Carlo Ginzburg: Il formaggio e i vermi Il cosmo di un mugnaio del '500

This is a microhistory of a sixteenth century Italian miller whose heretical beliefs brought him to the attention of the Inuisition Ginzburg uses the records of his trial to examine his personal theology and cosmology and to examine to what extent we can recover a pre modern popular culture I thought it was a sophisticated attempt at a microhistory than The Return of Martin Guerre Ginzburg approaches his sources with subtlety and with awareness of the dangers of pre conceived notions I particularly appreciated how Ginzburg s critical awareness of the sources contrasted with Menocchio s own sometimes wilful misreadings of the texts he came into contact with That said I m not sure why Ginzburg is so insistent that the peasant culture in which Menocchio lived had strong nonpre Christian elements and why the unorthodox elements of Menocchio s thought were necessarily products of such cultural elements rather than of independent thought in as much as such a thing is possible of course or other influences I m still not sure about his conclusions in as much as they are predicated on the suitability of Menocchio a single and rather eccentric man as a means of investigating Friuli peasantry as a whole I m undecided but I ll be thinking about this one for a while this guy goes on for 150 pages about ALL the possible explanations for this random peasant thinking that the world was formed from chaos like the way cheese coagulates then he s like the collective unconscious is an unacceptable explanation like wtf this whole book is dumb and this guy wasted his time writing it and the translators wasted their time translating it it s literally written like well the miller may have gotten his ideas from THIS SMALL FAR OFF CHRISTIAN EXTREMIST GROUP because their thoughts line up so well but actually it s completely IMPOSSIBLE FOR HIM TO HAVE EVER BEEN IN CONTACT WITH THEM DURING THIS ERA like seriously SHUT UP u dragged it This is an insightful book for all of us who assume European peasants were illiterate uneducated non thinking folk Our hero the miller Menocchio could read and write owned a few books borrowed a few had read the Decameron and dipped into the Koran and combined the ideas he got from books with the oral tradition of 16th century rural Friuli to form his own slightly odd very creative para Catholic religious notions His discussions of these notions with others brought him to the attention of the local inuisition which uestioned him and decided he wasn t ust a heretic but a badass heresiarch He was influencing others and needed to be imprisoned and forever wear a penitential garment After a few years he was released from prison but he couldn t stop talking and ultimately the cardinal and pope put their red slippers down and insisted he be burned at the stake pronto The reason this book gets assigned in history courses is because of its historiographic interest the overlap between social history and the history of ideas We should not let the long tradition of smearing practicing Catholics as the brainwashed servants of a threatening foreign power in which sensationalist and hyperbolic depictions of the Roman Inuisition play a part from identifying the Catholic Church of the late sixteenth century for what it was a repressive cruel and in modern terms fussily anal retentive organization No Dead Boy justification can or should be sought for torture for the wracking of Menocchio and countless others on the ropes of the strappado or in the flames of the auto da f Nor will excuses be made here on the basis of torture s application in a minority of cases or of the historical and sadly contemporary commonplaceness of the practice The 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 libertyLargely a detective endeavor of sorts with leanings towards literary analysis The work itself is an account of a heresy trial in early modern Italy While the fate of the miller might be grim this book also offers a startling optimism As Terry Eagleton once noted the fact that we send our youth to universities where they have access to the revolutionary sway of ideas there s always hope for a liberated future Ginzburg dazzles the reader with his erudition his examination of the 16C testimony where a bit of a loud mouth freethinking miller finds himself in ecclesiastic court which wasn t uite Toruemada s Inuisition yet it was during the Counter Reformation and that didn t bode well The miller wanted an audience until he saw that his neck was on the line His arrogant cosmology is rather fascinating Ginzburg s parsing of the books the miller had read anduxtaposing such with his testimony is rather exciting Ginzburg s classic microhistory The Cheese and the Worms begins with a penetrating theoretical essay that sets out at length the necessity of carrying out historiography with theoretical sophistication informed by recent developments in critical theory in literature and the human sciences Unfortunately his work suffers from a severe deficiency commonly evidenced by such theorists While his critiue of the naive approach taken by his putative opponents is devastating he utterly fails to apply similarly rigorous critical standards to their own writing Like so many others. The Cheese and the Worms is an incisive study of popular culture in the sixteenth century as seen through the eyes of one man the miller known as Menocchio who was accused of heresy during the Inuisition and sentenced to death Carlo Ginzburg uses the trial records to illustrate the confusing political and religious conditions of the timeFor a common miller Menocchio was surprisingly literate In his trial testimony he made references to than a dozen books including.

