Writing the Absent: Virtual Presences in Early Modern Romance Literature, 16th

Writing the Absent: Virtual Presences in Early Modern Romance Literature (16th-17th Centuries)

September 24-27, 2023, Romanistentag Leipzig

Before its success linked to the advent of digital technology, the term “virtual” was used for seven centuries in an exclusively philosophical or mechanical context. In its most common sense since scholastic times virtual (“virtualis”, from “virtus”) is opposed to current and designates a potential, a possibility, a “force” contained in an object or a concept which may or may not be actualized in reality. Borrowed from scholastic Latin at the end of the 15th century, the term took on new meanings in the 18th century in the fields of mechanics and optics: it then described the image produced by a mirror or a lens and projected onto a screen. – a reflection in a mirror is, in this sense, a “virtual” image. The association of the virtual with computer science, since the end of the 20th century, recalls this optical meaning by making the “virtual” an image or a digital representation which reproduces reality or is part of an original creative process, detached from the concrete world: the virtual is thus associated with an “other” world. For several decades, the virtual has therefore been firmly anchored in the domain of the unreal, the fantastic, even the illusion. As the creator of “another” reality, he is often the subject of warnings or moral condemnations: a whole branch of science fiction literature and cinema is in fact working to confirm its dangerousness. . This notion, unknown in the sixteenth century, can nevertheless serve as a fruitful concept in order to analyze literary and rhetorical phenomena which try to “create” a reality or to “make present” absent things.

Thus, the “virtual” has become the main target of a reproach traditionally leveled at literature: poets are said to be liars, purveyors of pagan “fables”, creators of a fantastic imagination that distracts from the essential, even corrupts its readers. Because of the primacy of the concepts of imitation and verisimilitude in the Renaissance, humanist and classical poetic theory pays little attention to the links between reality and poetic representation, despite the essential importance of virtuality (in the sense of potentiality) for the poetry of the first modernity which often strives to evoke a loving happiness which replaces the presence of the beloved woman. Other genres of poetry from the 16th to the 17th century are largely based on the representation/reconstruction of absent friends (or enemies), because they are distant or deceased. Sonnet, ode, epigram, poets everywhere summon real, but absent people – and the question obviously arises as to whether these “represented” and “reconstituted” people are “real” or even “virtual” (in the modern sense). of the term). Poetry becomes an indirect means of communication, like an open letter (take the famous example of Regrets), but also and above all a means of drawing a portrait of absent people, most often to make their qualities shine (e.g. of the loved one in the Rhyme of Pietro Bembo, or of the late husband in the Rhyme by Veronica Gambara), sometimes to condemn its faults (as in the Rime spirituali of Vittoria Colonna): thus, poetry can be used to create a “virtual court” composed of poetic models, of imitated and emulated poets, of intellectuals with whom the writer exchanges or to whom he pays homage (eg the Rhyme by Laura Battiferri). Traditionally seen as problematic, condemned by the Horatian and classical definitions of satire, the idea of ​​summoning identifiable contemporaries in order to criticize it is often associated with less noble genres, sometimes anonymous or collective: the epigram, the polemical treatise .

One could thus imagine contributions focusing on early modernity and on various literary genres and taking an interest in literature as representation, or as a technique of “presentation” (Vergegenwärtigung) of a concrete reality but absent for geographical or historical reasons. Here are some possible questions:

1 Introduction to absent persons
Can we analyze obituary or encomiastic literature as a way not only to remember the absent, but to create a literary representation of them, to faithfully show their presence, their spirit and their personality traits? Or do they become a kind of “virtual figure” that the literary text necessarily distorts in relation to their reference models? We think, among other things, of Rime vedovili of Vittoria Colonna or the Dialog in the form of night vision and the spiritual songs of Margaret of Navarre.

2 Getting absent people to talk and act
Other literary genres frequently contain references to real but absent people, whether contemporary interlocutors or historical figures. Various polemical genres, philosophical dialogue, but also the novel and certain cycles of poems thus frequently involve “figures” of real people whose ideas, language, and often also personality they claim to reconstruct (e.g. in The Courtier by Baldassare Castiglione or Bones diálogos de Roma by Francisco de Hollanda). Does the literary object, in this case, feign a presence or does it really create it? How do these figures relate to real people? How is the difference between these figures and historical persons conceived by contemporary rhetoric and poetics?

3 The incarnate word: bringing God into the presence of the word
What about prayer and meditation? In what way is spiritual literature capable of making present instances invisible to the faithful? How can it help to imagine, for example, biblical passages (one thinks in particular of Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola)? Can a text lead the believing reader to have mystical experiences during which he feels the presence of God?

We invite you to send your abstracts, indicating a provisional title as well as your name and contact details, until December 31, 2022 to Daniel Fliege (daniel.fliege@hu-berlin.de) and Vanessa Oberliessen (v.oberliessen@gmx.de). Your abstract must contain a maximum of 4,000 characters (spaces and bibliographic data included). Communications can be presented in French or in another Romance language. the Deutscher Romanistentag will take place between September 24 and 27, 2023 in Leipzig (Germany).


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Writing the Absent: Virtual Presences in Early Modern Romance Literature, 16th-17th Centuries. (Romanisteg 2023, Leipzig)