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date: 18 September 2019

Abstract and Keywords

To an age enjoined to “Always Historicize,” anachronism is an embarrassment. It is not merely getting a date wrong, a chronological error. It is mistaking some aspect of a period’s regulative conceptualization of the world. It typically occurs when we impose our own modern conceptions onto the workings of the past. Sensitivity to anachronism and an understanding of history has generally been regarded as one of the defining features of the Renaissance, much to the detriment of the Medieval, that thereby becomes historically insensitive. This essay works to loosen our disciplinary commitment to chronology and periods by looking at other ways of relating to the past, beginning with a radical reconstrual of Lorenzo Valla’s exposure of the Donation of Constantine. It is not violations of chronology that Valla exposes but bad rhetoric. And it is from the arts of language that the essay hints at alternative ways of relating to the past, through narrative and figuration rather than numerical timelines and metaphysical periods.

Keywords: anachronism, rhetoric, chronology, history, periodization, figuration, Giambattista Vico, Lorenzo Valla, Benjamin, Panofsky

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