The Old Talks Series: “Le non-dit in ‘Flamenca’: language, courtliness, and languages of courtliness”

DRAFT – WORK IN PROGRESS [LAST UPDATE: 2014-10-09, changes to the end of section IV]

Because apparently it’s therapeutic to be more open about such things. You know, that work is a process, and that A Work rarely if ever emerges fully-formed ex nihilo. When made by regular humans, anyway. Though this does feel rather like the self-consciousness that smites one when one realises that one has accidentally left home having forgotten to put on a crucial item of clothing.

What follows bears many caveats.

  • there’s loads and loads and loads of text; most of it is from Flamenca
  • some formatting is clunky
  • while this piece is  partly about silence, the unspoken, the unspeakable, and gaps: there are also gaps here that are not of that sort
  • while this piece is partly about jokes, there are some elliptical or incompehensible parts that are not in fact very subtle or otherwise failed jokes
  • some of it is downright sketchy; some of which I’m still trying to figure out from archaic notebooks
  • it’s a work in progress

Further down, in case it’s all a bit much, I have taken the liberty of including one of my Favourite Comedy Videos Of All Time. It happens to be relevant, both to the caveats above and to the piece as a whole. I may add some more videos too, and hopefully they will be similarly appropriate-yet-inappropriate.

On which note, before I forget: here is a first, entirely appropriate video:

Le non-dit in Flamenca: language, courtliness, and languages of courtliness”
International Courtly Literature Society Triennial Congress
Montréal, 2010

Courtly Cultures on the Move (c): Languages of Courtliness


Le non-dit as the inexpressible and unexpressed corresponds to a feminine non-expression of literary silence, with familiar implications of non-existence. Luce Irigaray proposes one solution: “Mais si l’objet se mettait à parler?” (Speculum. De l’autre femme). This paper moves her question to a 13th-century context, looking at Flamenca’s contribution of alternatives or successors to a dominant, culturally-privileged highest mode of expression.

An earlier enquiry into the problem is offered by Ovid’s Heroides through its presentation of other sides, alternatives to masculine and monolithic expression: feminine first-person voice lyric; response by the Muse that instigates dialogue; and the dialogue writ large that is the contextualization of a single work within a larger œuvre. It is not by accident that the Heroides and the Occitan tenso are amongst the materials alluded to by and woven into the very fabric of Flamenca, a densely allusive super-romance that draws on several literary traditions and courtly cultures and deals with matters associated with the non-dit in a novel way.

Flamenca plays out the invention and reinvention of language, courtliness, and a language (Occitan) of courtliness: touching delicately on contemporary affairs, including linguistic politics. The narrative moves from wordless communication to a poetic composition that is the finding–or rather, the rediscovery–of poetic language; whilst playing with language through an ingenious derivative creativity that brings together feminine speech and the very lexis of cortesia itself, best exemplified in the word trobairitz, coined by women in dialogue.


Some explanation: this was a calamity-talk. Due to Circumstances, the original Good version and its PowerPoint were lost. You know how these things go: right before the *&!#ing thing itself. This is based on the last two saved versions, which were Not As Good. I printed out the Good version and it got destroyed on the way to the talk. I printed out and used one of the Not As Good versions, lords alone know which one. I also suffered public transport, getting lost, traffic on the way, dropping a computer, and a Chair who didn’t let me set up powerpoint to project the actual text (despite having made the usual advance request to do so. But hey. You readers get the text.). It was all rather an Adventure. Some kind of message was transmitted during the course of the talk, although the excellent joke that ends, the culmination of the adventure, was cut short by the Forces of Time. There might or might not have been some dodgy time-keeping; it happend to others (including what in my view were brilliant papers by brilliant papers, so it’s not just Adventuresses like me), but then again this was four years ago so who knows.

Also, who cares?

Because, more importantly, a moral of the story:

  • save everything, multiple times, in multiple places
  • have a basic printed version with you before you leave on your talk-trip, in case you have to resort to good old pen and paper and then perform from an annotated old script
  • multiple-check that you’re in at 16.5 minutes dead (thank you François Rigolot)

Anyway. Onwards and upwards, I’ll resurrect what I can here… There are some gaps. Besides those under consideration in the talk.

Also, rather a lot of good old Flamenca. Lots of lines, miles and miles of the sweet stuff. This will, I hope, be a happy reminder for fans, and maybe an introduction to not-yet-fans. And can we please declare a Flamenca Week?

