This essay organizes its readings around a figure of speech, anachronism, that embodies a defining tension in much new formalist thought, one best expressed as a chiasmus: the historicity of form and the formal quality of history. I aim to trouble the lingering binary distinctions between text and context by analyzing the capacity of anachronistic discourse to collapse the boundaries between a literary work's internal means of reference and its external referential compass. Because the aesthetically productive temporal fissures that anachronism produces are not limited to any single literary genre, I examine the rhetoric of anachronism in two historical novels—Alessandro Manzoni's I promessi sposi (The Betrothed) and Giorgio Bassani's Il giardino dei Finzi-Contini (The Garden of the Finzi-Continis)—two texts dealing with the Holocaust—Primo Levi's “Il tramonto di Fòssoli” (“Sunset at Fossoli”) and Robert Antelme's L'espèce humaine (The Human Race)—and poems by Francis Ponge. My argument centers on the ability of certain modes of temporal disjunction to subvert any a priori and potentially reductive belief in the objective historicity of an aesthetic form, especially when this same creative representation emerges as a challenge to a visceral historical crisis. Throughout the essay, I make claims on behalf of the “necessity” and “ethics” of the rhetoric of anachronism, primarily because it provides a corrective against any attempt to reduce the formal matter of literary discourse to the status of mere reflector or mirror of its contextual referents and, correspondingly, resists the isolation or separation of this same formal component from the historical discourses in which it not only participates but also, in some cases, actively shapes.
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JOSEPH LUZZI; The Rhetoric of Anachronism. Comparative Literature 1 January 2009; 61 (1): 69–84. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00104124-2008-009
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