Petrarch’s African canzoniere: Lyric Anthropology and the Question of Race
CMRS / Comparative Literature Co-Sponsored Lecture
Ayesha Ramachandran (Associate Professor of Comparative Literature, Yale University)
“Petrarch’s African canzoniere: Lyric Anthropology and the Question of Race”
Is the rhetoric of Petrarchan poetry a foundational discourse of early modern race-making? And what might it mean to investigate early modern lyric as site for reflection about race and cross-cultural difference? This talk returns to Petrarch’s Rerum vulgarium fragmenta, often described as the urtext of modern lyric poetry, to reveal its textual and conceptual entanglement with his unfinished epic Africa. I suggest that the lyric dynamics of self/other in the canzoniere are, at their source, bound up with the challenge of racial and cultural crossing—and that it is this submerged political valence that gives Petrarchan lyric its global mobility and power. Locating the question of alterity between lyric thinking and anthropological thought from the early modern period onward, I consider how “lyric” as a category might be reimagined as a distinct mode of thinking and engaging with the world.
Image credit: from the 1550 Lyons edition by Jean de Tournes. Courtesy of the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts at the University of Pennsylvania.