PLACE: The Graduate Center
Room 4116 (Student Study Area)
365 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10016
DATE: Friday, December 10, 2010
TIME: 6:00 p.m.
Celebrating Professor Schwartz’s Years as EO
This is an article we must take into account.
It contains quite a lot of errors per page, but it is -for some reason- a very widely cited article. In spite of its many flaws, it also contains an important thesis about why it became necessary to redefine nobility from 13th-Century Castile onwards.
I was considering as well “the thingness of nobility”, which would be very different from, say, “the nobility of things”, or even more, “the nobilities of things.” These expressions, however, point to one important subject related to nobility that needs to be addressed (and that has not yet been addressed, as far as I am aware of) -that nobility is presented in and by things. I am not talking here about one important distinction made by Bartolo de Sassoferrato in his De Dignitatibus, namely that there is a kind of nobility with which we refere to things. I am not talking, either, about the nobilities (plural) of things, which is normally a translation of the Latin proprietates. Thirdly, I am not referring to the juridical value of things (that has been masterly studied by Yan Thomas). When I talk about the “thing about nobility” I am referring to the things that convey and present, at the same time, nobility. I am thinking about how philosophical and political theories about nobility start with a reflection on things that convey and present nobility (consciously, I am not saying “represent”, and thus I declare myself closer to phenomenological analyses -think Jean-Luc Nancy, Eelco Runia, or Hans-Ulrich Gumbrecht- than to metaphorical or hermeneutical ones). What are those things is what is extremely important, and what is their juridical status is no less important: statues, signs, urban objects, tabulae, etc. This is yet another question to chew on, for now.
Dear MIME members:
The lecture this Friday is still on (more info at http://www.gc.cuny.edu/events/details_landing.asp?EventId=29477). The one I got wrong is actually taking place next Tuesday the 16th (Room 3309 at 6:30).
Again, my apologies for the confusion (if I made somebody come all the way here, I can make up for it with a souvernir when I come back from Colombia, so don’t hesitate to email me and demand it to firstname.lastname@example.org ;-)
I would like to remind that in June 1449 something crucial happened: the laws on nobility were used to redefine the category of converso. JRV
A thought/gloss on Jesús’s comments: I have principally worked with “social actors” at the other end of the social spectrum, and this leads me to wonder how the development(s) and definition(s) of “la nobleza” or “los nobles” in various historical moments responds to and/or shapes the definitions and representations (in law, in political theory, in literature) of the non-noble subject (of course this “subject” can take various forms—from the most generic “el pueblo” to the guild member). DALE SHUGER.
Thinking about what questions I would have, related to our coming meeting on nobility, I find that they all come, in some shape or form, as offshoots of what I am currently doing. As I tried to explain during our first meeting, the largest project I am working on right now is the MS B2489 of the Hispanic Society of America, which contains poetic works by Fernán Pérez de Guzmán. In trying to find clues as to the origins of the manuscript, I wanted to see if the inventory of his library contained any items that resembled this manuscript. There are two existing inventories, one considerably larger than the other. My main source of reference for this was the study of both inventories by Mercedes Vaquero in her article “Cultura nobiliaria y biblioteca de Fernán Pérez de Guzmán” (I uploaded the citation in CiteUlike). Aside from the obvious reference in the title, this study compares Pérez de Guzmán’s library with those of other noblemen of the same period, and touches upon the material and monetary aspects linked to them. One of the interesting points that Vaquero raises is Pérez de Guzmán’s ambiguity in regards to what nobility means. On the one hand, in both poetry and prose, he emphasizes the preeminence of virtue over lineage, while on the other, he cannot help but to express his reservations against nobles of “lower origins”. His interest in genealogy evidences an “anxiety” in regards to the subject, which is materialized in the contents of his library. This leads me to a second area of interest: the role of the library as an element in the construction of a particular conception of nobility favored by Pérez de Guzmán. This conception is both material and ideal, and it also, I think, transpires in both his prose and poetry. It makes me wonder if, for instance, the manuscript I am working on, with its extremely wide margins and beautiful penmanship, is not one of the embodiments of such a concept. These are obviously very broad areas that I have not narrowed down yet, and I hope this coming discussion will help me in doing so, and perhaps show me other areas that I should be focusing on…
I am suggesting here some of the questions about nobility that still haunt me. You might find them very preliminary. I will try to frame them within my own research and the project I am about to finish -since I need to submit my book before the end of the year.
