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Obsolete Objects in the Literary Imagination

Obsolete Objects in the Literary Imagination: Ruins, Relics, Rarities, Rubbish, Uninhabited Places, and Hidden Treasures

Gabriel Pihas
Daniel Seidel
Alessandra Grego
Foreword by David Quint
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 528
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  • Book Info
    Obsolete Objects in the Literary Imagination
    Book Description:

    Translated here into English for the first time is a monumental work of literary history and criticism comparable in scope and achievement to Eric Auerbach'sMimesis. Italian critic Francesco Orlando explores Western literature's obsession with outmoded and nonfunctional objects (ruins, obsolete machinery, broken things, trash, etc.). Combining the insights of psychoanalysis and literary-political history, Orlando traces this obsession to a turning point in history, at the end of eighteenth-century industrialization, when the functional becomes the dominant value of Western culture.Roaming through every genre and much of the history of Western literature, the author identifies distinct categories into which obsolete images can be classified and provides myriad examples. The function of literature, he concludes, is to remind us of what we have lost and what we are losing as we rush toward the future.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13821-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    David Quint

    From the age of nineteen to twenty-three, Francesco Orlando was the literary disciple in Palermo of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, who offered him informal courses on English and French writers. To Lampedusa’s dictation, Orlando produced the typescript of the bulk ofIl Gattopardo, and was thus present at the birth of the great novel. He has written a moving, two-part memoir of this formative, if also difficult relationship, as well as an indispensable critical study of Lampedusa’s masterpiece:Ricordo di Lampedusa seguito da Da distanze diverse(1996);L’intimità e la storia: Lettura del “Gattopardo”(1998). In a famous exchange that...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. Note on the Translation
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  6. I What This Book Is About
    (pp. 1-16)

    The subject, or rather the medley of objects, of the inquiry to be undertaken here may certainly appear bizarre at first sight. And not only at first sight: perhaps even the reader who has reached the end of this book will find it hard to summarize in a few words, just as the author finds it hard at the outset. I am persuaded I have ascertained—at length and analytically—the existence of a unified subject of this inquiry. Yet now, in order to provide a brief glimpse of it to the reader, I can find no better way than...

  7. II First, Confused Examples
    (pp. 17-46)

    The time has come to let the texts speak for themselves; but which texts, out of so many possible ones? Their selection and arrangement in a certain order will follow from my intention to begin to demonstrate, in concrete terms, that unity of the subject of inquiry which I have discussed in the abstract in the first chapter. However, it is important to keep always in mind that each of these examples was initiallystumbled uponin that accidental, involuntary, and gradual way I have described (I, 1). In consequence the selection and organization of the examples will somehow mimic...

  8. III Making Decisions in Order to Proceed
    (pp. 47-66)

    If, with the examples of the previous chapter, I proceeded by imitatinga posterioridisorder—the disorder of an inquiry that is still in question—I must now simulatea prioriorder if I am to proceed. I refer to a type of order that displays, one after another, the postulates that underlie the subject of inquiry, and the options or restrictions that give direction to the plan—having reconsidered them retrospectively. Is there a risk of being out of date, which should be justified before carried through to the end, in confronting my subject and my project using a...

  9. IV A Tree Neither Genealogical Nor Botanical
    (pp. 67-205)

    In 45 B.C. Servius Sulpicius Rufus, the Roman governor of Greece, wrote from Athens to his friend Cicero, whom he knew to be broken-hearted over the death of his daughter Tullia. Here as also in later periods, particularly important letters shared in the formality of a literary genre without thereby losing either their intimate quality or their originality. This was the case with the letters of condolence, known as letters of consolation precisely because of the task which their argument was required to assume. In order to shake Cicero out of his private grief, Sulpicius eloquently reminds him of current...

  10. V Twelve Categories Not to Be Too Sharply Distinguished
    (pp. 206-342)

    The semantic tree allows us, in the first place, to suggest an answer to the question we posed in chapter III (8) about the literary substance of our images. None of the twelve definitions of the categories of images takes determinate physical objects into account; all of them, rather, attribute an “imaginary effect” to the various objects from text to text—that is to say, an interpretation of those objects embedded within the texts, which alone give form and concrete substance to abstract subject matters. In short, the images that interest us consist of certain representationsplustheir interpretation according...

  11. VI Some Twentieth-Century Novels
    (pp. 343-374)

    The fragmentary quotations of which we have had our fill were necessary in an essay concerned with thematic constants: our task was to present these in chapter II, to classify them in chapter IV, and to document them in chapter V. I have quoted in their entirety, or nearly in their entirety, not much more or less than half a dozen poetic texts. On the other hand, texts of every genre have not always been commented upon exclusively as the bearers of certain images: if the images sometimes appeared central and dominant in a work, they often entered into a...

  12. VII Praising and Disparaging the Functional
    (pp. 375-406)

    Would I ever have been able to collect, for the images of functional corporality in literature, such an imposing number of examples as I did for those of nonfunctional corporality? The question itself implies a certain partiality in favor of this book’s assumption: the predilection of literature for one type of image rather than the other, its tendency to welcome with the first one a return of the repressed (I, 3, 4). That I did not happen to collect an equal number of examples of the other type of image—of the functional—may be thought to depend not only...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 407-480)
  14. Index of Subjects
    (pp. 481-486)
  15. Index of Names and Texts
    (pp. 487-500)