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Vanitas, Vanitatum, et Omnia Vanitas: The Baroque Transience Topos And Its Structural Relation To Trauma

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Chapter Summary

Cultural reflections about human loss usually appear in the form of retrospect: something is mourned that is essentially and inevitably gone. The bereaved endure their loss by imagining the ongoing presence of the deceased or the missing object or by trying to resuscitate past incidences and moments by means of their imagination. There is, however, another form of reflecting loss particular to early modern aesthetics. This peculiar type of "endured loss" is to be found in the so-called vanitas topos prominent in Baroque literature and the visual arts alike. This chapter investigates the paradoxical time structures of this topos with regard to its treatment of loss and trauma. In vanitas poetry, however, poets generally refer to no such concrete historical incidents. Also, there are no identifiable speakers or addressees - on the contrary: both are mere personae; they are fictionalized as masks or reciprocal topical role models.

Keywords: Baroque literature; human loss; paradoxical time structures; trauma; vanitas topos



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