Rome: A City out of Print. .
The role of print in fragmenting and reconstructing the meaning and identity of Rome is the main interest of this lively, original book. San Juan draws on Henri Lefebvre, Michel de Certeau, Louis Mann, and Michel Foucault to provide the theoretical scaffolding for a new reading of Rome as a city made "out of print," wittily suggesting the passing of the great city. The "domination and appropriation of space," the "production of space" by jostling "collectivities," the "class boundaries" "activated" by printed images and texts, are construed as the elements of a fraught urban environment characterized by "anxiety." The period covered is circa 1580-1660, and individual chapters focus on crises that marked the daily life of Rome: jubilee years, epidemics, and the riotous Sede Vacante during the election of each new pope. "Print" means nor only the well-known illustrated guidebooks, topographical views of fountains and statues (with acerbic commentary ventriloquized by Pasquino), conclave plans and records of pro cessions, but also less familiar items like the posters (bandi) that publicized the edicts of Rome's governing bodies, policing tourism, health, the sale of food, and other commerce.
Minneapolis, MN and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2001. xii + 320 pp. illus. bibl. $39.95. ISBN: 0-8166-3791-1.
These printed ephemera are chosen for their presumed cultural significance rather than their visual appeal, except perhaps for Louis Rouhier's "impressive" possesso print and his "remarkable" engraved broadsheets related to the 1656 plague year (185, 219). San Juan deliberately eschews the study of visual artists, engravers, patrons, and the Baroque monumentality they produced. (The index reveals only one reference to Borromini and three to Bernini, without first names.) Though the book constantly evokes urban "space," this is not a physical space bounded and framed by buildings but a series of locations marked by friction, a socialized topography.
Influenced by literary New Historicism, San Juan privileges negotiation over solution, movement over form, conflict over achievement, piazza culture over court culture. Even though she features successful spaces as well as failed spaces, Piazza Navona and its poetry as well as Piazza Giudea and its prohibitions, she concentrates on undisciplined crowds, contagion and contamination, promiscuous bodies and unregulated water, the flooding of the Tiber, the uncontrolled effects of rumor (about personal vendettas and papal elections), and the violence of riots and executions. The implicit message is that any pleasure of place is a "touristic" experience, blind and deaf to the actual municipal reality and its human exchanges.
If agency is removed from popes, cardinals and designers, it is restored--quite dramatically--to print itself. San Juan offers an extraordinary range of textual and visual materials, from state archives more than from print cabinets, which include proclamations and pamphlets as well as engravings of different sizes and qualities. (Dimensions are never given, and large broadsheets are so reduced in reproduction that the significant details are invisible.) These sheets were intended for variable viewing-situations, produced by different social and artistic relations: Giovanni Bonacina's engraving of Piazza Navona (for example) appears in a thesis, designed for a small, elite audience who would appreciate the flattery of a Pamphili patron. San Juan shows it, cropped and by "Bonacino," to illustrate the experience of turning the corner of the square (204) not mentioning the print's art-historical novelty: the church of Sant'Agnese is not the one actually built, but derives from a preliminary design Borromini mad e for a medal. Even the bandi, proclaimed by trumpeters and pasted to the wall, cannot have reached many in a largely illiterate population. More fundamentally, text and image diverge so far that at times they seem opposites; the fountain-piazza near the ghetto, for example, was the subject of the most official proclamations and the least engraved illustrations (153). San Juan recognizes these distinctions locally (presenting them as evidence for "tension"), yet still makes startling claims for the effect of "print" in general.
The "transformative technology" of print unsettles, disturbs, implicates, compels, challenges, threatens, works on the body, opens up urban space (or "fragments" it by listing the marchers in a procession), fetishizes, changes conceptions, "gives new resonance to urban disruption," and facilitates subjectivity (13-14, 153, 95, 225, 171, 165 and passim). Depicting walls and gates "transforms interiority into a heightened desire to move beyond its limits" (224). Combining different genres in one image--as in topographical images of fountains, populated by "locals" and vendors borrowed from earlier prints--reveals "visual vocabularies that challenge each other's assumptions" (151). Little evidence is offered for statements like "these prints prompted users to try out different combinations, activating displacements and differences as they sought to order a disorderly world" (143). The constraints of viewing and the tensions of urban life are frequently decoded, not from the image itself, but from what it omits.
For all its impressive breadth and provocative thesis, Rome: A City out of Print would have benefited from more rigorous editing. The illustrations need more detail (in every sense), and in some cases should be identified as debased copies after sixteenth-century originals (e.g., Pasquino, Fig. 1.2). The bibliography is selective (very little art history and no primary texts), while the index gives only English translations of seventeenth-century titles. Long quotations from contemporary reportage and poetry could be pruned, and the translations (while scrupulously literal) checked for idiom, transcription, and interpretation. (Surely famiglia means the retainers of the pope rather than "family" in the modern sense, 168?) And, while San Juan makes extensive use of Laurie Nussdorfer's important work on Roman civic authorities, other historians are ignored: Carlo Ginzburg's study of the ritualized looting of the cardinal's home upon his election to the papacy (Quaderni storici, 65 :615-36) might better ex plain the volatile movements of the crowd, and the pun on Sack and Saccherti (182), than generalizations about rumor and fear.
This is a gripping subject, then, illustrated with fascinating ephemera, but overtaken by ungrounded theorizing.
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|Author:||Turner, James Grantham|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2003|
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