This will be -finally- my last research on a subject I began working on in 1989. My main argument, all along this research, has been something like this: societies need to explore the limits of social categorizations, and, in order to do so, they set up laboratories for theorizing. Some of these laboratories seem, at first, to be unproblematic and codified, in part because they have a clear function -chivalry is one of them, perhaps the most important one. I suggested the necessity to consider chivalry as a social order in the making, or as an inchoate poetics, rather than a code.
For this final trip, I am leaning toward the study of nobility, the most sought for social status throughout history. Let me start with a quotation from Karl Ferdinand Werner, Naissance de la Noblesse (Paris: Fayard, 1998):
Le mot “noblesse” provoque un sentiment de rejet chez les uns, de nostalgie chez les autres, voire les deux à la fois chez certains. Mais le temos n’est-il pas enfin venu de parler sereinement d’un sujet voué à l’esprit partisan, et de chercher à comprendre l’évolution d’un phénomène qui a dominé pendant plus d’un millénaire l’histoire de notre continent? À notre époque, éprise de justice sociale, de combat contre les inégalités et le racisme sous toutes ses formes, un ordre social fondé sur la distinction sans nuances entre les hommes qui repose sur leur naissance, leur “condition”, et plus encore sur la prétention à justifier ces inégalités comme étant voulues par Dieu, peut certes paraître obsolète et même incompréhensible. Or cette distinction a été longtemps acceptée par les hommes: on pourrait écrire un livre passionant sur “la noblesse dans l’imaginaire populaire”, qui inclurait même la France post-révolutionnaire. (11)
Werner’s book is one of the last encyclopedic historical accounts about nobility, as well as an all-encompassing research on the origins of nobility. I think that this book creates an all too false hope: that we can actually look for the origins or birth of nobility. My point is that there is not such thing as an historical moment in which nobility was absent -and there won’t be one in the future. The problem, therefore, is not to look for the origins of nobility. Instead, what I would like to know is why nobility is always present, even in those moments in which this social categorization is fought against. By the same token, what we would need is to understand how nobility is reinvented, as well as the other circumstances of its reinventions.
My project takes into account one of those particular reinventions: the moment in which a small number of Castilian individuals import, translate, and debate texts about the concept of nobility as they are being produced in the Italian Peninsula, mainly in Tuscany. This project is a combination of two parts: an introduction about nobility theories, and the edition of some of those texts imported and translated in Castile during the Fifteenth-century. The second part includes texts by Bartolo de Sassoferrato, Buonaccorso de Montemagno, Leonardo Bruni, and Gianozzo Manetti; I don’t know yet if I should include also a text that I deem crucial, by Coluccio Salutati, and I am almost certain I will leave aside texts by Stefano Porcari and Pier Candido Decembrio, although I will use them for the introduction. Some of these texts have been previously edited (some of them by me), some others have not.
My first question is quite obvious: why do people become interested in nobility. The very first response, given by historians of all origins and methodologies (Ruiz, Ladero Quesada, Menjot, Hernández, Gerbet, and so on -to mention only the most recent ones) is purely economical. Bernard Guenée, examining the Chronique de Charles VI du Religieux de Saint-Denis puts it with this manifest clarity: the world is divided between nobles and non-nobles, and the difference is that nobles do not pay taxes and non-nobles do (L’opinion publique à la fin du Moyen Âge, 2002:99).
This is one of those arguments that seem completely irrefutable. Designing somebody as noble means exempting him or her from tax-paying. Who would not want to be noble? But then the problem arises: how does one become noble, and thus tax-exempted? [Nota Bene: beware of the important differences between medieval and modern/contemporary taxing]
It is no wonder that people from all social origins wanted to become noble. It is no wonder, either, that nobles became extremely protective of their acquired and / or inherited social category. In that case, theorizing nobility would be discussing the options to both acquire and preserve nobility.
