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Rhetoric, poetics, aesthetics
Author: Mark Robson

This book draws together three areas from which sense is made: rhetoric, poetics and aesthetics. Coming to terms with rhetoric, poetics and aesthetics is essential for understanding not only early modern writing but also a certain influential narrative of modernity. This notion of modernity is not a purely literary one, and the author's discussion has nothing to say about artistic ideas of modernism. The book demonstrates the necessity of reading, but of a reading that is always local, located, limited - always aware, that is, of its limitations. To claim to have read a few texts is not as small a claim as it might at first appear. In the current historicist climate, reading has, like rhetoric, become somehow unfashionable except as a topic for excavation. The first part of the book elaborates the connections between rhetoric, aesthetics and literature. Frequent recourse is made to rhetorical treatises, but equally frequently there are discussions of material that comes from periods other than the early modern, both earlier and later. The second part of the book focuses on either an aspect of the body related to the sense of reading or on the deliberate disavowal of the body and its senses.

Mark Robson

The eminence of poetry, for Sidney, comes from the idea that the poet is a maker. 'Cultural poetics', which Stephen Greenblatt's preferred term for his form of criticism, makes clear the expansion of 'poetics' into a domain that is no longer strictly associated with 'poetry'. Formulation of the idea of the early modern can be taken as an exemplary moment in the permeation of a 'new' historicism through literary studies since the early 1980s, most obviously through the twin historicisms of cultural materialism and cultural poetics. The context for the post-Romantic 'story' of aesthetics is usefully reconstructed by Andrew Bowie, following Gadamer. The Habermasian view of modernity that Bernstein elaborates makes clear the centrality of the aesthetic to its definition, however alienated that aesthetic may be, and indeed aesthetics is crucial to post-Kantian accounts of philosophical modernity as modernity.

in The new aestheticism
Mark Robson

Beginning from his suggestion that seeing Samuel Beckett’s En attendant Godot in 1953 caused a ‘rupture’ in his thinking, this chapter pursues the significance of theatre and the theatrical metaphor in Foucault’s work in the mid- to late 1960s through the notion of a critical dramaturgy. Focusing especially on a lecture of 1967 later published as ‘Different Spaces’, in which Foucault distinguishes between utopias and heterotopias, the chapter shows how Foucault’s sense of theatre is informed by an understanding of spatial relations that may also be found in some of the key ‘scenes’ of his early books. Central to Foucault’s analyses across a series of works from this period is a sense of the effects of spatial relations upon an audience or spectator. This chapter frames this thinking against Foucault’s thought on representation in The Order of Things and points towards his account of the violence of public spectacle in Discipline and Punish.

in Foucault’s theatres
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Mark Robson

Partisan polemic only leads to a blindness to the truth. This chapter discusses Thomas More's representation and focuses on the ways in which truth may be perceived. It examines truth's emergence through a deliberate testimonial blindness. Throughout his book on the posthumous pictorial representations of More, Stanley Morison has frequent recourse to concepts of authenticity. For Morison the origin of the work of art may be located in the known and remembered world, a world in which memory functions unproblematically as a transparent and stable faculty which records in a literal manner. Behind Morison's denial of the Godran picture lies an identification of the artwork as dependent upon its concordance with a notion of mimesis which can be characterised as a reflection of a known and remembered reality.

in The sense of early modern writing
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Sir Thomas More
Mark Robson

In their 1980 article 'Wit, Wisdom, and Theatricality in The Book of Sir Thomas More', Charles Forker and Joseph Candido lament the relative neglect of the play by literary critics, and the consequent paucity of readings of the play 'from an aesthetic point of view'. As David Kastan proposes, Sir Thomas More offers one of the most intriguing examples of collaboration that has survived from the early modern period. Not printed in the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries, modern editions of the play rely upon a manuscript for a source-text, comprising a fair copy in a single hand together with fragmentary additions or revisions in several other hands of making. In Sir Thomas More, More's name is related to a series of significant acts of naming which recur throughout the play, and the connectedness of name and authority is made explicit.

in The sense of early modern writing
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Mark Robson

This chapter focuses on conceptualisations of the relation between literature, aesthetics, history and philosophy as a way of tying together both modern theoretical explorations in Sir Philip Sidney's A Defence of Poetry. Early in her book on early modern defences of poetry, Margaret Ferguson notes that 'the defense as a form calls attention to the existence of rhetorical motives'. Following Kenneth Burke, however, Ferguson also notes that it is very easy to misread such motives unless one pays attention to the particular rhetorical form employed by a writer, whatever the title of a text may lead the reader to believe. Both the modern sense of literature's hollowing out of aesthetic categories, and Sidney's concession of the ground of poetry's truth to its competing disciplines of philosophy and history, lead to the same conclusion.

in The sense of early modern writing
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Mark Robson

This chapter focuses on an unknown voice, that of the seventeenth-century royalist woman poet Hester Pulter. The female voice has become a common concept in early modern and feminist studies, and is central to many discussions of the relationships between writing and subjectivity. The manuscript that constitutes the only extant version of Pulter's work contains almost one hundred and twenty poems. The compilation of a manuscript such as Pulter's implies a potential readership, even if that readership cannot be identified with any certainty. In a very different poem to be found in the Pulter manuscript, it is possible to read a far less secure operation of voice. While the Essex poem can be read as an attempt to avoid monumentalising its subject, 'On the same' is an elegiac lament for the death of one of Pulter's daughters, Jane.

in The sense of early modern writing
Mark Robson

The notion of 'showing' implies that there is something to be shown, that there is already something that lies behind the linguistic utterance. Ben Jonson's struggle to control the effects of language, which may be seen for example in his comments on the proper use of metaphor in the Discoveries, is indicative of a wider debate about the nature of language and its relation to meaning or sense. Rhetoric, in both the early modern period and the classical texts from which it took its most powerful ideas, tended to be seen as either neutral or double, that is, as suspect as well as to be lauded. In Immanuel Kant's Critique of Judgment, as Rodolphe Gasché has pointed out, there is a distinct division in his handling of the question of rhetoric.

in The sense of early modern writing
Mark Robson

Aesthetics has been expanded as a term within new historicist discourse to encompass any form of symbolic interaction that is susceptible to critical analysis. Tellingly, in Practicing New Historicism, one of the main impulses behind the authors' approach comes not from within early modern culture, but instead from the German Idealist thinker Johann Gottfried Herder. Thus it locates itself within the ambit of German romanticism or Idealism and its inheritances, seeking to read the early modern in terms of an aesthetic that is post-Kantian rather than being itself early modern. The emergence of aesthetics marks an attempt to make a decisive shift away from discourses of art that focus upon rules and prescriptions, in other words, aesthetics emerges as that which is not poetics or rhetoric.

in The sense of early modern writing
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The sense of early modern writing
Mark Robson

This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book is concerned with rhetoric, poetics and aesthetics as they are to be found in early modern texts, and equally with the thought that allows us to make sense of the early modern as a conceptual category. For Immanuel Kant, aesthetics is a way into the perception, knowledge and judgement of objects. Much of Kant's Third Critique is concerned with nature. As several critics have noted, the increased attention given to apparently undervalued documents does tend to legitimate that attention through an appeal to what such documents can tell us about commonly discussed material, most obviously Shakespeare. The book focuses on either an aspect of the body related to the sense of reading or on the deliberate disavowal of the body and its senses.

in The sense of early modern writing