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Article

Renaissance Literature and the Environment  

Todd Andrew Borlik

As the environmental humanities have gained traction, its practitioners have ventured beyond a predictable canon of modern nature writers and Romantic poets into earlier eras to better fathom the origins of our ecological predicament. It has become abundantly clear that the Renaissance (c. 1340–1660), often reframed as the early modern era (c. 1500–1800), marks a pivotal epoch in the history of the earth. Spurred by the rediscovery of classical learning to rival the grandeur of Ancient Rome and by Columbus’s plundering of the West Indies, European powers studied and exploited the environment with unprecedented zeal, while investing in resource extraction, overseas colonization, and technoscience. These developments left an indelible imprint on both the planet and the period’s literature. In tandem with the invention of landscape by Renaissance painters, writers in the generations between Francesco Petrarch and John Milton sought new ways—while reviving and adapting ancient ones—to capture the beauty, fragility, and animacy of the natural world. In the works of poets such as Torquato Tasso, Michael Drayton, and Mary Wroth, trees can bleed, rivers speak, and nightingales transform into violated maidens. As such conceits suggest, the prevailing views of nature can seem quaint or anthropomorphic by post-Enlightenment standards. Yet Renaissance literature has proven, in part because it enables us to interrogate those standards, surprisingly responsive to ecocritical concerns. Bringing these concerns to bear on the era has revealed startling new facets of familiar texts, thrown more limelight on undersung authors, unsettled complacent assumptions in environmental history, and greatly enriched eco-theory. Nature has always been a site of ideological contestation, but the historical distance afforded by the Renaissance can bring this into shimmering focus. If the label “early modern” underscores the era’s continuity with the present and its foreshadowing of ecological issues and sensibilities, the somewhat old-fashioned label Renaissance reminds us to keep sight of its alterity and to view its literature as an archive of radically different attitudes, epistemologies, and material practices that might help us to better understand and combat environmental problems. The urgency of the climate crisis makes it imperative to trace or insinuate parallels between then and now, but newcomers to the field would also be well advised to acquaint themselves with the contours of early modern cultural and environmental history so as to undertake ecocritical interpretations responsibly without peddling anachronisms or reductive caricatures. Early modern worldviews can be both familiar and alien, and its literature can jolt us into a greater awareness of these tensions. It is, for instance, ironic yet strangely apt that the same Francis Bacon reviled as an architect of the Anthropocene was one of the first to denounce the anthropocentric prejudice of the human sensorium and mind. Bacon also feared that language and an excessive reverence for the received knowledge of the past might warp our understanding of nature. Four centuries later, his words provide a cautionary reminder that we should not approach Renaissance literature as a repository of timeless, universal truths. Rather, insofar as studying Renaissance literature enables us to see beyond the shibboleths of our own culture and historical moment, it offers valuable cognitive training that might help us recognize and overcome species bias.

Article

Rhythm  

Laura Marcus

The topic of rhythm in literary theory draws both on discussions of poetry and prose and on much broader currents of thought in the natural sciences and philosophy. In Western thought, rhythm was a central focus of attention in ancient Greece, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, when theorists and practitioners of literature and the other arts often referred back to classical models. This is also the case in more recent theorizing of rhythm in the context of everyday life in advanced modern or, as some would say, postmodern societies. Nietzsche, who constantly circled around the term and with frequent direct and metaphorical references to dance, is in many ways the central figure in these discussions. He was massively influential after his death in 1900, both in Germany and more widely, for example, in Britain and North America, and he was taken up again, along with Heidegger, in much French thought after World War 2. Contemporary debates around rhythm and its relation to meter continue to refer to classical Greece, and in Chinese and Indian thought there is a similar continuity of attention to issues of rhythm.

