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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The poetics of ruins: Vestigia, monuments, and writing Rome in Renaissance poetry
by Hui, Andrew, Ph.D., Princeton University, 2009, 377; 3388082
Abstract (Summary)

In the cultural revival of the Renaissance, ruins presented a challenge to the humanists: were they to be rebuilt, destroyed, venerated or left to rot? This dissertation proposes that the Renaissance was also a ruin-naissance—the birth of ruins as objects of contemplation that signaled the rupture from classical antiquity. Within the larger enterprise of the recovery of the antique, I focus on ruins as an artifact of cultural memory from a poetic perspective, by taking three specific test cases—Petrarch, Du Bellay, and Spenser—and explore how these three poets approached the remnants of antiquity, both literal and literary, from their respective national angles. My project uses one key word for each author— vestigia for Petrarch, cendre for Du Bellay and monumentum for Spenser—as search agents in which their philological usages illuminate their philosophical concerns.

The first chapter introduces the cultural conditions in which ruins arose. In the second, “Petrarch’s Vestigia and the Desire for Presence,” I argue that the Italian poet’s encounter with the past can be conceived of as the search for vestigia, in the senses of tracking the footprints of Laura, comparing recovered manuscripts to mutilated bodies, and walking around the ruins of Rome. By examining his usage of vestigia in his Rerum vulgarium fragmenta , his epistolary Rerum familiarium libri, and his unfinished epic Africa—works rarely read together—I explore how Petrarch’s scholarly and erotic desires operate on a logic of impossible presences: the palindrome Roma and Amor—hypostatized in the ruined remnants of the ancient capitol and the fragments of Laura—are forever absences, transcendental entities that cannot be made immanent, unattainable and unrequited precisely because they are idealized at their maximum extremes.

Chapter Three, “Du Bellay’s Cendre and the Development of the Vernacular” examines the frequent appearance of the word cendre in Les Antiquitez de Rome and his analogy of words and matter in his Deffence et Illustration de la Langue Francoyse . I read these two texts as paradigmatic examples of literary production in the Early Modern vernacular. Signifying ashes and usually applied to the remains of humans, cendre is used in Du Bellay, following a long literary tradition, to describe the body of Rome. Through this word, Du Bellay develops his theories of transmission, change, and the regeneration of things: the poet’s task is to gather these formless decompositions and create a new vernacular literature.

The meaning of monuments in the artistic process of Spenser forms the final chapter, entitled “Spenser’s Moniments and the Allegory of Ruins.” From his early Ruins of Time to his posthumously published Mutabilitie Cantos, Spenser is haunted by the Horatian promise of a poetic artifice that is a monumentum aere perennius, yet as a Christian he is suspicious of the claim that mortal works will outlast time. Moreover, as a Protestant, he has a vexed relationship to iconoclasm, that is, he himself has a penchant for ruin-making. The monument that is The Faerie Queene and monuments within the poem are all unstable artifices; and it is no accident that the text is composed literally under the shadow of a ruin, in Spenser’s own Kilcolman Castle. I propose that Spenser, instead of offering an aesthetics of ruins, returns to the etymological origin of monuments—moneo ∼“warning or admonishment”—and presents an ethics of monuments that is toward a moral end.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Barkan, Leonard
School: Princeton University
School Location: United States -- New Jersey
Source: DAI-A 70/12, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Comparative literature, Romance literature, British and Irish literature
Keywords: Du Bellay, Joachim, Monuments, Petrarch, Philology, Poetry, Renaissance, Ruins, Spenser, Edmund, Vestigia
Publication Number: 3388082
ISBN: 978-1-109-52286-0
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