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International Conference Held at the University of Chicago on 20-22 May 2011


Since the mid-1980s, attempts to think history and literature together – often associated with New Historicism and neo-Marxism – have provided a focal point for much exciting work in the Humanities. The conference drew together scholars of ancient and modern literatures to interrogate the ways in which Historicism in literary studies can and should be understood and practiced today, at a time of widely perceived crisis in the fields of both literary theory and literary history.

Particular topics discussed included the formation and evolution of genres (Homeric epic, Attic tragedy, Russian novel), period styles and modes of historical consciousness (Greek classicism, Sentimentalism, Realism), and particular literary forms (commentary, metaphor, dialogue). It is through rigorous analyses of literary artifacts and traditions that the conference addressed the issues that have long loomed large in the Humanities: the nature of historical continuity and change, cross-cultural borrowing and hybridity, the viability of typological and historical comparison.

The conference included a roundtable “Practicing literary history in the wake of New Historicism,” taking as its point of departure the new books by Christopher Faraone, The Stanzaic Architecture of Early Greek Elegy (Oxford UP, 2008) and Leslie Kurke, Aesopic Conversations: Popular Tradition, Cultural Dialog, and the Invention of Greek Prose (Princeton UP, 2010).


Conference participants:

  • Nina Braginskaya (Professor, Russian State University for the Humanities, Institute for Oriental Studies and the Classics, Moscow)
  • Robert Bird (Associate Professor, Slavic and Cinema and Media Studies, University of Chicago)
  • Tamara Chin (Assistant Professor, Comparative Literature, University of Chicago)
  • Christopher Faraone (Frank Curtis Springer and Gertrude Melcher Springer Professor in the Humanities and in Classics, University of Chicago)
  • Ilya Kliger (Assistant Professor, Russian, New York University)
  • Leslie Kurke (Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor, Classics and Comparative Literature UC Berkeley)
  • Michael Kunichika (Assistant Professor, Russian, New York University)
  • Richard Martin (Antony and Isabelle Raubitschek Professor of Classics, Stanford University)
  • Boris Maslov (Assistant Professor, Comparative Literature, University of Chicago)
  • Michael Murrin (Raymond W. & Martha Hilpert Gruner Distinguished Service Professor, Departments of English and Comparative Literature, Divinity School, University of Chicago)
  • Richard Neer (David B. and Clara E. Stern Professor of Humanities, Art History and the College, University of Chicago)
  • René Nünlist (Professor, Classics, Cologne University)
  • Nina Perlina (Professor, Slavic, Indiana University, Bloomington)
  • Joshua Scodel (Helen A. Regenstein Professor, English and Comparative Literature, University of Chicago)
  • Tatiana Smoliarova (Assistant Professor, Slavic, Columbia University)
  • Victoria Somoff (Assistant Professor, Russian, Dartmouth)
  • Christopher van den Berg (Assistant Professor, Classics, Amherst)
  • Ilya Vinitsky (Associate Professor, Slavic, University of Pennsylvania)
  • Yuri Tsivian (William Colvin Professor, Departments of Art History, Slavic, Cinema & Media Studies





Robert Bird

The Schematics of Genre: Bakhtin and Soviet Satire

One of the recognized strengths of Bakhtin’s work was his identification of a specific genre – the Menippean satire – as a source of Dostoevsky’s fictional discourse. Bakhtin’s hypothesis constitutes one of his major contributions to genre theory and also one of his most consequential interventions in the realm of historical poetics. Based on Bakhtin’s discussion of satire I shall endeavor to provide formal and historical definitions of his concept of genre. The first task is to elaborate Bakhtin’s account of how genre intervenes in the artist’s mimetic modeling of the historical world. Was Bakhtin’s a historicist (i.e., inductive) theory or, as Galin Tihanov has argued, an “essentialist-mentalistic view of genre”? Was it in fact a theory of genre or a theory of mode, such as was developed by such predecessors of Bakhtin as Viacheslav Ivanov and Evgenii Anichkov? I also propose to read Bakhtin’s hypothesis regarding Dostoevsky against the background of developments in Soviet satire (and Soviet culture more generally) of Bakhtin’s own day. I shall look in particular at what Bakhtin calls “experimental fantasy,” a subset of the broader tradition of Menippean satire represented by such works as Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and Voltaire’s Micromegas. Tightly bound to specific historical and social circumstances, satire not only tests the adaptability of Bakthin’s theory of genre, but it also allows us to test to what extent the interaction between literary form and history submits to modeling by means of schemas like genre or mode. With reference to Pavel Medvedev’s Bakhtinian critique of formalism, I might propose that the Bakhtinian legacy allows us to re-define the problem of genre and mode as a problem of conceptual (or second-order) modeling, to be distinguished from (and integrated with) the primary (mimetic) modeling that constitutes the artistic act.

Nina Braginskaya

Innovation Disguised as Tradition: Commentary and the Genesis of Art Forms

In the last decades, and probably for the first time in several thousand years of its existence as a self-evident form of text study, commentary became subject of reflexion in both European and Russian science, in a dozen of conferences devoted to this phenomenon. Yet my proposed approach has been partially anticipated only by John Henderson (1991). He has examined canon as a product and not as an object of commenting: canon is produced by commentary, though at some moment in time the commenting tradition confronts that same canonicity which was at the origin of the commentary, and starts undermining it. Once the canon is undermined, such an abstracted view on canonical texts is achieved that it allows those texts to contain errors, vagueness, and contradictions (as in biblical criticism).

Similarly to Henderson, I propose a hypothesis on the role of commentary that was not intended by the commentators themselves: in the traditional culture, which emphasizes reproduction, commentary servesas a mechanism of innovation, which is made possible precisely by the fact that commentary is fashioned and perceived as a text that is subordinate to a traditional or sacred text, object or action.

By “commentary” I understand a non-narrative verbal (written or oral) text that elucidates another verbal or non-verbal text, with respect to which it is hetero-glossic (i.e. it uses a language that is semiotically different, in a widest sense), and  lemmatised, whether directly or indirectly (i.e. it either does or does not contain elements being  elucidated).

