College of Arts and Sciences

Renaissance Studies


Works-in-Progress Workshop

Friday, November 30th, 12 noon-1 pm
Ballantine Hall 003

I am pleased to announce the fourth meeting of our “Works-in-Progress Workshop”, a forum where members of the Renaissance Studies group can share and discuss their current research in a friendly and informal atmosphere.

Hall Bjørnstad (Assistant Professor of French, Department of French and Italian) will discuss his paper titled “Twice Written, Never Read: Materiality and Its Secrets in Pascal’s Mémorial.”

When Blaise Pascal died in 1662 at the age of 39, nobody knew what had happened to him the night of November 23rd, 1654. Nobody knew that for eight years he had been carrying on him, sewn in the lining of his coat, a parchment with two slightly different accounts of an intense religious experience he had that night. Nobody knew that the religious and philosophical texts for which he is remembered today, alongside many of his most important mathematical inventions, were conceived in the literal – tactile – presence of the testimony of his own life-transforming religious experience. And when his family found the parchment after his death, they told no one about it. This paper explores the accidents of the reception of the Mémorial as a way of highlighting three related – even analogically related – problems of transmission: first the problem facing Pascal himself, then the problem facing the first readers of the text, including Pascal’s friends and family, and finally the problem facing us as twenty-first-century readers. While my interest in this exploration stems from the centrality of the Mémorial in Pascal’s life and his writing, the project also has wider theoretical implications for the status of texts more generally as material objects. For the Mémorial presents its readers with something of a limiting case. On the one hand, it was conceived and executed by its author to signify even more as a material object than as a linguistic object (since its words were inaccessible in the lining of the coat); on the other, it is transmitted as testimony to an event known to us only through the text itself. What is at stake, then, is our understanding of what Gadamer would call the Wirkungsgeschichte of the text in its most concrete sense: not merely as “reception history” (as Gadamer’s notion is often translated), but as the effective history of the text, the effect (Wirkung) of the text over time, both as a written document and as a material object.

The pre-circulated paper will be made available upon request.

Feel free to bring your own lunch.

I hope to see you there!

Massimo Scalabrini
Director of Renaissance Studies