early modern palimpsestes of venice

The aim of this symposium is to investigate the hybridity of Venice, as it is represented by the three Renaissance practices of listening, performing and collecting. Early modern Venice is a place of acoustic (dis)orientation and multiplicity; a similar structure also emerges in the glittering traces of art collecting, of contemporary and antique objects, and in printing press production, of vernacular and classical texts, both of which the city is pioneering. A case study of how it is necessary to combine the ‘hardware’ of the press with the historical ‘software’ of the city culture is given by comic prints of the 1530s and 1540s. Pietro Aretino’s arrival to the lagoon in 1527—when Ruzante was still writing and performing and Teofilo Folengo, in his brief season in Venice, had just published the mock-epic of the Orlandino and the Chaos del Triperuno—did not immediately spark a new production of staged comedies; yet, it is the diffusion in print of his Cortegiana and Marescalco that justifies the spatial practice of later comedies, anticipating the complexity of the Roman setting carefully arranged by Vasari for the 1542 production of La Talanta. Moreover, in dealing with three separable categories such as ‘citizen’ comedy, a multilingual post-Ruzantian comedy (Calmo and Giancarli), and a more regular ‘literary’ comedy represented by Dolce and Parabosco, it is difficult to be sure which compositions and styles have preceded and therefore influenced any of the others.

As a result, we assume that the most appropriate figure to account for Venice’s repeated exercises of deferral and superimposition is the palimpsest. Jonathan Gil Harris and other scholars have shown, in a different context, that the ‘palimpsest’ has a double, explosive potential both as a scribal matrix and a figure of urban studies. The goal then is to trace a cartography of different cultural palimpsests: some are related to theater, others to street culture, to the dialectics between terraferma and city (including the literature of the villa and the performance of the provincial), and finally to the theatricality of painting—especially as a critical response to David Rosand’s seminal essay “Theater and Structure in the Art of Paolo Veronese” and as a way of investigating Tintoretto’s allegiance to the Venetian polygraphs, documented by Tom Nichols. Among the urgent implications here is an attempt to apply to Italian materials the findings and methodologies of a new historiography of drama that has emerged in English studies at the intersection of New Criticism and Marxism: namely, Bruce R. Smith’s historical phenomenology of sound, Arjan Appadurai’s advocacy of the social life or cultural biography of things and the materialistic conception of stage props as staged properties.