Fumerton 1991

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Fumerton, Patricia Cultural Aesthetics: Renaissance Literature and Practice of Social Ornament. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991.

Introduction, A Still Life: Clock, Jewel, Orange

"My focuse is the trivial selfhood of the aristocracy in the English Renaissance: a sense of self, as we will see, that was supported and, indeed, constituted by bric-a-brac worlds of decorations, gifts, foodstuffs, small entertainments, and other particles of cultural wealth and show." (1)

"to study history as a broken confection or disjointed pile" (1)

"the past aestheticized itself. It was precisely the broken, disconnected, and 'detached' quality of historical fact that enabled the Renaissance to achieve an aesthetic understanding of itself as cultural artifact" (2)
"what would a total, wholly representative, or nonfragmentary reading of history and/or literature look like?" (11) -- impossible, undesirable
"In sum, that part of us that hearkens back to a continuous historical universe wishes to say, 'The King is dead; long live the King.' But continuity, I would argue, is not history as Charles lived it or as our own scholarship has most recently tried to understand it in breaking with traditional intellectual history. As epitomized in my story of Charles's life and death, history can also be perceived as truncation. AS every moment, history is the interregnum felt within the continuum." (12)
"it is not the case that the breakaway moments in history that have always been the great motivators of new historical methods inhere only in such loud political events as interregnum or civil war. Rather, the moment of fragmentary history I seek to elucidate saturates cultural and literary history even in its quietest and smallest events.

"history as truncation or fissure" (13)

"I create a mosaic or collage of broken history from passages and events that are often themselves about the broken, the detached, or the trivial. And I use my collage to model history as brokenness rather than to reach back to some impossibly whole scene in the background." (18)
"Fragments are to a unified sense of self, we may say, as the peripheral is to the central. What is the Renaissance self in these terms? My answer is that it is the identity whose central awareness is that of the peripheral. Like the strands of Charles's hair on a book cover, the fragmentary history of the aristocratic subject is not so much a text within as a weaving outside. It is a sense of identity estranged from the center." (18)
"Layer within layer, then: the artifacts and ornaments that encrust the surface of history are at once peripheral and strangely central. As we will see, the Renaissance aristocrat's identity was suspended within intricate and endless regressions of artifacts (rooms in a house, miniatures, jewels, poems, masques, even meals at a banquet) each of which was pivotal precisely to the extent that it was marginal." (21)
"In the aristocratic context, the peripheral was also that which was decorative. Strangely fragmentary and peripheral history, I suggest, is finally as trivial as the history of ornament. Or rather, history in the view I offer is ornament -- a notion I offer for the express purpose of taking us from historical to aesthetic experience." (21)
"Decoration, in other words, allegorizes or alludes to a world of cultural value that could not otherwise be represented except by means of oblique, allusive adornment. ... the 'meaningfulness' of an experiencing subject whose total 'meaning' is embeddedness in a culture inexpressible except in token fragments." (22)
"The ornamental urge, in sum, is one with the historical urge: the drive to be part of the cultural whole (if only a part as fragmentary and peripheral as a link in a jeweled necklace). That urge is especially marked in the plethora of trivial ornaments surrounding the aristocracy of the English Renaissance. Whenever we see a piece of such ornament -- a jewel, an epic simile, any peripheral fact or artifact that merely 'adorns' the center -- behind it lies the historical. There is no such thing, in other words, as 'pure' ornament. Pure ornament, pure aestheticism, always hangs around the bespangled neck of history; and, reciprocally, history never appears naked of ornamentation." (22)
"To put the issue succinctly: I suggest that art that seeks to purify and coserve is not so much the opposite as the uncanny double of the destructive truncating, chopping, and fragmenting of history." (24)
"It is through a critical understanding of aestheticism that we can beign to think about Renaissance subjectivity -- a self like a mutifaceted jewel in an ornamental setting." (26)
"The Elizabethan and Jacobean aristocracy occupied the uneasy interface between the historical and the aesthetic, the central and the peripheral, the unifeid and the fragmentary. They lived the practice of social ornament." (26)
"By studying such fancy ornamental gifts as the miniatures of Nicholas HIlliard and the sonnets of Sir Philip Sidney, I will argue that the subjectivity that formed within the collective cosmos of Elizabethan cultural exchange was deeply divided between public and private sensibilities. It wished at once to exist in exchange with others and to bar all exchange capable of unlocking its closed miniature or sonnet of meaning -- an experience of self-splitting, as we will see, both like and crucially unlike our modern sense of self." (27)
"Public and private selves were both faceds for a detached particle of nothingness, a truly alien or existentially alienated self, lurking within." (28)

Exchanging Gifts: The Elizabethan Currency of Children and Romance

exchange of children in Elizabethan England and in Faerie Queene; "What is at stake here in both context and text is a cultural fiction: the ability of trivial, fragmentary, peripheral, or ornamental experience -- what I have suggested is the constitutive basis of history -- to foster the ideal commonality."