All Flamenca quotes are from Peter Ricketts et al, Concordance of Medieval Occitan, volume 2 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2005); based on the Gschwind edition (1976).


As promised in its abstract, this paper deals with the unspoken and unspeakable and with silence. Or rather, silences: ranging from the more obvious sort–let’s call it a soundless absence–to non-verbal communication, via presupposition, allusions, sous-entendus, insinuations, suggestions, ellipsis, elision, loaded speech, double-speak, assorted ambiguities, and other such sorts of non-dit such as one would find in semantics, psychology, and linguistic anthropology of the last forty years; the term having entered the Robert in 1980, and Ducrot’s Dire et ne pas dire having become a standard work.

Having worked previously on visual absences in Flamenca, dealing with the auditory ones seemed a sensible next step; as with the positive elements in this rich and rewarding text, the end result of analysis is multiple layers and textures: it’s a plural non-dit.

I’ll also be bringing in a slightly different take on the non-dit: recent discussion about silences in philosophical psychology in Matthew Nudds and Casey O’Callaghan (2009), Sounds and Perception–with particular emphasis on pauses–as part of sound perception, and associated discussion of what distinguishes music and speech from other sounds; the Nudds and O’Callaghan volume is mainly in response to Roger Scruton’s 1997 book, The Aesthetics of Music, and the concept of the acousmatic; but with frequent looks back to Peter Strawson’s Individuals (1959) and Pierre Schaeffer’s 1966 Traité des objets musicaux.

As promised by the abstract, I’ll deal with feminine silences: but feminine silence is just the tip of the iceberg. I’ll be taking a slightly different angle of approach from the literary and existential silences and silencings of Cixous, Irigaray, Olsen, Showalter, and so on: away from the silence of féminité textuelle and stereotypical literary femininity. But even my initial readings of feminine-voice expression in Flamenca were looking at the Muse answering back, at Echo and Galatea, and looking for a specifically feminine sort of poetic activity, to do with dialogue, and with derivation and ingenuity. Close-reading of dialogue proper in Flamenca is a larger and longer matter. There are, to cut a long story mercilessly and rudely short, a lot of silences, pauses, and non-dit inFlamenca, and of several sorts; this is a sketch with a few highlights along the way. I would emphasize that the non-dit is at least as important to this work as the dit.

The last part of this paper will return to feminine poetic composition, via links to linguistic inventiveness and courtly language: I’ll be looking at the trobairitz/truphairitz pairing in Flamenca, and its intertextual connection to Raimon Vidal de Besalú’s work.


The most obvious silences in our romance are its lacunae: at once visual blanks and auditory silence; its visual equivalent would be darkness. And its apparent near-silence as concerns reception and influence. (I’ve cut a longer section here, on total silence and its confusions with sensory overload, deafening white noise, and the blinding white-out of true and complete knowledge.)

Pauses in the passing of time, and the relative speed of time’s passing, structure the romance: this has been well dealt with over the last 150 years, and I’d refer you here to, amongst others, recent work by John Moreau and Sarah Kay, the seminal work by Rita Lejeune on the liturgical calendar. And lengthy excurses on the evils and perils of too much time passing: ladies mustn’t keep men waiting too long.

Absences also act to hold together the narrative as a whole, in a mise en abyme of perspectives: the romance opens from the point of view of the court, then we move to Archimbaut, then to Guillem. In each case, the focus will step back, out of view: so, for example, Archimbaut will lurk and peep voyeuristically throughout the romance’s middle section, from which he is nearly absent, popping up at what he thinks is the right juncture in the conversation. Usually not, to comic effect–but also reminding us that he is still there. The first shift in focalization from Guillem to Flamenca–after Guillem has managed to speak his first words to Flamenca–moves (4113) from his interior (leu s’allegra e leu s’irais, leu ha conort, leu ha esmai) to hers (en son cor ha ben retenguda la paraula que ac ausida, remas consirosa, mout si clamen malaurosa, and so on). Making the reader reflect on previous such shifts, because the move across the perceptual gap is nice and clear. The central portion of the romance, roughly half of it, comprises the va et vient and associated communications between the lovers. Moves in focalization from one perception to another, such as the one just mentioned, recur several times. Each time, the movement away from one protagonist obviously moves them into silence; the move back again leads us to reconstruct what happened in between, to fill in the gap; and so it is these gaps, and their reading, that governs the narrative and acts as its motive force.