Article

The Salem Witch Trials  

Abram C. Van Engen

The Salem witch trials have gripped American imaginations ever since they occurred in 1692. At the end of the 17th century, after years of mostly resisting witch hunts and witch trial prosecutions, Puritans in New England suddenly found themselves facing a conspiracy of witches in a war against Satan and his minions. What caused this conflict to erupt? Or rather, what caused Puritans to think of themselves as engaged, at that moment, in such a cosmic battle? These are some of the mysteries that the Salem witch trials have left behind, taken up and explored not just by each new history of the event but also by the literary imaginations of many American writers. The primary explanations of Salem set the crisis within the context of larger developments in Puritan society. Though such developments could be traced to the beginning of Puritan settlement in New England, most commentators focus on shifts occurring near the end of the century. This was a period of intense economic change, with new markets emerging and new ways of making money. It was also a time when British imperial interests were on the rise, tightening and expanding an empire that had, at times, been somewhat loosely held together. In the midst of those expansions, British colonists and settlers faced numerous wars on their frontiers, especially in northern New England against French Catholics and their Wabanaki allies. Finally, New England underwent, resented, and sometimes resisted intense shifts in government policy as a result of the changing monarchy in London. Under James II, Massachusetts Bay lost its original charter, which had upheld the Puritan way for over fifty years. A new government imposed royal rule and religious tolerance. With the overthrow of James II in the Glorious Revolution, the Massachusetts Bay government carried on with no official charter or authority from 1689 until 1691. When a new charter arrived during the midst of the Salem witch hunt, it did not restore all the privileges, positions, or policies of the original “New England Way,” and many lamented what they had lost. In other words, in 1692, New England faced economic, political, and religious uncertainty while suffering from several devastating battles on its northern frontier. All of these factors have been used to explain Salem. When Governor William Phips finally halted the trials, nineteen had been executed, five had died in prison, and one man had been pressed to death for refusing to speak. Protests began almost immediately with the first examinations of the accused, and by the time the trials ended, almost all agreed that something had gone terribly wrong. Even so, the population could not necessarily agree on an explanation for what had occurred. Publishing any talk of the trials was prohibited, but that ban was quickly broken. Since 1695, interpretations have rolled from the presses, and American literature—in poems, plays, and novels—has attempted to make its own sense and use of what one scholar calls the mysterious and terrifying “specter of Salem.”

Article

16th- and 17th-Century English Sermons  

Katrin Ettenhuber

The continental and English Reformations had a profound impact on the development of the sermon, precipitating a decisive shift from sacramental forms of worship to a Scripture-centered piety. The Henrician Reformation of the 1530s tied preaching to the politics of religion, as the monarch sought to consolidate the Royal Supremacy. The sermon continued to play a crucial role in the promulgation and defense of royal policy for one hundred fifty years, until the Toleration Act of 1689 granted freedom of worship to dissenters and nonconformists. But the pulpit was equally important as a forum in which foreign and domestic affairs could be subjected to scrutiny and criticism, in often fraught and complex attempts to fulfill the Christian mandate to speak truth to power. Preaching did not simply reflect or articulate public opinion, but actively contributed to its formation. The early modern sermon, especially when it was delivered at large and popular venues such as Paul’s Cross or Saint Paul’s Cathedral, was not merely an occasion for the formal exposition of Scripture but a major social event that attracted significant numbers of spectators and listeners. Preachers were keenly attuned to the demands of homiletic decorum: if a sermon was to reach the hearts and souls of the audience, it needed to adapt to the time, place, and circumstances of performance. Places of preaching reflected the primacy of decorum in their architectural layout: the chapels royal embodied the idea of royal supremacy by seating the monarch in an elevated royal closet, for instance. Sermons were preached in a wide range of settings: parish churches and cathedrals; chapels at the Inns of Court and the universities; outdoor pulpits and private meeting houses; and before Parliament and on the judicial circuit. And they existed in a variety of forms and media: in their original performance context, animated by voice and gesture; as manuscript notes, summaries, or illicit copies for further circulation; and in printed formats ranging from expensive folios to penny chapbooks. These different modes of transmission were in turn associated with different architectures of cognition: print culture helped preserve a sermon’s message, but at the cost of sacrificing the spiritual bond with the congregation. In a culture that saw the sermon as the primary means of communication with God, and therefore as the main path to salvation, retaining a connection with the living tradition of apostolic preaching was vital, and preachers sought to augment their printed sermons with features of orality and dialogue in order to compensate for the absence of an immediate rapport with the audience.

