Event—Center for Renaissance Studies

Stop Making Sense: Nonsense Books, Silly Texts, and Semantic Resistance from 1100-1800


What should we make of texts that resist meaning? What might be valuable—or dangerous—about art that is pointless on purpose? How might we interpret speech without sense? This symposium will bring together a multidisciplinary group of experts on nonsense, silliness, and frivolity in the premodern world to explore these questions. To ground our discussion, presentations will focus on the material texts and contexts of this strange and slippery topic: manuscript and print materials that push the bounds of comprehensibility, visual expressions of frivolity for its own sake, and the concrete social and political effects of talking nonsense in both premodern and present-day culture.


Speaker Bios

Thursday, May 26

4-5 pm

Keynote Conversation: Media Nonsensification, Then and Now (via Zoom)

Matt Negrin (The Daily Show with Trevor Noah)
Moderated by Rebecca L. Fall (Newberry Library)

Click here to access this Zoom webinar.

Friday, May 27

9:30-9:45 am

Welcome and Opening Remarks

9:45-11 am

Conversation 1: Community and Confusion

Hugh Roberts (University of Exeter)
“Nonsense and Reform in Early Sixteenth-Century France”

Mira Assaf Kafantaris (Butler University)
“Unsilencing the African Queens of Mocambo”

Katie Bank (University of Birmingham)
"Making Musical Meaning: Nonsense Song and Performance Possibilities”

11:15 am-12:30 pm

Conversation 2: Delight in Disorder

Jordan Kirk (Pomona College)
“Quasi Apicula: Nonsense in the Garden of Delights

Suzanne Karr Schmidt (Newberry Library)
“Monumental Morsels: Erecting Premodern German Food Jokes on a Grand Scale”

Masha Raskolnikov (Cornell University)
“Chaucerian Nonsense or How Does Sir Thopas Read The Tale of Melibee?”

12:30-1:30 pm

Lunch Break

1:30-2:30 pm

Collection Presentation

2:45-4 pm

Conversation 3: Sensing Power

Rebecca L. Fall (Newberry Library)
"White Nonsense in Seventeenth-Century England"

Dominique Polanco (Virginia Tech)
“Making Sense of Spanish Colonialism: Sixteenth-Century Nahua Manuscripts and their Portrayal of the Indigenous Experience of Colonial New Spain”

Adam Zucker (University of Massachusetts)
“‘Hoody doody, All too moody’: Early Modern Lyrical Nonsense”

4-4:45 pm

Final Conversation