Pauses in speech are, of course, an integral part of communication. Rhetorical device, behavioural trigger: wait, about to say something vs. wait, digesting. The silence of focus, attention, ears pricked up: metalinguistic marker; hunting for ex., silence communicates here. A crucial social marker: a sign of conversation working is that you don’t have two people talking at the same time, though you can have a conversation where both are silent. Pauses for thought may be ambiguous, and the stillness of reflection may be hard to tell apart from absence of mind.


Reading into silences has already started well before the first shift in focalization, let alone the start of the lovers’ discourse. Good examples of the absent, and indeed other sorts of unsaid and understated: Flamenca’s first encounter with her husband-to-be, and her wedding night: around lines 280 and 332.

005v = 10

00262 assas lai a musquet et ambra

00263 et autras joias que-us pot dar.

00264 –Sener, si la-m voles menar,

00265 anc tan volontiers non anei

00266 e negun luec, pos mi nasquei.”

00267 Le coms lo pres per miei la ma,

00268 ab lui vas la cambra s’en va

00269 et a Flamenca lo presenta.

00270 Non fes semblan que fos dolenta,

00271 mas un pauc estet vergonosa.

00272 Le coms di[s]: “Vesi vostr’esposa,

00273 ‘n Archimbaut, si-us plas, prendes la.”

00274 –Sener, ses en leis non rema,

00275 anc ren tan volontiers non pris.”

00276 Adoncs li piucella somris,

00277 e dis: “Sener, ben faitz parer

00278 que-m tengas en vostre poder,

00279 qu’aissi-m donas leugeramen;

00280 mais, pos vos plas, ieu i consen.”

00281 D’aicest ‘consen’ tan gran joi ac

00282 en Archimbautz, e tan li plac,

00283 no-s poc tener que no-il preses

00284 la ma e non la l’estreisses.

00285 Abtan se parton ambedui,

00286 e ‘n Archimbautz sab ben a cui

00287 laissa son cor que ges non porta.

00288 Regardan s’en vai a la porta;

00289 de lai pren comjat ab los o[i]lz.

00290 A Flamencha non tolc ergueilz

006r = 11

00291 que no-il fez[es] un bel semblan;

00292 soau dis: “A Dieu vos coman.”

006v = 12

00320 a ‘n Archimbaut, e si la nueg

00321 d’aquest dan no-il feses emenda,

00322 ja per poiso ni per bevenda

00323 non cuh que jamais revengues.

00324 Emenda n’ac: el eis la pres,

00325 car la nueg jac ab la puncela

00326 e si la fes domna noella,

00327 car d’aquo era ben maestre;

00328 nulla dona de si mal estre

00329 non fo que, si el la pregues,

00330 endesen non l’endomengues.

00331 Leu pot doncas adomesgar

00332 Flamenca que no-s saup tornar

00333 ni per forsa ni per engien.

00334 Suau la baiza e l’estrein

00335 e gardet si al plus que poc

00336 no-il fassa mal on que la toc;

00337 consi que fos, aquella ves

00338 an[c] non s’en plais ni clam non fes.

Flamenca will awaken2–giving us a sneak look–like Archimbaut the jealous husband at the pertuis–at the secret hidden silent world of women. This sight of the feminine other side of things is of course nothing new: common ground from the Heroides to the Cité des dames, and a consistent theme remaining in current / 20th- and 21st-century writing on, of, about, and by women.

In a later scene, the trope of the unspeakable and that comic drawing of the “nod nod, wink wink” veil is combined with negative speech. This may include negative structures in what is said, syntactically, rhetorically. There may be unsaying. There may be a contrast with other forms of utterance, including writing. Our ever-amusing poet(s) and his titillating, parodic love-scenes: exaggerated to the point of caricature (or pornography, I am unsure where to differentiate in this sort of situation), ridiculous, yet never quite overstepping the mark:

103v = 206

05960 si trobes bona compainia.

05961 Anc Guillems trop non clergueget,

05962 quar ren non quis ni demandet

05963 mais tant con si dons li presenta,

05964 que de far plasers non fon lenta,

05965 ans li fes mais honors e bens

05966 non suap grasir eissa Merces

05967 qu’es, so-m cug, de grasir maistra.

05968 Amors tans plazers lur ministra

05969 que jassers no i es mentagutz,

05970 ans los ha ben cel jorn pagutz

05971 [sol] de baisar e d’embrassar,

05972 e’estreiner e de manejar,

05973 e d’autres jocs qu’Amors aisina

05974 lai on conois amistat fina.

