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Martin Luther’s Pamphlet Wars: Owning Language, Dispossessing Speech

Barbara N. Nagel, Assistant Professor of German, Robert Remsen Laidlaw '04

October 2, 2020 · 12:00 pm1:30 pm · Webinar

Plaster face and hands on black sheet

In this talk, I juxtapose two rhetorical strategies that emanate from Martin Luther’s pamphlet-wars: on the one hand, Luther’s abundant and uncommon use of possessives in “Open Letter on Translating” (“my language,” “my testament”, “my bible,” “my translation”), i.e. formulations, which are in obvious tension with the Paulinian concept of grace; and, on the other hand, Luther’s repeated attempts to disown his own speech in some of his most hateful pamphlets (e.g. “Against the Peasants,” “Against Hans Worst,” “Of the Jews and Their Lies”) by way of the rhetorical figure of praeteritio. How do the fantasy of owning language and the desire to dispossess one’s own speech relate to one another?

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