Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Shift Happens in the 1860s and 2010s: ecclesiological impressionism and Judas burnings

I am convinced that studying earlier eras of cultural shift/liminal transition helps us get a better handle on "this weird moment in

history" (David Dark's phrase)..

For example:

I wanted to show how many of the issues we think are unique to our time have actually confronted the church for a long time. Nineteenth-century Paris was wrestling with new ideas in politics, art, terrorism, technology, sexuality, and secularism. It was in many ways the first modern city, reinvented around creativity, consumerism, and a highly visual media landscape. It was filled with competing ideologies: conservative, liberal, Christian, atheist, socialist, capitalist. It is a great period to examine in order to allow the reader to examine our own culture with fresh eyes.
It’s humbling to realize that what we see as the issues of our day are much older. When you realize this you discover that previous generations of Christians have wrestled with these questions. For example, in the mid–20th century, a whole generation of leading intellectuals and writers—T. S. Eliot, Dorothy Sayers, Evelyn Waugh, and numerous others—were concerned by what they saw as the destructive trajectory of modern culture, and returned to faith. Such stories give hope that some­thing like that could happen again. -Mark Sayers

Which, in turn, got me interested in this book:

The Judgment of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade  (1860s) That Gave the World Impressionism

Hmm, maybe we're entering an age of ecclesiological impressionism.

Then there's this, from the same decade:

2)Click the read the "Judas at the Jockey Club" chapter, pp 89-14 here.

As an American in the late 1800's, owning a farm was not too uncommon, especially if that farm was located in Mexico. At this time, though, Mexico was in the Porfirian Era (1876-1911). In this certain era, Mexico was being encountered by two very different cultures at the same time: the industrial, and the traditional. These distinctively separate cultures impacting Mexico made it as what can be described as "backwards" in a sense, as Mexico was practically regressing as the world around it was moving on to bigger and better things. Mexico was so behind that "many had concluded that Mexico had yet to advance beyond chipped rocks as utensils." (p.67). Mexico at this time had locked itself in a stagnancy of its own traditions. The people were simply too anxious towards newer technology to move ahead and replace what they had known for so long.  Judas at the Jockey Club/ Austin Pabian

This brilliant and eminently readable cultural history looks at Mexican life during the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz, from 1876 to 1911. At that time Mexico underwent modernization, which produced a fierce struggle between the traditional and the new and exacerbating class antagonisms. In these pages, the noted historian William H. Beezley illuminates many facets of everyday Mexican life lying at the heart of this conflict and change, including sports, storytelling, healthcare, technology, and the traditional Easter-time Judas burnings that became a primary focus of the strife during those years   (emphasis mine)

Following his discussion on sports and Mexican hierarchal society, Beezley moves on to Mexico’s technology during modernization and what it meant for people. Previously, Mexico had never tried to modernize; however, during Porfirian rule, this was the main concern. Before modernization, the people had rudimentary technology. The author talks about their clothes and how men and women barely wore anything before Porfirio Díaz ruled. Also, he covers field technology. The interesting thing is that even after receiving more advanced technology, the people altered it to resemble their old tools. Another new technology was that of the bicycle, previously mentioned, which showed sophistication and class according to the elites. Overall, this was a time of changing technology enforced by the government, while the people still clung to tradition.
The author Beezley follows up the previous sections, sports and technology, with the final section on Mexican traditional celebrations, in particular, the Jockey Club Judas burning episode. First, to make things more clear, the author explains what a Judas burning is. Judas burnings is a secular event which occurs after Lent and Holy Week. Artisans craft piñata type effigies, often resembling someone or signifying something, which would be burned in celebration. Before delving into the actual Judas burning to which the title refers, it sets up the history of Judas burnings and how they are celebrated around the world. He highlights places like Spain, Germany, Venezuela, and Italy. One example is how the Germans believed that the ashes from the burned Judas, if planted on May Day, could help to prevent the blight. Beliefs like this stemmed all through Europe and Latin America. Judas burnings first appeared in Mexico at around the early 16th century; however, the exact date is still unknown. Some interesting facts which the author included about the burnings were that usually the Judas effigies contained fireworks and even sometimes had live cats insides, or, they would be laced with sausages and coins. Reading about the combination of cats and fireworks really shocked me.  However, this was something that normally occurred to thrill people and give them a sense of life and death. Now, although Judas burnings were a sense of celebration, they also signified a time for social disorder. Judas burnings were opportunities to put a face on the things which they felt were oppressing them. It was a time for the world to be turned upside down and for social equality to prevail. It was a time of social reversals. The author said that, “servants and laborers of every sort refuse to work; you can neither do anything nor get anything done. The only recourse is to spend your time in the streets like the rest” (Beezley).  So, join to the streets they did, and this is what led to the Jockey Club episode.
What occurred during this fateful and last Judas burning sponsored by the Jockey Club is only one example of social disorder caused by Judas burnings. For this event, there were four Judas figures who were riding in a hot air balloon. The figures included a mulatto covered with sausages and coins, a butter vendor also covered with the sausages and coins, a singer playing the guitar covered with pesos, and a beggar also covered with pesos. Every piece of the display symbolized something. Nothing was coincidental.
So, what happened to Judas burnings and this opportunity for the people to rebel? Well, the government finally succeeded in outlawing it for a while; however, Judas burnings could not be kept quiet for very long when in 1905 there was a world economic crisis, in 1908 there were Judas burnings in retaliation. Unfortunately, the government which valued order succeeded in quieting Judas burnings by turning them into child’s activities which the author compares to the Fourth of July.
To conclude, Porfirian rule was a difficult, controversial time for Mexico. Old and new intermingled and clashed. This was portrayed through sports and leisure activities, technology, and celebrations. It was felt and rebelled against. It was a true example of liberalism and conservatism in Latin America. In the end, Judas at the Jockey Club is a book which conveys the sentiments of a people embarking on a new age.  link

I have some pages marked in the Judas at the Jockey Club that trigger some parallels to our current ecclesiological/culture shift:

"Because the Judas burnings were not officially sanctioned by either  church or civic officials, this festival had a spontaneous and creative character. These celebrations, without official approval or support, remained outside the prestige system and manipulation of even the confraternities (Catholic lay brotherhoods called cofradias) .When a shopkeeper, a merchant, or the Jockey Club exploded a Judas it did so without a bureaucracy, without creating a Judas Day committee (except in 1893), and without giving prestige to the person who hosted the burning.  The informality of the celebration emphasized the extra-official character of the event that became the freedom of action of the people who rejoiced at the end of Lent. ...
All those who witnessed the destruction of Judas or who heard the explosions were involved.  None remained aloof.  Understanding the ritual requires that the people be seen as united participants rather than divided into actors and audience...
The Judas festivals dramatically demonstrate social reversal. Social inversions fulfill several functions; they serve as rebellious rituals, role reversals, and institutionalized clowning ...
Washing of feet took place..
..The changing location of the Judas  burnings graphically displays the struggle in Mexico between two segments in society ...medieval heritage of authoritarianism and Roman Catholicism embellished by exigency with indigenous practices. This tradition was shouldered aside by the emergent culture of capitalism and material development that promoters called Progress.  pp 95-107...

Well, there are plenty of dots to connect.  Just read that paragraph without the historical variables, lather, rinse repeat..and apply to today.

One intriguing app: the "institutional clowning" of Judas.
MacPhisto anybody?  Holy fool?


 Other connections to this decade and ours?
US Civil War?

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Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!