The second call for applications to award fellowships for advanced studies on
Political Thought and the Body: Europe and East Asia, ca. 1100-1650
Medieval and early modern historians of Europe are familiar with the metaphor of the body politic. A given community (the city, the church, the kingdom, the guild, the state, the nation etc.) is imagined as a body (mystical, human, animal, monstrous…) and the parallel thus established provides speakers and writers with tools to argue a variety of political points. The body metaphor could evoke ideas of unity, interdependence, hierarchy, biological need, illness, integrity, fertility, and so on, and transfer such ideas onto the political plan. The body politic was also gendered, and gendering expanded in specific ways the socio-sexual implications of the metaphor. An elaborate theoretical use of the metaphor is present already in the Greek and Roman tradition, as well as the Pauline epistles; Muslim thinkers steeped in the Aristotelian tradition, such as al-Farabi (872-950), expanded its political meaning, particularly with medical connotations. From the twelfth century onwards in Europe the body metaphor underpinned theories of the corporation in legal thought, where imagining a collectivity as a corpus played a fundamental role in developing an idea of legal personhood separate from human individuals, scholastic ethical-political theory, ecclesiastical discourse about and against heresy and conciliarism, as well as early modern political thought and religious polemic. The metaphor was indeed a focal point of many texts of explicit political theory, from John of Salisbury, to Marsilius of Padua, to Christine de Pizan, to Thomas Hobbes. For the philosopher Hans Blumenberg, who traced an original path to a ‘metaphorology’ from Ernst Cassirer’s theory of symbolic forms, late medieval and early modern European thought was informed by contrasting (and interactive) ‘absolute metaphors’, including organic and mechanic metaphors.
If the use of the body-politic in theoretical texts has received sustained historical attention, the same cannot be said of the use of the metaphor in ordinary political languages. The body-politic metaphor circulated widely beyond clerical-learned circles and was used commonly in political language, as shown by documents as diverse as letters, sermons, court records, minutes of councils, or political poems. The diffusion, persistence and multivalence of the body-politic metaphor in the ordinary political languages of medieval and early modern Europe suggest that it played a fundamental role as a conceptual enabler of political imagination and debate.
Body-derived political metaphors have not been as central in the historiography on pre-modern East Asian political thought (East Asia here defined as the Sinosphere, or the area of diffusion of Chinese characters, including China, Korea, Japan, and to an extent Vietnam). In early Chinese, and especially Daoist, traditions the correlation between the body (particularly but not only 形, xing, the body-form) and the state, rule over the state and rule over the body, played a role in both thought and ritual. Such a correlation was part of a widespread correlative understanding of the relationship between macrocosm and microcosm. Interestingly, in those early Daoist texts where the correlation is an explicit object of reflection, it is often the state that is used to illustrate and explain the body, for the purposes of self-cultivation and religious practice, which included the visualisation of the body as an inner landscape. Buddhist and Neo-Confucian thought interacted with Daoist principles for much of the intellectual history of East Asia, and an engagement with correlative ideas about the body and the polity emerges in a rather fragmentary way in some sources or studies of individual writers or schools. ‘The Son of Heaven is the head, the princes are the hands and feet; they may be called one body’ wrote the historian Song Lien in a mirror for the imperial children in 1373. A Ming regional inspector writing in 1516 could equate the people of the southern provinces to ‘the blood and the qi’ flowing to the ‘heart’ of empire, Beijing. In Muromachi Japan bands of warriors forming an ikki or league swore to be ‘one body’ and a radical Pure Land Buddhist religious leader such as Rennyo assimilated the community of believers to his ‘own body’. There are also clear, if underdeveloped, clues that the complex symbolic meanings ascribed, particularly through ritual, to the body of the Emperor referred to a correlative nexus between his body and the country.
This project is first historical study of body-derived metaphors in both East Asian and European political languages of the pre-modern era. The chronology adopted (ca. 1100 to ca. 1650) is a deliberate effort to avoid the Euro-centric or Sino-centric perspectives that inform established chronologies. While the start and end dates should be understood as generic, the period under consideration presents some elements of coherence both in European and East Asian historiographies. Intellectual history is dominated by scholastic and anti-scholastic learning in Europe, in East Asia by Neo-Confucian discourse and its relationship to Buddhist and Daoist thought, as well as folk beliefs. In both areas by the reception of and commentary on authoritative ‘classical’ texts played a fundamental role in structuring official learning. In Europe and East Asia the diffusion and vernacularisation of learning increased during this period, aided by higher rates of literacy and the technology of movable-type printing. This period is, importantly, one of diverse, and in many instances precarious, state-forms, punctuated by major episodes of revolt against political authority. Finally, this period encompasses two early phases of globalisation and intensified interaction between Europe and East Asia, the first during the Mongol rule, the second as a result of the first European and Chinese oceanic explorations.
