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Title: Acuity of Wit: Wonder, Paradox and Cooperation in Early Modern Spanish and Italian Poetic Theory (1548-1648)
Authors: Patino Loira, Javier
Advisors: Brownlee, Marina S
Contributors: Spanish and Portuguese Languages and Cultures Department
Keywords: Gracian
Subjects: Romance literature
Issue Date: 2016
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Acuity of Wit aims at illuminating the role that the notion of “wonder” played in early modern poetic theory, starting with the reception of Aristotle’s Poetics in the mid-sixteenth century. By delving into debates and controversies taking place between the Italian and the Iberian peninsulas, it demonstrates that scholars from Lodovico Castelvetro to Francesco Patrizi to Alonso López Pinciano developed a theoretical framework able to account for the transition from a feeling of wonder aroused by the unexpectedness of plot twists, paradoxical statements and far-fetched metaphors to a feeling of marvel towards the “subtlety” or “acuity” of the wit responsible for any of these. In doing so, I propose a series of often-neglected continuities between sixteenth-century Aristotelianism and the interest in ingenuity generally associated with seventeenth-century Jesuit theorists of “acutezza” or “agudeza”, such as Matteo Peregrini and Baltasar Gracián. For the latter, the ability to market wonders became the main criterion by which to judge the value of a poet and the path to conceive aesthetic values in a poem or a speech. I further show that the taste for wonder and acuity of wit eventually colonized spaces as apparently alien to it as history. Historians influenced by the renewed popularity of Tacitus saw themselves as making use of “acuity of wit” to decipher intentions that the agents had cunningly dissimulated. By doing so, they entered a space halfway between reciprocity and challenge, in which writing was experienced as a contest to outwit princes and courtiers in a game of unveiling inner thoughts and secrets. Finally, I explore how early modern writers and theorists conceived of acuity of wit as a virtue that can be noticed only through the active cooperation of the reader in the process of decoding and unfolding arguments. In a series of highly controversial debates touching on contemporary literary fashions such as the so-called “laconic style” or Luis de Góngora’s “new poetry”, scholars such as Virgilio Malvezzi or Francisco Fernández de Córdoba reversed principles inherited from ancient rhetoric to relocate aesthetic pleasure in the interdependence and competition between author and reader.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Spanish and Portuguese Languages and Cultures

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