol points to male humanists such as Juan Luis Vives, whose misogynistic writings were informed by Aristotelian biology and the hyper-masculine nature of classical humanism. Women’s apparent biological, religious and historical inferiority inferred that ‘few see her, and none at all hear her.’ Thus, Kelly-Gadol ponders whether the presence of such exclusionary thought renders the term ‘renaissance’ incompatible with the female experience.

Despite these castigations, women humanists contributed considerably to the Querelle des Femmes, an academic movement which sought to define women’s abilities, capacities and function within society. Though scholars such as Kelly have imagined the renaissance as a masculine endeavour, W. Caffero refers to the Querelle as the ‘aspect of women’s experience that fits most comfortably under the “Renaissance” label’. In entering the debate, women utilised the same general humanist framework that their male counterparts had developed, by using themes such as antiquity, religion and value of education. For some, this successfully defended and enhanced women’s status, though contradictions could arise from using a male-oriented paradigm. 

The Querelle is thought to have emerged in earnest with the formative works of Christine de Pizan (1364-c.1430), a Venetian author who lived in France. De Pizan began writing in response to the deeply misogynistic academic climate of her contemporaries, that advocated women’s inferiority. She wrote:

Judging from the treatises of all the philosophers and poets and from all orators […] it seems that they speak from one and the same mouth […] that the behaviour of women is inclined to and full of every vice.

De Pizan contended with the prevailing view of women in her work, Le Livre de la cité des dames (c. 1405). Here, she was given the intellectual space to promote women’s learning and qualities; she creates three allegorical, female figures representing reason, rectitude and justice. They command the creation of a separate city for women, drawing inspiration from the mythological Amazon warriors. Furthermore, she launches into an attack on the sexist views of ancient philosophers, whose writings legitimised her sexist contemporaries. De Pizan’s use of myth and criticism of ancient scholars demonstrated her classical learning, and serves as a rebuff to the idea that women’s education was for the purpose of promoting the chaste, Christian ideal. Her work built upon earlier pieces, such as Boccaccio’s De Mulierbus Claris (1362), but their approaches are distinct: where men, such as Boccaccio, praised women who had overcome their feminine traits, Pizan lauded women on their own terms. In addition, many of the male humanists who highlighted the virtuous nature of some women, did so under the patronage of wealthy, powerful women – Boccacio dedicated his work to Andrea Acciaioli, Countess of Altavilla.

Reference to classical antiquity was a common aspect of male humanism, but it could be deployed to aggrandise women’s status too. This is apparent in the letters of Laura Cereta (1469-1499), of which some eighty are known. In one such example, Cereta addresses ‘Bibolo’ – a play on words, linking men to drunkenness – and uses classical examples of women’s achievement to present the worthiness of their education. She writes of Zenobia’s mastery of Greek; Subbu’s triumph over Solomon; etc. Cereta’s skilled deployment of these classical examples reinforce her own learnedness and justifies her belief education was crucial for ‘all human beings equally.’ She re-works antiquity’s legacy – which had so often been the source of renaissance scholars’ misogyny – into something which can extol the mental capabilities of women. Cereta wrote at a time when women were institutionally barred from higher learning, and even from certain administrative buildings, such as the Florentine Podesta. She writes of herself as a ‘Medusa, who will not be blinded by a few drops of olive oil.’ Therefore, her letters serve as a powerful reminder that women’s intellectual output will weather male anxiety.

At times, women humanists engaged in open critique of such anxieties. The Venetian Lucrezia Marinella’s The Nobility and Excellence of Women and the Defects and Vices of Men (1601) arose in direct response to the deeply misogynistic Dei Donneschi Diffeti (1599) from Guiseppe Passi. Passi’s work derived much of its basis from the Aristotelian concept of the ‘imperfect female’ and the inferiority of Eve to Adam. Marinella lambasts her opponent’s views, dividing her work into two parts: the first extolls the virtues of women, whilst the second lambasts the defaults of men. She cleverly warps many of Passi’s arguments to her own advantage. In one example, she reverses Passi’s critique of women’s beauty and vanity, by utilising neo-Platonic theory to explain ‘what is beautiful outwardly is beautiful inwardly.’ In another, she rejects Aristotle’s theory of female imperfection, by claiming that women are perfect realisations of God’s creation. By arguing in such a manner, Marinella is able to use traditionally masculine arguments to advance women’s case. She not only advocates equality, but asserts women superiority to men, by boldly claiming:

If women […] wake themselves from the long sleep that oppresses them, how meek and humble will those proud men become.

However, in later life, Marinella would come to contradict her earlier ferocity. In the Essirtazioni alle donne e agli altri (1622), Bronzino recorded that Marinella’s religious devotion had strengthened with her age, and that she had renounced much of her earlier writings. Instead, she considered a life of piety and domestic dedication as the pinnacle of womanhood.

Integrating religion could be an issue for women humanists who sought to strengthen their standing in society. The ideal Christian woman was thought to be moral, chaste and somewhat submissive to her husband – her inferior place having been earned by Eve’s folly. In Of the Equal or Unequal Sins of Adam and Eve (1451-3), Isotta Nogarola sparks a literary debate with Ludovico Foscarini, where she attempts to justify Eve’s fault. Somewhat ironically Nogarola defends Eve – and thus, womankind – by conforming to societal understanding of women’s inferiority. She argues that Eve’s apparent weakness was the cause of her error, as oppose to a pride-based motivation, which could be considered guiltier. She also reinforces the imperfection of women by claiming that Adam, as the fully realised man, should have exerted greater control over Eve’s deficiencies. Though Nogarola presents great skill in her argument, her loss is inevitable due to the fact she argues within parameters which consider Eve (and all women) as untrustworthy and weak. Nograola herself was a devout Christian, and was reportedly celibate until her death in 1466. Her compliance with the prevailing, Christian attitude to women somewhat hinders her argument. 

Historiographically, there is some debate. The aforementioned women humanists clearly provide something of an obstacle for theory put forward by Kelly-Gadol. Women’s efforts at defending and enhancing their status display clear engagement with general ‘renaissance’ themes. However, she clearly identifies the adverse effect that some aspects of humanism had on women’s standing. This sentiment has, at times, gone unconsidered by scholars such as Jacob Burckhardt. Burckhardt (1860), mistakenly supported the idea the so-called ‘renaissance individualism had led to “both sexes existing on an equal footing”’.

The reality appears to be somewhere in-between. When defending or enhancing their status, women humanists utilised many of the same arguments as their male counterparts: religion, antiquity and the virtuous nature of education. However, at times, the usage of a male-oriented structure forced contradictions of their argument.

Bibliography

Caferro, William., and Wiley InterScience. Contesting the Renaissance. Contesting the past. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011. 

Laura Cereta, Two ‘Familiar’ Letters, in K. Gouwens (ed.), The Italian Renaissance: The Essential Sources (2004).

Crum, Roger J., and John T. Paoletti. Renaissance Florence: A Social History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Kelly, J. “Did Women Have a Renaissance?” in Renate Bridenthal and Claudia Koonz (eds.) Becoming Visible. Women in European History (1977) Boston 137-165.

Panizza, L. “Introduction to the Translation” in Lucrezia Marinella, The Nobility and Excellence of Women, 1-34.

Elissa B. Weaver “Gender” Chapter 11 of A Companion to the Worlds of the Renaissance, edited by Guido Ruggiero, 2007, Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 

Image Source: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08sksb4

Review: A Tale of Two Cities by Jesse Hoffnung-Garskof

Written by: Lewis Twiby.

New York City remains one of the most culturally diverse cities in the United States having seen immigration from across the world for centuries. One of the many communities to call New York home is the Dominican community which Jesse Hoffnung-Garskof looks at in his 2008 book A Tale of Two Cities: Santo Domingo and New York after 1950. Hoffnung-Garskof offers an interesting insight into how diasporas and culture are formed. He is also keen to stress that diasporas do not exist in a vacuum – they interact with both the ‘homeland’ and other diasporas.

As expected, Hoffnung-Garskof begins his book in the capital of the Dominican Republic – Santo Domingo. Here he explores the twin ideas which would shape Dominican history: progreso and cultura. Progreso, the idea that Dominicans were moving to an improved life, and cultura, the concept that Dominicans had to exhibit certain cultural tropes to achieve progreso, would shape both Santo Domingo and New York. A recurrent theme throughout the book is how progreso and cultura evolved in the context of migration. Rural Dominicans saw Santo Domingo as being one of the most important places contributing to cultura, but New York was seen as the pinnacle of cultura. These ideas were also in flux thanks to the turbulent politics of the republic – the genocidal rule of Rafael Trujillo lasted until his assassination in 1961, followed by the dictatorship of Joaquin Balaguer, US occupation, and a turbulent revolution. In Santo Domingo, Hoffnung-Garskof, relies heavily on oral testimony: emerging barrios (which became shantytowns) saw an explosion of grassroots culture and political activism giving ample opportunity to hear subaltern voices. For example, Hoffnung-Garskof shows how cultura was seen as being Catholic, speaking Spanish, and, unfortunately, racialised against Haitians where those in the barrios turned cultura on its head. Political radicals would have their meetings at church services, and young men would play loud music in Spanish as a way to rebel without being attacked by the police.

