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Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics


IT Gesture

IT Gesture - Gesture, Perception, Event

Course Convenors: Dr Helena Phillips-Robins ( and Prof Abigail Brundin (, Section of Italian

Over the last twenty years, analysis of gesture has become a pervasive point of inquiry in a vast range of disciplines, including neurophysiology, semiotics, anthropology, phenomenology, affect theory, ethics, political philosophy, and kinesics. In cinema and media studies, an entire theoretical wave was provoked by a single, seminal essay on gesture by the philosopher Giorgio Agamben. For Agamben, all visual art is about the dynamism of gesture, but while paintings offer us “stills”, film restores the meaning that is movement. This module offers the opportunity to examine gesture in an Italian medieval and Early Modern cultural context while drawing upon recent work in affect studies and gesture studies in other areas. We will study the ways in which Italian medieval and Early Modern texts and visual art depict bodies in motion as we pose questions about how works of literature act on a variety of culturally and temporally diverse readers when depicting actions. Seminars will focus on a selection of Italian primary sources, with associated readings, but students working in other cultural areas are invited to bring materials forward for group discussion of methodologies.

All texts are available in translation and while reading knowledge of Latin or Italian is recommended, it is not required.

Seminars will focus on:

Gesture Studies 

Affect Studies 

The Gestures and Postures of Prayer and Liturgy

The Gestures of Dante’s Comedy 

Female Piety 

Preliminary reading:

Giorgio Agamben, ‘Notes on Gesture’ in Means without End (University of Minnesota, 2000)

Massimo Ammaniti and Vittorio Gallese, The Birth of Intersubjectivity: Psychodynamics, Neurobiology and the Self (New York: WW Norton & Company, 2014)

Erich Auerbach, Edward Said & Willard Trask, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature (Princeton, 2013)

Guillemette Bolens, The Style of Gestures: Embodiment and Cognition in Literary Narrative (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012)

Abigail Brundin, Deborah Howard, and Mary Laven, The Sacred Home in Renaissance Italy (Oxford, 2018)

The Affect Theory Reader, Melissa Gregg and Gregory J. Seigworth, eds. (Duke, 2010)

H. H. L. Jorgensen, H. Laugerud and L. K. Skinnebach eds, Saturated Sensorium: Principles of Perception and Mediation in the Middle Ages (Aarhus University Press, 2014)

Helena Phillips-Robins, ' "Cantavan tutti insieme ad una voce": Singing and Community in the Commedia', Italian Studies 71 (2016): 4-20

Jan Plamper, The History of Emotions: An Introduction (Oxford, 2012)

Embodiment: A History, Justin Smith, ed. (Oxford, 2017)

Heather Webb, Dante’s Persons: An Ethics of the Transhuman (Oxford, 2016)

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