The Gift of Orestes: A History of Post-Roman Europe 526-1535

Wednesday, October 4, 2023 - 4:00pm to 5:30pm
Loria Center for the History of Art LORIA, 351
190 York Street
06511 New Haven , CT

A lecture by Bernhard Jussen, Goethe University Frankfurt.

For more than half a century, a consensus has grown in the humanities that the concept of “Antiquity – Middle Ages – Modernity” belongs to the history of ideas and proves unsuitable for present day challenges to structure the past in-to history. When, since the 1990s, the keywords “secularization paradigm” and “secularization narrative” became fashionable, the hypothesis underlying the old macro-model was sufficiently explicit to heralding the end of a paradigm. The boom of post-Eurocentric debates was the next blow to the universal historical macro model.

All this sounds very familiar. But typically, these new epistemological stances are only unfolded in prefaces and introductions to be accompanied by the continued use of the old epochal terms in titles and analyses. It is difficult to understand why dropping the concept of our 18th-20th century predecessors is not an option. Despite all the updates, the concept remains a central obstacle to shaping new attempts to (re)conceptualize the history of post-Roman societies within today’s political and conceptual frameworks.

So what now? The book’s attempt is to re-conceptualize the societies of those centuries that have been particularly oddly interpreted in the former macro-concept (as “medieval”), and to get rid of the implications of the old Epoch concept still widely used. To this end, the book’s experimental arrangement merely allows to focus on the great variety of aesthetic “negotiations” and discourses - in paintings, drawings, prints, novels, fables, plays, etc.. From around 526 to around 1535, divers media-specific discourses are observed as islands of coherence – here in their similarity, there in their incoherence to neighboring discursive islands. In this way, the limits of what could be said, expressed, transgressed depending on the medium come into view, as do the circles of those capable and authorized to intervene in the divers media. The book is a plea for a strictly mediological reorientation of historical studies.

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