Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Robert Bonfil on Jacob Burckhardt

In a previous post I talked about Jacob Burckhardt and the continued use of many of his concepts, despite their refutation. Robert Bonfil succinctly summarizes the problem as follows:

It is probably true that today, more than a hundred years after the appearance of Jacob Burckhardt’s Die Kultur der Renaissance in Italien, first published in Basel in 1860, a good proportion of the interpretative categories Burckhardt proposed have managed to survive the destructive criticism to which the book has since been subjected. It seems equally true, however, that our reliance upon these categories is no longer the same as it once was. On the one hand, the modern tendency to shy away from large syntheses, preferring instead detailed descriptions of very limited segments of the overall picture, using techniques of analysis previously unthinkable, has led to a curious situation: everything that is not the immediate object of such meticulous analyses is left to the old syntheses. The result is a persistence of terms and concepts difficult to characterize unless we call them “inertial.” On the other hand, the growing interest in the study of mental attitudes has led us to reevaluate the testimony of the people of the Renaissance and to discover in it points of contact with the old interpretative categories, which were based, more than those that came later, on that firsthand testimony. (Robert Bonfil, Jewish Life in Renaissance Italy pg. 3.)

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