Monthly Archives: July 2018
African Literature Today, much like modern African Literature and its criticism as a formal intellectual discipline, has been in the Academy for half a century. Chinua Achebe published his first novel, Things Fall Apart in 1958 which established the art of the modern African novel, and changed the global perceptions and western concepts and theories of imaginative creativity in and from Africa.
Critical responses by Western critics in particular, were varied ranging from reluctant acceptance to undisguised rejection. There were struggles at a number of conferences debating the legitimacy/autonomy or lack thereof, of the ‘new kid on the block’. Conceived and published when many African countries were still under the colonial yoke, opinions differed on whether or not the ‘so-called’ emerging creativity from Africa shouldn’t simply be defined as ‘an appendage’ to the well-known imaginative literatures of the West especially when what was coming from Africa arrived essentially in the borrowed languages of English and French. In effect, shouldn’t Western standards for the criticism of Literature appropriately serve as the requirements for the criticism of African writing at best?
For two decades, this generated stringent debates and virulent controversies on both sides of the Atlantic. ‘Does creativity in the borrowed tongues deserve the wholesome appellation of ‘African Literature’? What would be its future when and if African countries regained their autonomies as independent nations? As if in answer to these, Achebe in 1975 published his cryptically titled, Morning Yet on Creation Day, asserting bluntly:
“We are not opposed to criticism but we are getting a little weary of all the types of criticism which have been designed for us by people whose knowledge of us is very limited”.
One can safely describe Morning Yet… as a kind of blueprint shedding light on the art of the modern African novel for evolving African creative writers as well as providing for pioneer African critics illuminating ideas and theories about African aesthetics and critical standards. African Literature Today was born during this era of uncertainties and construction/reconstruction. In its half a century of existence, it has played leading roles in providing channels for propagating and nurturing imaginative creativity and its criticism on the African continent and beyond.
Contemporary African creative writers have confidently taken strides and attained heights which reverberate wholesomely all over the world. The daring diversities, stylistic innovations and enchanting audacities which characterize their works in various genres resonate with readers beyond African geographic and linguistic boundaries. Writers in Africa and the Diaspora seem intriguingly to be speaking simultaneously with collective voices that compel world attention and admiration. And they are being read in various world languages.
The Editor invites…
from scholars resourceful articles which recognize the foundations laid by the pioneer African writers as they point vigorously to contemporary writers who have moved forward imaginative creativity by Africans with utmost integrity, and critics who continue to respond with unyielding tenacity.
Submissions are also invited for the Literary Supplement:
short creative writing selections such as poetry, short stories and one act plays.
Articles should not exceed 5,000 words, and should be submitted as a Word document to the Series Editor: Ernest N. Emenyonu, University of Michigan-Flint, email@example.com, on or before September 30, 2018.
Books for review should be sent (2 copies) to the Book Reviews Editor, Obi Nwakanma, English Department, University of Central Florida, 4000 Central Florida Blvd, Orlando, FL 32816.
Book reviews are also invited for the Reviews Section and should be submitted as a word document, on or before September 30, 2018 to: Obi.firstname.lastname@example.org
Here’s some great insight into a recent publication, an unusual and very special new book devoted to the work of an artist who’s a giant in his field: John Ferguson, the doyen of heraldic artists. Conceived and created by friends, colleagues and admirers of the great man, the volume is both a survey of the range of his art, a best-of, and a tribute to. And what art it is, strikingly colourful and vivid, never seeming flat or static but always alive on the page. It’s our honour to have been involved and we trust the book conveys to Mr Ferguson the great respect and affection which he and his work inspire.
This was to be something different… I’ve written fourteen books but never have I put together a book out of pure admiration, affection even, for the subject.
Initially I was approached by Bill Beaver, editor of The Heraldic Craftsman, the journal of The Society of Heraldic Arts, who proposed a series of high quality books illustrating the work of notable heraldic artists and craftspeople. The great triumvirate of Anthony Wood, Dan Escott and John Ferguson are pre-eminent in this field and I immediately agreed to produce a book of John Ferguson’s work, knowing that ill-health had obliged him to ‘allow his brushes to dry…’.
