Thinking with demons: the idea of witchcraft in early modern Europe. By Stuart Clark. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997. Pp. xvii+827. ISBN 0–19–820001–3. £75.00.
The darker side of the Renaissance: literacy, territoriality, and colonization. By Walter D. Mignolo. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995. Pp. xxii+426. ISBN 0–472–10327. $39.50.
Oedipus and the devil: witchcraft, sexuality, and religion in early modern Europe. By Lyndal Roper. London: Routledge, 1995. Pp. ix+254. ISBN 0–415–10581–1. £13.99.
As Professor Richard Evans's spirited In defence of history attests, postmodernism continues to arouse strong passions and suspicions among distinguished practitioners of the discipline. This is hardly surprising: in their most extreme and undiluted form, the theories of Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Hayden White, and more particularly their many disciples, are stubbornly corrosive of the ethos and rationale of history as conventionally taught and written. To insist that the production of knowledge is inherently – indeed insidiously – political, and to claim that the veil of language which divides us from the past can never be pierced is to unsettle many traditional epistemological assumptions. And yet postmodernism and the so-called ‘linguistic turn’ have posed timely and fundamental questions about truth, discourse, and objectivity which historians can ill afford to ignore. They have also helped to generate some of the most innovative and provocative historical writing in recent years. In different ways, each of the books under review engages with and reacts to the swirling debate about this influential and controversial body of ideas. All three make strenuous demands upon their readers; all three challenge us to reflect critically upon the methodologies we employ and the categories, concepts, polarities, and narrative paradigms to which we instinctively resort. Taken together they highlight both the potential strengths and weaknesses, the rewards and dangers of injecting theory into the study of witchcraft, sexuality, and colonization in early modern Europe and the New World.
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