- Voyager avec le Diable: Voyages réels, voyages imaginaires et discours démonologiques (XVe-XVIIe siècles)
I must admit that my first response upon seeing this volume was: why do we need yet another French essay collection on demonology? The craze for these would seem to be surpassed only by the witch craze of the seventeenth century. In the pages of this same journal, not long ago, I reviewed the similar Fictions du diable, edited by Françoise Lavocat, Pierre Kapitaniak, and Marianne Closson, the last of whom is also a contributor to the current volume. This must be a booming industry! But on further reflection, this book does have a unique angle, one that could seem whimsical, but is in fact deadly serious. The saying goes, "don't judge a book by its cover." But you can (and in fact, should) judge this one by this criterion, for the cover illustration is invoked explicitly in the preface as a point of departure for the entire collection. The cover of this paperback features a beautifully-reproduced detail of Luca Signorelli's fresco The Damned from the San Brizio chapel of the Cathedral in Orvieto. It is a seductively attractive view of a naked woman riding through the air on the back of a winged demon, her fingers intwined with his. This image then becomes iconic for the volume as a whole, as the reader imaginatively transposes herself into the picture, with the grinning demon whispering malevolently in her ear: "Hold on tight! . . . For it's going to be quite a ride."
In the lighthearted preface, Frank Lestringant plays upon this idea deliberately, likening the book's editors to a diabolical travel agency. And he has a point. In this volume we take trips to France, Spain, Brazil, Canada, India, Peru, China, and Haiti. What is more, we travel through the murky waters of studies on the legendary Island of Demons; witches' and sorcerers' flights through the air (with or without the requisite broomstick); Johann Kepler's mother's trial for sorcery, and his literary defense of her; the inconstancy of the ocean and its satanic connotations; politically subversive undertones to the first French novel set in the New World; the movements of such ever-shifting figures as the antichrist and the devil disguised as a false pilgrim; Peruvian kings returned from the dead; and even demonic birds. The startling intellectual crux of this volume is the intersection of demonology with geography, a particularly fascinating juxtaposition in the West during the Age of Discovery. The thread uniting these essays is the well-founded [End Page 1278] assumption that European explorers figuratively populated the world with demons as they wrote chronicles of their journeys in which they saw indigenous cultures through Old World demonological paradigms. In their view, every statue became an idol and every act of ritual cannibalism was a dark parody of the Catholic Mass. It is a normal and natural cognitive process to use the known as a bridge to the unknown; but in this case, the ramifications were particularly extensive and unfortunate. The literal demonization of indigenous peoples is an often understudied legacy of conquest. This topic should be important to future postcolonial formulations because religious beliefs lie at the roots of so many cultural attitudes.
If there is a ghost haunting this volume, it would be the shadowy figure of Michel de Certeau. He touches upon this material repeatedly in, for example, his La Possession de Loudun and La Fable mystique; and this book's authors invoke him as a theoretical paradigm with some frequency. If there is a lacuna marring the book's completeness, it would be the one pointed out by Frank Lestringant in the preface: why, among these many contributors, is there no theologian here? Surely a scholarly priest (of which there are many) might have been able to provide some balance to offset...