Moving away from Santo Domingo, Hoffnung-Garskof then takes us to Washington Heights, Manhattan where the Dominican diaspora emerged. Originally, the diaspora was made up of radicals exiled by either Trujillo or Balaguer, but as air costs became cheaper, more and more Dominicans moved to the land of ‘progeso y cultura.’ In what is perhaps the most interesting section of the book Hoffnung-Garskof looks at how the newly arrived Dominicans became racialised in Manhattan. These Dominicans were from a middle-class background back in the Dominican Republic but found themselves in a working-class situation; this caused a paradoxical situation when returning home to visit family members. Dominicans would engage in American consumerism which their family would take as signs of wealth, but domínicanes de Nueva York had to try to explain that they were not wealthy. Meanwhile, they were forced into the racialised world of American society. For generations, Dominicans had considered themselves ‘white’ against ‘black’ Haitians, which caused Trujillo to massacre thousands of Haitians to ‘whiten’ the country, but they were not seen this way in Washington Heights. The area had large Irish, Jewish, African-American, and Puerto Rican communities, so Dominicans were forced to reinvent their identity based on the ever-changing categories of class, race, and culture in Manhattan. Hoffnung-Garskof effectively shows this with his wide range of oral testimony from various community members in Manhattan – easily the strongest aspect of the book is his ample usage of first-hand testimony. However, he could have expanded Manhattan’s history of immigration here a lot more. Jewish and Irish communities are mentioned, but are somewhat overlooked, and the city’s vibrant East Asian, Cuban, Arabic, South Asian, and African diasporas are entirely ignored. It would have been interesting to see how they factored into the Dominican experience in shaping their identity.

Hoffnung-Garskof in the early 1990s worked as a social worker for Dominican families in the Washington Heights schools, and his lengthy discussion of diasporas in schools is his most detailed section. Again, using interviews he manages to recreate, in detail, the various lives of Dominican students, and how they forged their own lives. We see some using their wealth to become doctors, others joining African-American rights groups like Umoja to fight for rights, or clash with African-Americans and Puerto Ricans over racial animosities. Reading it you can tell this has been a passion of his for a long time, and how deeply he cares about the community. This is especially visible when he discusses the crack epidemic of the 1990s – Washington Heights became synonymous with drug crime in the US media. He rebukes many of the common motives associated with Dominicans during the time, showing it was a crisis of capital rather than a moral failing. My favourite point was his criticism of leading attorney, and later New York mayor and Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani for targeting Dominican youths in his exposé on crack, but entirely ignoring the crack epidemic of the Wall Street elite. However, as Hoffnung-Garskof is so invested in the lives of the people of Washington Heights, it does break the flow of the entire narrative. He was so eager to show us the entirety of Washington Heights that we read biography after biography in just two chapters making it, at times, hard to read. If anything, and hopefully he might do this in the future, these narratives could become their very own piece of historical writing.

Finally, I just want to quickly discuss how Hoffnung-Garskof links diasporas to the ‘homeland.’ As mentioned earlier, the diaspora was not cut-off from the Dominican Republic – ranging from family visits ‘home’ at Christmas to exiled leftists waiting for the fall of the US-backed regime. Here the twin ideas of cultura and progreso come into play. On the one hand, the New York based community were seen with a sense of pride back in Santo Domingo. The regular Dominican Day parades, growing affluence of the community, and even Dominicans partaking in beauty pageants were viewed as Dominicans achieving progreso – they had become the immigrant community to be emulated. However, they were simultaneously degraded as going against cultura. Women going out of the home, children engaging in American consumerism, and the adoption of American fashions were viewed as Dominicans becoming too Americanised. Domínicannewyork was invented to lambast a diaspora deemed too American. Nevertheless, American-based Dominicans still viewed themselves as ‘Dominican’ and not ‘Dominican-American.’ Newspapers like Ahora! reported on events in both New York and Santo Domingo, and the right to vote in Dominican elections was eventually granted to the diaspora. Hoffnung-Garskof ensures that the themes of cultura and progreso are never forgotten in the narrative.

For anyone interested in the histories of immigration, the formation of identity, and diasporas then A Tale of Two Cities is a must read. Almost, at times, needing a smoother narrative, Hoffnung-Garskof’s investment in the diaspora makes it an engaging read, and the abundancy of oral testimony turns the names on the pages into living, breathing people. He has recently released a book about Cubans and Puerto Ricans in New York, so hopefully we can see more of his writing soon.

Total Military Politics: The Rise of Japanese Fascism

Written by: Jack Bennett.

The execution of Kita Ikki, the so-called ‘Father of Japanese Fascism,’ in 1937, whose ‘Outline Plan for the Revolution of Japan’ (1919) emphasised principles of nationalistic socialism, reveals the violent descent of Japan into a totalised political and economic system of control from 1925 through to 1945. 

Rising ultranationalism, militarism, and state capitalism under the early reign of the Showa Emperor Hirohito, defined Japanese politics and society as ‘statist’ from the 1920s through to the 1940s. The reverberations of global events and shifting economic and political dynamics during the 1920s and 1930s directly influenced the domestic character of Japan. 1920s Japan was a decade of transition and contradiction, with limited democracy and freedom. Despite the General Election Law in 1925 introducing universal suffrage for all men, in the same year the Peace Preservation Law simultaneously introduced strict parameters on political speech and behaviour, enforced by the Special Higher Police, who rooted out communists and later anti-war elements throughout Japan. 

Following the 1929 Wall Street Crash and the onset of the global depression, Japan slumped into the Showa Depression period from 1930-32, with WPI (Wholesale Price Index) falling by 30 per cent, agricultural prices by 40 per cent, and textile prices by nearly 50 per cent. From 1931, rural impoverishment became manifestly severe and widespread, exploitative regimes of landlordism throughout Japan resulted in the 1934 Tohoku famine. The response to which was a rural radicalisation in pursuit of economic justice, with popular criticism of government and industry. This economic and social dissolution produced an upsurge in military and right-wing political power through the public disillusionment towards traditional political governments. Consequently, developing into a period known as the ‘Politics of Assassination.’ Most notably, the May 15 Incident of 1932, in which young naval officers assassinated Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi, as well as the later February 26 Incident in 1936 saw a failed coup by the Japanese Imperial Army towards the government of Prime Minister Keisuke Okada. In the aftermath of these events, military influence over the civilian government grew significantly. This allowed for the transition away from economic liberalism and towards greater state economic control and management. These increasingly fascist modes of organisation and thought during the 1930s, emphasised the virtues of cooperation, and the suppression of individual needs or wants to further the goals of the collective, in particular, economic development and industrialisation within all areas of Japanese society. 

Consequently, greater totalitarian, militarist, and aggressive foreign expansionist ideals were espoused by the imperial politico-military leadership of Japan. From the 1920s onwards, the Japanese were becoming increasingly entrenched on mainland Asia, through the control of former Russian railroads in Manchuria and Outer Mongolia. This was economically vital and underpinned Japan’s strategic influence in northern China. Through a constant Japanese military presence in Chinese lands and a weapons trade with local warlords, the Japanese functioned as an imperial power in the region. However, the Chinese nationalist threat continued to expand during this period, weakening Japan’s influence over the Manchurian warlords. This resulted in the Jinan Incident of 1928, between the Northern Expedition and the Imperial Japanese Army, underscoring Chiang Kai Shek’s proclamation of Japan as the main threat to China at this time. Therefore, within the political-military dual government of Japan there developed vehement criticism of the ‘Shidehara Diplomacy’ for being too soft on China amidst an expanding sphere of Japanese imperial assimilation. 

