De Grazia 2010

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Margreta de Grazia, "Anachronism." (2010)

"the failure to differentiate the world of the present-subject from that of the past-object is a violation of the basic principle of epistemology: the viewing subject must remain distinct from the viewed object. When one collapses into the other, knowledge cannot take place."

Ethical failure: "But to be guilty of anachronism implies another kind of wrongdoing. Our stance toward other periods has implications for our stance toward other persons. Indeed the way we talk about historical periods encourages us to think of them as persons. We anthropomorphize them, individuating one period from another by an animating spirit (Zeitgeist) and an informing consciousness (mentalité, mindset, episteme, Weltanschauung, world view). With periods as with persons, we have an (p. 14) obligation to respect difference. The reduction of the other to the same constitutes an effacement of the other, and for Lévinas, of the self as well.2 Not to recognize the distinguishing features of another period is thus more than an error of methodology or epistemology: it is an ethical failure."

Flashback, flashforward -- analepsis, prolepsis in rhetoric; figure of "hysteron proteron," the "preposterous

Turn in the 17c of chronology from story about time to numerical sequence of event -- "It is precisely because chronology referred and related to nothing outside its own calibration that it became the dominant mode of measuring time past. Any event from any place could be located on its continuum and put in relation to any other event there. It was absolute, like Newtonian space."

Dr Johnson -- Edward Gibbon, devising timelines; even including a timeline of his own writing

Dido and Aeneas live 200 years apart -- the ultimate anachronism, evident in Aeneas; Dryden says Virgil could still be a good poet and a bad chronologer, but that poets would do better to invent a place if they wanted to invent fancies

"Exposing and defending anachronism in literature becomes one of the routine tasks of eighteenth-century critics, applying chronology to poetry about the past in order to expose anachronisms and then excusing them by appealing to ‘poetic license’. ... Not only Lydgate, Gower, and Chaucer but also Spenser, Sidney, and above all Shakespeare are arraigned for anachronisms.30 At the same time, literary criticism is itself being (p. 20) organized along chronological timelines."

Lorenzo Valla, 1440, disproving authenticity of Donation of Constantine; seen as important precursor for textual criticism, since it uses anachronisms as an instrument of historical analysis -- but de Grazia shows he wasn't actually concerned with anachronism but with a display of rhetorical prowess, pure polemic; only after the Reformation did his refutation get taken up and turned into evidence against Roman Church

"Through most of the last century, a grasp of anachronism has been attributed not only to Valla but to the Renaissance period in general. It might well seem a rather minor feature to play an epoch-making role, especially when the capacity to diagnose it is figured as a ‘nose’, ‘ear’, or ‘eye’ for anachronism. (Periods have physiognomies as well as psychologies.) But the ability to detect and avoid anachronism has been taken as nothing less than evidence of historical consciousness. It requires an awareness that the past differs from the present and that the various periods of the past differ from one another. The Renaissance, it is often said, was not only conscious of diachrony but also conscious that it was conscious of it: in recognizing itself as a distinct period, both from remote antiquity (to which it would draw closer) and from the proximate dark ages (from which it would distance itself)." -- Petrarch as quintessential figure here

Modern historians agree about the "periodizing function of anachronism" -- Peter Burke and The Renaissance Sense of the Past is a major influence here, showing an emergent sense of anachronism in 1500-1700; Reformation/emergence of humanism seen as producing "a heightened sense of anachronism"; dissolution of monasteries "sharpened England's sense of its own antiquity"

Much of this historical work is influenced by Erwin Panofsky, Renaissance and Renascences -- classicizing subjects begin to be painted with classical dress, architecture, customs -- perspective offered "cognitive distance" that "enabled the Renaissance to comprehend both anachronism and perspective, historical change and spatial depth"

Thomas Greene, The Light in Troy -- finds Renaissance poets using poetic anachronism as dynamic source of artistic power

