SAECULUM. Jahrbuch für Universalgeschichte

Volume 70 (2020), number 1

Contributions: "Invektive Spaltungen? Dynamiken der Schmähung von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart"

Dagmar Ellerbrock/Gerd Schwerhoff: Spaltung, die zusammenhält? Invektivität als produktive Kraft in der Geschichte
The article introduces the neologism “invectivity,” a term that includes phenomena of abuse, insult and shame, and which serves to place these phenomena in a common analytical horizon. Invective acts of communication share the potential of degradation; they can convey assessments of people or groups, change their social position, discriminate them or start dynamics of exclusion. For this reason, invectivity has a significant impact on (emerging) social orders, with a mobilizing and irritative, but also a stabilizing power. The effects of invective acts of communication are by no means predetermined by intentions of the “sender,” but emerge only through a follow-up communication that connects the actors and the respective audience. The essay deals with the – often emotionally determined – dynamics of invective communication, their historical constellations and their power to create social order. It measures intersections with other humanities and social science concepts. Particular attention is paid to the “productive” power of abuse, its mobilizing and group-building potential. Thus, as the authors argue, invectivity is a phenomenon that is fundamental to the genesis and change of every social order; it is relevant to historical and cultural studies, and proves to be a useful analytical tool for all epochs and different world regions, as demonstrated in this special issue.

Martin Jehne: Die Dickfelligkeit der Elite und die Dünnhäutigkeit des Volkes. Invektivkonstellationen in römischen Volksversammlungen
In invective altercations in ancient Rome, it was impossible to insult the people as a political institution, because in this role the people was the incarnation of the res publica. The situation of the senators, the proud elite of Rome, was quite different: for them, having to cope with invective offences was not a rare event. Often, they could not react to a slight at all or only after some time. So in order to thrive in this political system, senators had to be able to counterattack invective slights as well as to endure them. The enmities which grew out of this sort of communication did not necessarily last forever. To succeed in a political system without stable parties, it was necessary to be highly flexible and to come to an arrangement even with people with whom an invective altercation had recently been fought out.

Sita Steckel: Rhetorische Spaltungen. Zur Dynamik von Invektivität im Inneren des hoch- und spätmittelalterlichen lateinischen Christentums
Within the high medieval Latin church, rhetorical attacks not only targeted external enemies and heretics, but also (and perhaps especially) the clergy itself and the emerging new religious orders. For the period c. 1100–1300, these intense bouts of invectivity can be understood to form part of larger processes of inner pluralization of the Latin church, in which established forms of rhetorical disparagement, traditionally used against heretics, Jews and Muslims, were now turned inwards. Two case studies concerning the polemicists Walter Map (twelfth century) and William of Saint-Amour (thirteenth century) illustrate further how the mobilization of supporters in situations of conflict and competition led to “rhetorical schisms” within Latin Christianity. These could establish subaltern counter-publics in which the authority and religious authenticity of ecclesiastical elites were undermined and questioned. The resulting gradual production and dissemination of a repertoire of invectives criticizing the church must be seen as an important factor in the dynamization of the late medieval church. Yet the focus on invectivity shows that this dynamism should not be tied to a “decay” of the late medieval church, but to processes of religious and cultural pluralization during the preceding period.

Andreas Pečar: Schmähungen im kommunikativen Handeln aufgeklärter Philosophen
This paper focusses on invectives as an element of communication between enlightened philosophers. Two examples are compared: the first example is the academic struggle between Daniel Strähler and Christian Wolff at the University of Halle in spring 1723. The second example is the dispute between Denis Diderot and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, lasting several decades. In both cases, invectives played an important role in the sense that one participant within the communication perceived and classified an utterance of the other as an invective. Two questions are discussed: what kind of logic might lie behind the invectives in both controversies, and what kind of audience was the communication addressed to in order to garner support?

Felix Brahm: Beleidigung im Antikolonialismus. Zur Bedeutung des Invektiven im Dekolonisationsprozess Kenias und Tansanias
The article examines the role of invective communication in the political struggle against British colonialism in Kenya and Tanzania. After a general framing of the research question it elaborates on three cases: the declaration of a humiliating breach of protocol in Zanzibar (1906), the protest against the racist kipande system in Kenya (1920s) and the libel action against Julius Nyerere in Tanzania (1958). The case studies show how specific examples of disparagement served as powerful tools for pointing at shortcomings of the colonial system, and for making political claims in the metropole. (Counter-)invective communication, the article demonstrates, gained important functions for anticolonial politics, looking both inwards – for self-assertion, community building and political mobilization – and outwards – for articulating criticism, raising media attention and juridically provoking the colonial power.

Eva Giloi: The Beauty of Blight: Creating Insiders and Outsiders in Northern-US Identity
This article examines urban renewal in 1960s Newark, and how urban planners reconfigured the term “blight” into an aesthetic invective. Originally an agricultural term denoting a fungus that could ruin a crop, “blight” had become a popular metaphor in the early twentieth century to describe urban decline and was thus used to gauge whether an area should be cleared for “redevelopment.” By the 1960s, because of the racialized nature of urbanization and suburbanization in post-war America, the majority of the families to be uprooted from their homes in Newark’s urban renewal projects were nonwhite. This racial bias ran counter to the urban planners’ self-identification as progressives as well as to the idealistic tenor of their reformist projects, at a time when ugly scenes of violence against civil rights protesters in the Jim Crow south were dominating television’s nightly news. Turning “blight” into an aesthetic invective allowed planners to paper over the contradictory goals of the Great Society and the prejudices that accompanied the Great Migration: by shifting the focus of urban renewal onto the advancement of urban beauty, rather than ugly exclusion, northern urban reformers were able to remove African Americans and other minorities from their neighborhoods without explicitly acknowledging the racial and anti-democratic biases of their urban plans. As an indirect invective that claimed overtly to promote beauty rather than change the city’s racial demographic by force, blight was a slippery term, making its shaming potential more difficult to resist on overtly political grounds. As such, the article highlights the productive nature of ‘silent invectives,’ or terms of shame that are cloaked, implied or deflected, rather than spoken directly outright.