The culmination of these rising military tensions was the 1931 Manchurian Incident and the formation of the Japanese-controlled satellite state of Manchukuo. It was motivated by total war economics and forward national defence of the Japanese archipelago. In response, the Chinese military attempted to utilise international law, upheld by the League of Nations, contributing to the Lytton Committee investigation of 1932, which concluded Japan’s invasion was unjustified. In response, Japan left the League of Nations, effectively became a ‘rogue state,’ in opposition to Anglo-American interests.  This proved a major turning point in the progression of Japan into a fully-fledged fascist state. With the ramping-up of military engagements in China in the same year and with an unsuccessful invasion of Shanghai, forcing the Tanggu Ceasefire the following year. Then, in 1936, Japan signed the Anti-Comintern Pact, providing an early link with Nazi Germany and the fulfilment of globally connected fascist ideological frameworks. 

Mirroring these increasingly aggressive and totalitarian expansionist foreign policy objectives, through the Second Sino-Japanese war of 1937-41, a fascist economic model was introduced in Japan with total military mobilisation under the National Mobilisation Law of 1938, allowing for control of the zaibatsu to fuel the ever-growing war machine of Japan. This included extreme direct investment in the new state of Manchukuo, with the construction of new cities, mines, and railroads. Interestingly, these autocratic socio-economic modes of development were both imported and exported between Japan and mainland Asia during this period. Alongside, the development of both a Central Price Committee and Central Planning Board directed national and private enterprise energies towards the enemy. Then, in September 1940, Japan signed the Tripartite Pact with the Axis powers of Nazi Germany and Italy, simultaneously establishing closer connections with Germany, in order to separate them from assisting China, preventing Soviet expansion Eastwards, and dissuading the United States from entering the war. 

Under Prime Minister Kanoe Fumimaro, between June 1937 and January 1939 and again from July 1940 to October 1941, there was an increased focus on the mollification of military men, alongside the expansion of Japanese influence across Asia and preparation for the future race war. This is elucidated through the creation, in August 1940, of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere by Japan, emphasising Japan’s imperial unification and pursuit of Pan-Asianism. While, political totalitarian control was extended into the depths of Japanese society. Crucially, Japan became a single-party state following the dissolution of political parties and the creation of the Imperial Rule Assistance Association (IRAA). Numerous state-controlled social organisations were created, including: the Neighbourhood Association, to police people’s behaviour on a local community level; the Great Japanese Women’s Association, which cooperated with the IRAA to provide grass-roots, family-oriented management; as well as the Youth Association, controlling education and military development. Between December 1937 and February 1938, the Imperial Japanese government violently suppressed subversive members of society, in what became known as the Popular Front Incident. Additionally, in July 1940, the politician Saito Takao was evicted from the Diet due to this criticism of the Japanese war effort. Thus, through authoritarian methods of manipulation, violence and control, the Japanese state became increasingly invasive throughout the late 1930s and increasingly more-so during World War II. 

It is intriguing to compare the fascism of Japan with that of its Nazi German and Italian counterparts during this period. Distinctly, Japan did not experience a mass movement or cult of the supreme leader, but instead a heavy stress on agrarianism and a central role for military officers in national control. Further to this, a high degree of consistency, through the political culture, was tacitly assumed. However, despite the extremely homogeneous nature of Japanese society, there were wide variations in values and behaviour, founded in geographical or class differences. Ultimately, from initially balancing limited democratic values with elements of control and regulation in the 1920s, to external expansion throughout the 1930s, and the protracted war across the Asia-Pacifc region until 1945, Japan progressively developed ever-greater fascist modes of social, economic, and military state-controlled, authoritarianism throughout this period. 

Bibliography

Berger, Gordon M, “Politics and Mobilization in Japan, 1931–1945,” in The Cambridge History of Japan, ed. Peter Duus (Cambridge, 1989).

Duus, Peter; Okimoti, Daniel I., “Fascism and the History of Pre-War Japan: The Failure of a Concept,” The Journal of Asian Studies, 1 (1979): 65-76.

McCormack, Gavan. “1930s JAPAN: Fascist?” Social Analysis: The International Journal of Social and Cultural Practice, 5/6 (1980): 125-43.

Tansman, Alan, The Culture of Japanese Fascism, (Durham, 2009). 

Yoshimi, Yoshiaki, Grassroots Fascism: The War Experience of the Japanese People, (New York, 2015).

 Image source: https://theuniversalspectator.wordpress.com/2016/07/16/fascism-whats-old-will-be-new-again-in-japan/

The Arnolfini Portrait and the Limits of Interpretation

Written by: Tristan Craig.

Hung in the fifteenth-century Netherlandish painting room of the National Gallery, Jan van Eyck’s 1434 Arnolfini Portrait has been a source of intrigue, mystery and vastly differing readings since its purchase by the gallery in 1842. Measuring just under one metre in height, this oil panel – commonly understood to be a member of the prominent Italian Arnolfini family and his wife – is replete with detail. Such a wealth of imagery has invited a great deal of scholarly debate concerning how to interpret the artwork however, when even the identity of the painting’s subjects cannot be confirmed with absolute certainty, uncovering the true intention of van Eyck’s masterpiece is no small task.

A pivotal work in the study of the painting is a 1934 thesis published in the Burlington Magazine by art historian Erwin Panofsky. An expert in analysing iconography and symbolism in art of the Northern Renaissance, the impetus for Panofsky’s reading was an earlier theory presented by Louis Dimier who believed the couple to be Jan van Eyck and his wife. Panofsky disagreed with this interpretation of ‘Johannes de Eyck fuit hic’ (an inscription on the wall behind the couple which translates as ‘Jan van Eyck was here’), believing it to signify that the artist was present as a witness rather than a bridegroom. However, in the inventories of Margaret of Austria in what Panofsky termed the “orthodox theory”, the male figure in the panel was declared as one ‘Arnoult fin’; adopting this stance, Panofsky asserted that the couple must therefore be Giovanni Arnolfini and his wife, Jeanne de Cename. He then argued, with convincing reasoning, that it not only represented a nuptial scene but served as a pictorial wedding contract, citing that the clandestine nature of the wedding would necessitate such a unique testimony from van Eyck.

Several counter arguments were presented to Panofsky’s theory in subsequent years. In 1994, art historian Edwin Hall published The Arnolfini Betrothal in which he argued that the painting was not a wedding scene, but rather commemorated an engagement. However, both theories rested on the supposition that the gentleman in the painting was the same man. Unchallenged for decades, later findings would expose a tremendous flaw in this assumption, shattering the foundations upon which both theories rested. Whilst Panofsky refers in his text simply to a ‘Giovanni Arnolfini,’ the name was shared by two members of the family, both of whom lived in Bruges when van Eyck was active: Giovanni de Arrigo Arnolfini – who was married to Jeanne de Cename and who Panofsky believes are the couple depicted – and his cousin, Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini. The discovery of another inventory would be his undoing; ducal accounts confirmed that the former Arnolfini cousin and Jeanne were not wed until 1447, 13 years after the ‘matrimonial’ artwork was completed. If it was Giovanni de Arrigo Arnolfini, it could not be a nuptial scene. Lorne Campbell, former Beaumont Senior Research Curator at the National Gallery and responsible for the gallery’s catalogue of Fifteenth Century Netherlandish Paintings, claimed that the couple were di Nicolao Arnolfini and his wife, Costanza Trenta. But again, a critical problem arose with this attribution – Constanza Trenta died in 1433. It could be that, as Lorne Campbell suggests, di Nicolao was wed for a second time very soon after the death of this first wife, but no evidence has been uncovered to support this notion.

However, whilst the majority of scholarship supports the concept that the painting depicts a conjugal scene – which throws into serious question the identity of the couple – it may convey a dramatically different tale. The majority of Panofsky’s argument centres on his interpretation of the many objects interspersed throughout the scene, such as the solitary candle burning in a chandelier directly above the male Arnolfini’s head. For Panofsky, it can have only one meaning; not serving any practical purposes of illumination, he states emphatically that it relates to the matrimonial oath. But in fifteenth-century artistic convention, the burning candle served other purposes of a much more sombre ilk. Presenting her own findings in 2003, art historian, Margaret Koster introduces the burning candle as a symbol of life, but that the extinguished candle over Constanza’s head may in actuality signify her death. The symbolic counter-arguments do not end there: the small dog at the feet of the couple, which for Panofsky represents marital fidelity, was also a common trope in female tomb effigies as they were believed to accompany them into the afterlife. Incidentally, Panofsky notes the similarities in the stance of the couple to Roman sarcophagi but cites this reference as little more than a possible ‘influence.’ The mirror hung on the wall above van Eyck’s signature too has prompted speculation; whilst Panofsky does not probe its inclusion beyond reflecting the couple, Koster states that it’s a device often used in vanitas paintings. Like the memento mori, such compositions denote the fragility of life and inevitability of death. In such paintings, mirrors represent both vanity and truth, and its inclusion in a convex form within the Arnolfini Portrait may signify a distorted perception of the world; the reality of the married couple portrayed in actuality being a melancholic figment of imagination.

