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  • Rebellion, Community and Custom in Early Modern Germany
  • Kathy Stuart
Rebellion, Community and Custom in Early Modern Germany. By Norbert Schindler ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. xiv plus 311 pp. $80.00).

This collection of essays is the English translation of a volume that appeared in 1992 under the German title Widerspenstige Leute. Studien zur Volkskultur in der frühen Neuzeit. Inspired by the work of Natalie Zemon Davis (who wrote a foreword to the English edition), E.P. Thompson, Gramsci and Bourdieu among [End Page 1144] others, Schindler explores German popular culture from the perspective of historical anthropology. He is particularly interested in conflicts and reciprocal influences between popular ritual practices and traditional aristocratic ruling elites, as well as the emerging bureaucratic regimes of the territorial states.

In "Habitus and lordship: the transformation of aristocratic practices of rule in the sixteenth century," Schindler portrays the Lord of a small Swabian territory, Count Gottfried Werner von Zimmern (1484-1554), as a transitional figure. Traditional knightly culture was crumbling under the impact of state-building, but the Count was not yet bound into the civilized sociability of emerging court society. Still fully immersed in local popular culture, Gottfried knew how to 'embody' his authority over his subjects in face-to-face interactions, whether through "threatening gesture"(31) or carnivalesque camaraderie.

In "The world of nicknames: on the logic of popular nomenclature," Schindler interprets popular nicknames as a concise way to convey social information in an urban environment. Members of marginal groups were particularly likely to bear nicknames. Neutral or even admiring in tone, their nicknames show, Schindler argues, that popular culture, as opposed to "the powerful," "continued to consider outsiders as part of itself and treat them as such"(76). This conclusion is problematic, since Schindler gives no indication of who accorded the nicknames, and thus whose values they expressed. Gleaned largely from criminal interrogation records, it seems likely that the nicknames reflect the values of the criminal milieu more than they express solidarity with social outsiders within popular culture at large. Here Schindler portrays popular culture as more inclusive than it really was.

In "Carnival, church and the world turned upside-down: on the function of the culture of laughter in the sixteenth century," Schindler draws on Bakhtin to emphasize the corporeality of carnival ritual. Young men, always the dominant group in carnival, delighted in gender inversion and body theatre, engaging in "body contact rites"(136), brawling, shoving, smearing one another with dirt. Aristocrats, not yet withdrawn from popular culture, participated enthusiastically, though on their terms: "aristocratic culture depended on a whole arsenal of 'close contact' hegemonic practices in order to come out on top of the social confrontation of the body"(142). At the expense of their subjects, aristocrats had the last laugh.

Schindler further explores themes of inversion in "'Marriage-weariness' and compulsory matrimony: the popular punishment of pulling the plough and the block." In a popular ritual of rebuke, young men rounded up women who had not taken a husband by Shrove Tuesday, and yoked them to a plough, forcing them to pull it—an inversion of the sexual division of labor, since plowing was men's work. Part degradation, part courtship ritual, the event concluded with a banquet and dance. Schindler traces changes in form and meaning of the ritual, under the impact of the Protestant Reformation, Catholic Counter-Reformation, and the disciplinary intervention of the state. Peasant still practicing the ritual in the eighteenth century had completely forgotten its original meaning; by the nineteenth century it was subject to folkloristic revival.

In "Nocturnal disturbances: on the social history of the night in the early modern period," Schindler chronicles elites' efforts to colonize the night. The Counter-Reformation Church sought to wrest control of the night from disorderly [End Page 1145] groups of unmarried young men and tavern-goers, or from even more nefarious forces. Church bells rang on Walpurgis Night to disrupt witches' sabbaths, and the church orchestrated Good Friday processions at night, an attempt that was ultimately abandoned because of popular "excesses" perpetrated under cover of darkness. After their abolition, Good Friday processions were quickly forgotten—"an indication that even a hegemonic...


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