“Machiavelli’s Tragic Geography”

Location: Institute for Research in the Humanities, University Club Building, 432 East Campus Mall, Room 221.

Institute for Research in the Humanities Presentation by Dr. Kristin Phillips-Court (University of Wisconsin-Madison).

My project investigates Machiavelli’s frequent recourse to images of the Italian terrain in The Prince and his other literary works as a means of defining and communicating knowledge. My study shows how Machiavelli’s writings substantiate more than their distillation into a political theory that stripped morality from politics. Utilizing cross-disciplinary analytical tools to interpret Machiavelli’s geographical imagery, I uncover the surprising centrality and meaning of Machiavelli’s rhetorical engagement with the contours of his native land. Landscape as a subject figures little in debates over themes of conquest that are often darkened by inference regarding Machiavelli’s dangerous secularism. Departing from these scholarly contexts, I combine the tools of literary studies (close reading and rhetorical analysis) with those of other disciplines, namely humanistic geography, art history, history of cartography, and some hermeneutical approaches offered by post-colonial theories. The liminality of Machiavelli’s thinking shines through his passages about the land: combining reasoned observation with poetic imagination, these passages reveal an impatient humanist who observed, tracked, and despaired of his tragically exploited land – yet he hoped, wrote, and dreamed of a united and peaceful “Italy.”

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