Based on these general considerations, I investigate how this mechanism of innovation operates  in various fields of culture—in theatre, literature and philosophy.

Theatre. Following a survey  of Oriental and Occidental archaic theatrical systems, I conclude that at a certain stage they are characterized by the  figure of interpreter, speaker, or presenter, while the actor may be partially or even completely mute (and not a human being); on this basis I maintain that commenting on a representation is a universal proto-theatrical form.  (See my brief presentation of a “theory” of archaic theatre in [Braginskaya 2006].)

Comparative study of exotic and ancient theatre reveals a heteroglossia whose universality has not yet been recognized: the poetic language of monologues and sometimes semi-obscure epic texts that have already lost their links to the subject of the play are commented upon in everyday language and coexist with the modern dialects in which the dialogues are spoken. Upon this difference of the two kinds of language—the lofty, ancient, poetic, “strange” and the everyday, spoken, local—is superimposed in many cases the difference between singing and speaking, melos and iambus, the fixed and the improvised text.

Commenting on the presentation of pictures and objects also engenders a new literary genre of the ekphrastic book (or collection, or anthology), which continuously exists in various modifications from Philostratus the Elder and similar collections of the Byzantine authors to Hans Christian Andersen’s  Picture-Book without Pictures (1840) and the works of impressionist writers who used the bare form of picture collection/gallery, as, for example, Peter Altenberg in Bilderbögen des kleinen Lebens (1909).

Fiction. In traditional culture, fictional narrative emerges as a by-product of exegesis of the sacred text. In the Indian tradition, a sentence of a sage gives rise to a whole written story of his life, intended to elucidate the genesis of the sentence. Haggadic midrashim tell us fictional stories about biblical personages; etc.

Philosophy. Commentaries on epic stand at the origin of Greek philosophy, as well as of philosophical prose more generally. In the 6th c. BC, Theagenes of Rhegium undertakes an allegoric interpretation of Homer. It appears that  the Orphic-Pythagorean tradition of interpretation of epic pseudepigraphs of Orpheus and Musaeus also began in the 6th c.. The so-called Derveni papyrus is a philosophical commentary on Orphic theogony. Inasmuch as epic texts are subject to commenting, creating a philosophical epic becomes a kind of pretext for creating a commentary, and thus for a dispute among the disciples, and thus for a dialogue. Commentators may not wish to tell anything new; but a striving for reconciling divergences between authoritative sources stimulates philosophical imagination (Sorabji 2004.3.43).

Thus, in traditional culture, commenting on an authoritative and sometimes obscure source, even in oral and improvised form, may become a mechanism of innovation rather than conservation. It gives rise to new cultural forms that are by no means subsidiary, and also to new verbal genres and even to new art forms.

Works Cited:

  • Braginskaya, N. V. 2006. Demonstratsiia izobrazhenii – arkhaicheskii tip predstavleniia. K postanovke problemy. [Showing images—an archaic genre of performance: formulating the problem.] In A. V. Kamchatova, ed. Izobrazitel’noe iskusstvo i teatr: tema, obraz, metod [Fine Arts and Theatre: Theme, Image, Method] Saint Petersburg. P. 3-10.
  • Henderson, J. 1991. Scripture, Canon and Commentary: A Comparison of Confucius and Western Exegesis. Princeton, 1991.
  • Sorabji, R. 2004. The Philosophy of the Commentators 200–600. A Sourcebook. 3 vols. London.

Tamara Chin

‘Lavish Expenditure’ 侈靡: Mr Great Extravagance and the Epideictic Fu

This paper situates the foundational epideictic fu, Sima Xiangru’s (179–117 BCE) ‘Fu on the Excursion Hunt of the Son of Heaven’ within Han dynasty debates over extravagance.  Focusing on its structuring economic metaphor of linguistic expenditure, I make two arguments.  First, Sima Xiangru negotiated ideological differences at the imperial court by patterning the fu’s generic innovations (self-reflexive dialogue, personification, extended length, euphonic ornament) on ideals of both thrift and lavish expenditure.  He exploited formal aspects of these rival economic writings, and the aesthetic encoding of this ideological tension influenced the subsequent development of the genre.  Second, the model of lavish expenditure exploited by Sima Xiangru entailed an unexpectedly economic logic.  Historians of Chinese economic thought have recently recovered Guanzi’s novel proposal that “lavish expenditure” (chi mi侈靡) creates wealth.  According to this argument, market consumption of luxuries stimulates production, thereby increasing employment and revitalizing the general economy.  Although others at the time calculated expenditure and capital accumulation in the symbolic terms typical of the premodern world (e.g. as tokens of social status, political power, or divine sanction), I suggest that such aberrant economic reasoning inspired the new aesthetics, as well as the politics, of Emperor Wu’s (r. 141-87 BCE) reign of expansion.

Christopher A. Faraone

Did the Chryses Episode in Iliad 1 Begin its Life as a Homeric Hymn to the Sminthean Apollo?

Scholars have long suggested that the Chryses episode in the first book of the Iliad constitutes a distinct unit, especially the first fifty or so lines, where the compressed narrative, short speeches and rapid changes of scene are unparalleled elsewhere in the poem.  There are other oddities regarding the coherence of the proem (lines 1-9), which introduces the anger (mênis) of Achilles as the central theme of the poem, but then switches with little warning to another tale about the anger of Apollo.  Ancient scholars, moreover, report the existence of two other, shorter versions of the proem, which introduce the anger of both Achilles and Apollo as the twinned themes of the Iliad or the anger of Apollo alone.  There are discontinuities as well in characterization.  Achilles, for example, appears in the episode first as the protector of Apollo’s seer Calchas and then as the first of the Greeks to insist on the return of the daughter of Apollo’s priest Chryses; but elsewhere in the poem he seems to be an implacable enemy of the god.  The poet also puts words of such brutality and bad taste into the mouth of Agamemnon that some ancient editors felt obliged to athetize them as inappropriate, in part because this negative characterization of the Greek commander is generally inconsistent with the presentation of him in the rest of the poem.  The Chryses episode ends, moreover, on an enigmatic note with the singing of paean at the god’s temple at Chryse (430-87), a song that is not mentioned earlier in Calchas’ prophecy, in Agamemnon’ commands to the Achaeans, or in Odysseus’ greeting to the old priest.

