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Pre-Modern Iberian Fragments in the Present: Studies in Philology, Time, Representation, and Value


This dissertation examines the uses of medieval and early-modern Iberian cultural objects in the present. It draws on the notion of fragment and actual fragmentary testimonies to study how pre-modern Iberian things and texts are reconstituted and used for various projects of personal, institutional, national and transnational reconstitution in the present. The corpus objects are necessarily diverse in chronological scope, with examples from the medieval, early-modern and modern periods, and touch upon works of many genres: chivalric romance, royal and personal correspondence, early-modern and modern historiography, Hispano-Arabic and Hispano-Hebrew lyric, inscriptions, pre-modern and modern biographies and 21st century book exhibitions.

The dissertation proposes that Iberian fragments are engaged in various forms of reconstitution or production in the present and, at the same time, are held as timeless, unchanging entities that have the capability to allow users to connect with something genuinely old, truly Spanish and, indeed, eternal. These methods of reconstitution include philology; the writing of history and attempts to understand the meaning of past time; the employment of fragments in debates about the origins of literature in Spain or, alternatively, pluralism and cultural sensitivity; and the collection of old books and the rare book market. To investigate the thesis regarding the existence of fragments between production and belief, I build on work on "presence" by Jean Luc Nancy, H. U. Gumbrecht, Eelco Runia, F. R. Ankersmit and others. Presence refers to the way in which the past is recalled or imagined in the present, or to the effects of present objects on observers and users. I compare the situation of the fragment with the status of the concept of presence. Specifically, the dissertation advances that the notions of presence as developed by the above authors reside between the pulls of production and metaphysics, as do fragments.

The project presents four case studies, each studying one of the modes of reconstitution outlined above, a different motif of fragmentation and an element of the above tension in presence, which I call the "presence dialectic." The first chapter posits philology as a means of reconstitution in working with highly fragmentary chivalric manuscripts to examine the impact of the fragments' physical presence on philological practice. The second chapter moves to two 16th and 17th century codices comprised of different "fragments" compiled by well-known bibliographers. It analyzes how early-modern scholars conceived of and brought together past times through the collection of documents, building a framework for characterizing the time of an old, physically present book. Chapters three and four shift away from fragmentary manuscripts or codices comprised of "fragments" to two very different forms of completion. The third chapter studies the "romance kharjas", two complete muwashahat and concepts of representation to examine the fragmentation of poetry by critics as a form of filling in the gaps of Iberian literary history. In analyzing the muwashahat as literature, the chapter investigates the opposition of representation to a less-situational, freer presence. The fourth chapter evinces the thesis of the presence dialectic by querying the meaning of the word "value" in the collection and sale of pre-modern Iberian material in the modern age. It draws on the rise of Hispanism in the United States through an analysis of the formation of the Boston Public Library and The Hispanic Society of America.

The project works across medieval and early modern studies, philosophy of history and cultural studies to assess the reconstitution of pre-modern Iberian cultural objects in the present and their use for present-day projects of reconstitution. The dissertation looks both forwards and backwards, locating the activity of the modern medievalist as one that both historicizes and negotiates a use of the old material in the present. In doing so, the project intends to contribute usable philological studies on specific manuscripts, to further work on presence and to explore critically the meaning of the term "material culture."

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