ACLA 2016 Harvard: Early Modern Materiality

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Erika Boeckeler
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How do literary forms influence material forms, and how do material forms influence literary forms? This delicious chiasmus foregrounds our inquiry into how writing and its media collide in such a way as to alter them both. Early modern readers and non-readers encountered writing and its products ever more frequently, with new reading publics and a printing press that augmented a sensitivity to writing by increasing the number of letters in the world. The same might be said for objects, with a flood of new, exotic products entering England in this age of exploration. Paper, and especially books, are not the most obvious writing surfaces to early moderns.

This seminar considers how writing upon objects unlocks unexamined properties of those objects, and objects unlock unexamined properties of writing, and how particular social contexts manipulate those unlocked properties. We'll also consider how literary writing, both in its visual and generic forms more generally (e.g. the manuscript or printed sonnet, the playtext, the pattern or concrete poem) and in content, particularly pieces that engage with the material world in order to think through and with it.