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Michele Kennerly

Michele Kennerly

Assistant Professor - Department of Communication Arts & Sciences


Title: Editorial Bodies: Perfection and Rejection in Ancient Rome

One might ascribe remarks about textual care in written verse and prose from the first centuries BCE and CE to authorial anxiety about a censorious political ethos under empire. In such conditions, polish has been read as a marker of the loss of public function and as an index of a hypersophistication devoid of utility. I contend, instead, that explicit attention to editing is more fruitfully considered a reaction to the pressures of participating in a textual culture whose participants perceived plentitude, strove toward formal perfection, and obsessed about preservation. My focus on ancient Roman textual culture promises to give greater historical texture and different theoretical inflection to assertions about our own age of information. In particular, Richard Lanham’s theory of the attention economy characteristic of high-information environments recasts rhetoric as an art of attention—but of getting it, not necessarily of holding it. For the ancient writers upon whom I focus, editing is a technique of immediacy and of longevity. By pumicing, filing, and shaving their texts, they hope to sustain attention “plus uno saeclo [beyond one generation],” as Catullus puts it.