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Renaissance Now!

The Value of the Renaissance Past in Contemporary Culture

Brendan Dooley

This volume directs a transdisciplinary gaze on the field of Renaissance Studies as currently practised in Europe, North America and beyond. The concept of the Renaissance as applied to a particular time and place is still regarded as being of central importance to the history of thought and culture. The essays collected here raise the question of the contemporary relevance of the Renaissance.
What is the significance of doing Renaissance Studies now, not only in terms of the field per se, but in terms of what the field has to say to contemporary society? In the past, the field of Renaissance Studies has drawn themes and orientations from particular concerns of the moment, without losing its rigorous focus, and has given back crucial insights to those studying it. Could the same be said today? To facilitate a multifaceted answer, this book attempts to cover some of the principal areas of this interdisciplinary field within the humanities and social sciences. Contributors include specialists in history, languages and literatures, the history of science, cultural studies, art history, philosophy, sociology and politics.

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Brendan Dooley 10 Keep This Secret! Renaissance Knowledge between Freedom and Restraint

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1 ‘Del ben vietato il desiderio cresce’ – ‘the forbidden joy holds irresistible allure’ – Giambattista Marino has Sidonio remark to Adonis in his epic- length poem about desire and disaster.2 By the time Marino began push- ing the allowable limits of expression, both in his personal life and in his literary pursuits, attractive transgression was already a powerful topos of Renaissance culture. No young scholar needed any prompting from Ovid’s advice to husbands that ‘nitimur in vetitum, semper cupimusque negata’ – ‘we yearn to have what’s been forbidden; we always want what’s been refused’.3 Already at the first encounter with the Latin Vulgate’s fruit ‘beautiful to the eye and of delectable aspect’ young minds were faced with the tension between contemporary norms and their own behaviour. Just as potent as the urgings of body lust were the mental urgings of lust for knowledge. Not for trivial reasons, the ‘libido sciendi’ was a common theme in the confessional literature, in recognition of the human impulse to curiosity, especially regarding ‘not necessary things’, long before new instruments of communication exercised an incisive inf luence on mental patterns throughout Europe.4 Rather than a debate between freedom and restraint, what the following examples will show, including some new 1 My deepest thanks to the members of the Book History seminar at the University of St Andrews, including Andrew Pettegree and Malcolm Walsby, for valuable sug- gestions as well as hospitality. 2 Adone, ed. Giovanni Pozzi (Milan: Mondadori, 1987), canto 14, octave 220. 3 Amores, ed. Edward...

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