Poetry in a World of ThingsAesthetics and Empiricism in Renaissance Ekphrasis

Poetry in a World of ThingsAesthetics and Empiricism in Renaissance Ekphrasis

Rachel Eisendrath

Print publication date: 2019

ISBN: 9780226516585

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

We have become used to looking at art from a stance of detachment. In order to be objective, we create a “mental space” between ourselves and the objects of our investigation, separating internal and external worlds. This detachment dates back to the early modern period, when researchers in a wide variety of fields tried to describe material objects as “things in themselves”—things, that is, without the admixture of imagination. Generations of scholars have heralded this shift as the Renaissance “discovery” of the observable world. This book explores how poetry responded to this new detachment by becoming a repository for a more complex experience of the world. The book focuses on ekphrasis, the elaborate literary description of a thing, as a form that resisted this new empirical objectivity. Poets like Petrarch, Spenser, Marlowe, and Shakespeare crafted artful descriptions that provided a home for the threatened subjective experience of the material world. In so doing, these poets reflected on the emergence of objectivity itself as a process that was often darker and more painful than otherwise acknowledged. This book reclaims subjectivity as an irreplaceable way of grasping the material world and, at the same time, makes a case for understanding art objects as fundamentally unlike any other kind of objects.