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La sottigliezza del disputare: Teorie degli stili e teorie dei generi in eta rinascimentale e nel Tasso.

As the four hundredth anniversary of Torquato Tasso's death nears, we may look forward to a sudden flurry of scholarly conferences and publications on the poet and his works. Tasso remains the most recognizable Italian literary figure of his age, after all, and his Gerusalemme liberata may well be the central text of European "Mannerism," a period that is once again becoming of keen interest to scholars both here and abroad. It seems unlikely, however, that Hermann Grosser's excellent study of the relationship between Tasso's poetic theories and ancient and Renaissance theories of style will soon be superseded.

The book is divided into two principal parts. The first provides an analysis of classical theories of style, especially those of Hermogenes and Demetrius, as well as of Renaissance theories of style, ranging from Bembo to Scaliger, Giraldi Cinthio, Minturno and Vettori. Beginning with the classical tripartite division of rhetorical style (low, middle, sublime), which remained the norm throughout the Middle Ages and well into the sixteenth century, Grosser focuses on the evolution of the role assigned to the elevated style (deinotes, gravitas, "gravity") in particular. He does so because the "basic language of the Renaissance Italian literary system" (18) was that of the Petrarchan lyric, especially in its then-popular "grave" or "serious" version, and any study of Tasso's theorizing must take this into account in conjunction with his rethinking of the epic tradition.

With the renewed interest in Aristotle's Poetics in the middle decades of the sixteenth century in Italy, literary theorists were faced with the daunting task of defining the relationship between style and the newly-privileged category of genre. In seeking to expose the inner logic of the work, the poeticians of the Cinquecento aimed to grasp "the perfection of art through the knowledge of its rules" (91) rather than through the imitation of classical models. The chief obstacle to such codification, as Grosser observes, was that the integration of genre and style required a unified theory of style akin to the Poetics, and this was nowhere to be found in the heritage of antiquity. Faced with a hodgepodge of classical rhetorical and stylistic treatises, the early modern theorists undertook - with "analytic anxiety" (148) - to arrange them into just such a unified and coherent theory, and the inevitable failure of this project was to cast a shadow across Tasso's work. However, Grosser rightly notes the modernity inherent in seeing style not only as a means of understanding the work, but as a distinctly individual trait of authors and their texts (134).

The second part of the book examines the gradual development of Tasso's thinking about style, from the early "Lezione recitata nell'Accademia ferrarese" to the last revisions of the Discorsi del poema eroico. Early on, Tasso - following Demetrius - held that the epic style was predominantly "magnificent" and "serious." In this first phase of his poetics, the epic poet was allowed only limited use of the middle or lyric style, since the "pleasant" nature of the latter would tend to disrupt the stylistic unity of the poem. Later, however, Tasso shifted his position under the influence of his reading of Hermogenes. While remaining fully committed to a systematic theory of the epic genre, he admitted lyric artifices into the epic style insofar as they could now be seen to complement its gravity and were required of modern poetry in the Tuscan idiom. This left Tasso's theories of the epic in a state of "oscillation" (299) between the conflicting requirements of variety and unity, and the resulting dissonance between the organicity of the work and its multiple stylistic registers captured the aesthetic dilemma of Mannerism itself.

Thoughtfully argued, written in an elegant Italian and well-informed about scholarship in English, this softcover book has been produced with care, and one only regrets that its cost (nearly forty dollars at the current exchange rate) appears exorbitant by U.S. standards.

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Author:Snyder, Jon R.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1995
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