Article

Song  

Stephanie Burt and Jenn Lewin

Ideas about song, and actual songs, inform literary works in ways that go back to classical and to biblical antiquity. Set apart from non-musical language, song can indicate proximity to the divine, intense emotion, or distance from the everyday. At least from the early modern period, actual songs compete with idealized songs in a body of lyric poetry where song is sometimes scheme and sometimes trope. Songs and singers in novels can do the work of plot and of character, sometimes isolating songwriter or singer, and sometimes linking them to a milieu beyond what readers are shown. Accounts of song as poetry’s inferior, as its other, or as its unreachable ideal—while historically prominent—do not consider the variety of literary uses in English that songs—historically attested and fictional; popular, vernacular, and “classical”— continue to find.

Article

Southern Poetry: Antebellum to Contemporary  

Claire Raymond

Southern poetry embraces dichotomous elements: it contains poems lauding the Confederacy, and also poems deeply critical and mournful of the racist violence, oppression, and racist terrorism that characterize the region’s history. Yet a common thread runs through Southern poetry—attention to the land, the rural South as a character in its own right, and with that attention to the land a quality of haunting and being haunted by the history of the South: the violence of colonization, enslavement, the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow. Twentieth-century poet Etheridge Knight, born in Mississippi, lyrically describes the earth of Mississippi merging with the graves of his ancestors, calling him home to a place where, as a black man, he is not safe. Nineteenth-century poet Sidney Lanier, born in Georgia and, like Knight, a man who had experienced imprisonment, shapes in his poetry a mythical country where trees and rivers and indigenous crops become forces superseding the human; but Lanier, a soldier for the Confederacy, does not mention enslavement in his poetry. In Southern poetry, this blind spot—the white Southern poet who does not see or reflect upon the racist violence of enslavement, Jim Crow, lynching—is often submerged into a poetry melancholic and obsessed with unnamable violence and loss, even as African American poets of the South often name this loss in terms of personal memory. Myth—of the aristocratic, agrarian South—in white Southern poetry, and memory—of personal risk and suffering—in African American Southern poetry, can be understood together as a common pull to write the land, albeit from different perspectives.

Article

Spanish Incunabula  

Benito Rial Costas

At the end of the 15th century, printed books were known and read throughout Europe, and the modern structure of this new product was defined. However, in many Spanish cities, printing and selling books depended on the work of itinerant printers with scarce economic and technical possibilities and professional skills. The limited industrial, technical, and economic development and the lack of good communications produced a map of Spain with small and dispersed printing offices spread over many different places. Spanish printing quality could not compete with that of other countries. These limitations determined the character of the works that the Spanish printing offices produced. On the one hand, many Spanish printed books were made by and for the local clergy and royal officials, and, in many senses, they followed objectives and productive patterns that were not distant from the purposes of handwritten books. On the other hand, Spanish literature and translations into Spanish and Catalan of important Latin and Italian texts were the other main feature of Spanish 15th-century printing history. The Spanish printing offices could not offer anything to the European book market, and they could not even offer certain books to the Spanish market that booksellers brought from abroad.

