This essay seeks to refine the debate on subjectivity in Petrarch's Rime sparse by arguing that while the poems do present a distinct subject position, it is a position thoroughly compromised by passivity. The essay places the poems in the context of Aristotelian and Scholastic theory of “passion,” a term that in its various Greek, Latin, and vernacular forms signifies not only a psychological affect but also a state of being-acted-upon more generally. The Rime's participation in this discourse is signaled by certain features of its vocabulary, its adoption of ancient poetic tropes, and its grammatical structures. In particular, the use of the passive voice, the grammatical expression of the state of being-acted-upon, at key moments in the cycle presents a subject deprived of agency, maintaining priority in the sentence but ceding action to its object. This passive position grants to Laura, as the poems' object of desire, a rarely acknowledged agency and power, and thus produces an inversion of traditional hierarchies against which the poems struggle but finally fail to contain.
Research Article| September 01 2011
Ross Knecht; “Invaded by the World”: Passion, Passivity, and the Object of Desire in Petrarch's Rime Sparse. Comparative Literature 1 September 2011; 63 (3): 235–252. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00104124-1335727
Download citation file: