Materiality and Textuality in Medieval Italian Literature
528 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in, 19 color illustrations, 2 b&w illustrations
- Published: November 2023
- ISBN: 9780268206499
- Published: November 2023
- ISBN: 9780268206482
- Published: November 2023
- ISBN: 9780268206475
Manuscript Poetics explores the interrelationship between the material features of textual artifacts and the literary aspects of the medieval Italian texts they preserve.
This original study is both an investigation into the material foundations of literature and a reflection on notions of textuality, writing, and media in late medieval and early modern Italy. Francesco Marco Aresu examines the book-objects of manuscripts and early printed editions, asking questions about the material conditions of production, circulation, and reception of literary works. He invites scholars to reconcile reading with seeing (and with touching) and to challenge contemporary presumptions about technological neutrality and the modes of interfacing and reading. Manuscript Poetics investigates the correspondences between textuality and materiality, content and medium, and visual-verbal messages and their physical support through readings of Dante Alighieri’s Vita nova, Giovanni Boccaccio’s Teseida, and Francesco Petrarca’s canzoniere (Rerum vulgarium fragmenta). Aresu shows that Dante, Boccaccio, and Petrarca evaluated and deployed the tools of scribal culture to shape, signal, or layer meanings beyond those they conveyed in their written texts. Medieval texts, Aresu argues, are uniquely positioned to provide this perspective, and they are foundational to the theoretical understanding of new forms and materials in our media-saturated contemporary world.
List of Plates
Introduction: Materiality and Method
Part 1. Materiality as Narrative in Dante’s Vita nuova
1. Scriptor in Fabula
2. The Author as Scribe
3. The Scribe as Author
Appendix: Pulcra Metaphora de Quaterno et Volumine
Part Two: Materiality and Authority in Boccaccio’s Teseida
4. Picture-Book (without Pictures)
5. The Textual Proliferation of the Teseida
Part Three: Materiality and Poetics in Petrarca’s Sestinas
6. Materiality and Meter
7. Carmina Figurata
Afterword: In Praise of Materiality
“Manuscript Poetics offers a new perspective on the relationship between textuality and materiality in fourteenth-century Italy and between different kinds of authorial poetics related to the materiality of books and their subsequent publics.” —Laura Banella, author of La “Vita nuova” del Boccaccio
“Manuscript Poetics functions both as a history of medieval manuscript culture and poetry, which will serve as an excellent introduction to and overview of the literary culture of the period for undergraduate students, and as a more focused study of specific texts and authors for specialists.” —Rhiannon Daniels, author of Boccaccio and the Book
Manuscript Poetics: Materiality and Textuality in Medieval Italian Literature is both an investigation into the material foundations of literature and a reflection on notions of textuality, writing, and media in late medieval and early modern Italy. It practices, and advocates for, a literary criticism that engages—and begins—with the book-objects of manuscripts and early printed editions, asking questions about the material conditions of production, circulation, and reception of literary works. The material turn in literary studies has taught us that the material forms in which texts are embodied impact how texts are produced, transmitted, and interpreted. It has taught us that looking at how and where words appear on the manuscript folio can better inform our understanding of what those words mean, or could have meant, for their author and audience. This book invites scholars to reconcile reading with seeing and touching, to recognize the affinity—the liking—that by Dante’s time parchment and paper folios had developed for poetry, and to challenge our contemporary presumptions about technological neutrality and the modes of interfacing/reading to which we are most accustomed.
Manuscript Poetics examines the correspondences and interactions between textuality and materiality, message/form and medium, visual-verbal discourse and its physical support through readings of three works by medieval Italian authors: Dante Alighieri’s Vita nova, Giovanni Boccaccio’s Teseida, and Petrarca’s canzoniere (Rerum vulgarium fragmenta). Each of these literary texts is read here as an interaction between conceptual, linguistic, rhetorical, and material elements. In a manuscript poetics the container and the content, the book and the text, share a material and symbolic solidarity. While the book represents the primary idea of the text, the text, conceptually, assumes the material shape of a book. A manuscript poetics informed the Vita nova, the Teseida, and the Rerum vulgarium fragmenta: operating within the manuscript culture of late medieval Italy, Dante, Boccaccio, and Petrarca evaluated and deployed the tools and strategies of scribal culture to shape, signal, and layer meanings coextensive to those they conveyed verbally in their written texts.
In Nelson Goodman’s classification of artworks, literary texts are allographic rather than autographic: the material changes they undergo in their transmission history leave their essential properties unaltered. A manuscript poetics instead reclaims for medieval literary texts in their material presentation Goodman’s own notion of the artwork’s autographic qualities—pace Goodman and regardless of the actual autography of these texts. For the literary texts discussed in this book, the history of production is integral to the works; the distinction between original and copy (and forgery) is significant to them; and the material changes they undergo affect their meaning.
Manuscript Poetics proposes that we reexamine medieval texts in which authors are known to have played (or simulated) a significant scribal role, bringing questions about the manuscripts as objects into dialogue with questions deriving from other interpretive approaches such as narratology, reception and reader-response theory, as well as rhetorical and stylistic analysis. When we integrate these multiple modes of inquiry, we come to understand narrative as emerging from—and unfolding in—both the syntax of plot elements and the material arrangement of sentences and paragraphs on the folio façade. We observe how various enunciative instances and narratorial modes—however concealed within the linguistic sequence that constitutes a literary text—incarnate or manifest in the material surface of the medium that preserves that text. We recognize that the specific scribal decisions authors made—about support, mise-en-page, mise-en-texte, script, illustration, and more—encouraged certain readings of texts as well as certain modes of reading those texts. We see that poetry articulates—and merges—metrical techniques and rhetorical strategies into material forms through scribal conventions: we realize, in short, that the material presentation of a poem is mimetically and stylistically motivated.
Textuality and materiality were integrated into a common project of creating meaning and seeking to shape reception. This perspective—which medieval texts, crafted in the context of centuries-old scribal cultures and in dialogue with multiple text technologies, are uniquely positioned to provide—is foundational to the theoretical understanding of new forms and materials in our media-saturated contemporary world.