It also ought to be stated that what Panofsky considers deliberate or ‘disguised symbolism’ purposely included by Jan van Eyck may in fact be incidental. He goes into great deal in elaborating the purpose of the small dog at the feet of the Arnolfini’s as a representation of faith; whilst it may have a more sorrowful purpose, it may also simply be a beloved lapdog, another common feature in artwork of the period. Indeed, the marital vow that Panofsky attests the couple are taking based on their hand gestures (note that the examples he uses show the joining of the couples right hands; in the Arnolfini Portrait, his left hand takes her right which in itself has prompted problematic interpretation) could signify a plethora of oaths. With the crux of his argument resting on an understanding that has since proven false, Panofsky’s translation of what he considers to be deliberate symbols quickly begins to unravel.

With such conflicting scholarship, it seems the true ‘meaning’ of the Arnolfini portrait may never be indubitably uncovered. What Edwin Panofsky and the scholars that both proceeded and followed him show is how interpretation is severely limited by how much it can be substantiated. Despite plausible theories and cogent argumentation, Panofsky’s thesis unfortunately fell foul to the passing of time and subsequent findings. That is not to say that his thesis ought to be completely disregarded, rather his understanding of iconography and Netherlandish painting provide an interesting insight into a masterpiece. The mystery of the Arnolfini Portrait, however, continues.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Hall, Edwin, The Arnolfini Betrothal: Medieval Marriage and the Enigma of Van Eyck’s Double Portrait, (London, 1994).

Hicks, Carola, The Girl in a Green Gown: The History and Mystery of the Arnolfini Portrait, (London, 2012).

Janson, Anthony F., “The Convex Mirror as Vanitas Symbol,” Source: Notes in the History of Art, 2/3 (1985): 51-54.

Koster, Margaret L., “The Arnolfini Double Portrait: A Simple Solution,” Apollo, 499 (2003): 3-14.Panofsky, Erwin, “Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait,” The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, 372 (1934): 117-127.

Image: The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck, 1434. Photograph: Thames & Hudson

‘Chernobyl’ on HBO

Written by: Kvitka Perehinets

NB: This review contains spoilers for HBO’s show Chernobyl

Rating: 4.9/5

Valery Legasov (Jared Harris) thoughtfully listens to a recording of his own voice while leaning over the table in the kitchen of his Moscow apartment. He stops the recorder, takes a sip of a clear liquid out of a glass, presses a button and continues. “You see, to them, a just world is a sane world… There was nothing sane about Chernobyl. What happened there, what happened after, even the good we did, all of it… Madness.”

The opening scene of HBO’s Chernobyl takes place exactly two years after the city of Pripyat became enveloped in a radioactive cloud. The scene sets an intrigue: first, the audience watches a man record a series of tapes and sneak past the secret police to dispose of them in a discrete location. Then, they watch him hang himself. As Legasov’s feet are shown dangling in the air, a question lingers: why?

What follows is an unapologetically raw and intense tale of bureaucracy, sacrifice, and tragedy – with subtle notes of despair and anger intrinsically woven throughout. Based on an “untold story”, the five-hour miniseries set out on achieving a difficult task – shedding light on a period of history that many attempted to keep hidden. Naturally, the show bears some drawbacks in its attempt at being historically accurate: students are shown as wearing traditional festive pioneer attire on a regular day during the evacuation and the way in which radiation burns are depicted has been critiqued as not entirely truthful. However, it does not really matter.

What the creators of Chernobyl succeeded in doing was not only portraying the intricacy of the Soviet government’s efforts to keep its constituents in the dark about the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, but also demonstrating how a desire for maintaining its dominance on the global political arena, which translated into negligence on safety matters, made the disaster, ultimately, the government’s fault. Following the opening scene and Legasov’s suicide, the audience is taken two years and one minute back in time to April 26, 1986, where they watch the explosion happen at Chernobyl’s Unit 4 reactor as seen from an apartment just a few kilometers away. The subsequent developments – scenes of unprotected and unaware fire brigades digging through the radioactive rubble; people standing on a bridge and watching the fire at the plant as children try to catch the radioactive ash falling from the sky; the selection of volunteers to go inside the reactor with the knowledge of potentially not coming out; and a show trial meant to diverge the attention from the government’s wrongdoings and put all of the blame on the engineers carrying out the orders that fateful night – strike a chord with the audience, because they call for sympathy with the most basic emotive responses to being in an environment as the one nourished in the Soviet Union: one of fear, despair, disorientation and hopelessness. This is why some historical inaccuracies of the show can be forgiven – because its goal is to first and foremost establish the cruelty of the regime as demonstrated in its blunt refusal to keep its citizens informed and protected, then to demonstrate the sequence of events as they truly happened.
The miniseries focuses on the two battles being fought at the same time: the first, with the effects of radiation – an enemy which cannot be seen, without an agenda, void of consciousness. The second, with the Soviet government’s lack of a moral compass, an equally seemingly unstoppable machine. Jared Harris (Valery Legasov) and Emily Watson (Ulyana Khomyuk) encompass the desperate efforts of Soviet scientists to influence the decision-making of the government, and subsequently save the lives of thousands of people in raw, emotional performances – where Harris plays Legasov, a member of the Academy of Sciences chosen to lead the commission investigating the Chernobyl disaster, Watson’s character is a symbolic representation of the whole scientific community, rather than based on real person. Stellan Skarsgård’s portrayal of Boris Shcherbina, the vice-chairman of the Council of Ministers at the time, gifts the audience with a brilliantly done character arc, making his transition from being skeptical of the true impact of the explosion to ultimately becoming the bridge between the scientific community and the Soviet government all the more admirable. Unapologetic, occasionally summoning the spirit of David Cronenberg with its elements of body horror, eye-opening and tragic – HBO’s Chernobyl is a must-see.

Fear and Collective Memory: Remembering the HIV/AIDS Crisis

Written by: Rosie Byrne

The AIDS Crisis has caused over 35 million deaths worldwide since its outbreak in the 1980s; it produced widespread fear because of its threat to society as an unknown disease. It appeared to be most prevalent amongst the homosexual community, primarily men, intravenous drug users, haemophiliacs and Haitians, due to its spread via sexual contact and via blood. This led to the conception of the ‘4H’ group of primarily affected individuals by the Centre for Disease Control (CDC). In order to prevent the transmission of the disease, these social groups were often the victims of misinformed assumptions and, in some cases, ostracization. This was a period of crisis, mainly due to the overwhelming fear that pervaded society: preconceived social attitudes merged with misconceptions and were heightened by mass media coverage that explicitly warned the public about the threat of the disease to the individual. 

Fear arose primarily because of the unknown nature of the disease: the public largely became aware of HIV/AIDS in the 1980s because increasing cases were presented to doctors that were inexplicable both in their cause and their treatments. It was recognised as a disease that weakened the immune system, which was indicated by illnesses like pneumonia or Kaposi’s sarcoma, a rare cancer with skin lesions that became associated with AIDS. Nevertheless, it was unclear how the disease was transmitted and individuals were not aware of it until symptoms presented, by which time it was largely too late. Therefore, it appeared to pose a threat to society because it was unknown how it could be contracted or how to recognise someone who had the disease without a diagnosis. 

Furthermore, social attitudes towards individuals perceived to be carriers of the infection encouraged their exclusion by society. The high rates of transmission amongst homosexuals, haemophiliacs, intravenous drug users and Haitians led to their association with the disease, whether they were infected or not. This was particularly evident with the refusal to readmit Ryan White to school in the United States of America as he had contracted HIV through contaminated Factor 8 that is used to treat haemophilia. Moreover, it must be noted that AIDS was originally known as GRID, or Gay-Related Immune Deficiency, as it was primarily identified with affecting the homosexual community, and it was thought to solely affect this social group. Its further description as a ‘gay plague’ indicated the way in which fear was employed during this period; the allusion to previous pandemics such as the Black Death and illnesses such as cholera and typhus only exacerbated societal fears during this period. 

High rates of transmission also considerably impacted perceptions about the way in which disease was spread and gave rise to many misconceptions about the contraction of HIV/AIDS. These social groups that were seen as primary sources of contagion were socially stigmatised to the point of avoidance because of public belief about AIDS, and this appears to continue: in a 2014 report, the British public thought that HIV was spread through kissing (16%), sharing a glass (5%), spitting (16%), a public toilet seat (4%), and coughing or sneezing (5%). It is evident that these fears were not completely unfounded; whilst the transmission of HIV via saliva is small, it was still a concern for public health. Particular concern in Britain was also drawn to Princess Diana’s insistence that she shake the hands of patients with AIDS without gloves when she opened the newly-established HIV/AIDS ward at London Middlesex Hospital in 1987.