I shall argue that nearly all of these difficulties vanish, or are at least more easily explicable, once we realize that the Chryses episode was probably composed originally as a separate prooimion or “Homeric hymn” for a festival at the sanctuary of Apollo Smintheus in Chryse.  My argument proceeds along three different routes.  I begin with a close analysis of the variant prologues to the Iliad, suggesting that they show traces of an original hymnic invocation of Apollo focused on his anger alone or on his anger first.  I then discuss the discontinuities of characterization between Book 1 and the rest of the poem, especially the character of Agamemnon, whom I compare with the royal theomachoi in other hymnic narratives.  I close by arguing that the detailed descriptions of the hecatomb sacrifice and the (unanticipated) paean-singing at Chryse recall etiological and localized scenes like the one at the end of the Homeric Hymn to Pythian Apollo, where the god’s newly appointed priests likewise perform a sacrifice at an altar and then sing a processional paean.

Ilya Kliger

Formal Stratification in Historical Poetics: The Case of Tragic Realism

This paper takes as its point of departure debates about the place of the tragic in nineteenth-century narrative, and in modern literature more generally.  George Steiner’s famous assertion of the death of tragedy will be discussed alongside Raymond Williams’s book-length response.  Erich Auerbach’s coinage “tragic realism” will be explored briefly as well.  Ultimately, however, it is through the prism of historical poetics – as represented by the works of Aleksandr Veselovsky, Olga Freidenberg, Mikhail Bakhtin, Walter Burkert, Northrop Frye, and Fredric Jameson among others – that I will address the question of the persistence of tragic form in modern narrative.  Most broadly conceived, then, this paper attempts to understand some of the ways in which “history” is invoked in theorizations of historical poetics, especially when it comes to positing the persistence of particular forms through time.

I will argue that discussions of what Bakhtin has called «genre memory» tend to rely on two presuppositions, both of which are more or less (and with varying emphases) accepted by the thinkers listed above.  The first presupposition is that literary forms have an intrinsic connection with concrete historical experience, or — in the idiom of the Lebensphilosophen, who most clearly articulated the assumptions of the intellectual milieu in which historical poetics itself originates – simply «life».  The further specification of this principle, one that was also shared by much of Lebensphilosophie, is that the link between (art) forms and “life” is best captured not with the help of the metaphor of reflection, but rather of something like crystallization, or coagulation (e.g. in Jane Harrison’s discussions of the transition from experience to drômenon to drama).  More precisely still, reflection has to be seen as an epiphenomenon of crystalization: “life” is not pure undifferentiated matter to be endowed with form; rather, it should be understood as imbued with form through and through.  Form and meaning, conversely, are to be seen as particular instantiations of “life” and, like the good kind of “history” in Nietzsche, must remain in the service of it.  This brings us to the second presupposition: if experience can be read as fossilized in literary form, then literary works do indeed, as Yuri Lotman has suggested but in a slightly different sense, serve as highly economical repositories for storing information, accumulating historically specific “structures of feeling” in layers that can at least in principle be uncovered by the practitioner of historical poetics.

Burkert, for one, suggests that such a task is feasible when it comes to the historical peregrinations of “traditional tales.”  But few practitioners of historical poetics engage in this manner with works that are modern.  Eleazar Meletinsky’s historical poetics of the novel more or less stops with Gil Blas.  Freidenberg states outright that her method is inapplicable to the post-traditional literature of the past two centuries.  Undoubtedly this has to do with the assumption of a significant boundary between the kind of meaning-making that is communal and totalizing and the kind that is artful, experimental and autonomous.  Those who challenge this assumption at least in its rigid form – Bakhtin, Frye, Jameson – will thus be particularly helpful for understanding the place of tragic patterns in “realist” narrative.

Michael Kunichika

“The Ecstasy of Space”: The Odic and the Whitmanesque in Dziga Vertov’s A Sixth Part of the World

This paper examines Dziga Vertov’s 1926 film A Sixth Part of the World (Shestaia chast’ mira) from two perspectives: the first considers the film as a cinematic ode and the second as a chapter in the genre’s development. Nowhere does the film explicitly identify itself as such, but the ode serves as a formal architectonic structuring its intertitles, modes of address, conception of space, and such thematic issues as the repudiation of imperialism and the dispersal of property.

While the ode can be thereby understood as structural reference point for the film; the genre is also a discourse in its own right, one whose very development and socio-symbolic status was part of a broader reassessment of classical genres during the 1920s. The year after Vertov’s film was released, Yuri Tynianov published his essay “The Ode as an Oratorical Genre,” in which he delineated some of the genre’s fundamental transformations from its emergence in the eighteenth century, by figures such as Lomonosov and Derzhavin, the latter of whom transformed the ode from a genre into what Tynianov called a “constructive principle.” This chronological proximity between the practice of ode (in Vertov) and its theorization (in Tynianov) enables us to consider both as representatives of a broader discourse on the ode. I will argue (to some degree against the spirit of Russian formalism) that Vertov’s resuscitation of the ode enables us to see the shifting socio-symbolic status of the genre, constituting the generic field in which to register the transition from Tsarist imperialism to Soviet internationalism. To do so, I will also consider the film in relation to the Whitmanesque. Whitman was one of Vertov’s two favorite poets (the other was Mayakovsky), and the American poet serves as an important source for the film’s intertitles, and, no less importantly, as a crucial term in the actual critical response to the film: it was Vertov’s sworn enemy, Ipollit Sokolov, who first recognized Pushkin, Whitman, and Derzhavin as the sources of the film’s intertitles in a blistering critique of the film he published in 1927. While Sokolov provides an empirical confirmation of the argument put forward here, and demonstrates how the odic and the Whitmanesque functioned as crucial terms in the film’s historical reception, he does not, I hope to demonstrate, exhaust the implications of the odic in the film.

