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Un(der)known Writers: Silvia Federici


Women are present in the history of heresy as in no other aspect of medieval life. According to Gottfried Koch, already in the l0th century they formed a large part of the Bogomils. In the 11th century, it was again women who gave life to the heretical movements in France and Italy. At this time female heretics came from the most humble ranks of the serfs, and they constituted a true women’s movement developing within the frame of the different heretic groups. Female heretics are also present in the records of the Inquisition; of some we know that they were burned, of others that they were “walled in” for the rest of their lives.

Can we say that this large female presence in the heretic sects was responsible for the heretics’ “sexual revolution”? Or should we assume that the call for “free love” was a male ploy designed to gain easy access to women’s sexual favors? These questions are not easily answered. We know, however, that women did try to control their reproductive func­tion, as references to abortion and the use of contraceptives by women are numerous in the Penitentials. Significantly – in view of the future criminalization of such practices dur­ing the witch-hunt – contraceptives were referred to as “Sterility potions” or maleficia, and it was assumed that women were the ones who used them.

In the early Middle Ages, the Church still looked upon these practices with a cer­tain indulgence, prompted by the recognition that women may wish to limit their births because of economic reasons. Thus, in the Decretum, written by Burchard, Bishop of Worms (circa 1010), after the ritual question–

“Have you done what some women are accustomed to do when they fornicate and wish to kill their offspring, act with their maleficia, and their herbs so that they kill or cut the embryo, or, if they have not yet conceived, contrive that they do not conceive?”

–it was stipulated that the guilty ones should do penance for ten years; but it was also observed that “it makes a big difference whether she is a poor little woman and acted on account of the difficulty of feeding, or whether she acted to conceal a crime of fornication.”

Things changed drastically, however, as soon as women’s control over reproduction seemed to pose a threat to economic and social stability, as it did in the aftermath of the demographic catastrophe produced by the “Black Death,” the apocalyptic plague that, between 1347 and 1352, destroyed more than one third of the European population.

We will see later what role this demographic disaster played in the “labor crisis” of the late Middle Ages. Here we can notice that, after the spread of the plague, the sexual aspects of heresy became more prominent in its persecution, grotesquely distorted in ways that anticipate the later representations of the witches’ Sabbat. By the mid-1 4th century the Inquisitors’ reports were no longer content with accusing the heretics of sodomy and sexual license. Now heretics were accused of animal worship, including the infamous bacium sub cauda (the kiss under the tail), and of indulging in orgiastic rit­uals, night flights and child sacrifices. The Inquisitors also reported the existence of a sect of devil-worshippers called Luciferans. Corresponding to this process, which marked the transition from the persecution of heresy to witch-hunting, the fig­ure of the heretic increasingly became that of a woman, so that, by the beginning of the 15th century, the main target of the persecution against heretics became the witch.

-Silvia Federici, Caliban and the Witch, 2004



Sunday Reading

Kerim Friedman:


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This Week in Art Crime


As part of our This Week in Art Crime series, and in partnership with Oscilloscope films, next week, on Thursday, September 18th at 9 PM, we will be holding a premiere screening of the new film Art and Craft. The film is about Mark Landis, a prolific and philanthropic art forger who donates his forgeries to museums and galleries rather than make money from his work. This NYC preview screening will be free, and will take place at Videology in Brooklyn. Facebook event here. Seats are first come first serve. Hope to see you there!

• • •


Now a senior majoring in visual arts, Sulkowicz has devised a senior thesis rooted in performance art that will allow her to protest the fact that her rapist continues to study on campus. She has committed to carrying around a twin-size dorm mattress everywhere she goes on campus, to classes and appointments, “for as long as I attend the same school as my rapist.”

“I was raped in my own dorm bed, and since then that space has become fraught for me,” she says in a video about the piece, called Mattress Performance or Carry That Weight, published by the Columbia Spectator. ”And I feel like I’ve carried the weight of what happened there with me everywhere since then.”



Responding to the call to “carry the weight together,” fellow students helped Emma Sulkowicz, the Columbia senior who is lugging her mattress everywhere while her rapist remains on campus, carry it from the courtyard to her class yesterday.

The collective carry was organized by students and alumni who want ”to help Emma carry the weight of the physical mattress, give her and other survivors of sexual assault in our community a powerful symbol of our support and solidarity, and show the administration that we stand united in demanding better policies designed to end sexual violence and rape culture on campus.”


• • •


Over a hundred members and supporters of art collective Liberate Tate today (6 September 2014) carried out an unsolicited interpretation of Malevich’s iconic Black Square in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall.

Liberate Tate’s ‘Hidden Figures’ was a dramatic reference to Tate’s refusal to disclose information about its controversial sponsorship relationship with BP. In April 2014, the UK’s Information Commissioner ruled that Tate was breaking information law by refusing to remove a series of black squares covering information about the sponsorship deal in meeting minutes of Tate’s Ethics Committee and Board of Trustees. The painting ‘Black Square’ by Kazimir Malevich is currently on display as part of the Malevich exhibition at Tate Modern.

The Liberate Tate performance started at 1pm when a 64 square metre black cloth was unfurled having been smuggled into Tate Modern. The hundred performers gathered around the edges of the giant Black Square and in unison raised the material up into the air. Individual performers then took turns to enter underneath the material making a series of shapes and poses while the material settled on top of them.



 • • •


Vancouver officials say a nude statue of Satan was removed from a park near the Grandview Highway because it was not officially commissioned by the city.

The statue depicted a nine-foot-tall, anatomically-faithful figure of a red-skinned Satan, complete with horns and a visibly prominent representation of a phallus. The statue holds one hand up in a devil-horn salute.

