Printer Friendly

Karl A. E. Enenkel. Die Erfindung des Menschen: Die Autobiographik des fruhneuzeitlichen Humanismus von Petrarca bis Lipsius.

Karl A. E. Enenkel. Die Erfindung des Menschen: Die Autobiographik des fruhneuzeitlichen Humanismus von Petrarca bis Lipsius. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2008. Karl A. E. Enenkel's Erfindung des Menschen is an Olympian survey of humanist autobiographical literature. The fruit of ten years of labor and of a keen sensibility for its almost exclusively Latin sources, it belongs, with the work of Curtius and Auerbach, to the grand German tradition of philology and literary interpretation. If scholars can manage its girth (841 pages plus thematic bibliography and index) and language (German), it will doubtlessly become a classic work on humanism, as well as on Latin literature and early modern European culture more generally.

Erfindung takes a broad view of its subject in chronological, cultural, and literary terms. It offers a two-hundred-fifty-year span of autobiographical texts and their interpretation, from Francesco Petrarca (chs. 2, 4-5) in the mid-fourteenth century to Justus Lipsius (ch. 26) at the beginning of the seventeenth. This spectrum includes other familiar names, as well as some that are less well known, with chapters on Boccaccio (ch. 3), Giovanni Conversino da Ravenna (ch. 6) Leon Battista Alberti (ch. 7) , Campano and Platina (chs. 8-9, 12-13), Pius II (chs. 10-11), Michael Marullus (ch. 14), Eoban Hess (chs. 15-16), Erasmus (ch. 17), Jacopo Sannazaro (ch. 18), Sigmund von Herberstein (ch. 19), Joannes Fabricius (ch. 20), Jacque de Slupere (Sluperius, ch. 21), Girolamo Cardano (ch. 22), Francois du Jons (Junius, ch. 23), and Joseph Scaliger and Kaspar Schoppes (chs. 24-25). By treating all of these individuals under a single rubric, Erfindung achieves a rare feat in Renaissance and early modern studies (Enenkel uses the latter term exclusively): setting Italian and northern humanists into a unified framework, here the international, classicizing, Latinate respublica litteraria. When reading Enenkel's work, one is reminded why it can still be meaningful to speak of humanism as a coherent phenomenon over two and a half centuries and throughout Europe.

The overarching goal of Erfindung is to show how humanists used autobiographical (and in a few cases biographical) writing to showcase what humanism was and to declare their participation in the movement; in these texts they indicate and stylize their departure from medieval culture, their orientation towards antiquity, and their hegemony in the period that they dubbed modernity.

Enenkel does not offer a straight history of humanist autobiography, but rather an inquiry into the process, the discourse, of autobiographical writing in early modern humanism. Indeed, he denies the very possibility of giving an account of autobiography as a genre, as one might attempt by dividing it into sub-genres, periods, groups, and themes. The reason, as he argues, is that there is no such thing: there was no established genre of autobiography from antiquity or the Middle Ages for humanists to use as a model; humanists shared no common understanding of what an autobiography might be, and therefore there is no homogeneous corpus of texts from which salient characteristics might be distilled and categorized. Furthermore, the texts under consideration do not conform to modern conceptions of autobiography, which expect sober prose and demand truth and believability on the part of authors. Nor do they have a constant form, ranging instead from metrical and prose letters to dialogues, poetry, and narrative accounts. Nevertheless, all the writings examined in this book do share certain traits that endow the study with coherence: they tell the putative story of their author (Egodokumenten); they are self-consciously modeled on ancient autobiographical and biographical texts, such as Augustine's Confessions, Caesar's Commentaries, Suetonius's Lives, and specimens of Horace's and Ovid's poetry; they offer details about private life (although many of these are fictive); and most importantly they portray, or rather fashion, an interior self. Thus Enenkel concludes that there is thus no such thing as a genre of autobiography (Autobiographie) in the early modern period; there is only autobiographical writing (Autobiographik).