The various threads interwoven into my paper could each be unpacked by such methods as intertextuality; the history of cultural reception; or genre criticism. This paper, however, will claim nothing so robust as a philological approach to film form, but neither will it proceed in strict accordance with the methodologies of formal analysis or the history of cultural reception. Instead, it approaches the film as a formal instantiation of the genre and the genre as both a key term in the film’s cultural reception and as a discourse in its own right, tracking the movement of particular topoi both across particular media (from poetry into film) and the socio-symbolic significance of the genre’s resuscitation and transformation in the 1920s.

Leslie Kurke

Pindar’s Pythian 11 and the Oresteia: Contestatory Ritual Poetics in the 5th c. BCE

The scholiasts offer two different dates for the Pythian victory of the Theban Thrasydaios celebrated in Pindar’s eleventh Pythian ode: 474 or 454 BCE. Following Farnell (1932), Bowra (1936), Herington (1984), and other scholars, I accept the latter date, mainly because Pindar’s myth in this poem is a mini-Oresteia, teeming with what seem to be echoes of the language, plotting, and sequencing of Aeschylus’ trilogy of 458 BCE (especially of the first play, the Agamemnon). Yet even those scholars who have argued for a dialogue between these two works are at something of a loss to explain it: thus Bowra, imagining Pindar reading the Oresteia, notes “Pindar certainly felt the power of the Trilogy…,” while Herington insists that “there is no knowing” why Pindar would have incorporated these echoes, unless as “a solemn valediction from a younger Panhellenic poet to an older…a salute from the older art to the new.” These accounts, I would contend, reveal the inadequacy of a reading that assumes a narrowly literary system of intertextuality; that treats these texts as merely aesthetic objects evacuated of politics and social function in performance.

In order to account for this intertextual, intergeneric dialogue, we need instead to recognize the embeddedness of choral lyric and tragedy within their social and cultural contexts, and their differential relations with “neighboring systems” such as hero cult. I will argue that Pindar implicitly challenges the tendency of Attic tragedy to displace and appropriate for its own purposes hero cults that properly belong to other Greek cities (for this as a characteristic practice of tragedy, see Kowalzig 2006). Pindar, in contrast, in Pythian 11 emphasizes the locality and specificity of different communities’ relations to the heroes of myth and cult as an important part of traditional choral and civic harmonia. Thus, I will argue, these two texts are engaged in a contestatory ritual poetics about the locality and propriety of cult, and its relation to the community as mediated through different choral forms.

Select Bibliography:

  • Bernardini, Paola Angeli (1989) “Il proemio della Pitica XI di Pindaro e culti tebani,” in H. Beister and J. Buckler (eds.), BOIOTIKA: Vorträge vom 5. Internationalen Böotien-Kolloquium zu Ehren von Professor Dr. Siegfried Lauffer. Munich, 39-47.
  • Bowra, C. M. (1936) “Pindar, Pythian XI.” Classical Quarterly 30: 129-41.
  • Düring, Ingemar (1943) “Klutaimestra— νηλὴς γυνά. A Study of the Development of a Literary Motif,” Eranos 41: 91-123.
  • Egan, Rory B. (1983) “On the Relevance of Orestes in Pindar’s Eleventh Pythian.” Phoenix 37: 189-200.
  • Farnell, L. R. (1932) The Works of Pindar. Vol. II: Critical Commentary. London.
  • Herington, John (1984) “Pindar’s Eleventh Pythian Ode and Aeschylus’ Agamemnon,” in D. E. Gerber (ed.), Greek Poetry and Philosophy: Studies in Honour of Leonard Woodbury. Chico, CA, 137-46.
  • Kowalzig, Barbara (2004) “Changing Choral Worlds: Song-Dance and Society in Athens and Beyond,” in P. Murray and P. Wilson (eds.), Music and the Muses: The Culture of ‘Mousikê’ in the Classical Athenian City. Oxford, 39-65.
  • Kowalzig, Barbara (2006) “The Aetiology of Empire? Hero-Cult and Athenian Tragedy,” in J. Davidson, F. Muecke, and P. Wilson (eds.), Greek Drama III: Essays in Honour of Kevin Lee. BICS Supplement 87. London, 79-98.
  • Kowalzig, Barbara (2007) Singing for the Gods: Performances of Myth and Ritual in Archaic and Classical Greece. Oxford.
  • Kurke, Leslie (1991) The Traffic in Praise: Pindar and the Poetics of Social Economy. Ithaca, NY.
  • Kurke, Leslie (1998) “The Cultural Impact of (on) Democracy: Decentering Tragedy,” in I. Morris and K. Raaflaub (eds.), Democracy 2500?: Questions and Challenges. Dubuque, Iowa, 155-69.
  • Newman, F. S. (1979) “The Relevance of the Myth in Pindar’s Eleventh Pythian.” Hellenika 31: 44-64.
  • Pavese, Carlo O. (1975) “La X e la XI Pitica di Pindaro,” in Studi Triestini di Antichità in Onore di Luigia Achillea Stella. Trieste, 235-53.
  • Robbins, Emmet (1986) “Pindar’s Oresteia and the Tragedians,” in M. Cropp, E. Fantham, and S. E. Scully (eds.), Greek Tragedy and Its Legacy: Essays Presented to D. J. Conacher. Calgary, Canada, 1-11.
  • Slater, William J. (1979) “Pindar’s Myths: Two Pragmatic Explanations,” in G. W. Bowersock, W. Burkert, and M. C. J. Putnam (eds.), Arktouros: Hellenic Studies presented to Bernard M. W. Knox on the occasion of his 65th birthday. Berlin, New York, 63-70.
  • Vivante, Paolo (1972) “Pindar, Pythian XI, 1-11.” Teiresias Suppl. 1: 41-50.
  • Von der Mühll, Peter (1958) “Wurde die elfte Pythie Pindars 474 oder 454 gedichtet?” Museum Helveticum 15: 141-6.