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S he never claims Menocchio s story is representative merely that it represents something we haven t heard before I m certain this is true I only wish the new story were compelling As a medievalist I run across this book all the time which is funny considering it s not really a medieval book it s Renaissanceearly modern It s made a huge splash in The Study of Old Things though so I m not surprised it finally showed up in a class of mine on the reading listSo the gist of the story and it really does read like a story which is kind of neat is Ginzburg following the trials by the inuisition no not the one you didn t expect another one of a miller for being well batshit crazy about his theology The title comes from this miller s idea of the beginning of the universe that it kind of curdled like cheese into being and the angels came out of it like wormsYeah It s gross And oddAnd a lot of the other ideas of the miller Domenico Scandella aka Menocchio are also odd and they eventually got him burnt Omg spoiler alert I know What Ginzburg is doing and then his translators the Tedeschis is taking the handful of sources we have that document Menocchio s trials and filling in the blanks to create a coherent story It s microcosm history and it s hard to categorize because Ginzburg is taking a lot of liberties in saying what people were thinking and feeling when all we have is what they said So it s not straight up history but then it s not fiction either because we really do have all of these documents left behind evidenced in the endnotes which you can skip reading and still understand what s going on he wrote it that way actually and has no numbers anywhere which took some getting used toWhat comes out of this is an interesting story about a crazy miller who didn t know when to shut up so I recommend it for that The historian in me ust can t uite handle the leaps Ginzburg makes from the available evidence though so I m really unsure if I will hang on to it The Cheese and the Worms is a ground breaking expos into the field of microhistory and remains a foundational work for historians today Ginzberg used the story of Menocchio a sixteenth century miller who was twice prosecuted and ultimately condemned by the inuisition for holding and preaching egregiously heretical beliefs As a miller and a literate man Menocchio had a greater exposure to people and ideas than the average peasant farmer and apparently also a keen intellect which he used to ponder the world and the Catholic church s teachings Ginzberg uses his story to attempt to reveal what ideas were floating around in the general peasant population concerning the reformation and Catholic and protestant doctrine The tale Ginzberg weaves has tantalizing possibilities but it suffers from two general flaws The most grave of which is that he clearly had too much information for a concise paper but far too little evidence for a satisfying monograph What information Ginzburg mined from the inuisition records was reduced reused and recycled to the point where the reader finds himself continually double checking his page to make sure he isn t re reading Further making 62 chapters out of 128 pages seems to be little than the classic and transparent undergraduate techniue to fill space In his defense the lack of pages comes not from a lack of research but from a limited information pool it seems that too many documents have been lost to time Ginzberg also patents what has become the downfall of microhistories by writing up to chapter 61 on ust Menocchio and then in the next to last chapter attempting to explain unconvincingly how this single man illustrates a sampling of the greater picture He attempted to bolster his claim by introducing a new character also a miller but uite frankly it ust doesn t cut it In this case Ginzberg s claim seems particularly odd as he built so much of his argument on the fact that Menocchio was not representative of the average peasant as he was clearly someone who thought for himself collating authored passages with his own distinctive observations and whimsical notions While this techniue of microhistory is certainly an interesting approach to doing history I remain as of yet unconvinced that it is a wholly viable method because of the problems it creates for historians when they arrive at the end of the book and find themselves forced to ustify their musings by answering the ever crucial so what factor When Ginzberg found himself in this said predicament his resolution was to grasp at straws and attempt to make broad claims for which his work did not lay the proper foundation to support That said as the first in its field and as a highly intriguing study about a most interesting man the work merits reading and re reading once for content and a second for techniue Fantastic study based on trial records of a sixteenth century Italian miller charged with heresy The book offers a glimpse into an alternative and generally unheard from world view that is full of so much imagination on the part of the miller that it should put many a fiction writer to shameThat really is its strength and virtue to be a reminder that the masses of people that now we label as Lutheran Catholic or Anabaptist were a mess of individuals While the beliefs of the hierarchies can be listed and referenced to pu. Case oriented approach known as microhistory In a thoughtful new preface Ginzburg offers his own corollary to Menocchio’s story as he considers the discrepancy between the intentions of the writer and what gets written The Italian miller’s story and Ginzburg’s work continue to resonate with modern readers because they focus on how oral and written culture are inextricably linked Menocchio’s 500 year old challenge to authority remains evocative and vital tod.