05975 Aitan gran delieg si doneron

05976 quan los motz qu’an ditz recorderon,

05977 que non es homs pogues notar

05978 ni bocca dir ni cors pensar

05979 la benanansa c’usques n’a;

05980 a negus homes meils non va;

05981 e quan dic meilz–non jes tan be,

05982 quan dic tan be–non lo mile!

05983 Jes las donsellas non oblida

05984 Guillems, car mot gent las envida

05985 que de lui amar las sovenga;

05986 poissas lur donet per lausenga

05987 cordas e frontals e frezells,

05988 noscas e fermals e anells

104r = 207

05989 e botonetz plens de musquet

05990 e d’autras joias qu’ieu no i met

05991 qu’eron bellas e covinens.

05992 Quascuna dis: “Totz mos talens

05993 es, bel[s] sener, de vos onrar

05994 e de totz vostres plazers far.”

05995 Al departir no-s poc tener

05996 Guillems de plorar, car vezer

05997 mais non la cuja, don li es grieu.

05998 Mais el la veira ben en brieu,

05999 car Flamenca retornara

06000 al[s] bains tot’ora quan volra,

06001 e soven si fara malauta

06002 quar tals malautia l’asauta,

06003 que-l cor li reven tot e-il sana;

06004 al meins .IIII. ves la semana

06005 retornara, si pot, als bains,

06006 ans que a glieisa ni a sans.

06007 Amdui si ploron coralmen,

06008 e l’aiga que del cor deissen

06009 mesclon ensems, e pueis la bevon.

06010 Un petit fan plus que non devon,

06011 mais amoretas son corals

06012 don [non] gostan vilan ni fals

06013 domnejador outracujat;

06014 e pesa mi car n’ai parlat,

06015 mais tan n’i a que non puesc mais

06016 si-n parle, mas abtan m’en lais.

06017 Quant venc a penre lo comjat

06018 estrechamen si son baisat.

104v = 208

06019 Soven si baison e s’abrasson;

06020 nulla ren non sabon que-s fasson.

06021 Tant lur enueja-l departirs

06022 que vengut es als greus sospirs

06023 et als badails et als sanglotz

06024 tan grans c’a penas n’issi motz.

06025 Pero Flamenca s’esforset

06026 tant c’un petit a dreg parlet

06027 e dis: “Bels dous amics cortes,

06028 mon aver no-us ai donat ges.

06029 Sabes per que? Car tota-us don

06030 mi meseissa e-us abandon.”

06031 Ges tot aisso ad un alen

06032 nom poc dire, ans la coven

06033 pausar soven, tan fort la cocha

06034 lo sanglotirs; tan fort y locha

06035 que sos amix ben entendet

06036 de qual guisa l’o presentet,

06037 e mercejet la-n soplejan,

06038 baisan, ploran et abrassan,

06039 et a penas leva sa teula.

06040 Del plorar li dolc fort li leula,

06041 mais so mal non pres’una foilla,

06042 tal paor a que plus si doilla

06043 sa domna ques els bains rema;

06044 e tan solamens lai esta

06045 que-l front un pauc si remulliet.


025r = 49

01397 Cascuna fes a som poder

01398 a si dons honor e plazer.

01399 Mout trais Flamenca greu trebail,

01400 car mout sospir e mout badail,

01401 mout’angoiss[a] e mout martir

01402 l’aven[c] per son marit suffrir,

01403 e mouta lagrem’a beguda.

01404 Dolenta es et irascuda.

01405 Mais d’aiso-l fes Dieus honor gran

01406 car non amet ni hac enfan,

01407 car s’il ames e non agues

01408 ab que s’amor paisser pogues,

01409 ieu cug ben que pieitz l’en estera.

01410 Ja negun tems il non amera

01411 si Amors, per son jausimen,

01412 no-il o mostres privadamen,

01413 mais il l’ensenet de son joc

01414 quan conoc la sazon ni-l luec,

01415 mais lonc tems plais e-s tenc per morta.

Guillem actually faints more often than does Flamenca:

032r = 63

01801 Cella nug jac ad un repaire

01802 pres de Borbo de .XV. legas.

01803 Amors no-l tenc ni pas ni tregas

01804 que daus totas partz non l’assaila:

01805 Veilant e dormen lo trebaila;

01806 a lui non cal si-s dorm o veilla,

01807 ades l’es Amors a l’aureilla,

01808 et es li vejaire que-l diga

01809 que-s leve sus, car trop si triga.

