Frame, Glass, Verse: The Technology of Poetic Invention in the English Renaissance 9781501727320

In a book that draws attention to some of our most familiar and unquestioned habits of thought—from "framing"

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Frame, Glass, Verse: The Technology of Poetic Invention in the English Renaissance

Table of contents :
Introduction: The Renaissance and Its Period Frames
1. The Frame before the Work of Art
2. The Craft if Poesy and the Framing of Verse
3. The Tempered Frame
4. Poetic Offices and the Conceit of the Mirror
5. Poesy, Progress, and the Perspective Glass
6. "Shakes-speare's Sonnets" and the Properties of Glass
Coda: The Material Sign and the Transparency of Language

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FRAME, GLASS, VERSE The Technology of Poetic Invention in the English Renaissance



Ithaca & London

This book has been published with the aid of a grant from the Hull Memorial Publication Fund of Cornell University. Copyright © 2007 by Cornell University All rights reserved. Except for brief quotations in a review, this book, or parts thereof, must not be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the publisher. For information, address Cornell University Press, Sage House, 512 East State Street, Ithaca, New York 14850. First published 2007 by Cornell University Press Printed in the United States of America


of Congress

Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Kalas, Rayna, 1968Frame, glass, verse : technology of poetic invention in the English Renaissance I Rayna Kalas. p.m. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-o-8014-4541-5 (cloth : alk. paper) I. English poetry-Early modern, I500-I70o-History and criticism. 2. Frame-stories-History and criticism. 4· Mirrors in literature.

J. Poetics-History-16th century.

5- Invention (Rhetoric).

6. Renaissance-England.

I. Title. PR535.F7K35 2007 82I 1.JO•ri, we forefce Such matters, as in jNtllrt·llllll'ts will bee: And, thus, we doc not onely fruits receive, From that lhort fpaceofsi~. in which we live; Rut, by this meanes, we hkewife have a fb rc, In lillll'tst, n•e, and, ttmts th•t p•/Jtd "''·

Figure 1. George Wither, A Collection of Emblemes (London, 1634), IJ8. Courtesy of the Division of Rare and Manuscripts Collection, Cornell University Library.


Frame, Glass, Verse

"a profound kinship between language and the world." It is a Renaissance still tacitly framed by its nonmodernity. Modern subjective consciousness, in various guises, has led to the framing and reframing of the Renaissance as its origin and, occasionally, as its objective other. Perhaps framing still has such a hold on our habits of thinking that this is unavoidable. But it seems that we should at least try to begin framing the Renaissance not from the outside in, but from the inside out: not as the Renaissance has been framed by the protocols of an aesthetic teleology that begins modernity with Renaissance works of art, nor as it has been framed by the protocols of an instrumental reason that begins modernity with early modern science, nor even as it has been framed by the protocols of historical consciousness that begins modernity with the Reformation, but in accordance with its own discursive expression of framing as making, tempering, and craftingY To frame the period from the inside out means not to cordon it off but to notice its joints, mixtures, and temperings. Framing from the inside out would look to the relationship between those features of "rebirth" and "reform" that are sometimes kept separate in our period definitions of the Renaissance, while also recognizing that the European Renaissance was diversified by history and geography. To "frame" the Renaissance in this way would be to acknowledge that the Renaissance is as much a rhetoric as it is a picture. And framing from the inside out would involve looking both backward to the past and forward to the future, Janus-like, as was the habit in so many poetic and visual Renaissance exempla.

The Framing of History Foucault's characterization of the Renaissance may appear flat, but his methodology nonetheless indicates how we might begin to restitute some of the modes of poetic language that are particular to the Renaissance, without framing the period according to the protocols of instrumental reason. For it was precisely the naturalized relation of the modern subject to history that Foucault was writing against. As he describes it, we encounter at the beginning of the nineteenth century the "threshold" of a modernity "that we have not yet left behind": an era in which history is what defines the subject in his relation to everything that is. 28 In contradistinction, Foucault wants to arrest the "impression ... of an almost uninterrupted development of the European ratio from the Renaissance to our own day" and to provide instead a "historical analysis of scientific discourse" that is geared "not to a theory of the knowing subject, but rather to a theory of discursive practice." 29 His method

Introduction: The Renaissance and Its Period Frames


in The Order of Things is to work backward through an archeology of knowledge rather than forward in anticipation of modernity. And in this way he works against the teleology whose force he also acknowledges. Foucault estranges his method from the imperatives of modern history by adapting it to an earlier episteme of the Classical period: he describes knowledge as a "discursive practice" rather than as a philosophical abstraction attributed to conscious reason. I have endeavored to adapt my own method to the turns and tropes of Renaissance poetry in order to describe the temporal process of poesy, rather than its hypostatization as an aesthetic or epistemological object. My aim in following Foucault is to propose a materialist history of the work of the poetic imagination by means of a methodology appropriate to the sixteenth century. Foucault's resistance to the teleological imperative of the modern subjectthe imperative that history reveal itself, in the guise of a picture, as the continuous development of modern consciousness-accounts for his decision, in The Order of Things, to describe epistemological fields rather than to theorize epistemological change. And he distances his method from modern historiography by assuming the guise of an earlier period. Foucault's description of the Classical era contains numerous examples of the frame as a figural device that illustrates the Classical episteme: from the tabula of the relationship between things, to the table or "quadrilateral of language," to the details of the discussion of Las Meninas, to his claim that modern thought has detached itself from "the squares it inhabited before." Foucault's episteme are all framed, but he pointedly resists explanations of the breaches that frame them, leaving lacunae in the places where idealism had allowed ideas to engender ideas. Foucault first balks at explaining historical transitions in his introduction to the Classical era, selfconsciously questioning the legitimacy of framing periods but then demurring from any answer; and he does it again at the beginning of Part II-a rhetorical partition that coincides with the rupture between the Classical and the modern eras-in a section titled "The Age of History." In the second instance, Foucault grants that epistemic ruptures must be analyzed, but denies outright they can be explained. For an archaeology of knowledge, this profound breach in the expanse of continuities, though it must be analysed, and minutely so, cannot be "explained" or even summed up in a single word. It is a radical event that is distributed across the entire visible surface of knowledge, and whose signs, shocks, and effects it is impossible to follow step by step. Only thought reapprehending itself at the root of its own history could provide a foundation, entirely free of doubt, for what the solitary truth of this event was in itself. 30