Boris Maslov

Historical Poetics as Method: Three Soundings

The methodological impact of Alexander Veselovsky’s work, substantial yet often oblique, goes along with a dearth of his direct pronouncements on method (in his lifetime, Veselovsky’s reputation was that of a scholar who shunned theory). Due in part to his unwillingness to put theory first in his analysis, Veselovsky’s principles and emphases resonate across a wide spectrum of theoretical positions and topical interests that have gained currency in the course of the 20th century, including Marxism, linguistic anthropology, historical semantics, and the study of cultural borrowing and assimilation (not to mention the approaches that are more obviously congenial to Veselovsky, such as narrative theory, historical study of poetic forms, or the work at the interstices of folklore and literature).

In an effort to delineate historical poetics as method, the paper takes up three independent problems that belong to the domain of historical poetics as Veselovsky conceived of it, and – in a necessarily cursory fashion – investigates them from viewpoints that are informed by post-Veselovskian developments. These problems are: (1) the putative universality of the tripartite division of literary genera (epic/lyric/drama); (2) the reception of a particular philosophical topos (the tongue as both the best and the worst) across the Judeo-Christian religious and cultural divide; (3) textual variation in a crucial passage in Bronze Horseman as an indication of the shift from a “Romantic” to a “Realist” paradigm within Pushkin’s oeuvre.

Based on these three case studies, I propose a notion of historical poetics as an approach that draws eclectically on different disciplines and interpretive strategies to interrogate inherited, non-everyday language (the literary, the ritual, the philosophical) with the ultimate objective of reaching conclusions that belong to the longue durée of the history of society and culture, as well as of the “history of ideals” (to use a term of Veselovsky’s that encompasses what today falls under the rubrics of conceptual history, history of consciousness, and history of emotions). This kind of inquiry is thus doubly historical: both in the sense that it engages with the history of poetics and in the sense that the (often implicit) telos of this engagement is cultural-historical. Thus construed, historical poetics is poised between New Historicist cultural poetics, which relates literature to what Braudel termed histoire événementielle, and ethnographical or meta-historical approaches that interrogate phenomena such as orality, traditional society, modernity or Enlightenment, yet rarely treat poetics as their principal source of evidence.

Richard Martin

Pindaric Metaphor in the Light of Formalism and Ethnopoetics

The formal study of Pindaric style has been shaped over the past generation by the work of Elroy Bundy, which invented–or more accurately, rediscovered–rhetorical analysis as the primary means for understanding the encomiastic design of the victory odes. Metaphor, however, in Bundyan explications often tends to be elided bleached out, or neglected entirely, as its functional role can be construed as subsidiary within the laudatory program of the poem. Taken as part of the argument structure of the larger choral composition, one metaphor is as good as another, whether it works as a transition, a constituent member of a priamel, or a capping device. The debate over the force of individual metaphorical expressions, then, comes to resemble post-Parry arguments about the meaning of individual Homeric epithets: the exegete’s plea for locally context-sensitive appropriateness (discursive or pragmatic) ultimately counts for less than does the global force of the poetic system, as derived from, and then applied to, larger discourse units.

Contemporary trends in the study of Pindaric metaphor either resist the urge to systematize entirely (unlike Bundy’s rhetorical analyses), or privilege one subset of metaphors that can be connected with social institutions and material culture in interesting ways. Steiner’s early book is an example of the former, while her later work on “speaking objects” illustrates the latter. Kurke’s path-breaking study takes seriously a body of Pindaric metaphors relevant to the all-important institutions of exchange. But fruitful as these approaches can be, they leave open a number of questions. To what extent is Pindar’s deployment of metaphors systematic? Can a poetics of Pindaric metaphor attain the economy and explanatory power of Bundy’s rhetorical model? And–most important for a conference on historical poetics–how do the metaphors in Pindar look forward, sideways, or back? That is, to what extent are they “traditional” and to what extent “spontaneous” (using the terms of yet a third Berkeley scholar, the Homerist Michael Nagler)? Can they be intertextual or trans-generic? Is a metaphor the same in Pindar and in Homer, in either our readings or those of antiquity?

Olga Freidenberg’s strikingly original work on metaphor and metaforizatsija will be my starting point for a re-evaluation of Pindaric poetics in this aspect. Her attention to the deep cultural roots of metaphor, and to metaphor’s relationship to the processes of thought, deserves to be compared with more recent advances in anthropology and cognitive science, from the work of Joel Sherzer and James Fernandez to that of George Lakoff (that makes four Berkeley people in this abstract…). My theoretical analysis will segue into an attempt to read Pindar’s metaphors for poetic production and reception systematically, in terms of Freidenberg’s ideas about obraz and ponjatie. Further comparisons (using epic, melic poetry, and drama) will lead to several conclusions about how we might locate metaphorical processes more precisely between langue and parole, system and performance.

Works Cited:

  • Bauman, R. and J. Sherzer, eds. 1989. Explorations in the Ethnography of Speaking. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.
  • Bundy, E. L. 1962. Studia Pindarica. Berkeley, California: University of California Press.
  • Fernandez, J., ed. 1991.  Beyond Metaphor: The Theory of Tropes in Anthropology. Stanford UP.
  • Kurke, L. 1991. The Traffic in Praise: Pindar and the Poetics of Social Economy. Ithaca, NY.
  • Lakoff, G. 1987. Women, Fire and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal about the Mind. University of Chicago Press.
  • Nagler, M. 1974. Spontaneity and Tradition, A Study in the Oral Art of Homer. Berkeley, California: University of California Press
  • Parry, M. 1933. “The Traditional Metaphor in Homer.” Classical Philology 28: 30-43.
  • Steiner, D. 1986. The Crown of Song: Metaphor in Pindar’s Odes. London: Duckworth.
  • Steiner, D. 1993. “Pindar’s ‘Oggetti Parlanti’.” HSCP 95: 159-80.

