Temporalities and History in the Renaissance
From Firenze University Press Journal: Journal of Early Modern Studies (JEMS)
Étienne Bourdon, Laboratorio editoriale OA / Dip. LILSI
The fifteenth and sixteenth centuries represent a great change in the writing of history and the perception of time. Various cultural changes affecting this period, especially in the field of knowledge, reveal a new relationship between man, the world and its past. Numerous sources help us tackle these aspects: universal histories, histories of France, regional histories or histories of cities, thriving at the time; works of historical methodology such as Jean Bodin’s start to appear, but also the imposing cosmographies from Sebastian Münster, André Thevet and most of all, in this article, François de Belleforest.
These cosmographies aimed at describing the world in the most accurate and complete manner possible, show its infinite diversity, past and present. Through their encyclopedic aspirations, they aim at gathering the entire knowledge available in each region of the world. For the Renaissance reader, these various sources express and build up a vision of the world in which time, temporalities, rhythms, regimes of historicity, the order of time, history and memories overlap significantly to narrate the past and the multiplicity of its approaches. Beyond the simple question of a reassertion of the ancient past, I want to show the complexity and diversity of the Renaissance relationship to time. Incidentally, I contend that, rather than an idea of Time, we need to consider a multiplicity of temporal conceptions, highlight the rhythms of the world at various scales, from the one-time event to the eternity of the hereafter, from a cyclical to a linear time, from divine periodicity to earthly time.
The issue of time in the Renaissance is entirely imbedded in a Christian order of the world and can therefore only be thought of both theologically and philosophically. These multiple conceptions of time in the Renaissance are far from the linear and biased reorganization of absolute and physical time, developed later. This took place in parallel with the process of the disenchantment of the world when human history stops telling the religious meaning of the world. I will discuss this concept below. Through the separation of the celestial and earthly spheres, divine and human realms, it contributes to the assertion of a more autonomous knowledge with respect to religion. However, the time of God does not disappear. It unfolds next into other temporalities, inscribing the world from this point forward in complex, multiscalar interactions, with an increased consciousness of the resurgent present, reorganizing to its benefit the relationship to the past. I will therefore address some of the major questions on the relationship between temporalities and history in the Renaissance: first the question of the relationship between the time of God and the time of the world, then the question of the disenchantment of the world, and finally the question of a new regime of historicity, gradually built around a present emerging from the past.