Book Presentation: RINASCIMENTO by Nicola Gardini
Rinascimento provides a reassessment of the notion of 'Renaissance' and a definition of what should be intended by this term, which all sorts of temporal/geographical extensions, nationalistic agendas and semantic metaphorizations have reduced over the centuries to an empty container of most disparate ideas and hypotheses.
As the book shows in eight coherently interrelated chapters, the sense of change, various emblems of temporal decay and distance (ruins, lost objects, remnants, ancient literature), and the emergence of a modern historical consciousness constitute the backbone of the Renaissance.
Gardini’s Renaissance is quintessentially Italian and lasts from Petrarch’s days until the death of Guicciardini, its peak being the early decades of the 16th century, namely the period preceding the Counter-Reformation. However, the Renaissance is far from being an epoch or a moment in time. It is rather a culture, that is a dymanic set of ideological images and conceptual contents which literature fashions in highly symbolic representations. The Renaissance is the culture of the courts and the ruling classes. It is elitist, has little or nothing at all to do with popular culture, is based on a philological interpretation and systematization both of the fragmentary past and of the ever-changing present, and is modelled after paradigms extracted from ancient literature.
Against some critical positions in modern criticism (mostly held by militant medievalists), Gardini strongly believes in the existence of a distinct culture to be called the Renaissance. His point is that by Renaissance one should not merely intend the rebirth of culture. This 'etymologycal' approach (pet hate of medievalists) has been vastly practiced in the past and has produced only propaganda or, in response, sterile critiques. Indeed, exceeding emphasis over the etymology of the term has inevitably obliterated the actual meaning of the culture which one should designate by it. Renaissance is not rebirth (obviously a lot was reborn before Petrarch, starting from antiquity), but – pace its detractors – it is definitely modernity, that is a new culture, whose novelty lies not simply in the will to be novel (that was part of the historical consciousness of the early Renaissance literati) but in a completely original and revolutionary understanding of human life as subjected to historical change.
The texts discussed (Petrarch, Poliziano, Ariosto, Castiglione, Machiavelli, Guicciardini, but also less known humanists, alongside Greek and Latin sources) are treated as pieces of cultural – that is not strictly literary or stylistic – phenomenology. The book rejects all conceptual distinctions between Renaissance and Humanism and considers them as one bilingual culture.
Overall, the book may be considered a contribution to the history of ideas and of the classical legacy. Also, it provides original close readings of literary texts (including celebrated passages like Astolfo’s flight to the moon in Ariosto’s Orlando furioso) and innovative interpretations of some classics (like Poliziano’s Stanze or Orlando furioso itself).
While studies on specific aspects of the Renaissance abound, very little or virtually nothing has been written on the meaning of the Renaissance as a historical and cultural category (or construction). Indeed, the term recurs almost universally as an uncritical synonym of modernity or a generic and rather flexible (and therefore useless) temporal designation. Rinascimento intends to fill this lamentable lacuna and proposes ways to correct gravely misleading approaches to historical and literary knowledge.
Nicola Gardini teaches Italian Literature of the Renaissance and Comparative Literature at Oxford University. He is the author of many essays, poetical translations and narrative works. Among his recent works: I baroni (Feltrinelli), the Ted Hughes Meridiano Mondadori (edited together with Anna Ravano) and Com’è fatta una poesia (Sironi). His website is www.nicolagardini.it.