This widespread fear was arguably advanced by the media and mass advertising campaigns to raise awareness and develop public knowledge about AIDS. The British government spent around £5 million on a mass media campaign that used promotional videos, films, and posters for public information in order to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. The most prominent imagery associated with these are the ‘iceberg’ and the ‘monolith’, both produced in 1987; they were films narrated by John Hurt, whose voiceover warned about the threat of AIDS to “man or woman”, reinforcing the overwhelming tagline of the campaign: “don’t die of ignorance”. The use of symbolism relating to death such as tombstones and white lilies that might be placed upon a grave encouraged widespread fear of a diagnosis of HIV as ultimately a death sentence. This was further emphasised by the soundtrack employed, that implied doom using church organs and melancholic music. It is notable that leaflets with the phrase “don’t die of ignorance” were sent to every house in the UK. Whilst the extent of promotional material arguably escalated public consciousness about the epidemic, it also fostered public fear and concern about the threat of AIDS. It must be noted that testimony from the 1980s in relation to the AIDS Crisis largely references public health campaigns that warned about the spread of the disease, and the fear that they felt as a reaction to such published material.

Improvements in medical research and subsequent treatments has meant that an HIV diagnosis is not a death sentence; around 100,000 people in the UK live today with HIV. Treatments such as post-exposure prophylaxis is used to reduce the viral load of HIV within the blood to undetectable levels, meaning that it does not develop into AIDS as it did in the 1980s, when it was incurable. Nevertheless, social stigma still continues as a result of surviving misconceptions about HIV/AIDS. This has been brought to light in several documentaries, especially that of Gareth Thomas, a Welsh professional rugby player who announced he was HIV positive but to untraceable levels on a BBC documentary in September 2019. As such, it is clear that the HIV/AIDS crisis has concluded, but its sociological effects still remain thirty years on.

Image: A 1985 protest in New York City, the hub of the AIDS epidemic and the corresponding art movement. Source: https://mashable.com/2016/10/26/aids-epidemic-study/

The 19th Century California genocide

Written by: Prim Phoolsombat

The definition of genocide by the United Nations Genocide Convention is as follows: any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, such as: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

On 18 June 2019, California governor Gavin Newsom officially recognized and apologized for the systematic genocide of California’s Native Americans. Since Europeans first arrived in North America, the near total decline in indigenous populations is often attributed to Old World diseases spread beyond the control or responsibility of settlers. Epidemics seemed to conveniently destroy thousands of diverse tribes from coast to coast, leading to the popular image of unpopulated American land and a justification for a manifest destiny philosophy. The term “manifest destiny” was coined in 1845 by a newspaper editor to summarize the aggressive and divinely ordained expansion of colonizers westward and their duty to spread democracy and capitalism as they went. It was in the name of “God’s will” that the first California government ordered ethnic war on Native Americans — a calculated campaign comparable to that of the Tutsis in Rwanda, the Dzungars in Central Asia, and other well-known genocides.

Crimes against California’s Native Americans began in 1769 with the Spanish occupation. Father Junipero marched from Mexico to San Diego with an army to construct missions that would eventually reach San Francisco. Prior to his arrival, the Pacific coast was a well-populated, well-resourced, and culturally diverse area, with total population estimates ranging between 100,000 and 700,000. The various tribes spoke 80 different languages and had such ample access to wild foods that farming was not necessary. Father Junipero’s campaign immediately raped, kidnapped, and enslaved native people to work for the missions. Whether in the Santa Barbara or San Diego missions, the natives attempted to revolt and failed in each location due to armed Spanish forces. Executions and abuse were routine in addition to thousands of native deaths from smallpox and other Old World diseases. Their bodies filled mass graves — no natives were given burials.

Mexico won independence from Spain in 1821, the coastal missions were secularized in 1834, and Spain officially recognized Mexico as an independent state in 1836 after a decade of war. A decade later, however, the Mexican-American War began, and California became a state in 1850. The Gold Rush began simultaneously, and the Californian population swelled up with 300,000 new residents. The first governor of California, Peter Hardeman Burnett, said “that a war of extermination will continue to be waged between the two races until the Indian race becomes extinct” in 1851. He started a lasting policy that compensated anyone for proof of a dead Native American.

Coupled with friction over land and mining, workers began shooting Native Americans on a daily basis. Whole villages were pillaged over minor conflicts — the Pomo tribe of 800 was slaughtered by federal cavalry on the basis of two murdered slave owners that tribe members were rebelling over. Not only did California compensate for murder, but the federal government acted on it as well, in addition to funding over twenty California militia campaigns against Native Americans. A number of gangs were formed between miners for the purpose of killing Native Americans to protect their self-interests. It is estimated that 80% of the Native American population was decimated during this time. Between the 1850s and 1870s, conservative estimates begin at 4,500 deaths and range up to 100,000 deaths.

The Anti-Vagrancy Act of 1855, also known as the Greaser Act, legalized the arrest of those subjectively believed to be “vagrants.” Though this act mostly targeted Mexicans, it was also used against Native Americans and Asian immigrants. The California Act for the Government and Protection of Indians was enacted in 1851. With its remarkably misleading name, the legislation reflects the fifth act of genocide in the UN definition — “Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” Although the state of California was admitted into the union as a “non-slave” state, this act allowed for the indenturing of “vagrant” native children to Whites in order to “save them from their savage upbringing”, convert them religiously, and exploit them for labor. They could also be sold as punishment, and their only way out was through bond or bail.

Attempts at reparations have been made, though very poorly. Congress established the Indian Claims Commission in 1946 amid growing sentiments that Native Americans deserved reparations after all their services in World War II, where 13% of Native American men enlisted and provided military advantages such as speaking native languages to communicate — a code Axis intelligence could never break. The Commission ultimately gave out an average of $1000 to each Native American across 176 tribes, but most of the money was deposited in government- managed, and consequently mis-managed, trust accounts.

Governor Newsom’s apology is the state’s first time acknowledging its actions in the genocide. His executive order establishes a council that will create a report detailing tribe narratives and tribe-state relations by 2025. While tribe leaders have appreciated these steps, no further action has been taken on their critical asks such as land reparations or water and fishing rights. The full gravitas of the genocide, its consequences for Native Americans today, and the actions that should be underway to properly compensate are sparsely a part of the public consciousness, much as it has been since the Spaniards first occupied California.

Photo credit: California Gov. Newsom’s Office.

Homosexuality in Renaissance Florence: The Ambiguities of Neoplatonic Thought

Written by: Jamie Gemmell

Renaissance Italy is popularly portrayed as a realm of carnal debauchery. One only needs to watch Tom Fontana’s Borgia (2011-2014) to understand common conceptions of Renaissance Italy as a realm of brutal acts, orgies, and affairs. Yet, is there any truth to these depictions? On the subject of sexual activity, Michael Rocke has argued that fifteenth century Florence was awash with sodomy. He suggests that two thirds of men were officially implicated by the age of forty. In the final four decades of the fifteenth century, 17,000 Florentine men had been accused of sodomy by the Office of the Night (an institution founded to investigate homosexual relations). These statistics seem to substantiate our popular conception of the Renaissance. However, sheer statistics undermine the complex dynamics of homosexual relations in fifteenth-century Florence. 

This was not only a story of licentiousness. Men grappled with their “carnal” desires and scrutinised them through the intellectual tools available to them. One of these tools was Neoplatonism, the revival and re-interpretation of Plato and the Neoplatonic texts, most associated with Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) and his informal Florentine Academy. Understandings of Ancient Greek thought provided a framework for Florentine men to engage with homosexual relations, creating a discourse that could both justify and condemn their actions. 

Broadly, the Neoplatonists of the fifteenth century sought to integrate Christian theology with Platonic and Neoplatonic philosophy. The dominant figure behind this was Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) who translated and provided commentaries on thirty-six of Plato’s dialogues. Ficino reinterpreted the Neoplatonists’ metaphysical system. He accepted the hierarchy of the system, dividing the universe into various stages leading to a higher unity. However, instead of equating total unity with the Neoplatonic “One,” he equated it with God. Through contemplation and spiritual love, the soul could ascend through this hierarchy and achieve unity with God.

For the Renaissance Neoplatonists, spiritual love was a route to ascend to God: a Christian reinterpretation of Plato’s Diotima’s ladder. Beginning with an appreciation for the “Vulgar Venus” (the beauty of the sensual world) one could use contemplation to ascend to an appreciation for the “Heavenly Venus” (the beauty of the intelligible world) and, eventually, ascend to unity with God. Fundamental to this was the idea that “the form of the body” could be used to reach the “higher beauty of the Soul,” allowing for an affection towards the physical that was consistent with Christian theology.

