Savage Words: Invective as a Literary Genre

University of California

Los Angeles

February 5-7, 2009
A conference organized by Massimo Ciavolella and Gianluca Rizzo

Support for this conference is provided by:
The Ahmanson Foundation
The UCLA Center for Medieval & Renaissance Studies
The UCLA Department of French & Francophone Studies
The UCLA Department of Italian
The Italian Cultural Institute of Los Angeles

Together with the insult and the verbal attack, invective inhabits the most antisocial sphere of language—a sphere one might expect to be ungoverned by any rules or conventions of genre, where scathing ridicule is unleashed with the same heated anarchy that animates its devoted practitioners.

And yet, upon closer examination, invective reveals itself to be one of the most tightly regulated of the literary genres, in which genealogies and norms have been strictly codified since the time of Cicero and Sallust. In fact, manuals of rhetoric, meant for students at all levels, formalize its every aspect—even determining, with clinical precision, the kind of shortcomings to be excoriated in one’s colleagues. Notwithstanding the ironclad regulations to which it is subjected, or possibly because of them, invective has enjoyed continuing favor throughout European circles, being always rediscovered, revisited, and rekindled.

This conference will bring together an international array of scholars to delineate the rules of the invective genre, showing its evolution and expressive ductility, analyzing that vast corpus of texts, which, over the centuries, individuals of every provenance (civil or ecclesiastic) have discharged in an effort to vilify either the ideas or the character of their colleagues, to demonstrate their superiority in the art of rhetoric, or, perhaps simply to vent their genuine loathing for those same colleagues.

Thursday, February 5, 2009
UCLA, Royce Hall 314

Coffee, refreshments
Welcoming Remarks
Brian Copenhaver (UCLA), Director, Center for Medieval & Renaissance Studies
Massimo Ciavolella (UCLA), Conference co-organizer
Thomas Conley (University of Illinois, Urbana)
“Toward a Rhetoric of Insult”
Ennio Rao (University of North Carolina)
“The Humanistic Invective: Mode, Genre, or Meta-Genre?”

Friday, February 6, 2009
UCLA, Royce Hall 314

Coffee, pastries

Session I – Luigi Ballerini (UCLA), Chair

Kathryn Morgan (UCLA)
“Domesticating Invective in Plato’s Laws”
Alessandro Schiesaro (University of Rome, Sapienza)
“Political Invective and its Roman Archetypes”
Giuseppe Mazzotta (Yale)
“Wit and Passion in the Public Square: The Play of Language from Dante to the Early Humanists”

Session II – Massimo Ciavolella (UCLA), Chair

David Marsh (Rutgers)
“The Invectives of Petrarch and His Quattrocento Successors”
Gianluca Rizzo (UCLA)
“Issues of Language and Genre in Macaronic Invectives”
Hélène Cazes (University of Victoria, British Columbia)
“Invective for the Principle: Verbal Abuse and Humanism (Declarations, Replies, and Insults to the Sacred College of Theology in Paris, 1532-1551)”
Frédéric Gabriel (CNR Lyon, France)
“Doctrinal Authority, Linguistic Heterodoxy and Jesuit Orthodoxy in the Early Modern Period: Antinomies, from Confessional Dispute to Literary Violence”
Donald Beecher (Carleton University, Ottawa)
“The Art of Declining Invective in Ben Jonson’s Poetaster

Saturday, February 7, 2009
UCLA, Royce Hall 314

Coffee, pastries

Session III – Gianluca Rizzo (UCLA), Chair

Edward Tuttle (UCLA)
Cretinòpoli, Motteggi and Topopaulisms: Italian Traditions of Intergroup Invective”
Paul Perron (University of Toronto)
“Invectives: A Cross-Cultural Bilingual Example in Contemporary Quebec Society”
Luigi Ballerini (UCLA)
“‘The world is not a horse’: Pasolini’s Epigrams and Invectives”

Session IV – Donald Beecher (Carleton University, Ottowa), Chair

Paolo Fabbri (University of Venice)
“Epigrams: When Poetry Hurts”
Kirstie McClure (UCLA)
“Democracy, Discipline, and the End of Invective”
Remo Bodei (Professor in Residence, UCLA)
“The Righteous Wrath”
Closing remarks
Gianluca Rizzo (UCLA), Conference co-organizer

Need More Information?
Please contact the UCLA Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies by email at or phone at 310-825-1880.

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