As opposed to autobiography as it has been written since the nineteenth century, Enenkel argues that early modern autobiographical writing is characterized primarily by "invention" (Erfindung), not authentic recollection. The purpose of such writings is not to record or capture an individual as he was, but rather to fashion him, to create him, to give him life by setting him into literature. Whereas modern autobiography relies on the recognition of shared, authentic human experiences between author/narrator and reader in order to produce meaning (Hermeneutik), early modern biographical writing relies on a shared knowledge of ancient literature. Meaning is created not by claims to authenticity or truth, but by (fictionally) inscribing oneself into the classical texts that constituted the world of common experience for learned men. To set oneself into this context was to make one's essence, or rather the essence one sought to communicate, intelligible to others.

To see how this works it would be helpful to consider an example in depth, and there is no better place to start than at the beginning: Francesco Petrarca's invention of autobiography as a literary form. In both antiquity and the Middle Ages, such writing was generally considered taboo, both because the details of private life were not to be made public and because it seemed a breach of decorum to write about oneself. Thus with no models on which to rely and an audience likely to be hostile to his undertaking, Petrarca set out nevertheless to describe his inner self, his status animi, as he called it. He begins with a seemingly unlikely discursive form, the metrical letter (Epistole metrice), which he adapted from Horace. After finding Cicero's Letters to Atticus, he adopts the prose letter for his Familiares, the first collection of personal letters ever intentionally written for publication. And finally, in his Letter to Posterity, which is the last of his Seniles, he imitates Suetonius'Li/e of Augustus. Many of the details Petrarca includes in his letters are false, but this is not an issue for him; facts, even fictive ones, are only important insofar as they communicate the image of himself that he is set on fashioning. In his Epistule metrice his primary goal is to style himself simultaneously a Latin poet and a Stoic philosopher, in essence a new Horace but with a humanist twist: he abandons the ancient poet's opaque self-irony and puts himself--his self, his status animi--at the center of his writing. In his Familiares he gives further insight into the persona he gradually continues to create: the Petrarca--or the idealized humanist--of the Familiares is a traveler, a friend of Rome, a lover of antiquity, a hater of scholasticism and Avignon; he is in essence a writer, a poet, and he is magnificently sustained in this otiose occupation by a devoted patron; although often on the move and somewhat beholden to worldly affairs, he prefers to lead a solitary and contemplative life. By portraying himself in this way, Petrarca provides an authoritative model of humanist self-understanding for his intellectual descendents. Finally, in his Letter to Posterity, he once again hammers out his image as a Latin poet, but by imitating Suetonius' Life of Augustus he situates himself within a context of authority and power: he is the imperator laureatus of the respublic litteraria.

To say that humanist autobiographical writing imitates ancient texts and discourses is not to say that it is slavish or reductive. Enenkel is careful to show the ways that his authors both follow and depart from their ancient models, and indeed it is in the latter way that they succeed in creating the most meaning. Thus, Petrarca appropriates Suetonius' imperial discourse to style himself a princeps of the literary world. Giovanni da Ravenna imitates Augustine's confessional discourse, but instead of admitting his faults and asking forgiveness he uses the saint's authority to offer an apology of his misdeeds. Eoban Hess adopts Ovid's discourse of exile not so much to affiliate himself with the ancient poet as to challenge him. Pius II adapts Caesar's military discourse to the medieval one of papal authority to express his intentions for a crusade. And Erasmus and Lipsius eclectically juxtapose discourse upon discourse to effect a chameleon-like identity, suited to all seasons and ready to change at a moment's notice.

The technique of creatively and willfully inscribing oneself into one or more ancient autobiographical discourses lent itself first and foremost to claiming membership in the humanist community, but it had other uses as well. As noted, it was also the mechanism for creating meaning for an audience of fellow humanists, who were familiar with the discourses adopted and tended to know the source texts by heart; to inscribe oneself into an ancient discourse was to situate oneself in the memory of one's reader. Furthermore, the auctoritas of the ancients served to enhance one's own authority and to increase the authenticity of the persona one sought to fashion. Autobiography, finally, was a powerful literary weapon. On the one hand it could function defensively as an apology of one's personal history, social status, national affiliation, or genealogy. On the other it was deftly wielded in the confessional struggles of the sixteenth century and beyond.