Article

The Index in the Premodern and Modern World  

Kyle Conrau-Lewis

In the history of the book, indexes emerged as a result of a number of developments in paratexts and organization. The earliest examples of this device varied significantly in layout, organization, and textual form. While various kinds of tables of contents are attested in the ancient world, the index is a much later innovation. The earliest use of indexes is found in legal and then scholastic and patristic texts in continental Europe; they were particularly useful for university students and preachers. Indexes served as aids to help them navigate the growing corpus of legal and theological compilations and commentaries. However, their format and function were variable: the manuscript evidence shows a great degree of experimentation, combining alphabetic, vocalic, and systematic orders of arrangement. In the early modern period, with increasing anxieties about how to organize and manage information, treatises instructed readers how to compile an index. In turn, from the 16th century and well into the 18th, writers cautioned against an excessive reliance on these book aids in lieu of reading the whole books and lampooned so-called “index learning.” The use of indexes in Greek, Hebrew, and Islamic book culture only began in earnest in the early modern period.

Article

The Stationers’ Company, 1403–1775: London’s Book Trade Guild  

Ian Gadd

The Stationers’ Company is one of Britain’s most important cultural institutions. Founded in 1403, it oversaw the regulation of the London’s book trades for several centuries. From the mid-16th century to the end of the 17th, the Company maintained a near-national monopoly over the technology and craft of printing; during that same period, almost every important English printer and publisher belonged to it, and the vast majority of books published in England were printed and sold by its members. It played a crucial role in the development and implementation of modern Anglo-American copyright law, establishing in the 1550s a ‘Register’ for the recording of publishing rights that was still being used in the early decades of the 20th century. Six centuries on, the Company continues to retain strong ties to the printing, publishing, and allied industries. The Company was — and remains — one of the dozens of livery companies that historically regulated London’s crafts and trades. Its national powers, granted to it by the crown in 1557, were exceptional but not unique, and effectively lapsed in 1695. It had oversight of training, labor, wages, and prices, and regularly arbitrated members’ disputes; it also provided vital welfare and social functions for its members and their families. During the early modern period, it was frequently cited in state decrees and legislation that sought to regulate the publication of printed material, but it was never the active censoring body that subsequent scholarship has often claimed. Despite weakening powers from the late 17th century, the Company flourished into the Victorian era, in large part due to its distinctive publishing venture, the English Stock, whose interests it fiercely defended. In 1937 it formally incorporated newspaper makers into its ranks, becoming the Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers. The Company’s hall, which houses its archive, is located off Ludgate Hill in central London.

Article

Women and Writing in Spanish America from Colonial Times through the 20th Century  

Carolina Alzate and Betty Osorio

As in the case of other Western literary traditions, women’s relationship to writing in Spanish America has been problematic since early modernity. From colonial times onward, women’s emergence on the writing scene as authors went hand in hand with a redescription of the feminine that allowed them to become producers of written culture and to find a respectable entry into the public sphere from which they were excluded. Spanish-American feminine tradition from the 16th through the 20th centuries may be read as a gradual, heterogeneous, and difficult but nonetheless sustained and very productive occupation of new ground. Legitimation of their voice passed through the reading of the male tradition, the establishment of a female tradition, and the redescription of a subjectivity that would make it possible for them to take up the pen and eventually to imagine themselves being read by others. Establishing the contents of these women’s libraries, reconstructed through their testimonies of reading both in a colonial society in which illiteracy was very high—especially among women—and in 19th-century society in general, and in which access to the written word remained restricted, are key elements for understanding their writing. Most female authorship during the colonial period took the form of religious writing and was dependent upon the male figure of the confessor, as was the possibility of publishing their life stories and writings. But women authors were not only nuns, and it is also possible to find examples of women who left their mark on writing due to special circumstances (travelers and so-called witches). Male tutelage tended to remain in force throughout the 19th century, and newspapers would provide vitally important new spaces for publication in the young independent republics. Women’s relationship to newspapers, both as readers and authors, was essential to this writing tradition, and it would allow them to build reading and editorial networks—both within the Americas and across the Atlantic, a context that must be understood to properly understand their writing projects. Women writers in the early 20th century would travel, not without difficulty, along the roads paved by the pioneers. The year 1959, a provisional closing date marked by the Cuban Revolution, helps position 20th-century literature as one of the forms of the crisis of modernity: that which reveals and celebrates heterogeneity and could no longer openly continue excluding women from the authorized spaces for the production of meaning.