In the context of Florentine male homosexual culture, the Neoplatonic concept of love provided a route to explain and justify sodomy. Male homosexuality in Florence was widespread, and relatively accepted as long as it followed existing relations of power, despite Church doctrine denouncing the practice. This meant the most common form of male homosexual relations was pederasty, an “active” older male and a “passive” adolescent. Inverting this situation was viewed as a threat to the existing social system, hence Salvi Panuzzi, a prolific sodomite, was only sentenced to death once he had admitted to being sodomised. The Neoplatonist concept of love provided a route to understanding pederasty by arguing “heavenly love” was “more properly directed…towards men.” As the male intellect was deemed superior to the female, it was deemed close male bonds provided a better route to unity with God through love.

Whilst the Neoplatonic idea of love could justify male homosexuality, it could condemn it too. Following the work of the “Florentine Academy,” an informal circle surrounding Marsilio Ficino, there was a shift away from the broad conception of love as a spiritual bond between males. Baldesar Castgilione’s The Courtier explicitly connected heterosexuality and Neoplatonic love, claiming “a kiss,” between man and woman, represented “a union of souls.” This demonstrated a distancing from the view that a bond between males was the best way to ascend to God. Elsewhere in the work Castiglione criticised Socrates for “loving more the beauty… in boys…” emphasising a shift towards heterosexuality. This shift demonstrates Neoplatonic ideas on love could be used to condemn, as well as explain, the culture surrounding male homosexual culture.

The ambiguity of the relationship between Neoplatonic love and male homosexual culture is fully revealed through the work of Michelangelo. Michelangelo was likely a homosexual and showed deep affection towards Tommaso de’ Cavalieri, a young Italian nobleman. Michelangelo’s complex relationship with Cavalieri, and homosexuality more broadly, is suggested in his Ganymede and Tityos, a pair of images which make explicit use of Neoplatonist thought. In the former, Ganymede, the mythical Trojan boy, said to be the beloved of Zeus, is depicted ascending to heaven, carried by an eagle, referring to the way a spiritual bond between men could lead to greater unity with God. In the latter, Tityos is attacked by an eagle, portraying the risk of descending into carnal desires. In these pieces, Michelangelo used Neoplatonic love to both justify and condemn male homosexual behaviour. Neoplatonic thought therefore served as a paradigm through which men could understand their homosexual desires.  

The Neoplatonic concept of love had an ambiguous relationship with the culture surrounding male homosexuality in Florence. The revival of Plato’s dialogues and their integration with Christian theology could function as a method to justify homosexuality. The emphasis on spiritual love provided an avenue for men to understand and explain their sexual relations with other men in a world where such practices were condemned as sinful. Yet it could criticise such practices too through a renewed emphasis on heterosexuality and the spiritual connection between man and woman. This inherent ambiguity is portrayed in the work of Michelangelo who struggled to cohere his homosexuality with Christian devotion. Neoplatonism provided a lens through which he could express the internal conflict between acceptance and condemnation. Ultimately, the relationship between Neoplatonic love and male homosexual culture in Renaissance Florence cannot be used to reduce the Renaissance to a descent into debauched pleasure. Instead, the reality was far more complex and dynamic.    

Thumbnail of Punishment of Tityos
Thumbnail of Rape of Ganymede

Bibliography

Primary Sources

Buonarroti, Michelangelo, “Punishment of Tityos,” Windsor Castle Royal Library.
https://library.artstor.org/#/asset/ARTSTOR_103_41822001521580;prevRouteTS=1549299233826  

Buonarroti, Michelangelo, “Rape of Ganymede,” Fogg Art Museum.
https://library.artstor.org/#/asset/ARTSTOR_103_41822001026838;prevRouteTS=1549299436258 

Castiglione, Baldesar, The Courtier, Trans. George Bull (London, 1967).

Cattani da Diacceto, Franceso, “Panegyric on Love,” Trans. Luc Deitz, in Cambridge Translations of Renaissance Philosophical Texts, ed. Jill Kraye (Cambridge, 1997). 

Ficino, Marsilio. “A Friendship is Lasting which is Forged by God,” in The Letters of Marsilio Ficino (London: 1975).

Ficino, Marsilio, “Commentary on Plato’s Symposium on Love,” in The Civilisation of the Italian Renaissance: A Sourcebook, ed. Kenneth Bartlett (Lexington, 1992)  

Secondary Sources

Adamson, Peter, Hobbs, Angie, and Sheppard, Anne. “In Our Time: Neoplatonism.” Interview by Melvyn Bragg, BBC Radio 4, April 19, 2012. Audio, 41:57.
https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01g62w1

Bullough, Vern, Sexual Variance in Society and History (New York, 1976).

Dall’Orto, Giovanni, “‘Socratic Love’ as a Disguise for Same-Sex Love in the Italian Renaissance,” Journal of Homosexuality 1 (1989), 33-66.

Field, Arthur, “The Platonic Academy in Florence,” in Marsilio Ficino: His Theology, his Philosophy, his Legacy, eds. Michael Allen; Martin Davies; Valery Rees (Leiden, 2002).

Hankins, James, Plato in the Italian Renaissance (Leiden, 1991).

Kraye, Jill, “The Transformation of Platonic Love in the Italian Renaissance,” in The Renaissance in Europe: A Reader, ed. Keith Whitlock (New Haven, 2000).

Kristeller, Paul, Studies in Renaissance Thought and Letters III (Roma, 1956).

Kristeller, Paul, Renaissance Thought II: Papers on Humanism and the Arts (New York, 1961).

Panofsky, Erwin, Studies in Iconology: Humanistic Themes in the Art of the Renaissance, (New York, 1939).

Rocke, Michael, Forbidden Friendships: Homosexuality and Male Culture in Renaissance Florence (New York, 1996).

Rocke, Michael, “Gender and Sexual Culture in Renaissance Italy,” in Gender and Society in Renaissance Italy, eds. Judith Brown; Robert Davis (London, 1998).

Saslow, James, Ganymede in the Renaissance: Homosexuality in Art and Society (London, 1986).Wildberg, Christian. “Neoplatonism.” Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy, January 11, 2016.
https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/neoplatonism/

Image: https://www.rct.uk/collection/912771/recto-the-punishment-of-tityus-verso-the-risen-christ

Impending Collapse: Holy War and the Fall of Jerusalem in 1187

Written by: Jack Bennett.

October 2, 1187. On the anniversary of Muhammad’s ‘Night Journey’ from Jerusalem to Heaven, Saladin made his triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Following victory at the Battle of Hattin in July, Muslim forces had swept throughout the Crusader States, systematically recapturing Latin Christian settlements, and dismantling the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’. This piece aims to examine the political and military factors behind the Kingdom’s disintegration. 

Decades of corrosive internal political factionalism, and increasing detachment from Western European support had created instability and deepening turmoil within the Kingdom of Jerusalem by 1187. Despite previous signs of revived strength, and even expansion, between 1154 and 1163 – such as King Baldwin III capturing the port of Ascalon in 1153 and the capture of Harim in 1158, by the 1170s and into the 1180s these positive developments had been truly undermined by Latin Christian divisions. This was seriously damaging to the geographic safety and position of these proto-colonial territories, which were founded upon the interaction between religious zeal, and the pursuit of political and material acquisition. The roots of this divisionism amongst the Latin Christian monarchy and nobility of the Crusader States, can be traced to the dispute between King Baldwin III and the Queen mother, Melisende, which physically divided the Kingdom of Jerusalem into north and south territories between 1150 and 1152 –  undermining the political stability of the Crusader States. By 1187, these entrenched divisions had corrupted the core monarchical and noble political frameworks underpinning security and survival on the Levantine coast. 

During the reign of King Baldwin IV between 1174 and 1185, and in the aftermath of his death, the Crusader States became increasingly vulnerable. Critically, Western Europeans regarded the Latin Christian states in the Near East as autonomous, as a result of the evolution of hybridised-cultures since the First Crusade, thus distancing them from monarchical power in the West. In 1184, Patriarch Heraclius was sent to Europe in order to initiate another crusade. However, both Henry II of England and Louis VII of France were unwilling to partake due to their own internal political rivalries. Therefore, without the required strong Western European political and military support required in the previous decades of establishment and consolidation to sustain the Crusader states on the Levantine coast, they became vulnerable to the increasing Muslim military threat. Following the death of Baldwin IV in 1185, a power vacuum was created, with two competing factions emerging between Guy of Lusignan, married to Sybilla of Jerusalem, and Raymond III of Tripoli – former regent to Baldwin IV. This reached its climax in 1186 when Humphrey IV of Toron and Isabella of Jerusalem were positioned as competitors to the throne. Within  the same year,  the degree of disunity in the Crusader States is further highlighted by Raymond’s forging of a truce with Saladin, betraying the Latin Christians of Outremer by granting his access to Tiberias and hence the entire Kingdom of Jerusalem. 