Frame, Glass, Verse

The closer Foucault's study comes to the nineteenth century, to the inaugural moment of a modernity that Foucault admits he has "not left behind," the more emphatically it refuses causal explanation. Summarizing how the archaeology of knowledge resists the progress of reason within traditional history, Foucault writes in the Preface to The Order if I11ings, Perhaps knowle4fte succeeds in enJ?mderillg knowledge, ideas in transforming themselves and actively modifying one another (but lzow?-historians have not yet enlightened us on this point); one thing, in any case, is certain: arclzaeology, addressing itself to the general space of knowle4fte, to its configurations, and to the mode of being of the things that appear in it, defines systems of simzdtaHeity, as well as the series of mutations necessary and sufficient to circumscribe the threshold of a new positivity. 31

This archaeological method prioritizes space over time, displacing continuous history with "systems of simultaneity." In this respect Foucault's approach bears a resemblance to Ferdinand de Saussure's claim that language, though diachronic by nature, could only be thoroughly analyzed as a synchronic system. Foucault, however, insisted that he was not a structuralist, and his distinction is not to be dismissed: he claims to describe not closed systems but, rather, mutually informing epistemological and discursive fields. Even so, the structuralist and the Foucauldian approach alike depend on a certain framing of the epistemological field: any project that renders discrete "systems of simultaneity" or emphasizes the "space of knowledge" over against diachronic history inherently implies a philosophical act of framing. 32 Foucault would later respond to precisely this charge when he acknowledged that an archaeology of knowledge "seems to treat history only to freeze it." 33 To frame a period marks off the space of epistemological change, but it effectively bypasses the complex question of change itself. Framing harbors ideas, concepts, and events from the historical current of an imagined global teleology. By framing discursive fields, Foucault was resisting, at least in part, the legacy of Hegel's The Philosophy of History. Although many scholars have found unpalatable the idea of a universal spirit working itself out in history toward absolute freedom of consciousness (not to mention the triumph of the German state), Hegel's works have nonetheless offered a persuasive model for explaining the resemblances that can be observed among disparate forms in a given culture as well as the changes in modes of social and cultural expression, from artistic styles to political and intellectual thought. 34 The struggle to replace the "expressive causality" of Hegelian idealism has been a vexed one. 35 Marx's inversion of Hegelian philosophy, while dispensing with the mystified spirit, had a teleological emphasis of its own that later Marxist scholars have often found hard to shake. In The Archaeology (!f Knowledge, Foucault explains that

Introduction: The Renaissance and Its Period Frames


archaeology does have a description of change, one that observes the sequence and succession of discourse rather than thought: "Paradoxical as it may be, discursive formations do not have the same model of historicity as the flow of consciousness or the linearity of language" (169). But in The Order of Things, Foucault simply refrains from any attempt to explain historical change, preferring instead to look at "systems of simultaneity." These frames seem to offer an alternative by dispensing with teleology, but framing alone does not undermine teleology. As Frederic Jameson has pointed out, synchronic modes of analysis imply a diachronic sequence that gives those framed moments meaning and order. 36 Hegel's own history unveils itself as a succession of four framed periods: Oriental, Greek, Roman, and Germanic. Framing is easily assimilated within the very notion of a totalizing progressive history that it appears to oppose. Foucault's framing of history treats discourse as an object (rather than a trace of thought), whereas the picturing of history takes the subject as its point of departure. And yet the importance of framing in the early iterations of the archaeology of knowledge reveals the extent to which that project was still governed by a subject-object relation that codifies time as either progressive change or its suspension. Theodor Adorno's critique of Hegel suggests that an answer to progressive consciousness must work through a dialectic that is geared both to the nonidentical and to the temporal or contingent. According to Adorno, Hegel cedes history and time itself to logic, just as philosophy has always ceded the temporal to the conceptuaP7 "The concept's immanent claim," Adorno writes, "is its order-creating invariance as against the change in what it also covers." All thought that gives primacy to identity over nonidentity observes the archaic logic of the concept: "The concept hypostatizes its own form against the content. With that, it is already hypostatizing the identity principle."38 Adorno acknowledges that in The Philosophy of History Hegel was "set upon a transition of logic to time." Because Hegel's idealist dialectic "conforms to the primacy of the universal," however, it is "resigned to timeless logic." 39 For Adorno, this "primacy of the universal" extends from the philosophy of history in Hegel's work to Hegel's articulation of the dialectical progression of time, even to his descriptions of historical eras. Criticism, Adorno grants, cannot do without concepts, but it must disavow its faith in the absolute identity of concept, reorienting the concept toward nonidentity. "Necessity compels philosophy to operate with concepts, but this necessity must not be turned into the virtue of their priority-no more than, conversely, criticism of that virtue can be turned into a summary verdict against philosophy."40 Over and against the framing of concepts, Adorno proposes a "negative dialectics" that is negative only insofar as it is a dialectics no longer "glued to identity." 41


Frame, Glass, Verse

Foucault's archaeology participates in a similar critique of identitarian logic. "Continuous history," he explains, "is the indispensable correlative to the founding function of the subject." 42 Even The Order