Richard Neer

Style and Dogmatism in the Study of the Ancient World

The central claim of this paper is that what counts as a fact in Classical archaeology—and, by extension, Classical history and literature—is essentially the product of a theoretical postulate that is rarely stated explicitly.  In keeping with common parlance, I shall call this postulate “the theory of style.”  It asserts that perceived morphological similarity between two artifacts is indicative of a common point of origin (place, date, even author).  On the one hand, the canonical texts of Classical historiography (Herodotos, Thucydides, Polybios, et al.) are without exception products of a philological and paleographic method in which stylistic judgment plays an essential role.  On the other, the data of archaeological excavation are identified, classed and deployed through the application of stylistic judgment.  The bulk of the paper consists of illustrations of these claims.  The conclusion is that an antithesis of formalism and historicism, pervasive in literary and archaeological studies of the ancient world, represents an unsustainable dogmatism.  The paper ends by outlining some possible avenues of future research.

René Nünlist

Ancient Literary Criticism and Historical Poetics

The paper will focus on texts that transmit ancient views of literary criticism. The question will be whether the ancient material contains traces of concepts that have points of contact with historical poetics as understood by modern critics. From a methodological point of view such an approach entails multiple risks (anachronistic distortion of the ancient material, facile identifications, etc.). As long as one remains aware of these risks and tries to avoid them, the attempt as such remains justifiable and should not be abandoned a limine. What is more, if it can be shown that there are indeed similarities of a more than superficial type, it may be possible to speak of an ancient critical tradition of discussing issues that belong in the domain of historical poetics. At the very least the paper should be able to contribute to a history of poetics.

In studies on ancient literary criticism the well-known treatises such as Aristotle’s Poetics, Horace’s Ars Poetica or Pseudo-Longinus’s On the sublime tend to receive a privileged treatment by scholars. On the one hand, this privileged treatment is justified because these treatises can be shown to have had a considerable influence on posterity. On the other hand, there is a large body of exegetical material in the scholia (marginal and interlinear notes), which prove to be an important source for ancient principles of criticism. The paper will therefore take this type of material into account too. The fact that scholia are unlikely to have been read outside the circles of professional classicists should not be seen as a severe limitation. It should rather be taken as an indication that the main goal of the paper is to detect possible similarities, not to argue for a direct dependence from ancient sources.

Nina Perlina

From Historical Poetics to the History of the Poet’s Psyche

I would like to show the close connection between Veselovsky’s Historical Poetics and his last study: the book on Zhukovsky, The Poetry of Feeling and of the Heart’s Imagination. I propose to interpret this connection as a kind of system of the presentation and development of certain general laws of cultural memory – laws which Veselovsky traced through the history of the life of ancient tribal collectives and all the way to the formation of specific forms of interrelation between the individual author–creator and his public, between the poet and his Muse. Veselovsky’s HP traced the genesis, the fluctuations and the cyclical regenerations or revivals of collective life in the psyche and the verbal consciousness of «the collective author» and in the specifically personal history of development of the individual poetic soul. In the organic interdependence of the collective and the individual psychological principles Veselovsky saw the possibility of (re)constructing the history of literature, the history of culture, and the history of an author’s poetic personality.

Veselovsky’s principal key terms show that in all of his works his starting point was the correlation of the collective and individual perspectives. In the notation entitled «From the Diary of a Man Looking for a Right Way», the 20-year old Veselovsky wrote: «Any art and poetry reflects life to the highest degree … their motive force is the <collective> thought of a people during the age of the epic, and the personality of a poet during the period of development of lyric and drama. The depth of sympathy, of enthusiasm, of sorrow and rapture is engendered only by life, by experience, by direct entering into the very heart of something or someone.» In his report about his study trip abroad, 1862-63, he is more concrete: «The history <of literature> should be constructed from the human being himself as a physiological and a psychological unit which exists, of course,  also under the influence of the surrounding world, but which possesses enough material within itself in order to develop out of itself.» His method he calls genetic, whereas the way he traces the genesis and the history of poetic forms in verbal arts he calls «historical aesthetics», and, finally,  the entire system of the new discipline he understands as «the history of education, culture, social thought – to the extent that it expresses itself in poetry,  in sciences and scholarship, and life.» (IP 1940: 384, 393, 396, 397).

In HP and in his book on Zhukovsky he examines the dynamics of the development of verbal representations or ideas and of verbal consciousness: beginning with the collective tribal author who expresses the most ancient, archaic forms of world-perception and collective self-consciousness, divested of individual psychology – all the way to the author’s poetic biography and his individual idea of his poetic «I». The history of development of the poet’s soul and his heart’s imagination proves to be both inwardly and outwardly, both in regard to its content and in regard to the methods of forming and expressing this  psychological content –the final stage of the study of the ramified network of stages and structures in the development of cultural-poetic memory. The gift of empathy [Einfühlung] and the ability of sharing with others and endowing them with one’s deep inner experiences, find expression in the form of new poetic creations. Zhukovsky’s poetry was created though the efforts of living feeling and heartfelt imagination. The title of the book about Zhukovsky points to the preservation and revival of eternal yet mobile cultural-historical images of the world in the individual soul of the poet.

