Bergamo’s Poetry

The Blacksmith’s Feet:

Embodied Entextualization in Northern Italian Vernacular Poetry

by Jillian R. Cavanaugh

The essay begins:

How does one know if poetry is good? While there are many ways to answer this question, and as many arguments arising in response to each answer, here I take a linguistic anthropological approach to discuss the production and evaluation of good poetry and good poets—specifically vernacular poetry and poets—as social and cultural processes. I want to undertake, in other words, a cultural poetics or ethnopoetics, explicating a culturally specific structure of evaluation that depends on local understandings, practices, and values. Such projects have a long history in anthropology, at least since Franz Boas’s Introduction to the Handbook of American Indian Languages, which included an investigation of poetry as part of anthropological inquiry, and Edward Sapir’s writing on the anthropological importance of portraying a group’s aesthetics, or their “feel” for the rightness or wrongness of fit of form to function. To consider poetry as a social practice is to consider the local aesthetics within which such poetry comes into being, is evaluated, and circulates. As such, it necessarily means to consider the social positioning of genres as well as social groups, since any local aesthetic practices and standards are built upon connections across genres, environments, texts, speaking contexts, types of speakers and listeners, and modes of evaluation particular to a group.

This analysis focuses on the particular connections that are grounded in bodies, the bodies that appear in poetry and the bodies that produce poetry, as well as how these two categories may or may not align. Briefly, bodies enter into and engage with texts—they write, perform, evaluate, and listen to them—in culturally specific ways that are the intertwined processes of embodied entextualization. How bodies and texts are connected is embedded within local aesthetic systems, such that evaluations of good and bad poetry will at least in part be based on which bodies produce and encounter texts, how bodies are portrayed in texts, and how these two categories may or may not align with each other as well as with culturally specific aesthetic standards about bodies. Continue reading …

Piero-ScuriVernacular poetry is generally evaluated according to culturally specific aesthetic standards, what anthropologists call ethnopoetics. This article offers embodied entexualization—the culturally specific ways bodies are incorporated into as well as produce texts—as a means for analyzing how ethnopoetic systems reflect social and political histories and contexts. The poetry of the northern Italian town of Bergamo, and specifically a poem by a locally celebrated poet, Piero Frér, provides an illustrative case.

JILLIAN R. CAVANAUGH is Leonard and Claire Tow Research Professor at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. She is a linguistic anthropologist whose research centers on language, food, value, and the construction of meaning.

Shelley’s Lucretianism

Growing Old Together: Lucretian Materialism in Shelley’s “Poetry of Life”

by Amanda Jo Goldstein

Goldstein’s essay, published in Representations 128, explores Percy Shelley’s The Triumph of Life as a strategic revival of Lucretian poetic science: a materialism fit to connect the epochal, romantic interest in biological life to the period’s pressing new sense of its own historicity. Shelley mobilizes Lucretian natural simulacra to show how personal bodies produce and integrate passages of historical time, exercising a poetics of transience that resists the triumphalism characteristic of both historiography and vitalist biology in the post-Waterloo period. Representing aging faces as mutable registers of the “living storm” of a post-Napoleonic interval, The Triumph depicts the face-giving trope of prosopopoeia as the unintended work of multitudes—demonstrating a nineteenth-century possibility of thinking biological, historical, and rhetorical materialisms together.

faces

The Triumph of Life was made famous,” says Goldstein, “in late twentieth-century criticism, for the way its ‘disfigured’ faces allegorized the verbal and material violence inherent in figuration as a function of reparative reading. In this article, however, I attempt to show how The Triumph’s last lines pointedly cease to construe figuration as a principally verbal or cognitive process at all. The neglected ‘new Vision’ (434) with which Shelley’s poem breaks off instead urges readers to review the scene of life that The Triumph of Life has been showing all along, but this time under changed philosophical and poetic premises about the relation between life, matter, and trope. For Shelley summons a very old poetic science to achieve his ‘new Vision,’ pointedly depositing the poem’s speakers and its readers in the midst of a closely adapted scene from Lucretius’s classical materialist epic, De rerum natura (c. 55 BCE). This ancient atomist scene construes the sensation of ‘Vision’ itself as a mode of figuration and a feature of material transience.” Read more …

AMANDA GOLDSTEIN is Assistant Professor of English at Cornell University. She is the author of essays on Herder’s poetic empiricism, Goethean morphology, and William Blake and the present-day revival of Lamarckian evolutionary theory.