Wonders, Marvels, and Monsters in Early Modern Culture

Wonders, Marvels, and Monsters in Early Modern Culture

Wonders, Marvels, and Monsters in Early Modern Culture

Wonders, Marvels, and Monsters in Early Modern Culture

Synopsis

""The marvelous follows us always" - or so the Italian philosopher Francesco Patrizi asserted in 1587. The essays in this book collectively make the case that this assertion could be an epigraph for the Renaissance. For Wonder was a concept absolutely central to the early modern period. Encompassing both inquiry and astonishment, "wonder" indeed followed the Renaissance everywhere - into redefinitions of the mind, the body, art, literature, the known world. Often called the age of discovery, the Renaissance should also be seen as the age of the marvelous. However, defining just what la maraviglia would have meant for Patrizi and his age is no small task. This volume, then, seeks to explore early modern views of wonder and the marvelous by revealing the complexity of la maraviglia in the Renaissance." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

Peter G. Platt

THE ITALIAN PHILOSOPHER AND LITERARY THEORIST FRANCESCO PATRIZI boldly asserted in 1587 that “[la] maraviglia sempre ci accompagna”—the marvelous follows us always. But I would offer Patrizi's assertion as a virtual epigraph for the Renaissance, an age in which wonder was an absolutely central concept. Encompassing both inquiry and astonishment, wonder indeed followed the early modern period everywhere—into redefinitions of the mind, the body, art, literature, the known world. Often called the age of discovery, the Renaissance should also be seen as the age of the marvelous.

To define just what la maraviglia would have meant for Patrizi and his age is no easy task, however. Until recently, most twentieth-century critical treatments envisioned wonder as most Renaissance critics did, in terms derived mainly from Aristotle's Metaphysics and Poetics: wonder is generated by a difficult problem and is dissipated by a solution to that problem, and wonder is a necessary component in poetry—provided that marvelous moments occur, as Aristotle says regarding the events in a tragedy, both “unexpectedly and at the same time in consequence of one another.” This concept of Renaissance wonder—held both by commentators within the Renaissance and by late-twentieth-century critics of the period—is summarized in a statement by J. V. Cunningham: “[Wondrous events] astonish the spectator so that he stands for the moment stone-still, but at the same time they demand explanation, and with this explanation his emotion subsides and order prevails, as on the stage at the close of the play order prevails in the state.”

Yet, as I have argued elsewhere, another tradition of the marvelous existed in the Renaissance—one that runs counter to the predominant Aristotelian view. Instead of emphasizing the containment of wonder, this other approach focuses on the power of wonder as an elemental factor in pushing forward the frontiers of intellectual and aesthetic experience. In this vision, wonder is ongoing and its own end; what diminishes is not wonder but the desire—indeed, the capacity—to bring reason to bear upon it. This notion of the marvelous as a challenge to, rather than ultimately an affirmation of, epistemological certainties and aesthetic wholeness has recently received attention in several important books and essays. While pinning down the . . .

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