Ginzburg 1980

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Ginzburg, Carlo. The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller. Trans. by John and Anne Tedeschi. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980.

how to do a history of popular culture without an historical record?

"To what degree is the first [the subordinate classes], in fact, subordinate to the second [the dominant classes]? And, in what measure does lower class culture express a partially independent content? Is it possible to speak of reciprocal movement between the two levels of culture?" (xiv)

evidence: written, generally "by individuals who were more or less openly attached to the dominant culture. This means that the thoughts, the beliefs, and the aspirations o the peasants and artisans of the past reach us (if and when they do) almost always through distorting viewpoints and intermediaries." (xv)

Robert Mandrou answers question by looking at almanacs, songsters, recipes, etc., disseminated to and imposed on the subordinate classes, finding in it an "escapist" attitude (xv); problematic, though, because 1) most peasants couldn't read, and 2) wasn't culture produced by the masses

Bahktin answers by developing idea of carnivalesque in popular cultures, that filters up to literature of the ruling classes (xvi-xvii)

N. Z. Davis, "Printing and the People"

qualitative method -- can't look at individuals, only types and trends that emerge through quantitative analysis (xx)

confusion in concept of "popular culture:

"First there is attributed to the subordinate classes of preindustrial society a passive accommodation to the cultural sub-products proffered by the dominant classes (Mandrou), then an implied suggestion of at least partly autonomous values in respect to the culture of the latter (Bolleme), and finally an absolute extraneousness that places the subordinate class actually beyond or, better yet, in a state prior to culture (Foucault). ... To what extent are the possible elements of the dominant culture found in popular culture the result of a more or less deliberate acculturation, or of a more or less spontaneous convergence, rather than of an unconscious distortion of the source, inclined obviously to lead what is unknown back to the known and the familiar?" (xix)

looking at texts produced by dominant culture about subordinate: "a deeply-rooted stratum of basically autonomous popular beliefs began to emerge by way of the discrepancies between the questions of the judges and the replies of the accused -- discrepancies unattributable to either suggestive questioning or to torture" (xix)

"As with language, culture offers to the individual a horizon of latent possibilities -- a flexible and invisible cage in which he can exercise his own conditional liberty. With rare clarity and understanding, Menocchio articulated the language that history put at his disposal. Thus, it becomes possible to trace in his disclosures in a particularly distinct, almost exaggerated form, a series of convergent elements, which, in a similar group of sources that are contemporary or slightly later, appear lost or are barely mentioned. A few soundings confirm the existence of traits reduceable to a common peasant culture. In conclusion, even a limited case (and Menocchio certainly is this) can be representative: i na negative sense, because it helps to explain what should be understood, in a given situation, as being 'in the statistical majority'; or, positively, because it permits us to define the latent possibilities of something (popular culture) otherwise known to us only through fragmentary and distorted documents, almost all of which originate in the 'archives of the repression.'" (xxi)
"The almanacs, the songsters, the books of piety, the lives of the saints, the entire pamphlet literature that constituted the bulk of the book trade, today appear static, inert, and unchanging to us. But how were they read by the public of the day? To what extent did the prevalently oral culture of those readers interject itself in the use of the text, modifying it, reworking it, perhaps to the point of changing its very essence?" (xxii)

mentalities -- unsatisfying approach; reduces difference to typologies (xxiii-xxiv);

"But Menocchio is also a dispersed fragment, reaching us by chance, of an obscure shadowy world that can be reconnected to our own history only b an arbitrary act. That culture has been destroyed. To respect its residue of unintelligibility that resists any attempt at analysis does not mean succumbing to a foolish fascination for the exotic and incomprehensible. It is simply taking note of a historical mutilation of which, in a certain sense, we ourselves are the victims." (xxvi)

"Everybody has his calling, some to plow, some to hoe, and I have mine, which is to blaspheme." (qt from Menocchio, pg 4)

What was Menocchio reading? (28-30)

  • noticing "in this tiny community a network of raeders who overcame the obstacle of their meager financial resources by passing books to one another" (30);
  • "books were part of daily life for these people. They were objects to be used, treated without excessive regard, sometimes exposed to the dangers of water and tearing" (31)
"Any attempt to consider these books as 'sources' in the mechanical sense of the term collapses before the aggressive originality of Menocchio's reading. More than the text, then, what is important is the key to his reading, a screen that he unconsciously placed between himself and the printed page: a filter that emphasized certain words while obscuring others, that stretched the meaning of a word, taking it out of its context, that acted on Menocchio's memory and distorted the very words of the text. And this screen, this key to his reading, continually leads us back to a culture that is very different from the one expressed on the printed page -- one based on an oral tradition." (33)
"The diversity of beliefs and practices described by Mandeville led Menocchio to ask himself about the foundations of his own beliefs and accts. These largely imaginary islands furnished him with an Archimedean point from which to look at the world where he was born and had lived." (45)
"He had chewed upon and squeezed meaning out of every word in these books. He pondered them for years; for years words and phrases had fermented in his memory." (45)
"As usual, he aggressively distorted the text (but obviously in a wholly involuntary manner). The flood of questions that he brought to his books went far beyond the written page. But in this particular case the function of the text was not at all secondary: "And from there I got my opinion that when the body dies, the soul dies too, since out of many different kinds of nations, some believe in one way some in another."" (47)
"It was not the book as such, but the encounter between the printed page and oral culture that formed an explosive mixture in Menocchio's head." (51)

Earth appears from original chaos like cheese curdled from milk; God / men appears like worms in the cheese; evidence of an oral popular tradition? (57-8)

  • "In Menocchio's talk we see emerging, as if out of a crevice in the earth, a deep=-rooted cultural stratum so unusual as to appear almost incomprehensible. This case, unlike others examined thus far, involves not only a reaction filtered through the written page, but also an irreducible residue of oral culture. The Reformation and the diffusion of printing had been necessary to permit this different culture to come to light. Because of the first, a simple miller had dared to think of speaking out, of voicing his own opinions about the Church and the world. Thanks to the second, words were at his disposal to express the obscure, inarticulate snatches of sentences wrung out of books he found the instruments to formulate and defend his ideas over the years, first with the other villagers, later even against judges armed with learning and authority." (58-9)

building a cosmogeny out of "mass of composite elements, ancient and not so ancient"; "with an unselfconscious and open mind he made use of remnants of the thinking of others as he might stones and bricks. But the linguistic and conceptual tools that he tried to acquire were neither neutral nor innocent. ... Using terms infused with Christianity, neo-Platonism, and scholastic philosophy, Menocchio tried to express the elemental, instinctive materialism of generation after generation of peasants." (61)

abundance of metaphors; tend toward "absolute literalism" (62; c.f. Deleuze and Guattari 1986)

materialism of Menocchio; distant God as overseer of laborers who actually construct (64)

metaphor of a new world (mundus novus) -- meant geographically in travels of Amerigo Vespucci, taken up as social metaphor in Erasmus; shift explicit in utopian literature (82)

comparison with Scolia (113ff.), peasant utopias; "n the case of Menocchio, in short, we perceive a free and aggressive spirit intent on squaring things with the culture of the dominant classes; in the case of Scolio, we find a more reserved position, which expends its polemical charge in a moralizing condemnation of urban culture and the longing for an egalitarian and patriarchal society." (118)

in late medieval, c15/c16 society, miller associated with hell; hostility between peasants and millers (seen as cheating peasants out of money); seen as heretics, all half-Lutheran; working conditions made them receptive to ideas, mill as social center of a town (119)