Obsolete Objects in the Literary Imagination

Ruins, Relics, Rarities, Rubbish, Uninhabited Places, and Hidden Treasures

Francesco Orlando; Translated from the Italian by Gabriel Pihas and Daniel Seidel, with the Collaboration of Alessandra Grego; Foreword by David Quint

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June 11, 2006
528 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
15 charts
ISBN: 9780300108088
Cloth

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e-book

Translated here into English for the first time is a monumental work of literary history and criticism comparable in scope and achievement to Eric Auerbach’s Mimesis. Italian critic Francesco Orlando explores Western literature’s obsession with outmoded and nonfunctional objects (ruins, obsolete machinery, broken things, trash, etc.). Combining the insights of psychoanalysis and literary-political history, Orlando traces this obsession to a turning point in history, at the end of eighteenth-century industrialization, when the functional becomes the dominant value of Western culture.
 Roaming through every genre and much of the history of Western literature, the author identifies distinct categories into which obsolete images can be classified and provides myriad examples. The function of literature, he concludes, is to remind us of what we have lost and what we are losing as we rush toward the future.

Francesco Orlando is professor of theory of literature at the University of Pisa and is widely regarded as one of Europe’s foremost literary critics. Gabriel Pihas is assistant professor, European College of Liberal Arts, Berlin. Daniel Seidel is a freelance translator living in Brooklyn, NY. Alessandra Grego is adjunct professor of English literature, John Cabot University of Rome.

"Obsolete Objects in the Literary Imagination is one of a kind: already a classic in the field of comparative literature, its examples and case studies, analyzed with rare critical intelligence and subtlety, range across nearly every European language and literary tradition."—David Quint, from the foreword

 
    

“With subtle, teacherly guidance, Orlando takes the reader by the hand from the first page on and leads him step by step along his extraordinary intellectual adventure with the twofold result of smoothing out for him quite a few bumps in the road and co-involving him in the pleasure (and sometimes even in the pride) of discovery.”—Giovanni Bogliolo, La Stampa  

"A work which stands confidently alongside some of the 'classics' of twentieth century criticism (from Curtius to Praz and Auerbach)." —Giulio Ferroni, L’Unita          

"This compendium of selections from texts and commentaries on the pertinence of the nonfunctional is nearly exhaustive for Western civilization. . . . The translators have rendered all the texts in English to provide a coherent and accessible presentation for readers without foreign language skills to consult the originals. Highly recommended."—Choice

"There are still a few Freudian or neo-Freudian scholars around. The best of them wear their training lightly, combining what has endured in psychoanalytic theory with other approaches to literature. One of the most deservedly influential among . . . scholars . . . is Francisco Orlando. . . . In Obsolete Objects he devises an elaborate framework to categorize passages from the whole sweep of Western Literature. . . . Orlando casts a bright light on the obscure patterns of literary history. In doing so, he reminds us, again and again, of how much depends on our willingness to listen to the eloquent voices of the past."—Bryan Crockett, First Things