I have known John for many years. He and I are founder-members of The Society of Heraldic Arts (an international guild of heraldic artists and craftspeople, founded in 1987) and his splendid illustrations enliven our book Basic Heraldry which was published by the Herbert Press in 1993.
From the outset it was agreed that quality should be our watchword: high quality colour reproduction on high quality paper and plenty of white space in which to present the text. John Ferguson provided me with his selection of paintings and line drawings together with material for captions, the agreed format being text on the left-hand page with each of John’s paintings occupying a full page on the right. I also added an Introduction and a section explaining the Ferguson technique.
Having completed the task of selecting the artwork, determining the order in which it should be presented and writing the text I posted the bundle to Peter Clifford, the MD at Boydell & Brewer. Peter and I had worked together in a previous incarnation and it was he who was responsible for publishing my most successful series of books. The task of designing the book was given to Simon Loxley who has created a book that is a superb tribute to John Ferguson’s life and work. John and I are greatly indebted to him and to Mike Webb the Production Director who somehow made sense of my initial ramblings.
Such was the nature of the project that it was imperative that we should find someone to underwrite the cost and after much deliberation the Heraldry Society agreed to do so as joint publishers with Boydell & Brewer. All those of us involved in this project acknowledge their generosity. But it is not intended that the book should appeal only to those with an academic interest in heraldry. It is intended to appeal particularly to all those who admire the unrestrained vigour of its art, the mystery of its symbolism and the nobility of its tradition – all exemplified by John Ferguson’s paintings.
This book not only celebrates John’s pre-eminence as an artist, it also proclaims that generosity of spirit which has been an inspiration to his fellow artists and to those who love and admire his amazing artistry.
Click through the page spreads below for a more in depth look at The Heraldic Art of John Ferguson
Dr John S. Lee’s The Medieval Clothier is remarkable in at least two ways: it gives us wonderful insight into the industry that formed the backbone of medieval England’s economy, and it introduces our brand new series, Working in the Middle Ages. Yes, most of us have felt – or feel – like we’re working in the Middle Ages but what was work really like then? The series will tackle different trades, professions and industries and add greatly to our knowledge of the economy, society and the day-to-day life of ordinary people.
Since cloth-making powered England’s economy in the later Middle Ages, Dr Lee’s book is an ideal choice to open the series. He demonstrates the huge impact that the industry had on society and, in a very real way, on the landscape of the country. But he also introduces us to individuals, explaining their business methods and showing us how the riches accumulated by some were used to shape the community around them.
We usually think of casual wage-earners depending on work offered by wealthy entrepreneurs as a very modern phenomenon. Yet six centuries ago, many people in medieval England earned a living in a similar way, as numerous cloth-workers relied on work organised by wealthy clothiers. Clothiers put out raw materials for spinners, weavers, fullers and other cloth-workers to process, often in their own homes, who were paid by the clothiers for their labour.
Cloth-making became England’s leading industry in the late Middle Ages – no other industry created as much employment or generated as much wealth. Clothiers co-ordinated the different stages of production and found markets for their finished cloth.
Like the modern ‘gig’ economy, the benefits of this system were hotly contested. One group of cloth-workers protested that clothiers ‘give us so little wages for our workmanship that scarcely we be able to live’. Another, a band of weavers, accused ‘the rich men, the clothiers’ of setting a single price for their work. Clothiers like Thomas Paycocke, who died in 1518, left bequests in their wills to ‘my weavers, fullers and shearmen’. He gave additional sums for those ‘that have wrought me very much work’.