Joshua Scodel

What’s Up with that Mountain Nymph?:  Liberty and Poetic Tradition in Milton’s L’Allegro

John Milton’s invocation of “sweet Liberty” in his mid-seventeenth-century poem “L’Allegro” is apparently original in describing “Liberty” (in Roman cult, a goddess) as a “mountain nymph” (line 36).  This paper will explore the relationship of Milton’s creative mythmaking to literary tradition.  While some scholars have glossed Milton’s line in terms of Renaissance ethnographic identifications of mountain communities with political liberty, Renaissance pastorals associate mountains with individuals’ psychological freedom from care.  The Milton Variorum notes Joseph Warton’s plausible suggestion that Milton alludes to the mountain nymphs who joyously frolic with Pan in the Homeric Hymn to Pan, but Milton also alludes to the virginal mountain nymphs serving Diana (Artemis) in Ovid and countless other classical texts.  Both Pan and Diana preside over the mountainous Arcadia idealized in Renaissance pastorals, whose diverse depictions of carefree liberty provide a resonant context for Milton’s “sweet Liberty.”

Renaissance pastorals depict freedom from care in two opposing forms with respect to sexual desire:  a freedom from the pain of erotic subjection associated with Diana’s mountain nymphs versus a libertine pursuit of sexual “variety” associated with Pan.  “L’Allegro” negotiates between these contrasting visions by continually evoking but tempering eroticism.   Renaissance pastorals also depict in diverse ways the general social conditions that render Arcadian freedom from care possible.  The paper will conclude by exploring how Milton’s poem transforms pastoral motifs in depicting the carefree poet’s relation to the social worlds he imagines.

Tatiana Smoliarova

Ut architectura poesis: Horace and Palladio in the 18th century

“Raising the fine-walled porch / of our dwelling with golden pillars, / we will build, as it were, a marvelous  hall…” – Pindar promised to his readers/listeners in the famous exordium to his Sixth Olympian ode.  Since ancient times, poetry and architecture established a complex metaphorical relationship.  The strength of these metaphorical ties varied from one epoch to another, but the experience of a building and its various parts has often been thought as analogous to that of a poetic text.

The eighteenth century was marked by numerous attempts to bring certain notions and concepts from the world of literature and language – in the province of architecture. If  various speculations on the affinities between architecture and language, crystallized in the idea of “speaking” or “expressive” architecture,  took on prominence in the later part of the century, of particular interest for us now would be the 1740s. It was during this period of time that architecture tried to “domesticate” the key category of the normative poetics – the category of genre. Moreover, genre, one of the most powerful “mechanisms of cultural memory” in the domain of literature, was likened to the “order”, playing a somewhat similar role in architecture.

One of the most famous attempts to associate architectural orders with literary genres is to be found in Germain Boffrand’s “Book of Architecture” (1745). Boffrand’s treaty is all the more interesting for us now that the entire text of the “Book” is organized around Latin quotes from Horace’s Ars Poetica, each of which is then provided with long French prose commentary – architectural responses to poetic questions. Less famous than Boffrand’s Horace based “Book of Architecture”, but not less curious – and an earlier example of a similar approach to the Roman cultural heritage was an anonymous English treaty “The Art of Architecture. A Poem in Imitation of Horace’s  Art of Poetry”(1742), later assigned to John Gwynn, known for his bridges and a remarkable book on the planning of London.  As opposed to Boffrand’s “diglossia”, John Gwynn’s “Art of Architecture” is all written in English verse, and virtuously substitutes the names of the poets with those of the architects. Both Boffrand and Gwynn seem to share the ideals of Palladio and Palladianism.

In the 18th century the names of Horace and Palladio turned out to be tied together as two “signifiers” for the same complex of aesthetic “signified” – balance, symmetry, wisdom – that very “golden medium”, that Mikhail L. Gasparov wrote about in his brilliant study of Horace’s poetry.  In the final part of my paper I am going to focus on one curious example of generic “switch” – the famous shift from the ode to epistle in Gavriil Derzhavin’s “Evgeniiu. Zhizn’ Zvanskaia”.    I will try to show how the very object of Derzhavin’s description – his own villa at Zvanka, designed by his friend and relative Nicolas Lvov, a zealous palladianist, – defined a poetic genre necessary to shape such a description – that of an epistle.

Vladislav Prostsevichus and Victoria Somoff

Intonation and Fiction

In this paper, we aim to highlight analytic resources that enable us to explain the literary conventions, which emerged simultaneously with the development of non-utilitarian speech practices. Our point of departure is the theoretical assumption that the formation of a concrete artistic utterance entails a full-fledged actualization of the metahistoric sources of this event. We find methodological support for our approach in the works of Olga Freidenberg, in particular, in her work devoted to the Greek novel, where she distinguished between genesis and development; and in Mikhail Bakhtin’s concept of vnenakhodimost’ (often rendered as “outsidedness”).

Freidenberg’s “genetic method” is based upon the isolation of the artistic utterance as an object of research, which implies the activity of isolation aimed at separating the utterance from utilitarian (dialogic) communication. The activity of such isolation may be characterized as the activity of resisting the dialogue-forming components of an utterance. We consider one such component to be intonation, which is in large part regulated by the subjective intention of the speaker. We view intonation as the component of utilitarian utterance that inhibits the activity of artistic isolation and postulate the existence of a correlation between a) the activity of separation from intonation and b) the formation of an artistic utterance.

In order to substantiate this correlation, our work traces literary-historical connections whose content and nature are conditioned by the separation of utterance from intonation. Our source material is the non-utilitarian speech practices that first arose in direct connection with the spread of book printing in early modern Europe. We have in mind certain phenomena closely linked with the printed format, specifically, journalism and the culture of the manuscript diary; these developed simultaneously with and in immediate proximity to the practice of “silent reading,” which took hold in Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as book printing became common.

“Silent reading” – the perception of the unintoned printed word – evinces a most clear-cut connection between intonation and aesthetic isolation. The horizon in which the “silent” (unintoned) printed word is perceived contains no reference point that might prioritize any particular intonation. Accordingly, spatial-temporal contexts, the heterogeneity of which makes utilitarian communication possible, are experienced by the perceiver of the printed word as value-equal. This experience is registered in the practices of the journal entry and newspaper reportage. The experience of temporal contexts as equivalent takes the form of a periodical journal entry, which establishes the equivalence of moments of time. The same can be said of newspaper reportage, except in this case, it is all points of space whose equivalence is established by periodical newspaper communications. The speech practices of the diary and newspaper have a new (from a literary-historical standpoint) characteristic: the periodically renewed communicative intention takes precedence over the content of the prospective communication. The periodic format of both diary and newspaper requires intention to write to precede the content. This circumstance conditions the peculiar perception of both the journal entry and newspaper reportage.