Importantly, individual poliking by the Franks within the Crusader States had undermined their integrity and strength prior to 1187. For instance, Baldwin of Ibelin exiled himself to the Principality of Antioch in 1186, due to the power exerted by Guy and Sybilla as monarchs within the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Additionally, the conspiracy and attempted to siege of Jerusalem in 1180 – led by Bohemond III of Antioch and Raymond III of Tripoli, reveals the fundamental disunity across the Crusader States that prevented cohesive, coordinated military combat of the increasingly effective sources of Islamic power in the Near East under successive rulers. Military weakness contributed to an increasing reliance on the Military Orders to uphold the integrity of the Crusader States as the twelfth-century progressed, as illustrated by the Kingdom of Jerusalem’s defeat in 1187 at the Battle of Cresson, at which Hospitaller and Templar forces were completely annihilated by Saladin’s forces, providing a prelude of the calamitous defeat at the battle of Hattin later that same year. This political factionalism further jeopardised the legitimacy of the monarchy on the journey to Jerusalem’s capture in 1187. King Amalric I changed the political and military objectives of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, with his desire to expand into Egypt during the 1160s. This resulted in the Frankish expedition of 1164 – which was beaten at Bilbeis, and another in 1167, ending in a truce with the Egyptian Fatimids. Critically, this compromised the security of the northern Crusader States of Antioch and Tripoli in the face of ever-present Muslim incursions and expansion under the leadership of Nur ad-Din. 

To perceive the Franks of the Near East as completely enfeebled, however, would be a true oversight. In 1177, the Franks triumphed at the Battle of Montgisard, a victory that was widely reported in western Europe, doing little to convince people of the Latin Christian’s desire for help. The construction in 1178-79 of the castle of Jacob’s Ford was a strategic act of forward aggression which forced Saladin into an act of destructive protectionism of Damascus. The Franks also succeeded in maintaining naval preeminence in the eastern Mediterranean through the protection of Beirut from Saladin’s seaborne attack in 1182. Yet, these glimmers of hope were compromised during the 1180s with Saladin’s achievement of hegemonic power in the Near East. 

The contrast between leaders of the Muslim and Frankish worlds in the Near East in the decades preceeding the events of 1187 could have not been greater. As the Crusader States descended into infighting, division and weakness; Saladin secured his position in Egypt, expanded his politico-military influence and unified Muslim populations through the encouragement of jihad across the Near East. This political and religious evolution held deeper roots, truly beginning in the 1130s under the leadership of Zengi, who brought together the Muslim military strongholds of Aleppo and Damascus by 1138. Crucially, the capture of Edessa in 1144 by Zengi proved a pivotal turning point in the survival and eventual decline of the remaining Crusader States, through the removal of a strategic defensive buffer, providing Zengi with a decisive foothold in Frankish territory from which to further threaten the Crusader States. 

Conquest and expansion continued under the leadership of Nur ad-Din from 1146. By establishing authority in Mosul and Aleppo in 1149, Nur ad-Din invaded the Principality of Antioch, besieging the town of Afamiya and eventually gaining a significant hold over the Crusader State after the Battle of Inab in the same year. Crucially, in 1153 Nur ad-Din achieved preeminent authority in the Near East through the control of the ‘Muslim Holy Trinity’ of cities: Aleppo, Mosul and Damascus – ensuring political and military stability and the continuous expansion of hegemony. However,  in the years 1154-63, Nur ad-Din might have experienced a spiritual awakening and laid the foundations for jihad, but he chose not to commit his forces to a Holy War against the Crusader states. Thus by 1163, Nur ad-Din was in a position to pursue expansion into Egypt, simultaneous to the dissolution of Fatimid power in the region, effectively surrounding the Crusader States and undermining their position further. 

Following Nur ad-Din’s death in 1174, Saladin established his control over the Near East, assuming control of Damascus, through patient diplomacy and propaganda rather than through force. Since 1169, Saladin had established his authority in Egypt and by the end of 1174, several of warlords across the Near East now supported him in the continued expansion of his Ayyubid Empire, as he took control of Homs, Hama and Baalbek with little bloodshed. The conquest of Aleppo proved more difficult, and it was not until 1183 that Saladin finally brought the city under his control. Like Nur ad-Din, Saladin had spent the first ten years of his rule mostly fighting other Muslims- perhaps this was a necessary precondition to waging Holy War on the Franks and prizing Jerusalem from their grasp. Crucially, from 1186, his spirituality began to deepen and he dedicated himself to the cause of jihad and the ultimate recovery of Jerusalem.

Throughout the course of the twelfth century, the increasingly strained relations between the Crusader States and neighbouring Byzantine Empire fundamentally undermined the potential for Latin Christians to respond to the amassing tide of Muslim dominance and politico-military unity. Under Emperor John II Comnenus, Raymond of Antioch, Joscelin II of Edessa and Raymond II of Tripoli were forced to accept overlordship from 1142. This political maneuver only served to reduce the autonomy of the Crusader States, individually and as a collective. Therefore, without a positive alliance with the Byzantines, the threats to the Kingdom of Jerusalem could not be effectively dealt with. Furthermore, John’s alliance with the German Emperor Lothair III against Roger of Sicily caused further factionalism within the Crusader States during this period, due to a previous allegiance with European nobles. Further diminishing of the Kingdom of Jerusalem’s authority and power in Outremer and over fellow Crusader States occurred during the reign of Emperor Manuel I. His alliance with Nur ad-Din in 1159, and eventual capture of Reynald of Chatillon in 1160, corroded relations with Latin Christians and the King of Jerusalem, weakening their strategic position in Outremer by compromising the potential for military cooperation and support in the face of expanding Muslim aggression. 

Pivotally, in 1176 the Byzantines were defeated at the Battle of Myriokephalon, preventing a substantial and powerful countering of Saladin’s growing expansionism in the Near East. The most clear demonstration of debilitated Byzantine-Latin Christian relations is illustrated by the reign of Emperor Andronikos I from 1183-85, and the explicit, violent enactment of anti-Frankish sentiment in Constantinople which lead to thousands of Latin Christians being massacred. These strains culminated in 1187 under Emperor Isaac II Angelos, with Slavic and Bulgar rebellions averting Byzantine military power and resources from supporting the Crusader States in their hour of need at the fatal Battle of Hattin. The Kingdom of Jersusalem suffered diplomatically and militarily as a consequence of disintegrating ties with the Byzantine Empire, due to the growing inability to stem the tide of Muslim expansion in the Near East. 

The fall of Jerusalem in 1187 highlights the debilitating nature of increasing internal Latin Christian politico-military factionalism throughout the twelfth-century, which consequently compounded the threat of Muslim unification through jihad and military expansionism to the position of the Crusader States on the Levantine coast. The fallout from Jerusalem’s capture had polarising ramifications in European Christendom and the Muslim world of the Near East, triggering both the Third Crusade of 1189-9 and further religiously zealous military expeditions, under a succession of Western Christian kings and nobles, as well as assisting the pericipitous decline in Saladin’s authority across the Ayyubid Empire in the aftermath of victory. Jerusalem, therefore, maintained its politico-religious power beyond 1187. 

Bibliography

Asbridge, Thomas. The Crusades: The War for the Holy Land, Simon and Schuster, 2012.
Cobb, Paul M. The Race for Paradise: An Islamic History of the Crusades. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.
Phillips, Jonathan. The Crusades, 1095-1204 (Seminar Studies). Abingdon: Routledge, 2014. 
Phillips, Jonathan. Holy Warriors: A Modern History of the Crusades. New York: Vintage, 2010. 

Riley-Smith, J. S. C. “Peace Never Established: The Case of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 28 (1978): 87-102

Tyreman, Christopher. God’s War: A New History of the Crusades. London: Penguin, 2007. 

Image Source: illustrated view of the Dome of the Rock from the cover of Simon Sebag Montefiore, Jerusalem: The Biography, (London: Phoenix, 2012)

La Llorona: Folklore, Spirits, Colonialism, and Power

Written by: Lewis Twiby.

