Poetry in a World of Things: Aesthetics and Empiricism in Renaissance Ekphrasis


Product Details

University of Chicago Press
Publish Date
6.0 X 8.9 X 0.6 inches | 0.75 pounds

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About the Author

Rachel Eisendrath is assistant professor of English and chair of Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Barnard College, Columbia University.


"In this terrific and wide-ranging book, Rachel Eisendrath provides a nuanced account of Renaissance defenses of aesthetic pleasure that challenges the traditional association of the early modern period with new scientific notions of objectivity. At the same time, she makes a powerful contribution to contemporary debates in the humanities about 'distant reading, ' 'surface reading, ' 'the new materialism, ' and 'thing theory, ' in the process reasserting the traditional virtues of humanistic education. Poetry in a World of Things is an exceptionally well-informed, theoretically sophisticated, and beautifully written work." -Victoria Kahn, University of California, Berkeley--Victoria Kahn, University of California, Berkeley
"Why do we value critical objectivity? This is the basic question of Eisendrath's book, a study of some early encounters between art and empiricism, and of the literary strategies by which a poem or a painting might save itself from mere objecthood. Petrarch, Spenser, Marlowe, and Shakespeare are its heroes, but it is just as much a book for our times, a beautifully written tutorial in how to tell the difference between a work and a thing, and why that difference matters."--Jeff Dolven, Princeton University
" First of all, Eisendrath is a superb close reader, as demonstrated by her treatment of her central Renaissance texts. Along the way there are interesting asides on Mantegna, Cervantes, John Webster, and others. Around these are woven readings of classical literature and art, including the Aeneid, Homer, and Roman wall painting. A third layer is the argument about empiricism versus aestheticism in the Renaissance, on top of which is an intermittent discourse on ruins, topped by a layer of modern and contemporary criticism. Particularly interesting is her invocation of a double-dyad of German scholars of the early-mid twentieth century: (inevitably) Benjamin and Adorno and (interestingly) Auerbach and Spitzer."--The Spenser Review
"Rachel Eisendrath's exhilarating Poetry in a World of Things sees the emergence of these two phenomena--empirical objectivity and artistic lifelikeness--as intimately related. Her focus is on the Renaissance technique of ekphrasis, or lively description, a technique related to the new interest in observational detail which characterizes the emergence of objectivity in history and natural philosophy. What Eisendrath's subtle handling brings out is the extent to which this new emphasis on observed material evidence, this sense of the pastness of the past and the particularity of the natural world, can be registered in texts and images that convey a consciousness of the emotional complexity - the art - involved in knowing, depicting, describing and therefore bringing to life."--Lorna Hutson, Merton College, Oxford "The Review of English Studies "