He instead succumbs to the intoxication induced by the wide free vista he has opened out to champion a revolutionary approach that fails on the level of argumentation and evidence This bad habit clings perniciously to critical theorists and has unfortunately marred the legacy of their collective undertaking I have read many works by Foucault for example and benefited greatly from his penetrating analytical powers and his style but many of his actual arguments are factually untenable It is widely known for example that the ship of fools he describes in his study of madness never really existed and that his historical arguments and theories are interesting and even illuminating but generally false I will confess I do not understand what it is about critical theory that leads so many of its chief proponents to abandon basic standards of reason and evidence It is not theoretically reuired by their own arguments and there is simply no necessity in it One merely need apply the same standards of critiue to oneself that one applies to one s opponent Ginzburg s work is interesting but unpersuasive and the core value I derived from it is the human story at its core the story of a stubborn and free thinking Italian in the early modern period who made the fatal mistake of speaking truthfully to the Inuisition at the wrong historical moment and largely on the basis of ideas that are widely held today was burned alive This far Ginzburg is on solid ground Unfortunately he refuses to take Ginzburg at his word who repeatedly proclaimed during his trial that he developed his basic ideas himself Rather Ginzburg seeks to reconstruct a nebulous substrate of peasant culture one that can only be indirectly observed and characterized by its effects and products which maintained antiue cosmological traditions resembling the ones Menocchio espoused Perhaps nothing should raise red flags to a scientist of conscience than the positing of an unobserved substrate on the basis of its supposed theoretical necessity We need think no further than the putative luminous ether that was presumed to serve as the medium in which light waves propagate until it was disproved by the findings of Michelson and Morely Like the proponents of the luminous ether Ginzburg does not believe that things can exist unless they are inscribed within some kind of medium That is religious and cosmological similarities may only be explained by diffusion or coincidence I would recommend that he carefully study Maya Deren s Divine Horsemen which meticulously describes a complete and functional religious system with rituals and a subtending elaborate mythology which was the spontaneous creation of a heterogeneous group of peoples brought to Haiti from the four corners of the earth and which includes key recognizable archetypal figures such as the shining lady the lord of the waters and the trickster figure of the crossroads who mediates between the worlds of the living and the dead It is an empirical fact that the human mind carries within itself the capacity to spontaneously create symbols and ideas of certain recognizable types and it reuires no metaphysical speculation to explain them any than we need to posit the soul to explain the ubiuity of language or music in human cultures Human brains are largely similar and humans are biologically and historically confronted with similar sets of compelling concerns such as maturation reproduction and the deaths of friends and family No further explanation is necessary Because Ginzburg insists that all religious forms must be the result of diffusion he would rather impute an invisible structure to serve at its base than to take Menocchio at his word I find that a bizarre and uncompelling approach and believe it has been inadeuately worked out or Eros Unbound (Great Loves, justified I must reject it because he ultimately argues for it on the basis of his theoretical commitments and assumptions not with the historical facts and statements before him This book is so hyped in academic circles that it was perhaps setting itself up as a disappointment before I even cracked it open I m sure for the right type of history major that is one that s interested in actual events in history rather than their theoretical importance this is a revelation For me it was boring than I care to admit I couldn t care about the miller Menocchio any than I care about any other random individual on the street Sure he was uncommonly literate and yes it was somewhat interesting to see how his reading manifested itself into his belief system thusustifying fears that when peasants get a hold of books they are going to come to their own conclusions regarding their contents rather than those the clergy so dogmatically thrust upon them However Ginzburg is careful to not blame books entirely for Menocchio s heresy He explains though it sometimes seems like he s doing little than speculating how traditions of oral culture combined with the burgeoning literary culture to produce Menocchio s beliefs In any case I wanted theory and less story Especially since this book is continually praised as an example of how you can tell an important tale without than a close analysis of a single person s life thus triumphs the ualitative researcher Ginzburg talks a bit about this in the preface and has some interesting and reasoned insight. The Bible Boccaccio's Decameron Mandeville's Travels and a mysterious book that may have been the Koran And what he read he recast in terms familiar to him as in his own version of the creation All was chaos that is earth air water and fire were mixed together; and of that bulk a mass formed ust as cheese is made out of milk and worms appeared in it and these were the angelsGinzburg’s influential book has been widely regarded as an early example of the analytic.

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Born in 1939 he is the son of of Italian Ukranian translator Leone Ginzburg and Italian writer Natalia Ginzburg Historian whose fields of interest range from the Italian Renaissance to early modern European History with contributions in art history literary studies popular cultural beliefs and the theory of historiography