"It is also the source of the critic’s power. For the critic of the Renaissance also experiences historical estrangement, indeed estrangement twice over, as he looks back both to the Renaissance and to the Renaissance looking back to antiquity. Like the Renaissance humanist, the critic knows the limitations of his encounter with the past: ‘The pathos of this incomplete embrace’. Because he too would bring remote texts to life, he too runs the risk of ‘damaging anachronism’ (33). But wherein lies the risk or damage? Is it the loss of the object’s historical specificity that is feared? Would the past vanish if, like Eurydice, it were viewed head on? For Greene, it is curiously not the loss of the distant object that is dreaded, but the loss of the distance that keeps him from that object." --> historical distance important because it keeps us from making the mistakes of the medieval period, seeing Aeneas as a knight -- "It is the loss of consciousness that is feared, then, the collapse of the barrier that stands between subject and object and holds them apart, with the subject in control. Devoutly wished for, the consummation is really never attempted, for the cost would be too high, as it was for the most beautiful of Milton’s fallen angels: ‘For who would lose, / Though full of pain, this intellectual being?’"

"It may not be the desire to respect historical otherness that underlies the aversion to anachronism, as this essay began by proposing, but rather the need to retain the (p. 31) ‘cognitive distance’ that is the very basis of our disciplinary knowledge. The disciplines of history, history of art, and literature have all located the Renaissance as the age when the foundations of modern scholarly and critical practices were set down through the interposition of historical distance. There is a subjective corollary to that disciplinary stance: the feeling of solitude and estrangement that, for Greene, saturates not only Renaissance poetry but also his writing about Renaissance poetry. In the Renaissance, that feeling has been diagnosed as melancholia and termed its ‘period illness’. (Historical periods have chronic diseases and pathologies to go along with their minds and bodies.)"

Benjamin, Theses of History: "For Benjamin, Flaubert’s empathetic attachment to ancient Carthage betrays an inherited rapport with the victor: the Romans who dominated Carthage in imperial times, the French who were dominating North African Tunisia in Flaubert’s colonial times as well as in Benjamin’s. His melancholic longing to retrieve the past of victorious Rome marks him as a beneficiary of the colonial legacy, for in narrating that past, he carries it forward, in a process of transmission Benjamin likens to a triumphal procession that mindlessly bears its spoils from one generation to the next.85 The historical materialist of Benjamin’s ‘Theses’ would bring that progressive and monotonous temporality to a dead halt. While the ‘Theses’ do not name them, anachronisms— violations of absolute diachronic time—surely belong among the insurrectionary tactics by which historical materialism ‘brush[es] history against the grain’ of the dominant and oppressive historical continuum."

"A revision of this essay’s opening premise may now be in order. It is not at all clear that sensitivity to anachronism means that we are being properly and ethically (p. 32) historical or that we are acknowledging that inviolable difference between then and now, the other and the same. Our diachronic sophistication enables us to see the past as our disciplines have configured it: that is, at a distance maintained and gauged by an absolute timeline. It has been easy, all too easy, to unsettle the old (but hardly outdated) critical tradition that—to the detriment of the Middle Ages— credits the Renaissance with having first grasped the fundamental concept of cognitive distance. This essay has argued that sensitivity to anachronism is a later phenomenon more closely coinciding with the formation of the disciplinary divisions under whose aegis we still mainly work. To speak of anachronism avant la lettre, then, would itself be an anachronism. But that should not be taken to mean that we have not been sufficiently historical: when our propositions go so self-reflexively circular, it is a sure sign that we are banging our heads against our disciplinary walls. Suppose instead, as a way of loosening chronology’s hold on historical thought, we were to remove the stigma from anachronism or turn that stigma to advantage? For chronology is only one way by which the past can be related to the present. That this essay has itself taken chronological steps in critiquing chronology indicates the extent of chronology’s critical sway. In the process, however, it has at least touched upon other possibilities: in an earlier association of chronology with figuration and narrative, in Vico’s ‘Poetic Chronology’, in Valla’s prosopopeic impersonations, in Foxe’s typological history, in medieval modernizations of antiquity, in Benjaminian dialectical montages; and (were this essay to continue) in the post-colonial critiques of chronology as a system for ordering time exclusive to the West. Even in the history of the West, chronology has not always ruled the day."