Renaissance Wogs

The Problem of Unbelief in the 16th Century: The Religion of Rabelais (Lucien Febvre, 1942)

They were simple people who gave way to their feelings. We repress ours…. (p. 100)

Here, too, was the “underdevelopment of sight”.  He was content to “feel” — like his whole age (p. 454).

Who was Febvre talking about? Martin Luther, and with him, the entire Renaissance: Erasmus, More, Montaigne, Pico, Rabelais, the whole shebang. This is the Annales school’s famous histoire des mentalités. Where did it come from?

A while ago our teacher Lévy-Bruhl investigated how and why primitives reasoned differently from civilized men. Yet a good part of the latter remained primitives for a long time (p. 6).

But  Lévy-Bruhl was refuted by Lévi-Strauss, and there’s no such thing as “la mentalité primitive”!  And anyway, you’re not supposed to talk about white people that way — Luther and Erasmus were not wogs! (Paging Edward Said).

During the first half of the 20th century French rationalism and scientism were fierce and savage. Febvre was diligently refuting an even more rationalistic earlier book by Abel Lefranc which had claimed that Rabelais himself was a pure rationalist, centuries ahead of his time.

Published in: on April 14, 2013 at 8:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

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