Cultures and Knowledge Workshop Reading List: "Tropes and the Invention of Bureaucracy: Prosopopoeia, Bernard of Clairvaux, and the Art of Centralized Administration"

April 22nd, 2021

On April 26, the Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge will present "Tropes and the Invention of Bureaucracy: Prosopopoeia, Bernard of Clairvaux, and the Art of Centralized Administration" as the second installment of their Cultures and Knowledge Workshop series for Spring Term. This workshop will be presented by Professor Julie Orlemanski.

This talk investigates how literary style can be a technique of bureaucratization: specifically, asking how literary tropes are entailed in the medieval history of institutional forms. Taking Bernard’s Sermons as a key text, this talk poses some new questions tying together theology, literature, and institutional history. Bernard of Clairvaux composed his Sermons on the Song of Songs—a collection of deeply felt meditations on this Biblical book of love poetry—sometime between 1135 and 1153. He wrote the influential Sermons just as the Cistercian Order—the upstart, reforming monastic movement that Bernard helped lead—was developing new bureaucratic structures to administer its expanding international network of monasteries. Furthermore, this presentation focuses on the literary trope of prosopopoeia—the figural bestowal of voice and bodily form, or the means by which writing calls forth people from the page. In considering Bernard simultaneously as literary theorist, stylist, and institutional innovator, Professor Orlemanski focuses on how techniques of ‘figuring people’ in medieval writing played a role in developing new techniques of administrative centralization. In specific, she argues that Bernard’s practice of prosopopoeia acted as a means of configuring the dispersed and distributed Cistercian Order through fictions of bodily presence.


About the presenter: Julie Orlemaski is an Associate Professor at the University of Chicago English department, teaching and writing about texts from the late Middle Ages and theoretical and methodological questions in present-day literary studies. She is fascinated by what distinguishes medieval thought from our own, and what links it. She is presently at work on two new book projects. One, Things without Faces: Prosopopoeia in Medieval Writing begins from the seemingly simple question of what happens when textual persons speak. Writing conjures the likeness of a voice, and with it an embodied figure comes flickeringly into existence. This movement from text to speech to imagined corporealization fascinated medieval writers and is at the heart of Things without Faces. Over the course of Things Without Faces, she argues that modes of literary personation now sharply distinguished—character, lyric address, and allegorical personification—should be considered in their mobile interconnection, and that medieval literature helps us to do so.

Below is a list of further reading on the topic of the workshop, compiled by Professor OrlemaskI:

Bernard of Clairvaux: An Inner Life, by Brian Patrick McGuire (Cornell University Press)

Bernard of Clairvaux holds a distinguished place in the history of Christian spirituality. During the twelfth century this gentle monk from France became the primary guide for those who follow the path of selfless love as well as a spokesman for a revival in monastic life. This collection of his most important writings provides a superb introduction to a man who has greatly shaped the Western monastic and mystical traditions.


Enchantment: On Charisma and the Sublime in the Arts of the West, by Stephen Jaeger (University of Pennsylvania Press)

What is the force in art, C. Stephen Jaeger asks, that can enter our consciousness, inspire admiration or imitation, and carry a reader or viewer from the world as it is to a world more sublime? We have long recognized the power of individuals to lead or enchant by the force of personal charisma--and indeed, in his award-winning Envy of Angels, Jaeger himself brilliantly parsed the ability of charismatic teachers to shape the world of medieval learning. In Enchantment, he turns his attention to a sweeping and multifaceted exploration of the charisma not of individuals but of art. For Jaeger, the charisma of the visual arts, literature, and film functions by creating an exalted semblance of life, a realm of beauty, sublime emotions, heroic motives and deeds, godlike bodies and actions, and superhuman abilities, so as to dazzle the humbled spectator and lift him or her up into the place so represented. Charismatic art makes us want to live in the higher world that it depicts, to behave like its heroes and heroines, and to think and act according to their values. It temporarily weakens individual will and rational critical thought. It brings us into a state of enchantment. From the tattoos on the face of a Maori tribesman to the haunting visage of Charlotte Rampling in a film by Woody Allen, Jaeger's extraordinary book explores the dichotomies of reality and illusion, life and art that are fundamental to both cultic and aesthetic experience.


The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism: and Other Writings, by Max Weber (Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics)

In The Protestant Ethic, Max Weber opposes the Marxist concept of dialectical materialism and relates the rise of the capitalist economy to the Calvinist belief in the moral value of hard work and the fulfillment of one's worldly duties.


The Implications of Literacy: Written Language and Models of Interpretation in the 11th and 12th Centuries, by Brian Stock, (Princeton University Press)

This book explores the influence of literacy on eleventh and twelfth-century life and though on social organization, on the criticism of ritual and symbol, on the rise of empirical attitudes, on the relationship between language and reality, and on the broad interaction between ideas and society. Medieval and early modern literacy, Brian Stock argues, did not simply supersede oral discourse but created a new type of interdependence between the oral and the written. If, on the surface, medieval culture was largely oral, texts nonetheless emerged as a reference system both for everyday activities and for giving shape to larger vehicles of interpretation. The book uses methods derived from anthropology, from literary theory, and from historical research, and is divided into five chapters. The study concludes that written language was the chief integrating instrument for diverse cultural achievements.


Persons and Things, by Barbara Johnson (Harvard University Press)

Moving effortlessly between symbolist poetry and Barbie dolls, artificial intelligence and Kleist, Kant, and Winnicott, Barbara Johnson not only clarifies psychological and social dynamics; she also re-dramatizes the work of important tropes--without ever losing sight of the ethical imperative with which she begins: the need to treat persons as persons. In Persons and Things, Johnson turns deconstruction around to make a fundamental contribution to the new aesthetics. She begins with the most elementary thing we know: deconstruction calls attention to gaps and reveals that their claims upon us are fraudulent. Johnson revolutionizes the method by showing that the inanimate thing exposed as a delusion is central to fantasy life, that fantasy life, however deluded, should be taken seriously, and that although a work of art "is formed around something missing," this "void is its vanishing point, not its essence." She shows deftly and delicately that the void inside Keats's urn, Heidegger's jug, or Wallace Stevens's jar forms the center around which we tend to organize our worlds. The new aesthetics should restore fluidities between persons and things. In pursuing it, Johnson calls upon Ovid, Keats, Poe, Plath, and others who have inhabited this in-between space. The entire process operates via a subtlety that only a critic of Johnson's caliber could reveal to us.

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