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Inquisition and Power

Catharism and the Confessing Subject in Medieval Languedoc

By John H. Arnold

Publication Year: 2011

What should historians do with the words of the dead? Inquisition and Power reformulates the historiography of heresy and the inquisition by focusing on depositions taken from the Cathars, a religious sect that opposed the Catholic church and took root in southern France during the twelfth century. Despite the fact that these depositions were spoken in the vernacular, but recorded in Latin in the third person and rewritten in the past tense, historians have often taken these accounts as verbatim transcriptions of personal testimony. This belief has prompted some historians, including E. Le Roy Ladurie, to go so far as to retranslate the testimonies into the first-person. These testimonies have been a long source of controversy for historians and scholars of the Middle Ages.

Arnold enters current theoretical debates about subjectivity and the nature of power to develop reading strategies that will permit a more nuanced reinterpretation of these documents of interrogation. Rather than seeking to recover the true voice of the Cathars from behind the inquisitor's framework, this book shows how the historian is better served by analyzing texts as sites of competing discourses that construct and position a variety of subjectivities. In this critically informed history, Arnold suggests that what we do with the voices of history in fact has as much to do with ourselves as with those we seek to 'rescue' from the silences of past.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press


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pp. 1-3


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p. 4-4


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pp. 5-7


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pp. vii-viii

Note on Texts and Translations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. 1-16

We begin with the essence of history: with stories and with death. In the summer of 1273, Bernard de Revel was brought from prison in Toulouse into the presence of the inquisitors Ranulphe de Plassac and Pons de Parnac, to "correct himself" and to add to some previous confession now lost to the historical record. ...

Part I

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1. The Lump and the Leaven: The Move to Inquisition

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pp. 19-47

Let us begin with two exchanges of viewpoint on the complex question of "belief." Both involve bishops and heretics, and both come from what is usually termed "the Middle Ages," but they belong to different worlds. How one perspective changed to another is one concern of this book; these brief accounts therefore establish the trajectory of our inquiry. ...

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2. To Correct the Guilty Life: Representation and Knowledge

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pp. 48-73

The Albigensian crusade had ended in 1229, and with the cessation of armed conflict, a new kind of battle against heresy within Languedoc could begin. In the following two decades, inquisitors would question, record, and assign penance to thousands of people. ...

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3. The Construction of the Confessing Subject

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pp. 74-110

In the year 1290, on 15 September, a woman called Richa Topina of Rivière-Cabaret was interrogated by the Dominican inquisitor Guillaume de Saint Seine. The questioning took place in the prison of Carcassonne, where she was already sequestered, and the register tells us that she was "spontaneously'' adding to a previous confession, ...

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Part II

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pp. 111-115

The first half of this book mapped the creation of a discourse—inquisition—to demonstrate the conditions that produced the representation of subaltern speech found within inquisitorial registers. This second section reads the evidence of those registers in light of that analysis, firstly (in Chapter 4) thematically, ...

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4. Questions of Belief: Catharism and Its Contexts

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pp. 116-163

Between1277 and 1279, Pierre Pictavin, an elder of the village of Sorèze, was interrogated eight times by inquisitors. He talked in detail about Catharism in his locality, reporting the activities of himself and his neighbors. Among his statements, we find the following vignette, recounting a conversation from about 1266: ...

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5. Sex, Lies, and Telling Stories: A Critical and Effective History

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pp. 164-225

And so, at last, we return to the words exchanged between Pyrenean villagers and the man who would become pope. Jacques Fournier was born around 1278. He received his mastership of arts at Paris 1313-14, became bishop of Pamiers in 1317, and in 1334 went on to become Pope Benedict XII.1 ...

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pp. 226-230

We are a little in love with the dead, I think. They appear to be at once so biddable and yet so mysterious. As Jacques Rancière has recently noted, it is the silences of the past that provide both the possibility and the impossibility of history: without the gaps and elisions of our sources, which so frustrate us and leave our knowledge incomplete, ...


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pp. 231-232


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pp. 233-282


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pp. 283-304


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pp. 305-312

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pp. 313-324

This book examines, among other things, how texts are formed from multiple voices; and as a text itself, the present work is indebted to the voices of friends and colleagues. The initial stages of my research were carried out at the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of York, and my first thanks must go to Pete Biller, for his scholarship, friendship, and generosity, ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812201161
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812236187

Page Count: 328
Publication Year: 2011