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No, but Seriously. The Art and Afterlife of Erasmian Humor

Posted By Marisa A. Bass, Saturday, May 07, 2016

Erasmus’s Moriae encomium (Praise of Folly) has become a cultural monument: something more admired and acknowledged than actively understood. Yet as Erasmus’s protagonist herself would warn, deluded wisdom is the quintessence of folly.

The art and afterlife of Erasmus’s Praise of Folly remains very much to be explored, and goes far beyond Holbein’s famous marginal illustrations to the text. Folly’s condemnations of material devotion and the cult of images, her pointed critique of professional status, and her inversion of received ideas about everything from hunting to government, ecclesiastical politics to sexual desire—all these topoi find trans-European parallels in the works of artists, poets, playwrights, educationalists, and moral theorists well into the seventeenth century. Just as important is the model of Erasmian irony itself, something by no means confined to the newly reinvigorated traditions of paradoxical encomium: laughter becomes a tool with which the deluded absurdity of human self-regard (be it pious or noble) can at once be censured and embraced. 

This session invites papers that query visual and literary responses not just to the subjects that are the targets of Folly’s sermon but also, and perhaps still more crucially, to the tactics of social, cultural, and intellectual commentary that Erasmus innovated at the dawn of the most turbulent and transformative century of the early modern period.

Proposals are welcome from scholars working in the histories of art, literature, and ideas—and of culture in the round.

Please send to the session organizers, Marisa Bass (mbass@wustl.edu) and Rhodri Lewis (rhodri.lewis@ell.ox.ac.uk), a proposal that includes: a) your name and affiliation, b) your paper title c) an abstract (max 300 words), and d) a brief CV (max 300, formatted in list/bullet-point form) on or before the deadline of Saturday, May 28, 2016. Invitations to participate in the session will be sent by May 30, with a final confirmation of participation requested by June 3.

Tags:  Art History  cult of images  cultural history  education  Erasmus  folly  humanism  humor  hunting  intellectual history  interdisciplinary  irony  literary history  mock encomium  moral philosophy  Neo-Latin  paradox  piety (misplaced)  politics  religion  rhetoric  sexual desire  trans-European 

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