CFP Kalamazoo 2016: Dangerous Games. Proscription, Transgression, Control.

Sponsored Session by the German Historical Institute in Paris
Organized by Vanina M. Kopp
Send in a one-page abstract and the Congress’ participant’s form by September 15th 2015

Dangerous Games. Proscription, Transgression, Control

In 1179, the Pope forbade any kind of tournaments, judging them too dangerous for warriors who needed to be fit for war. Needless to say, notwithstanding this interdiction, and despite the tragic accidents and deaths associated with such events, tournaments and jousting remained popular from the twelfth century until the very late sixteenth century (and sometimes beyond). Such apprehension was not limited to physically violent games. In 1249, the Synode of Worcester forbade the literary game “Jeu du roi et de la reine,” purportedly for being “dishonest,” as it treated, besides refined love, highly immoral topics related to sexuality and adultery. Other ludic activities that included a complete reversal of social order, such as the carnival or the charivari, were tolerated and controlled for the sake of their cathartic functions: by allowing transgressions that were framed in time and space, these social inversions could consolidate the established order by channeling aggression. Social rejection, persecution, or death could follow if games were not played in accordance with the rules defined by authorities, or sometimes if they were played with too much zeal. Both secular and ecclesiastical powers tried to control games by prohibition or close surveillance. The gap between breaking the law outright and pushing against social constraints during a game was very narrow indeed. As a result, records detailing the rules of games and the instances of rules being broken, as well as interdictions against game-playing, present an opportunity to re-examine the accepted components of and challenges to the social and cultural order in the medieval society. As both Huizinga (Homo ludens, 1939) and Sonntag (Religiosus ludens, 2013) pointed out, the medieval “ludus” was not only about leisure and pastimes; games were also closely connected to making life-and-death decisions, such as initiating a war or entering a monastic life. Bakhtin (Rabelais and his world, 1965) was the first to draw attention to the transgressive elements of carnival and folk culture. In fact, the ludic or carnivalesque mode could create a space where expressions of risky dissent or gender experimentation became temporarily tolerated (Cassagne-Brouquet, Chevaleresses, 2013).

This toleration, of course, was always fragile: studies of court jesters or troubadours have drawn our attention to the fine balancing act performed by the satire directed at aristocrats (Silec, Le fou et son roi, 2008; Gaunt, Troubadours and Irony, 1989). The ludic space enabled the players to escape social control, if only temporarily, destabilizing hierarchies of power and categories of gender and estate, but the players themselves were facing a constant threat of physical harm, loss of face, or repercussions from the authorities. This session will focus on the dangerous aspects of pre-modern games and their potential for disrupting the medieval boundaries of estate and gender. We welcome papers linking game rules and social norms and examining, on the one hand, the risks inherent in following or resisting the formal rules, and on the other, the specific instances of games deployed to transgress normative boundaries or to reinforce power hierarchies. Possible talks may explore the normative rules of games, the politico-allegorical function of games such as chess or tennis, the social role of violent sports, the cultural power of theatre and mimicry, and the freedom (or not) of satire.

This session is interested in comparative analysis of pre-modern games, both through medieval and early modern periods: we explicitly invite discussions focused on a variety of cultures and languages, including Occitan, French, or Latin.

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