The project interrogates categories such as modern/pre-modern, individual/community, insiders/outsiders and aims to generate one of the first examples of comparative intellectual history of the world before 1700. The core objectives are four:
- to describe usages and functions of body-derived metaphors in the political languages, theoretical and pragmatic, of Europe and East Asia in the period from ca. 1100 to ca. 1650, in parallel with changes in understandings of the human-animal body and the polity;
- to analyse differences, similarities, and interactions in the conceptualisation of the body and the polity through metaphorical means, within and between pre-modern Europe and East Asia;
- to provide case-studies testing the performative role of metaphorical utterances in political discourse and their change over time;
- to interrogate both the universality of body metaphors and the absolute ‘otherness’ of distant cultural areas.
Comparison remains a perilous endeavour for historians, yet also an exciting and perhaps ultimately unavoidable one. The historian’s interpretation of particularity and individual contexts is always framed by a more or less broad comparative background, which remains often implicit and unsystematic. Since Marc Bloch’s reflections on the dangers of a comparative history of ‘unrelated’ cultures, and his attempt to use the idea of Japanese ‘feudal society’ in relation to the European Middle Ages, medievalists in particular have been rather wary of comparative histories on a global scale. Methods for connected histories and histoires croisées have been developed particularly by early modern and modern historians, and this fact is not unrelated to the established chronology of globalisation. Comparative history on a Eurasian scale, however, is proving to be an increasingly interesting and fertile field of discussion and methodological innovation for medievalists, as the idea of the ‘global Middle Ages’ gains traction in both research and teaching.
The project’s focus on metaphor as its main unit of analysis requires a substantial effort of methodological innovation. The history of political thought has moved away, since the late 1970s, from the reification of trans-historical ‘ideas’ in favour of a contextualist approach, and has experimented with ‘concepts’ or ‘Begriffe’ as objects of historical analysis, alongside more traditional studies centred on the ‘thought’ of individual writers. The project treats political languages as performative, shaped by political reality and in turn shaping it, in a process where borrowings, re-signification and mis-interpretation are common. The usage and meaning of body metaphors wasn’t limited to texts: on the contrary, images (and rituals) contributed significantly to this discourse, and have not been integrated in a sustained manner in the existing literature, aside from case-studies such as the famous frontispiece of Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, designed by the author himself.
The project’s vast geographical and chronological scope is its greatest challenge and its greatest potential. It requires a diversity of expertise that can only be achieved as a collaborative enterprise. The project’s team will be composed of a group of scholars with expertise in European and East Asian cultural, intellectual and political history. The coherence of the project as a whole is the product not only of the common focus on the body-politic metaphor, but also of the methodological convergence that will result from regular interaction and exchange for the duration of the project.
Allan 1997 – Sarah Allan, The Way of Water and Sprouts of Virtue, Albany NY, SUNY Press, 1997
Antoni 1998 – Klaus Antoni, Shintô und die Konzeption des japanischen Nationalwesens (kokutai), Leiden, Brill, 1998
Austin 1956-57 – John L. Austin, ‘A Plea for excuses’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 57 (1956-57), pp. 1-30
Belich 2015 – James Belich, Global Nodes, Global Orders, Research Project
Billeter 2006 – Jean François Billeter, Contre François Jullien, Paris, Allia, 2006
Bloch 1928 – Marc Bloch, ‘Pour une histoire comparée des sociétés européennes’, Revue de synthèse historique, 46 (1928), pp. 15-50
Bloch 1939 – Marc Bloch, La société féodale, 2 vols., Paris, Albin Michel, 1939
Blumenberg 1960 – Hans Blumenberg, ‘Paradigmen zu einer Metaphorologie’, Archiv für Begriffsgeschichte, 6 (1960), pp. 5-142
Boroditsky 2001 – Lera Boroditsky, ‘Does language shape thought? English and Mandarin speakers’ conceptions of time’, Cognitive Psychology, 43 (2001), pp. 1-22
Brunner, Conze and Koselleck 1972-1997 – Otto Brunner, Werner Conze and Reinhart Koselleck eds., Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe: Historisches Lexikon zur politisch-sozialen Sprache in Deutschland, 8 vols., Stuttgart, Klett-Cotta, 1972-1997
De Weerdt et al. 2012 – Hilde De Weerdt et al., Communication and Empire: Chinese Empires in Comparative Perspective, Project and Website
Demandt 1978 – Alexander Demandt, Metaphern für Geschichte. Sprachbilder und Gleichnisse im historisch-politischen Denken, München, Beck, 1978
Despeux 1996 – Catherine Despeux, ‘Le corps, champ spatio-temporel, souche d’identité’, L’Homme, 137 (1996), pp. 87-118