"My paritcular thesis, then, is twofold. First, Elizabethan aristocratic society created itself in great part by transcending fragmentayr experience through an imaginative re-creation of its practice of exchanging trivial things (especially children). But second, faith in a unitary society required that legitimate exchange repress divisive otherness. AS we will see, the system of gift exchange helped the aristocracy subdue the broken and peripheral divisions of cultural it called foreign, primitive, childish, Irish. The overall resulte was a specifically English fiction of culture-as-gift that sanitized th eother at its margins, that made the other seem merely alien rather than a part of the peripheral and fragmented Elizabethan polity itself. Thus was England's public identity graced with 'civility'." (31)

Elizabthan children were "little, peripheral, detached, and -- though initially unformed or even ugly -- ornamental" (36)

aristocratic children as servants; they "served the daily meals to their parents and other adults, standing silent -- as a kind of ornamental border -- at the edges of the dinner table" (36)

"individual children ... flowed to other families to fill what were in essence facancies created by the prior transmission of children: (37)
"Born in unformed animality, we may thus say, children were trifles whose circulation 'finished' them in the way an artwork is finished. Through circulation, the child underwent a translation from mere trifle to polished ornament -- from being peripheral, detached, and primitive to being central, connected, and cultivated." (44)
"To copy the gift as if in a mirror would be to deny the fact that the poetry partakes of the world it represents; it would be to make the poetry a taker of gifts that does not have the grace to render back the gift with increase." (55)

Garden of Adonis -- not just a Platonic, Lucretian, etc., model of creation, "but also as a model for the poet's mind organized as a process of exchange" (56)

"The Faerie Queene, in other words, is a circle of gift an endlessly transformational round wherein all loss is gain, all giving taking, all dying living." (58) -- gift as Spenser's genre
"Generous gift exchange is an ornamental circle along which the poet generates a wandering narrative line of chivalric quest. In the process of wandering toward an enelessly deferred goal (a process of error in one view but of ornament in another), the poety picks up peripheral, fragmentary, and decorative trifles that he exchanges one for another. Thus does his poetry contribute toward the cultural increase that is its theme." (58)

dedications in FQ as a "peripheral fragment"

"gift-dedications were as much equalizers as definers of hierarchical differences: poet and patron together entered a gift circle that subsumed and dilated roles, mingling all participatns in the hope of growth, peace, and culture." (62)
"Facing outward toward the public, the self was much like the gift participants we have observed: it was ready for exchange. But facing inward toward secret privacy, the self was afraid that it was a void like the 'hollow caues' of Spenser's brigands: it had nothing to give. It only consumed." (65)

Secret Arts: Elizabethan Miniatures and Sonnets

"The history of the Elizabethan self, in short, was a history of fragmentation in which the subject lived in public view but always withheld for itself a 'secret' reoom, cabinet, case, or other recess locked away (in full view) in one corner of the house. Or rather there never was any ultimate room, cabinet, or other apartment of privacy that could be locked away from the public; only a perpetual regress of apartments." (69)

to see a miniature, you had to get close to the person -- intimacy -- social mobilization through material culture (71)

"'Publiation' of the miniature, in sum, while creating a sense of inwardness -- and thus appearing to respond to a real need for expressing the inner, private self -- could be achieved only after submitting the viewer to a series of outer, public 'rooms,' whether political chambers or ornamental casings. The overall sense was of privacy exhibited in public, as if one were visiting a museum of the history of private life." (72)

private self always hidden 'by the very nature of the artifice that published it" (76)

Nicholas Hilliard, uses same limning technique as used to illuminate medieval manuscripts (78)

sitter posing behind layers of ornament that promise exposure of self but are actually a blockage (80)

"Bedrooms displayed closed decorative cabinets; cabinets exhibited closed ivory boxes; boxes showed off covered or encased miniatures; and, when we finally set eyes on the limning itself, layers of ornamental colors and patterns show only the hiddenness of the heart."00 (84)
"The truth of privacy cannot be represented. In the world of the course, it can only be hidden behind endless facades of public ornament." (85)
"Love poetry, then, was guardedly 'published' between intimates in private rooms. It was also kept within these rooms in ornamental cabinets or boxes. The locking of love poems in containers usually reserved for the greatest valuables belied the poets' reiterated apologies that their poems were mere 'toys' or 'youthful follies'." (86)
"The poet published his private love -- carrying it not only to the court but to the 'commonality' of the public beyond -- by enclosing his poems in what amounted to a literary locket: the 'case' of prefatory letters. The function of these prefaces was to speak in wholly conventional, and thus public, terms of the betrayal of private 'secrets'." (87)
"Ultimately, however, the inner sanctum of the language of love could no more be reached than in a miniature. When one penetrates inward past the outer conventions of sonnet secrecy (the title pages and prefaces) and past even the conventional emblems of secrecy within the poems (the riddles and codes of love), one is still left with the artifice of all-embracing rhetoric." (90)
"In Sidney's imagination, 'lines' of verse were essentially the same as Hilliard's calligraphic 'lines' of paint." (93)
"The poet's heartfelt love cannot be known except in the 'rich' ornament that screens it." (96)
"The history of subjectivity is the history of delicate shiftings between changing conceptions of private and public self." (110)

