Mapping Mortality: The Persistence of Memory and Melancholy in Early Modern England

Mapping Mortality: The Persistence of Memory and Melancholy in Early Modern England

Mapping Mortality: The Persistence of Memory and Melancholy in Early Modern England

Mapping Mortality: The Persistence of Memory and Melancholy in Early Modern England

Synopsis

This book is a cultural study of the ways men and women in early modern England confronted, accommodated, and paid tribute to mortal life and certain death. Drawing on prose and poetry, painting and statuary, social practices and religious rites, William Engel reopens central questions about Renaissance habits of thought. He explores how the metaphorics of that period signaled and enacted a continual revelation of mortality: the death of the body (figured as a kind of vehicle) and the eternality of the soul (that which was to be transported). Engel argues that early modern metaphorics was essentially mnemonic and emblematic, grounding itself in the relation of body and soul. Building on the work of Benjamin, Heidegger, Derrida, Baudrillard, and Eliade, the book provides contemporary readers with a key for recovering and understanding the critical assumptions underlying a mnemonically oriented principle of aesthetics.

Excerpt

The word "trace" in the chapter title is intended in several senses. First, as an artistic activity, it means to cover the original and, guided by the bolder marks that are still visible, to copy anew the contours of the image or object one desires to reproduce. the result is a likeness of the original that carries with it the telltale signs of its being a reproduction, but at the same time declaring itself to be a work of art in its own right. in this sense the result is a simulacrum, a second-order image, which offers a way for me to study the relation between the baroque artificer and the product of his ingenuity. the complexities of this relationship form the basis of my inquiry, and the following chapters, step by step, seek to sort out and analyze the ontotheological implications of this peculiar aspect of mimesis, which I will situate as being rooted in an aesthetic of anamnesis (where knowledge is predicated on remembrance).

The second way in which I intend the word "trace" is in its dynamic and nuclear sense. a trace is what is left behind an element (usually a radioactive one) as it decays--as it passes, little by little, into another, and into a new state. This process of decay identifies the element's current presence and also delivers the lineage of its former states, back to its point of origin--at least to one who sees the identifying vestiges and recognizes its characteristic (though disintegrating) signature.

A trace also is the term used for an old bridle path that, over time, has become more heavily traveled and thus more prominent to everyday sight. As it becomes more accessible and is used by more people, the scenery becomes so familiar that passers-by cease to remark on its peculiar terrain and landmarks. As the path deepens (owing to the heavy travel and to . . .

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