Article

Zombies in Print  

Sarah Juliet Lauro and Christina Connor

A general discussion of literary living dead might begin with the Epic of Gilgamesh, European Gothic tales, some of Edgar Allan Poe’s perturbations, or any number of well-known walking corpses from classic literature. However, zombies are one particular kind of living-dead creature among many others, separate from the fleshy embodied ghosts of diverse cultures, including the Jewish golems, European revenants, and Chinese jiangshi. The zombie is distinct because of its origins in the folkloric myth of the corpse raised by a bokor (a witch doctor, for lack of a better term), a Caribbean belief that has roots in African soul-capture mythologies and that was a direct reflection of the transatlantic slave trade. This folkloric figure migrated into U.S. popular culture via anthropological narratives and thereafter was repurposed in cinema. Any discussion of the zombie in literature is inseparable from its cinematic sibling, but for the creature that developed out of Caribbean mythologies, folklore is its ultimate ur-text. Zombies were first registered in a few scattered colonial accounts documenting the beliefs of the enslaved population of Caribbean isles. These accounts were penned by authors who denigrated the foolishness of the enslaved people’s belief in reanimated corpses (17th–19th century). The first zombie stories to be popularly consumed came out of nonfictional pseudo-anthropological texts reporting on the culture of Haiti during the U.S. occupation (1915–1934), but the zombie quickly moved into the horror genre. Its marketability was recognizable after the 1932 film White Zombie (dir. Victor Halperin) depicted the threat that the Vaudou zombie could pose for white protagonists. The zombie’s migration into U.S. fiction occurred first in the pulps of the early 20th century. This would continue throughout the 1950s, as many zombie-like living dead dripped and oozed across the pages of EC horror comics. The Vaudou zombie, a folkloric living dead that was deeply shaped by the Haitian people’s history of slavery and colonialism, remained visible in Caribbean literature but this iteration very rarely cropped up in U.S. fiction after the cinematic transformation of the zombie into a flesh-hungry viral undead. Primarily, the zombie is considered a cinematic monster because it underwent its major transformation on screen with George Romero’s ghouls rising from the dead to devour their victims in 1968’s Night of the Living Dead. The zombie’s evolution from a mindless Vaudou slave to a cannibalistic, contagious reanimate can be traced throughout the middle decades of 20th-century horror films and this same transformation occurred in horror literature. During these middle decades, many crossover monsters in science fiction tales incarnated the fears of the period—particularly fears of technological capability and Cold War tensions. Various characters in these works had traits that have come to be associated with zombies, such as mindlessness and cannibalism. One might point to a kind of lull in zombie fiction (both on-screen and in literature) in the 1980s and 1990s, but the zombie experienced a resurgence in the new millennium and a return to prominence in both cinematic and textual narratives. In the era of the new millennial zombie, the living dead could be found everywhere, spawning beyond even the boundaries of genre fiction. The cinematic zombie’s newfound speed (associated with Danny Boyle’s 2002 film 28 Days Later) mirrored the rapidity of the zombie’s production and proliferation: no longer consigned to the pages of horror paperbacks or science fiction dystopias, zombies appear in comedy, romance, historical fiction, literary mash-ups, parodic how-to guides, and even children’s books. In addition, zombie-themed video games and merchandise flooded the market, and one could find a plethora of zombie cultural events, including college courses, art exhibits, and costumed foot races during this zombie renaissance. In a few short centuries, the zombie evolved from a folkloric figure associated with Vaudou cosmology and its reflection of slavery, to a horror and science fiction bogeyman representing a range of social ills, to a perplexing liminal figure that cannot be contained in one genre or medium. But no matter how much the zombie changes—perhaps because of its ancestral origins in the slave trade—zombie narratives continue to have resonance with colonialism, critiquing capitalism’s abuses of humans by their fellows.