A few clothiers were able to amass great wealth from this industry, constructing lavish mansions and elaborate church memorials, which can still be seen today. Thomas Paycocke’s house at Coggeshall, Essex, built to impress in 1509-10 with its stunning woodcarving and elaborate panelling, is now a National Trust property. The carvings still display Thomas’ initials and the merchant’s mark with which he branded his cloth as a sign of its quality. The wealth of Thomas Spring ‘the rich clothier’ of Lavenham, Suffolk, caught the attention of the royal court’s poet, John Skelton, in 1522. The screen constructed to surround Spring’s tomb in Lavenham church in Suffolk engaged craftsmen familiar with commissions for the royal court.
Some clothiers were even celebrated as pioneers of factory production. William Stumpe bought the former abbey at Malmesbury in Wiltshire and by 1542 had filled the monastic buildings with weaving looms. John Winchcombe (c.1489-1557) was remembered as an innovator who put his workers together in a single workshop in Newbury. He was praised in the popular story ‘Jack of Newbury’, written two generations after his death.
This book offers the first recent survey of this hugely important and significant trade and its practitioners across England. It provides a step-by-step explanation of the cloth-making processes. The markets where clothiers sold their cloth are explored, as are the places in which they lived and worked. Clothiers interacted with local and national governments, lobbying to influence legislation as well as being the subject of regulation. Also included are extracts from clothiers’ wills and a gazetteer of places to visit. From the Compton family’s memorial brass in Beckington church to Thomas Wild’s residence in the Commandery at Worcester, you can use this book to explore the houses that the clothiers built and the churches that they endowed, which still shape so much of the English landscape today.
I was delighted to see the recent appearance of the paperback edition of The Art of Swordsmanship by Hans Lecküchner. The hardbound edition of my translation of Lecküchner’s 1482 treatise came out three years ago. I had chosen to translate this work among the many dozens of surviving medieval combat treatises because of its importance to the burgeoning academic and athletic domains of historical combat. Although the one-handed sword is a staple in modern reimaginings of medieval swordplay—as indeed it must have been in the Middle Ages, given the ubiquity of the weapon in contexts plebeian and aristocratic, military and civilian—written sources on its use are astonishingly rare before 1500. This is in dramatic contrast to the plethora of texts on wrestling, dagger-play, combat with the “hand-and-a-half” sword, and various forms of armored and mounted combat.
Lecküchner’s treatise might easily be overlooked as representing a marginal weapon-form: the langes Messer is chiefly found in the German-speaking areas, though weapons related to this single-edged, lightly curved utility sword were in use elsewhere. I agonized for a long time over a suitable translation. The closest modern equivalents are the machete and saber, the closest medieval English terms are wood-knife or hanger. In the end I settled on “falchion” as being relatively ergonomic and rare enough that it might be plausibly repurposed. But I also toyed with simply “sword,” and I did use this word for rendering the customary title of the work (Messerfechtkunst). While the treatise ostensibly focuses on a relatively obscure weapon, the techniques actually apply to any weapon that handles like a one-handed sword—single vs. double edge notwithstanding, since Lecküchner uses both sides of the weapon. Lecküchner must be regarded as our chief surviving source on the use of the one-handed sword in the Middle Ages: this fully illustrated manuscript of 400+ pages has no competitor. To judge by the reviews I have seen, the importance of Lecküchner’s work has not been lost on its readers.
Aside from being an important document for the fast-growing community of modern practitioners of historical combat arts, I find Lecküchner’s treatise a fascinating glimpse into the medieval world more broadly. The fact that the author was a parish priest suggests that the medieval clergy were more engaged in the culture of arms than is often assumed—and he is not the only German master who was in Holy Orders. The charming Nuremberg-school illustrations (almost certainly produced by an artist acquainted with Albrecht Dürer) offer insights into the representation of complex physical and physiological realities in European art at a time when the artist’s craft was undergoing some very dramatic transformations. Along these lines, I recommend the trailer by Alex Kiermayer and Hans Heim, which envisions the process by which the manuscript may have been composed.
(One of quite a few videos on Lecküchner that have been produced in the past few years)
All in all, it’s a pleasure to see the book made more accessible with the release of a paperback edition. Translating these texts has been a labor of love, and the most important moment is when I know that the effort has made it possible for others to build on my work.