Passersby first noticed the statue on Tuesday morning.

The sexually explicit statue was visible to commuters riding the SkyTrain route nearby.

No one has claimed responsibility for creating the statue.



• • •


An Everett, Pennsylvania, teenager is facing two years locked away over some offensive photos posted to his facebook account.

The photos depict him in mock sexual positions with a Jesus Statue.  The statue does not appear to have been harmed during the incident.

KRON4 reports that the photos were taken and uploaded in July in front of the “Love in the Name of Christ” Christian organization in his hometown of Everett.

The young man is charged with “Desecration of a Venerated Object.”, which is defined as “Defacing, damaging, polluting or otherwise, physically mistreating in a way that the actor knows will outrage the sensibilities of persons likely to observe or discover the action.”



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St. Paul (A Screenplay)


17. A large room in Barcelona. Interior. (Night.)

It is a meeting of antifascists in exile.
Accompanied by Ananias, Paul arrives among them, at the table where the leaders of the clandestine movement are talking.
Those present are amazed by this, and wonder:
‘But is he the one who exterminated the worshippers of this name?’
‘And didn’t he even come here to hunt the faithful and drag them, enchained, before the high priests?’

At this point the notes of the first musical soundtrack of the film are heard (it is a revolutionary song – perhaps the same one that accompanies the first moments of Christ’s preaching in The Gospel According to Matthew).

Those present at the meeting continue with their comments – which now are of a modern, historical, present-day character:
‘Isn’t he a fascist?’
‘A collaborator with the SS?’
‘Isn’t he a fanatic, a willing and exalted servant of power?’
‘Isn’t he, and didn’t he declare himself the most zealous of the most zealous promoters of the traditions?’
‘And aren’t the traditions for him authority and hate, racism and discrimination?’
Bit by bit the murmurings of the assembly calm down, and in the big room where the exiles are meeting, silence falls.
Paul looks around and begins to speak (he has a mysterious smile, unbelievable in that face distorted by fanaticism), and looking around humbly, he says in a deep voice, in the way the first words of a hymn are uttered:
‘Christ has liberated us for freedom.’

18. Hotel room in Barcelona. Interior. (Night.)

Also in the room where Paul was staying, is a meeting – of fascists. The high official or high bureaucrat who gave the credential letters to Paul in Paris participates. There are also Falangists, in uniform. And some horrible faces of servants, armed like gangsters, the subproletariat Sicarii of the triumphalist bourgeoisie.

19. Ananias’s house in Barcelona. Interior. (Night.)

Paul and Ananias share the same poor little room and the same bed: they sleep, one at the head and one at the foot.
But then there is frantic knocking at the door.
Ananias gets up and goes to open it.
Paul hears him conferring secretly and anxiously in the corridor with a young man.
At the end of these excited discussions, Ananias turns toward Paul: anguish and resignation, terror and the sense of inevitability are mixed together in his good eyes.
Paul has understood: he gets up, dresses quickly, snatches up his meagre belongings: then, followed by Ananias, he flees the room.

Continue Reading

St. Paul (An Introduction)


Below, find an introduction by the poet Eileen Myles to St. Paul (A Screenplay) by Pier Paolo Pasolini. In July, Verso Books published a new translation by Elizabeth A. Castelli, and graciously let us excerpt the following passages

There was such a crowd on that Saturday night in early August when Light Industry (so much more than a screening room), one of the live spaces in town that argues well for New York still qualifying as a vital art city, hosted a reading of the spanking new St. Paul (a screenplay) just out from Verso. Pasolini, dead since 1975 when he was murdered in Ostia, a beach suburb of Rome, still can draw a crowd at the drop of a hat; a list of notables respectfully peeled themselves off the beach or from their sticky desks, adding heft to the event. Lynne Tillman, and Hilton Als, Paul Chan and Ariana Reines, Martha Rosler, the translator, Elizabeth Castelli and even my own humble self all read aloud from the hot pink book in hand.

Pasolini intrigues us. Why? He did everything, and well, and he died before he got old. I’d never read a screenplay of Pasolini’s before. It is so breathtaking to watch as he proposes a film that is a mix of World War II era archival footage alongside, as he puts it, the “fictional” characters of St. Paul and the apostles. Line by line, Pasolini is both poet and precise and sneering Marxist: He describes the servants in one scene as being “subproletariat….of the triumphalist bourgeoisie.” Don’t we long to hear that exact awkward kind of attribution in public life today?

St. Paul, the book, is a dream of a film, and Paul is an alter ego of Pasolini’s – just as Pasolini, collectively, works like that for a lot of us. As an embittered and lapsed Catholic (and communist), Pasolini’s impulse to erect an equivalent of St. Paul moving through modern-day London, Geneva, Paris, and even New York has less to do with Pasolini’s interest in Paul’s famed experience on the road to Damascus and more with revealing Paul converting all over again from saint to priest. It was like thinking about Warhol after he was shot. Paul’s, and Pasolini’s, is a postmodern dilemma. Pasolini’s complex path included his being a queer political youth whose younger brother was shot by a rival communist faction during the war. Pasolini found no safe home ever (or wanted it) in the fanatical fascist regime, the corrupt post-war bureaucracy, Marxist ideology, and so, like Paul who ultimately brought Christianity to its institutional present, Pasolini wrangled his own pile of irreconcilables again and again into the edifice of film.

Though reading Pasolini’s St. Paul one kind of longs for the right filmmaker to step up and realize its vision, the perfection of its unmadeness sits perfect today with the winds of all temporality reading and breathing by our sides.

Read the excerpt