I’d not intended this blog to be quite so contemporary and political, but the British election and the Middlesex situation have dominated the posting so far. These events and the conferences and workshops I’ve attended over the past couple of weeks have pushed my key concerns somewhat to the background.
The main thing I am working on at the moment is Chapter Eight of my ‘history of territory’ book which looks at the Renaissance and Reformation. In this chapter, at the moment, there are readings of Machiavelli, Botero, Bodin, Lipsius and Shakespeare’s King Lear. The bit on King Lear is far too long, and might actually work as a standalone article, in the manner of the piece I published on Beowulf, that could then be dramatically cut down for the book.
I have sections on ‘The Politics of the Reformation’ and on the New World which need further work before being slotted in. The former has a discussion of Thomas More, Erasmus, Holbein’s The Ambassadors, and a bit on Henry VIII, but needs more on Luther and possibly Calvin. The latter I’m much less sure about, partly because I think there is little I can say that hasn’t already been said. (While the other things are also widely written on, I think I’m at least asking different questions.) But the discovery, mapping and territorial division of the new world seems too important to the story to leave out, so I’m struggling a bit there. I think I also need to work a reading of Richard Hooker into this chapter somehow, and part of me is wondering if I could use a reading of Shakespeare’s The Tempest (perhaps instead of the one of King Lear) as a way into the colonial questions.
I’m a bit impatient to get going on Chapter Nine, which is the only chapter I’ve yet to work on. This will have readings of obvious political thinkers (Hobbes, Locke) and less obvious ones (Descartes, Leibniz, Althusius, Bacon), alongside readings of legal thinkers (Grotius, et. al.) and issues (such as the Treaties of Westphalia, and the Treaty of the Pyrenees) and more on practices of cartography and land-surveying. I’d like to include discussions of the actual tools that were used to put these into practice, such as Gunter’s chain.
In writing these sections I’ve also been reading lots of writings by the ‘new historicism’ movement and looking at the links this has to cultural materialism. I’m finding all this quite helpful in terms of working out some of the larger ‘methodological’ issues this project has thrown up. It is intended as something of a genealogy, but has definite links to the German tradition of Begriffsgeschichte, and makes use of the analyses of the Cambridge school of contextual history (Quentin Skinner et. al.). I may end up writing something on all these issues, at least for self-clarification.
I’ve also been reading Peter Sloterdijk’s book Rage and Time which is newly translated into English. I’d muddled through the German before. I’m editing a book on Sloterdijk with Polity, due out next year, and his work is slowly coming into English. It’s an interesting book, and I may post some more thoughts on it here at some later point.