Once the discursive element of autobiographical writings has been identified, Enenkel emphasizes, they can no longer be used as sources for the lives or actual personalities of their authors. Assuming the opposite can and has led to disastrous misinterpretation, such as in Burckhardt's misreading of the Anonymous Life of Alberti (whose true author, by the way, Enenkel identifies as Lapo da Castiglionchio the Younger). The biography is not a manifesto for a distinctly Renaissance ideal of the uomo universale, but rather a conscious attempt to portray Alberti as a classical philosopher by inscribing him into the discourse of Diogenes Laertius' Lives. Enenkel's title is thus polemical: humanist autobiographical writing is not indicative of the "discovery of man" and individualism, as Burckhardt famously thought, but of the "invention of man" (Erfindung des Menschen), or rather the invention of the various humanist personae the authors sought to convey. Autobiography is an exercise in self-fashioning, not self-discovery or self-depiction.

To recognize all this, though, one must be on intimate terms with classical literature. And such is perhaps Erfindungs most important general conclusion. The upshot is that if modern readers cannot hope to carry the classical tradition in their breast like the humanists of yore, they must at the very least recognize what they do not know when approaching humanist literature, and thus treat it with the proper care and respect. This caveat may be depressing, dampening as it does interpretive approaches not grounded in the classics. Yet it should also be exciting, for it vindicates humanist literature against long-standing charges of derivativeness, opacity, and just plain boringness. Erfindung gives a tantalizing taste of what we might find if we explore the lost continent of early modern Latin with the proper tools.

Any book of this magnitude will have some defects in the eyes of readers, and Erfindung is no exception. Two criticisms appear especially worthy of mention. The first regards Enenkel's insistence on the lack of autobiographical writing before humanism. From his presentation it appears as if there was a void between ancient authors and Petrarch. But what of Guibert of Nogent's Memoirs, or Peter Abelard's Historia calamitatum? Neither of these works is so much as mentioned. There is no reason, of course, for medieval writings to have a central place in a study devoted to humanist literature, but it would at the very least be interesting to see how the monuments of medieval autobiography compare to humanist counterparts. This point is raised perhaps less out of rebuke than curiosity. For, after seeing Enenkel dismantle the commonplace that Petrarca's Secretum is modeled on Augustine's Confessions, one wonders what he would do with Abelard and Guibert. The second criticism of Erfindung, more serious from the historian's point of view, is that it does not provide a sufficient account of why and by what means autobiographical discourse developed and became standard in humanism. This is the regrettable collateral damage of Enenkel's method, which otherwise hits its targets with such precision. Echoing Foucault, Enenkel asserts at the outset that "meaningful statements cannot be made about objects, subjects, etc., but only about the discourses ... according to which certain objects ... are talked about" (36-37). The result is a wonderful array of individual studies, but very little analysis of how they might fit together in any more than a discursive way.

Criticisms like these, however, come close to complaining that one's favorite dish has not been served. In the final analysis, Enenkel convincingly does what he sets out to do: explain how early modern autobiographical writing works and demonstrate a suitable method for interpreting it. Multum ei debemus. (Patrick Baker, Humboldt-Universitat zu Berlin)
COPYRIGHT 2010 Texas A&M University, Department of English
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2010 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:NEO-LATIN NEWS
Author:Baker, Patrick
Publication:Seventeenth-Century News
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2010
Previous Article:Exhibition Review, with a Gallery of Selected Images. Dutch New York Between East and West: The World of Margrieta van Varick.
Next Article:Jean de Pins. Letters and Letter Fragments: Edition, Commentary, and Notes.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters