The language of the body and the language of the novella: The interaction of physiology and poetics in the Romance novella from Boccaccio to Madame de Lafayette (101)

Principal Investigator:

Romance novellas draw upon a specific repertoire of affectively determined bodily reactions. Their characters blush, turn pale, go rigid, weep, perspire, laugh, tremble, become feverish, fall silent or loose consciousness

The project focuses on certain bodily reactions and “pathos formulae” (shedding tears, blushing and turning pale, fainting, sighing, perspiring, hair standing on end, feverishness, etc.) traditionally associated with affects in the novellas of the Early Modern period and examines their ambivalent status between physiological determinism and cultural/literary coding, between authenticity and simulation, between nature and culture. The point of departure is the observation that the Romance novellas draw upon a specific repertoire of affectively determined bodily reactions. Whether in Boccaccio’s Decameron, Marguerite de Navarre’s Heptaméron, Bandello’s Novelle, Boaistuau’s and Rosset’s Histoires tragiques, Cervantes’ Novelas ejemplares, Lope de Vega’s Novelas a Marcia Leonarda and María de Zayas’ Novelas amorosas y ejemplares or Madame de Lafayette’s Princesse de Clèves, one will always find countless references to involuntary bodily reactions. The characters blush, turn pale, go rigid, weep, perspire, laugh, tremble, become feverish, fall silent, lose consciousness, feel their hair standing on end, or find their nose bleeding. The bodies are affected by passions, for the reactions of the body are part of the economy of affects which, according to the Early Modern period’s theory of the soul, not only caused disorders in the physiological economy, but was seen as identical with these changes.

The project’s contribution to the science of emotions aims at the following themes whose relevance is not confined to the historical framework:

  1. The modeling of feelings by literary genres (known as “emotional scripts”): From Boccaccio onwards the novella typically integrates various “simple forms” and prose genres and, given a change of perspective, can still be read as metafiction. It thus also reflects the “world models” and emotional scripts associated with these genres;
  2. The literary reflection of theories concerning the somatic dimensions of affects and the historical embedding of novellas in the various discourses on affects (medical, ethical, theological, moralistic, etc.);
  3. Implicit and explicit poetological reflections on the affective and physiological effects of narration, reading and speaking: the therapeutic effect of telling and listening to a novella is considered especially in novella cycles with a framing narrative.

In a methodological sense it is intended to show – as opposed to cultural studies research, which looks at the physical dimension of affects solely as a product of processes involving aesthetic and cultural symbols – how in the literary texts of the Early Modern period the boundary between the nature and culture of affects is the real subject of the story, which is concerned with the complex interactions between aesthetic/cultural and physiological processes. The idea is to seek – in dialogue with other projects of the cluster – a link to current “bio-cultural” models of emotions.

Publications

Albers, I. (2010). The Passions of the Body in Boccaccio’s Decameron. MLN – Italian Issue 125 (1). 26-53.

Albers, I. (2010). Körper – Macht – Leidenschaften: das Erröten der Princesse de Clèves. Kasten, I. (Ed.). Machtvolle Gefühle. 263-296. Berlin/New York: De Gruyter.

Engel, P., Albers, I. (2010). Prousts Poetik der "affektiven Erinnerung": Historische und aktuelle Perspektiven. Comparatio 2 (2). 199-217.

Albers, I. (2009). La razón de los desmayos en El celoso extremeño de Cervantes. Albers, I., Felten, U. (Eds.). Escenas de transgresión. María de Zayas en su contexto literario-cultural. 189-224. Madrid/Frankfurt: Iberoamericana/Vervuert.

Albers, I., Felten, U. (Eds.) (2009). Escenas de transgresión. María de Zayas en su contexto literario-cultural. Madrid/Frankfurt: Iberoamericana/Vervuert.

Albers, I., Felten, U. (2009). Introducción. Albers, I., Felten, U. (Eds.). Escenas de transgresión. María de Zayas en su contexto literario-cultural. 17-31. Madrid/Frankfurt: Iberoamericana/Vervuert.