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Vincent Barletta on Rhythm and the Iberian Renaissance

Venue: Stanford Humanities Center Board Room.

Speaker: Vincent Barletta, Associate Professor of Comparative Literature and Iberian and Latin American Cultures and Research Associate at Stanford's Europe Center in the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.

Workshop with Luis Rodríguez Rincón (PhD student in Comparative Literature) responding. For Prof. Barletta’s pre-circulated paper and optional recommended reading, please email Mary at

About the paper, Prof. Barletta writes: Writing at the beginning of the twentieth century, Paul Valéry would propose an inductive and empirical path for the study of rhythm. He writes: “Since it’s not a matter of defining the thing itself, one should look at the simplest of those phenomena that prompt our use of the word rhythm; examine them closely; isolate and name some general characteristics.” What Valéry suggests here goes well beyond a relatively straightforward refusal to hazard or accept any a priori definition for a term that ultimately transcends classification; what is at stake, rather, is the much more far-reaching idea of advancing rhythm as a point from which to examine the world and our relation to it, as a locus or field of inquiry. It is an ethnopoetics in the purest sense: to observe what is closest and most simple to us in concrete settings – the drawing and releasing of breath, the rise and fall of our feet, the beating of the heart, the Other who greets us and engages us in conversation—and from there develop an account, a uniquely poetic and metadiscursive account, of rhythm and the ways in which our reckoning with it both reveals and shapes what it means to us to be. Taking seriously Valéry’s suggestion that we look inductively at rhythm and the phenomena that prompt us to use the term, I focus upon a specific constellation of ideas regarding rhythm that have their origins in the ancient Mediterranean but have seen further development during the Renaissance and throughout the twentieth century.