Naturally, this is less obvious than it seems. The whole rationality of the nobility from the standpoint of fiscal history contains a petitio principii. How can we overcome the weight of both the rationality and the paralogisms of this premise of fiscal history?
A different argument -and an extremely important one- is that of Patrick Gilli (La Noblesse du Droit, 2003). Focusing on the Italian glossators of both corpuses of the law, he studies the shift that takes place in mid 12th century, when lawyers start building the juridical foundations for the creation of nobility (cf. too James Brundage, The Medieval Origins of the Legal Profession, 2008). Although this is clearly something that takes place between Accursio and Johannes Teutonicus, I think it is essential to understand that glosses are not the Law (in fact, they are very different). Interestingly enough, it is in Castile where this issue takes actual force of law in the Partidas (I have succinctly explored this in my last book, but needs more in-depth attention).
I would also like to suggest (and I think I will demonstrate this in my current project) that most innovations on the theories on nobility during the 14th and 15th centuries do not arise only as either responses to juridical considerations or to the positions of the nobility of lineage, but also as a response against both. Here is where, I think, one should ask about the reasons whereby theories about nobility become a political philosophy and even an anthropology.
One of the most compelling questions is why theories of and about nobility are linked to new sets of theories about how, when, and why historicize women. Coluccio Salutati and Buonaccorso de Montemagno are two egregious examples. Diego de Valera and Juan Rodríguez del Padrón are, as well, good examples, although in the case of these, we have to take into account not only their individual works, but also the “textual situations” (Taylor, Textual Situations, 2002) in which these works have been transmitted, and the specific forms in which they have been transmitted. This is one of the cases in which text alone does not suffice as an object of analysis.
Another question I would like to ask is this: how the act of theorizing on nobility is entwined with literary experiments. I think it is a common mistake (so much so that it is pervasive) to consider that Dante, Frederick II, Bartolo, and Valera -names chosen for no particular reason and no particular order, other than the fact that they theorize about nobility- are only discussing ideas. They are also experimenting with form and forms of argumentation, some very explicitly (Dante, Bartolo, Valera), and some less explicitly (e.g. Montemagno). How can we introduce formal/literary experimentation in the process of construction of theories on nobility.
By the same token, there is another kind of formal, material, visual, and tangible expression of the theories on nobility. I would argue that two of the most expressive theses on nobility are hardly textual -the manuscripts that contain the regulations and portraits of the brotherhoods of Santa María de Gamonal and Santiago, both of Burgos. These are not the only manuscripts, and I am also convinced that many other visual elements that were configuring the urban space during the two last centuries of the Middle Ages (and even more in 16th and 17th centuries), are very powerful forms of theorizing nobility (for this matter, I think we could take into account works by Michel de Certeau and Henri Lefebvre, and also more modern ones by urban scholars like Harvey or Soja).
I wonder to what degree Morsel’s turn to “aristocracy” (Jospeh Morsel, L’aristocratie médiévale. Ve-XVe siècle, 2004) and Gerbet’s use of the plural “noblesses” (Marie-Claude Gerbet, Les noblesses espagnoles au Moyen Âge. XIe-XVe siècle, 1994), are appropriate to study this issue, or whether they actually detour us from achieving the understanding of the problem in all its complexity: for those who used, desired, coveted, and wanted to protect nobility, there was only one nobility, and their problem was how to put it at their reach. This does not mean that “aristocracy” did not form part of the vocabulary -it did, but rarely, and it is essential to understand when and in what context-, or that they did not use “noblezas” in the plural -they did, but it meant a completely different thing. It only means that they were not looking for alternative nobilities, but rather for one in concrete that gave them a certain number of prerogatives and privileges of many kinds (not only economical).
One of the questions I am interested in developing (and it is an essential part of a future project on glossed manuscripts, a first part of which I will be presenting in Salamanca in February) is how in order to theorize about nobility, some writers delve into what I would call a “poetics of ignobility” (the origins of which I trace back to Boccaccio’s De Casibus).
This is more or less all for today. I will post more bibliography, as promised.