Constructing the Void: Jacobean Banquets and Masques

"My argument is that the 'trifling' arts of the cook, architect, and ultimately poet combined in the masque to stage a profoundly 'trivial' or insubstantial Jacobean self." (112)
"We see in the evolution of the ornamentla banqueting house, in sum, a special place for subjectivity arising -- a reverse topos or uncommonplace increasingly displaced form the central places of living." (122)

void served in banqueting houses: "What we observe is that the very ingredients, condiments, and serving utensils of the void were products of the same processes of segmentation and detachment shaping banqueting architecture. The finished creations of the void cooks were then the centerpiece of the whole architectural/culinary extrvagance: what contemporaries called 'banqueting stuffs' imitated the personalized conceits of the banqueting houses, modeling in a medium of petit fours the hollow place of a self set apart from the communal whole." (122)

subdivision -- architecture, meals, serving utensils, all becoming "individual", " adiscrimination of selfhood whose reductio ad absurdum would be a self eating alone from a private plate with private service in a private room." (123)

"Secluded within her still-room, personally fashioning ornamental conceits, the lady of the household became a kind of culinary limner painting an edible self-portrait." (125)
"Thus the world of the void. Here, in this fantastic, detached retreat of architecture set apart from their public world and done up in lavish styles suited to their increasingly acute 'taste', aristocrats came to consume. And what they consumed were sugar-and-spice constructions -- all delicacy, all personalized in style, all removed from everyday sustenance -- mirroring in miniature the fashion of the very rooms they sat in. All was representation. English aristocrats withdrew from publicness to like-'houses' to eat a like-'food' whose very stuff -- no more than a metaphor or conceit -- was void." (125)
"When viewed in the context of the proliferating detachment of banqueting houses and void stuffs, the private self was a sugar-spun identity always on the verge of being consumed by an elusive and feared insubstantiality." (130)
"The peculiarly public/private nature of the King's Banqueting House did not make his an exception to other banqueting houses. Rather, it vividly dramatized the problematics of subjectivity that informed all banqueting houses. What contemporaries viewed through the ornamental perspective scenery and (as we will see) 'sweet' conceits of masques in the Banqueting House was an exposure of the King's privacy as insubstantial fiction -- as self made void -- even while they saw, or hoped to see, odily 'restoratives.'" (136)
"just as aspects of the masque inclined toward confectionary, so void stuffs reciprocally leaned in the direction of masque form. AS we have seen, void confectionary was all along growing more 'literate'. Not only were verses printed on the back of the individualized little plates that first appeared in banqueting houses, and not only was confectionary shaped into 'letters,' but, as in Plat's recipe to make a walnut, actual poesies were concealed within sugar molds, or, in the case of 'frolicks,' wrapped around sweetmeats." (138)

need for intimacy -- number of intimate palace officers swell under games; "He sought privacy with a desperation that far exceeded Elizabeth's own drive to secrecy, yet was far less able to locate it. Always he found instead the feared specter of violated privacy, of an insubstantial, void place of 'self'." (142)

masque -- sitting at the center from perfect perspective point; "In the masque, then, James's private self was violated in order to be incarnated in public form." (156)

The Veil of Topicality: Trade and Ornament in Neptune's Triumph

"Trivial arts saturate this world with the pretty clutter of the fragmentary, peripheral, and ornamental. If the identity, the 'self,' of the aristocracy is to be located, it must be glimpsed here in this fantastic universe of discontinuous trivia, this gigantic miniature cabinet in which it is the artifacts that guide, regulate, and control the way 'selves' walk, stand, sit, eat, look, and all the other actions in life. It was the trivial aesthetics of these artifacts, I have argued, that composed the fractured mirror of ornament into which the Renaissance aristocracy looked to see its identity and into which we, struggling to repiece the pretty shards together in something like their original discontinuity (for the mirror was never whole), now peer to glimpse an even more removed version of that identity." (171)
"The self lived historical reality in its experience of the fragmentary, peripheral, and ornamental. Cultural life was the practice of sustaining a fragile sense of identity amid decorative bits and pieces of reality that refused to cohere in a single reality, that voided identity even in the process of creating it. The history of self was the practice of social ornament." (172)