Ferente 2015 – Serena Ferente, ‘Metaphor, Emotion and the Languages of Politics in Late Medieval Italy’, in F. Ricciardelli and A. Zorzi eds., Emotions, Passions and Power in Renaissance Italy, Amsterdam, University of Amsterdam Press, 2015, pp. 111-128
Geeraerts and Grondelaers 1995 – Dirk Geeraerts and Stefan Grondelaers, ‘Looking back at anger. Cultural traditions and metaphorical patterns’, in J. Taylor and R. MacLaury eds., Language and the Construal of the World, Berlin, Gruyter, 1995, pp. 153-179
Gevaert 2005 – Caroline Gevaert, ‘The Anger is heat question: Detecting cultural influence on the conceptualization of anger through diachronic corpus analysis’, in N. Delbecque, J. van der Auwera & D. Geeraerts eds., Perspectives on Variation. Sociolinguistic, Historical, Comparative, Berlin, Gruyter, 2005, pp.195-208
Grapard 1988 – Allan G. Grapard, ‘Institution, Ritual, and Ideology: The Twenty-Two Shrine-Temple Multiplexes of Heian Japan’, History of Religions, 27 (1988), pp. 246-269
Hampsher-Monk, Tilmans and van Vree 1998 – Ian Hampsher-Monk, Karin Tilmans and Frank van Vree eds., History of Concepts: Comparative Perspectives, Amsterdam, Amsterdam University Press, 1998
Johnson 1987 – Mark Johnson, The Body in the Mind. The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination, and Reason, Chicago IL, University of Chicago Press, 1987
Jullien 2007 – François Jullien, Chemin faisant: Connaître la Chine, relancer la philosophie, Paris, Seuil, 2007
Kantorowicz 1957 – Ernst Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies. A Study in Medieval Political Theology, Princeton NJ, Princeton University Press, 1957
Katsumata 2011 – Shizuo Katsumata, Ikki. Coalitions, ligues et révoltes dans le Japon d’autrefois, tr. by Pierre-François Souyri, Paris 2011
Kohn 1991 – Livia Kohn, ‘Taoist visions of the body’, Journal of Chinese Philosophy, 18 (1991), pp. 227-252
Koselleck 2002 – Reinhart Koselleck, The Practice of Conceptual History. Timing History, Spacing Concepts, Stanford CA, Stanford University Press, 2002
Kövecses 2000 – Zoltán Kövecses, Metaphor and Emotion: Language, Culture, and Body in Human Feeling, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2000
Lakoff 1987 – George Lakoff, Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things. What Categories Reveal about the Mind, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1987
Lakoff 1993 – George Lakoff, ‘The contemporary theory of metaphor’, in A. Ortony ed., Metaphor and Thought, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1993, pp. 202-251
Lakoff and Johnson 1980 – George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live By, Chicago IL, University of Chicago Press, 1980
Langlois 1988 – John D. Langlois, ‘The Hung-wu reign, 1368-1398’, in D. C. Twitchett, J. K. Fairbank, The Cambridge History of China. The Ming Dynasty, 1368-1644, Part 1, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1988, pp. 107-180
Lewis 2006 – Mark E. Lewis, The Construction of Space in Early China, Albany NY, SUNY Press, 2006
Michaud-Quintin 1970 – Pierre Michaud-Quintin, Universitas. Expressions du mouvement communautaire dans le Moyen Âge latin, Paris, Vrin, 1970
Moore 2003 – Robert I. Moore, ‘The eleventh century in Eurasian history: a comparative approach to the convergence and divergence of medieval civilizations’, Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, 33 (2003), pp. 1-21
Munro 1988 – Donald J. Munro, Images of Human Nature. A Sung Portrait, Princeton NJ, Princeton University Press, 1988
Pagden 1990 – Anthony Pagden ed., The Languages of Political Theory in Early Modern Europe, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1990
Pomeranz 2000 – Kenneth Pomeranz, The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy, Princeton NJ, Princeton University Press, 2000
Rogers and Rogers 1991 – Rogers, Minor, and Rogers, Ann, Rennyo: The Second Founder of Shin Buddhism. With a translation of his letters, Berkeley 1991
Schipper 1993 – Kristofer Schipper, The Taoist Body, Berkeley CA, University of California Press, 1993
Shryock and Smail 2012 – Andrew Shryock and Daniel L. Smail, ‘Body’, in A. Shryock and D. Smail eds., Deep History. The Architecture of Past and Present, Berkeley CA, University of California Press, 2012, pp. 55-78
Skinner 1978 – Quentin Skinner, The Foundations of Modern Political Thought, 2 vols., Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1978
Skinner 2002 – Quentin Skinner, Visions of Politics, vol. I, Regarding Method, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2002
Slingerland 2003 – Edward Slingerland, Effortless Action. Wu-wei as Conceptual Metaphor and Spiritual Ideal in Early China, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2003
Specht 2014 – Benjamin Specht ed., Epoche und Metapher. Systematik und Geschichte kultureller Bildlichkeit, Berlin, Gruyter, 2014
Tierney 1955 – Brian Tierney, Foundations of the Conciliar Theory, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1955
Wakabayashi 1986 – Bob T. Wakabayashi, Anti-Foreignism and Western Learning in Early Modern Japan. The New Theses of 1825, Cambridge MA, Harvard University Press, 1986
Zarrow 2012 – Peter Zarrow, After Empire. The Conceptual Transformation of the Chinese State, 1885-1924, Stanford CA, Stanford University Press, 2012
Professoressa Serena Ferente – Director of Studies
Serena Ferente is a professor of Medieval History in the History Department of the University of Amsterdam.