The formation of an utterance of “null” communicative intention (i.e., a journal entry or newspaper reportage) implies the absence of a specific addressee. Accordingly, the activity of the perceiver of such an utterance is the activity of self-isolation. Now that we have identified intonation as an immediate object of such activity, the concrete content of this activity in this case is that of refraining from intonation. The flip side of this process necessarily becomes the intoning of this same utterance by the subject of communicative intent, which by definition does not coincide with “null” intention. We have in mind a potential character in a realist novel, the “whole” (Bakhtin’s tseloe) of whom is greater than the sum of all his/her realizations of speech. The particular stylistic effect that registers this event in the historical development of the realist novel is free indirect discourse. Thus the activity of refraining from intonation is, from our point of view, a necessary (albeit insufficient) condition to stimulate the activity of the subject of “indirect discourse” (Bakhtin) – the author of an artistic utterance.

Yuri Tsivian and Doron Galili

The Skybook: A Ubiquitous Media Fantasy

In the climactic scene of Viktor Shklovsky and Vsevolod Ivanov’s Iprit (Mustard Gas), a 1925 science fiction novel about a doomsday war between international imperialists and Soviet workers, a gas attack takes the Soviets by surprise in the middle of the premiere of a Charlie Chaplin film titled Charlie and the Young Communist Union. For more than one city to watch this long-awaited Soviet production, the film is projected from a super-power projector onto artificial clouds in the sky. Soon after the film begins, German war planes carrying the deadly mustard gas pierce the gigantic cloud screen killing the spectators below as Chaplin’s film goes on in the skies: “And so, above the bodies writhing in death throngs and convulsions… above all this devastation and destruction great and incomparable Charlie Chaplin went on making tricks and funny faces.”

This presentation traces the history of such common and long-lived media fantasies of projecting images and texts onto the sky, which originated in the late 1890s with the emergence of cinema and flourished in the cultural imaginary of the 1920s. Our research draws on literary examples, ranging from Shklovsky and Ivanov and Futurist poet Velimir Khlebnikov to early fiction by René Claire, Tom Swift adventure boys’ books, and manifestos by F. T. Marinetti. Through an engagement with these various depictions in distinct genres, we show how the notion of sky projection travelled from magic lantern and the cinema to fantasies of other media, including books, theatre, radio, and prototypes of television. Taking multiple material forms and playing part in a range of utopian and dystopian tales, the trope of projection onto the sky allowed authors of different cultural contexts and with different political and aesthetic goals to express concerns and hopes about the future of cinema’s ubiquitous mass media appeal. In this respect, sky projection became a genuinely ubiquitous media fantasy, but nonetheless one that relied in each incarnation on historical-specific aesthetic and social concerns. The notion of sky projection provided a model for musing on the power of media to offer distribution of culture across borders but also omnipresent advertising, new possibilities for amusement but also limitless political tyranny. By speculating on the potential of visual media way ahead of the technological capacities of their respective historical moments, the authors we discuss exemplify from different perspectives some of the most radical ideas about the emergent modern phenomenon of mass media. As such, the trope of the sky projection appears as cutting across various axes that run between the utopian and dystopian visions, between nineteenth century lantern slides and 1920s electric broadcast apparatus, and between popular culture and modernist aspirations.

Chris van den Berg

Theoretical Approaches to Roman Dialogue as a Literary Tradition

This paper will elucidate a small set of problems in the analysis of Roman dialogues. The principle focus will be on the different cultural constraints that shaped the formal aspects of the genre and how, in turn, these formal elements reveal Roman attitudes towards argumentation, epistemology, and the persuasiveness of dialogue argumentation. From a theoretical perspective the paper responds to what Bakhtin has described in the following terms: “how does compositional form (the organization of a given material) realize architectonic form—the unification and organization of cognitive and ethical values?” (Bakhtin 1990: 304). By examining the generic continuities and innovations in Roman dialogue, especially in the rhetorical dialogues of Cicero (50’s and 40’s BCE) and Tacitus’ Dialogue on the Orators (ca. 100 CE), this paper will assess how Roman authors adapted Platonic models of mutual inquiry to the oratorical, declamatory speeches of the Roman tradition. How did Roman authors explore complex issues with sophistication and subtlety while avoiding Platonic elenchos and other elements of the “Socratic” method? Put in positive terms, the argumentative dynamics of Roman dialogue created a unique form of discourse, which can best be understood in literary terms. Authors crafted argumentative procedures that could rival those of the tradition, but that still met the social constraints of “urbane conversation” and the cultural predilection for extended virtuoso speeches that were both plausible and convincing.

Ilya Vinitsky

The Poetics of Melancholy: Alexander Veselovsky and the History of Emotions

In the present paper, I focus on Alexander Veselovsky’s methodological approach in regard with the forms/modes and social function of melancholy in the Age of Sensibility, as discussed in the introductory chapter of his 1904 book about Vasily Zhukovsky.  Veselovsky considered melancholy not as a psychological, but rather a cultural sensation, that is, one perceived, interpreted, studied by culture, possessing its own metaphysics, its own traditional topics, its own branching system of interpretations, arguments, and myths, and numerous forms of expression, developed by tradition. Departing from Veselovsky’s (as well as his follower’s, Ferdinand de la Barthes) ideas, I analyze two concrete cases of Russian melancholy writing – a book The Pleasures of Melancholy by a minor sentimental author Alexander Orlov and Zhukovsky’s late essay on melancholy in life and poetry. The question I raise in my presentation is: How can Veselovsky’s theory contribute to our understanding of the history of emotions and what are the limitations of this theory.


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