Tropes and the Invention of Bureaucracy: Prosopopoeia, Bernard of Clairvaux, and the Art of Centralized Administration
Bernard of Clairvaux composed his Sermons on the Song of Songs—a collection of deeply felt meditations on this Biblical book of love poetry—sometime between 1135 and 1153. He wrote the influential Sermons just as the Cistercian Order—the upstart, reforming monastic movement that Bernard helped lead—was developing new bureaucratic structures to administer its expanding international network of monasteries. Taking Bernard’s Sermons as a key text, I pose some new questions tying together theology, literature, and institutional history. This talk investigates how literary style can be a technique of bureaucratization: specifically, I ask how literary tropes are entailed in the medieval history of institutional forms. I focus on the literary trope of prosopopoeia—the figural bestowal of voice and bodily form, or the means by which writing calls forth people from the page. In considering Bernard simultaneously as literary theorist, stylist, and institutional innovator, I ask how techniques of ‘figuring people’ in medieval writing played a role in developing new techniques of administrative centralization. I argue that Bernard’s practice of prosopopoeia acted as a means of configuring the dispersed and distributed Cistercian Order through fictions of bodily presence.
Presented by Julie Orlemanski, Associate Professor of English, University of Chicago. Orlemanski teaches and writes about texts from the late Middle Ages and theoretical and methodological questions in present-day literary studies. "What distinguishes medieval thought from our own, and what links it, are of persistent fascination to me. Accordingly, I have longstanding interests in hermeneutics and historicism. Other ongoing research interests include the Song of Songs, disability studies and the history of the body, narratology, and the secularization thesis or so-called disenchantment of the world."