One of the most iconic images of Latin American and Chicano folklore is that of La Llorona – The Weeping Woman. In stories she haunts waterways, weeping and crying ‘Mis hijos’ (My Children), and if you hear her wails, she will drown you. In contemporary Latin American and Chicano society she is used to scare children into behaving – misbehaving children are warned that they will be taken away by La Llorona. Academic Patricia Trujillo’s uncle and grandmother used the tale to keep her, her siblings and her cousins in line, which terrified her – something that her brother and cousin used to sadistically joke about. However, older versions of the tale reveal colonial and post-colonial anxieties regarding class, race, and gender in Mexico. 

To understand La Llorona it is first important to understand her tale, but, naturally, this is difficult. The tale of La Llorona has been passed down through oral testimonies, which transcend cultures, time, and geographies, resulting in various versions of the La Llorona story. Most stories have several key narrative points which shall be discussed here. A long time ago, a young, poor peasant woman was spotted by a young nobleman, and the two fell in love, quickly getting married. Despite protestations from the nobleman’s family the couple settled down and had two children. After a few years, however, the nobleman started vanishing for weeks and, eventually, months on end. He later came to the village with a wealthy noblewoman – his new wife. He announced that he had had his first marriage annulled and planned to never return to his wife. This broke her, and in a fit of rage and despair she drowned her children before drowning herself. At the Gates of Heaven, Saint Peter turned her away until she found the souls of her drowned children. As she could not find them, she now haunts the waterways of the world trying to find her lost children – any stray children caught by her would be drowned as a misguided way to find her own children. In some tales she drowns white men as a way to seek revenge on her adulterous lover. 

Gloria Duerte has discussed how tales of spirits similar to La Llorona have cropped up in folklore and myths across world history. A similar spirit emerged in sixteenth-century Philippines; fifteenth-century Germany had tales of the White Woman; and there are many beings from across European culture which attack children or men. Among these include Lilith, from Jewish folklore, and Lamia, from ancient Greek mythology. Camilla Townsend has deconstructed the myth of the ‘white gods’; this is the pervasive myth that the Aztecs thought that Hernan Cortes and the conquistadors were resurrected as gods, in particular Queztalcoatl. Townsend presented evidence from indigenous sources, particularly the Florentine Codex which told the history of the Conquest of Mexico, about how post-Conquest elite indigenous peoples combined Christian and indigenous ideas to explain the Conquest. The stories of shooting stars foretelling the return of a deity were adapted from ancient Roman and Biblical tales of the apocalypse – the Christianised elite were taught by Jesuit priests, so were well aware of these tales. As a result, it is not out of the question that La Llorona was a combination of indigenous and European tales. She also exhibits signs of another key marker of Mexican identity – Malintzin. 

Malintzin, (also known as La Malinche, and Doña Marina), was an indigenous woman who was enslaved, sold to Cortes, raped, and forced to be his ally. Her life is a remarkable tale of an intelligent young woman surviving against brutal conditions, but due to her being forced to bear Cortes’s children and work as his translator, a misogynistic, independent Mexico cast her as a betrayer. In a parallel to Eve and Original Sin, Malintzin was cast as a seductress who betrayed Mexico in favour of the invading Spanish. Camilla Townsend has argued against the casting of Malintzin as La Llorona as the real life Malintzin knew where her children were. However, the La Llorona/Malintzin connection becomes clearer when her children become metaphorical instead of literal: La Llorona is weeping over the lost indigenous peoples. Despite independent Mexico continuing the colonialist policies towards the indigenous peoples, they were heavily used to forge a new, independent Mexican identity. The new ruling elite were still white, wealthy landowners, but they claimed the legacy of the Aztecs and other indigenous peoples. Adding to this, many claimed to be acting as ‘wards’ to the indigenous peoples, teaching them how to be ‘civilised’ while simultaneously exploiting them. Being a patriarchal society, Malintzin was cast as a betrayer, so it is easy to imagine her being cast as a mother weeping for her lost children, i.e. Malintzin weeping over pre-Conquest Mexico. A final point to this is that La Llorona’s story does mimic the life of Malintzin directly in one regard. Both had a child by a man who left them for a noblewoman – Malintzin was raped and bore Cortes’s son, but he married a Spanish woman. 

This brings us to the recasting of La Llorona and Malintzin. For most of Mexico’s post-independence history Malintzin has been cast in a pejorative light, and La Llorena is often seen in a similar way. In many versions of the tale it is La Llorona’s own spite which causes her to drown the children – in one she drowns her children because she feels that her husband loves them more than he loves her. From the mid-1900s, especially, Mexican feminists started reinterpreting the story of Malintzin, from one of a betrayer to that of a survivor – her use of language, knowledge of politics, and own quick thinking helped her survive the brutal Conquest. At the same time, stories of La Llorona began to shift as well. In the early 1900s American anthropologist Yda Addis collated and translated various tales of La Llorona told by Mexican women – the result is the version of the tale told above. Addis, and the Mexican women she left unnamed, retold La Llorona as a story of women creating the spirit’s curse to that of men – it is because of her husband’s neglect and adultery that she kills her children. The rise of feminism allowed a re-evaluation of traditional folktales and helped break patriarchal attitudes towards women.

Finally, La Llorona represents the anxieties of a misogynistic, racist state. Like many feudal, and early-capitalist, societies there were anxieties concerning classes mixing, but in Latin America this was heavily racialised. The lower, and especially rural, classes were often indigenous, black, or mixed-race; in a settler society race became integral to maintaining colonial, and later post-colonial, rule. A term known as limpia sangria, ‘cleanliness of blood’, was imported from Spain to determine how worthy an individual was to access the upper echelons of society – being of indigenous or African heritage meant that your blood was ‘tainted’. La Llorona, being a rural woman, indicates that she was either indigenous or mestizo, and the nobleman would likely be white. Hence, La Llorona becomes a tale to reinforce racial categories – their fate was preordained due to the transgression of these categories. Being a patriarchal society, women were viewed in a ‘virgin-whore’ dichotomy – both innocent beings and corrupting influences. Sexual assault against indigenous women, as well as the legacy of Malintzin, forged a stereotype that indigenous women were especially licentious. La Llorona drowning men, particularly white men, became part of a wider system of settler society racism and sexism; the seductive indigenous woman luring ‘good, Christian men’ to their deaths. The tale of La Llorona, therefore, deeply represents the anxieties of an elite, white male class in a society where their power relies on the subjugation of those excluded from these categories.

To conclude, La Llorona is deeply embedded in colonial narratives, and has changed to accommodate new changes in society. As Chicano communities were formed in the United States, she became a way to light-heartedly connect to a wider culture that had been separated by the Rio Grande. The rise of feminism helped recast both her and Malintzin as agents reacting to male domination in a patriarchal society. However, as American media has tried to incorporate Latino audiences into the mainstream earlier issues have started to re-emerge. Domino Perez has discussed how La Llorona has been depicted in American media, and how it damages her cultural significance. In the pilot of the show Supernatural she appears as a seductress but to avoid reinforcing the sexualisation of minorities ever present in media she is literally whitewashed and loosely tied to the Irish banshee, eradicating her Latino origins. Similarly, The Cure of La Llorona (2019) in the The Conjuring franchise literally whitewashes her tale by having her be a demonic entity tormenting a white family, despite also depicting a Latino family in Los Angeles due to fears that it would only be marketable if a white family were the leads. The appropriation of La Llorona for mainstream American consumption shows that five-hundred years after the Conquest of Mexico La Llorona still feeds into power dynamics of the time which her story is being told. 

Bibliography:

Addis, Y.H., ‘The Wailing Woman: “La Llorona”, A Legend of Mexico’, Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers, 1 (2019), 131-136.

Duarte, Gloria, ‘La Llorona’s Ancestry: Crossing Cultural Boundaries’, in Folklore: In All of Us, In All we Do, ed. Kenneth Untiedt (Denton, 2006).

Renee Perez, Domino, ‘The Politics of Taking: La Llorona in the Cultural Mainstream’, The Journal of Popular Culture, 1 (2012), 153-172.

Townsend, Camilla, Malintzin’s Choices, (Albuquerque: New Mexico Press, 2006).

Townsend, Camilla, ‘Burying the White Gods: New Perspectives on the Conquest of Mexico,’ The American Historical Review, 3 (2003), 659-687.

Trevino, Rene, ‘Absolving La Llorona: Yda H. Addis’s “The Wailing Woman”‘, Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers, 1 (2019), 123-130.Trujillo, Patricia Marina, ‘Becoming La Llorona’, Chicana/Latina Studies, 1 (2006), 96-104.

Image: La Llorona Durmiente, oil on canvas, 2012 Hector Garza