Jerzy Strzelczyk

title.none: Boureau, Kantorowicz (Jerzy Strzelczyk)

identifier.other: baj9928.0401.016 04.01.16

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Jerzy Strzelczyk, Adam-Mickiewicz Universitat,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: Boureau, Alain. Nichols, Stephen G., Gabrielle M. Spiegel, trans. Kantorowicz: Stories of a Historian. Series: Parallax: Re-visions of Culture and Society. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001. Pp. xxiv, 112. $36.00. ISBN: 0-8018-6623-5.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.01.16

Boureau, Alain. Nichols, Stephen G., Gabrielle M. Spiegel, trans. Kantorowicz: Stories of a Historian. Series: Parallax: Re-visions of Culture and Society. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001. Pp. xxiv, 112. $36.00. ISBN: 0-8018-6623-5.

Reviewed by:

Jerzy Strzelczyk
Adam-Mickiewicz Universitat

The original French version of this book was published in 1990, being a prelude to a vast number of publications dedicated to this renowned medievalist and humanist, born in a Jewish-German family in Poznan-- Ernst H[artwig] Kantorowicz (1895-1963)-- published on the 100th anniversary of his birth. Among the most important books one can mention three collective works, which contain the papers of four scientific conferences dedicated to Kantorowicz (I quote in chronological order of their publishing): Ernst Kantorowicz (1895-1963). Soziales Milieu und wissenschaftliche Relevanz, ed. J. Strzelczyk, Poznan 1996 (Publikacje Instytutu Historii UAM, 7), second, revised edition, Poznan 2000 (Publikacje..., 31) [papers of the Poznan conference, held in November 1995]; Robert L. Benson (+), Johannes Fried (Hgg.), Ernst Kantorowicz. Ertrage der Doppeltagung Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universitat, Frankfurt, Stuttgart 1997 (Frankfurter Historische Abhandlungen, Bd. 39); Geschichtskorper. Zur Aktualitat von Ernst H. Kantorowicz, hg. von Wolfgang Ernst und Cornelia Vismann, Munchen 1998 [papers of the conference in Frankfurt am O. And Berlin, May 1995]. The book, written in rather post-modernist spirit by A. Boureau, can be read with bated breath and really ambiguous feelings. Certainly it was not composed according to the traditional understanding of scholarship. The book was intended for the series "L'un et l'autre," which-- as the author explains in the introduction-- "envisaged short biographical essays in which the author was charged with creating and expressing a sense of personal connection with his subjects, on which he would reflect or project his own feelings" (xiv). One must admit that the rather complicated life of Kantorowicz himself (composed of several periods, only slightly linked to each other) as well as some particular features of his original personality do not make the work of his biographer easy. It is enough to be reminded that in his last will, he forbad anyone ever to publish any of his texts, which were not clearly completed by him for publication. In addition, the access to his archival output, preserved now at the Leo Baeck Institute, NYC is still limited. A reminder of the major period of his lifetime: he spent his childhood and youth in Poznan, then took part in the military campaign on several fronts during WWW I. There is very little known about his participation in the combat against the Polish insurgents in Wielkopolska, against the Spartakus followers in Berlin and against the communist republic of Bavaria in Munich. His impoverished family moved to Berlin. He began his studies in Germany, but history was only one of his subjects. Being inspired by the Heidelberg circle, in particular by Stefan George, he produced his famous work entitled Friedrich der Zweite (1927-1931). Soon, he was offered first an honorary professorship (1930), then an ordinary professorship at the University in Frankfurt am Main (1932). When the Nazis took over in Germany he was forced to retire prematurely (at the age of 39!). He emigrated from Germany "in the last moment " (1938) via the United Kingdom to the US. The first years in his new home were marked with certain hardships adapting to the new reality. Later he became a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, but soon after refused to sign a "loyalty oath" during the McCarthy "communist" hunt. He spent the rest of his working life at the Institute of Advanced Studies at Princeton. The most important book by Kantorowicz, The King's Two Bodies, was published in 1957.

The evaluation of A. Boureau's book depends, in fact, on acceptance or rejection of his preferred method of composition. "I want to write a story," explains Boureau, "that will succeed in emptying Kantorowicz's life of its deterministic factors, to strip away its past anterior. This is to say, I want to write the biography of a man without qualities who would seek to navigate empty space, heedless of shrines, from the wide plains of Poznan to the crowded corridors of American university campuses. To accomplish this, the essay will have to present little stories, anecdotes, in the attempt to retrace the various configurations through which I hope to recover the reality that was Kantorowicz" (7).

One can ask, if this method is fully justified or if the expected results of his research can be scholastically discussed? I really do not know to which extent the "strange materials," selected with a certain precision, allow us to fill the gaps in Kantorowicz's biography. These "strange" texts can be used for various comparisons and for general reflections, because they were most often taken from the works (and experiences) of the men, who knew Kantorowicz very well, who were often his close friends, also sometimes from the works of men, unknown to Kantorowicz, but whose lives and experiences shared similar analogies.

Intriguing, almost written in code, are the titles of the chapters, referring to the main work of Kantorowicz and understandable only in this context: "Visiting the Monument Known as E.K.," "The Hidden Body," "Incorporation," "The Lost Body," "Foreign Body," "Two Bodies." One can regret that Boureau's epilogue to the German edition of his essay of 1992 was omitted (145-148). The author, inspired by the reviewers, concluded or gave some points on quite trifling thoughts (e.g. on the possible homosexual orientation of Kantorowicz). I also will not reproach the French scholar with his less concrete knowledge of the Poznan's and Wielkopolska's aspects of Kantorowicz life. (e.g. p. 32: "In a border city like Poznan, with its military garrison, militia ideology must have been very much alive at the beginning of the twentieth century"). I shall admit that having read the controversial book of Boureau, in which much respect was given to Kantorowicz as a man, and even more to his works, I found several particularly less known facts on circumstances and episodes of his lifetime. On the other hand, the book was not overwhelmed by a temptation to present its hero as a monumental figure, which is typical for this kind of anniversary publication.

One should appreciate inventiveness and intuition of the French author (one should remember that the French historians, not without reason, have preserved and somehow preserve till now a clear aloofness against Kantorowicz). One can also presume that books, similar to the one reviewed, will be published more often and most probably these sort of publications will influence the historical culture of a society with a significant impact. This is why I would not encourage anyone to begin his or her studies on Kantorowicz's life and his literary output with Boureau's book, but rather with more "traditional" studies, firmly based on the verifiable facts, e.g. a book based profoundly on source analysis by Eckhard Grunewald, Ernst Kantorowicz und Stefan George. BeitrC$ge zur Biographie des Historikers bis zam Jahre 1938 und zu seinem Jugendwerk "Kaiser Friedrich der Zweite", Wiesbaden 1982. This book, however does not cover the entire life of Kantorowicz, therefore, the articles included in Boureau's above- mentioned anniversary papers could be helpful in many aspects.