Sunday, January 9, 2011

Wu Ming Presents Thomas Muntzer: "Sermon to the Princes"

(Verso, 2010)

In this installment of Verso's "Revolutions" series, Italian author collective Wu Ming introduces a selection of writings by radical reformation figure Thomas Muntzer. Muntzer was a prototypical communist who lead a disastrous peasant war in the Holy Roman Empire in 1525 before being caught, tortured and brutally executed. His theology was radical in that it located the heart of revelation not in scripture, but in the personal relationship of the abjected spirit to God. Muntzer is probably most famous for Lefties for being the subject of Engels's classic study "The Peasant War in Germany" - where, it should be noted, Engels rides roughshod over the theological aspects of Muntzer's movement and paints him as a crafty political figure using religious rhetoric to push his agenda forward. Certainly there is much politicking to be found in his writings - Cf the scathing attacks on Luther - but reading him I'm not convinced that the theological and political elements can be so easily separated.

In their introduction Wu Ming touch upon what I believe is the main point of interest in the survival of the Muntzer story: specifically, his mythologization by the Left. I would have liked a more in-depth discussion of how venerating his spectacular defeat is symptomatic of a more general and highly regrettable Leftist trend, specifically wallowing in images of martyrdom (one aspect of what a friend of mine has termed "riot porn"). Nonetheless, Wu Ming do a good job of situating the Muntzer myth with reference to Genoa in 2001, and this lends itself to the kind of discussion I'm referring to.

Ultimately this book makes for good reading on a variety of levels, political, historical and theological being the most obvious. But even if all you get out of it is the experience of a religious figure publically calling his doctrinal opponents "donkey cunts" and "scrotums" and so on, this is in my opinion no small joy.

1 comment:

Zog Kadare said...

Scintillating cover art, Machiavelli publishers have much to learn if they are to keep up with the Muntzers.

Also, the floridity of the title is a relief next to the dryness of the other guy.