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??? COHPAnATIST REVIEW ESSAYS JAMES S. AMELANG. The Flight ofIcarus: Artisan Autobiography in Early Modern Europe. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1998. 497 pp. THE ARTISAN AS WORK OF ART James S. Amelang's The Flight ofIcarus contributes to the ongoing critical reinterpretation ofthe complex historical figure called the "modern subject." But where other studies tend to apply complex theoretical schemes to familiar monuments of high literary and intellectual culture, Amelang approaches the question in frankly historical terms and draws his material from strictly noncanonical sources. As indicated in his subtitle, Amelang addresses "autobiography" in the broadly inclusive sense of "self-writing" by members of what Defoe's Robinson Crusoe calls the "middle state" inhabited by "the mechanick part ofmankind." His authors are thus all of popular origins—weavers, tanners, goldsmiths, shopkeepers, and (though more rarely) peasants located on the margin ofthe cultural elite. Some of the texts touched on in Amelang's survey have ofcourse been studied before: Cennini 's Craftsman 's Handbook, Léry's Voyage to Brazil, or Amelang's own prime example, Miquel Parets's chronicle ofpublic events in seventeenth-century Barcelona , are all well known to students of Renaissance France and Italy or "golden age" Spain. It is also true that many other works Amelang mentions have served as documentary sources for investigations ofthe popular ground for or popular reactions to developments in elite culture. Amelang's work is thus anticipated in this respect by Keith Thomas's Religion and the Decline ofMagic, Christopher Hill's The World Turned Upside Down, Carlo Ginzburg's The Cheese and the Worms, Natalie Zemon Davis's Fiction in the Archives, or the innumerable studies devoted to the roots ofAnglo-American "individualism" in the spiritual diaries oflower middleclass Protestants. The Flight ofIcarus is nonetheless distinguished by the attempt to take the measure ofthe phenomenon ofpopular autobiography as a whole both on a European scale and with due regard for the form's immense generic variety. The author's attention to the great formal range ofpopular self-writing is especially noteworthy. In addition to autobiographies in the neo-Augustinian mode that Rousseau paradigmatically professed, the form that theorists like James Olney and especially Philippe Lejeune tend to identify with the very nature ofautobiographical writing, Amelang examines the related yet significantly different genre of memoirs, where the writer refrains from imposing the form of a coherent "life story" on the ultimately random incidents ofhis or her private experience. Similarly , to the body ofProtestant (but also Catholic) meditative journals charting the day-to-day unfolding ofa private spiritual "journey" Amelang adds diaries, ledgers, log books, family annals, or indeed chronicles like that ofParets: documents at least initially conceived not as personal in nature, but rather as quasi-collective records ofnational, regional, or municipal happenings—political disturbances, autos dafe, royal entries, outbreaks ofplague. (And I note that Amelang tellingly calls his earlier translation ofParets's text A Journal ofa Plague Year [1991], echoing the most documentary and thus least "autobiographical" ofDefoe's first-person novels.) AU oftiiis reflects Amelang's instincts and training as a social historian. His primary aim is to assemble data, a work ofcollection not the least ofwhose fruits Vol·. 25 (2001): 151 REVIEW ESSAYS is the annotated checklist of popular autobiographical writings included in an appendix (258-350). Moreover, a leitmotiv of the book is the author's careful reluctance to generalize in advance ofa complete set of facts. This underscores a major contrast with literary approaches to early modern identities. In the May 2000 issue of 7%e Comparatist, I reviewed Jacques Lezra's Unspeakable Subjects: The Genealogy ofthe Event in Early Modern Europe, which approaches early modem literary identity from a high theoretical point ofview. In a series ofbrilliant ifat times overheated readings ofmajor canonic works, Lezra experiments with the Lucretian doctrine ofthe primordial role ofchance in the natural order ofthings. The De rerum natura furnishes a performative intertext whose literary afterlife in Virgil, Nietzsche, or Freud supplies a model for fusing the otherwise contradictory perspectives ofMarxist "historicism" and de Manian "formalism ." Descartes's MetaphysicalMeditations, Cervantes's Don Quixote, and Shakespeare 's Measure for Measure are then adduced as Epicurean "events" whose unpredictable freaks and swerves make the hand ofHistory...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-0887
Print ISSN
0195-7678
Pages
pp. 151-154
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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