01810 Ben fa parer l’aia trobat

01811 solet quant tan fort lo combat.

01812 Si fos en un tornei armatz

01813 on agues mil colps pres e datz

01814 ja, fe que-us dei, tant no-il sovengra

01815 d’amor ni al cor non la tengra,

01816 qu’ausit ai dir, e sai qu’es vers,

01817 que trop aizes e trop lezers

01818 adus amor mais c’autra res:

01819 e qui dopta qu’aissi non es

01820 per Egisteu o pot saber,

01821 quar cel ne saup, so diso, .1 ver.

01822 Qui-s tol repaus amor si tol;

01823 per so tenc ben cellui per fol

01824 que vol repausar e jasser

01825 e sojornar a som plazer

01826 si d’amor si cuja defendre.

01827 Ma[i]s qui la vol ausir o pendre

01828 o tener captiva enclausa

01829 tolla de se aisin’e pausa.

032v = 64

01830 Proverbis es: Qui trop s’azaisa

01831 greu er si per amor no-s laiza.

01832 Mout es Guillems en greu torment,

01833 Amors lo pais de bel nient,

01834 plaser li fai so qu’anc non vi.

01835 Ben volgr’aver un bon devi

01836 que-l disses so que l’avenera;

01837 de l’autra part non o vol ja:

01838 Mais vol estar ad aventura,

01839 car esperansa trop segura

01840 non a tan de bona sabor

01841 con sil que-s mescla ab paor.

01842 Lo matinet, quan l’alba par,

01843 Guillem[s] no-s fes gaire sonar,

01844 ans si levet per si meteis;

01845 ges le jorns el lieg non l’ateis.

01846 Siei donzel si foron levat,

01847 ensellat agron e trossat

01848 e no i hac ren mais de l’anar.

01849 Guillems vai al mostier orar,

01850 e diz soven en s’orason:

01851 “Bels sener [Deus], vollas mom pro;

01852 garas mi de mal e d’enug,

01853 e das mi bon alber[g] anug.”

037v = 74

02128 e sopleguet li de bon cor:

02129 “‘na Tor”, fai s’el, “bell’est defor,

02130 ben cug dedins est pur’e clara;

02131 plaguess’a Dieu qu’ieu la-m fos ara

02132 si qu’ens Archmbautz no la-m vis,

02133 ni Margarida ni Alis!”

02134 A cest mot laisa-lz bras cazer

02135 e no-s poc em pes sostener;

02136 la color pert, le cors li fail.

02137 Abtan us de sos donzels sail

02138 e cujet si qu’el si blesmes;

02139 e si-s feira si no-s coches,

02140 ques ab sos braz lo cap li sein

02141 e tan quant pot vas si l’estrein,

02142 et en son lieg l’en a tornat.

02143 Anc non vist home tan cochat

02144 en tan pauc d’ora per amor.

02145 Le donzelletz hac gran paor

02146 quant no-il troba ni pols ni vena.

02147 Fin’Amors l’esperit l’en mena

02148 lai en la tor on si jasia

038r = 75

02149 Flamenca, que pas non sabia

02150 qu’om fos per leis enamoratz.

02151 Guillems la ten entre sos bratz,

02152 gen la blandis e la merceja

02153 e tan suavet la maneja

02154 que ges sentir non o podia.

02155 S’ela saupes qui la tenia

02156 tan douzamen en visio,

02157 e-l gelos fos en pasmaso

02158 tal don jamais non revengues,

02159 non es homs que dire pogues

02160 lo delieg ni la benanansa

02161 que-s dera per bon’esperansa.

02162 Si pogues esser cominals

02163 aitals plazers esperitals,

02164 ben cug valgues un as daveras,

02165 que desir e falsas esperas

02166 e pensar d’aiso que non fo

02167 ni ja non er nulla sazo

02168 adus calc’umbra de plazer.

02169 Quant Amors ac fag som plazer

02170 de l’esperit, a[b] lui s’en torna

02171 dreg a Guillem, e-l cors n’ajorna,

02172 quar tot avans que-ls oils ubris

02173 tota la cara e-l fronz li ris:

02174 so fon alba, e quant ubri

02175 sos oilz, adoncas s’esclarsi

02176 le soleilz que fon ja levatz.

041r = 81

02331 Abtan s’en passon per la plaza

02332 e van s’en fors en un gardi

02333 on le roncinols s’esbaudi

02334 pe-l dous tems e per la verdura.

02335 Guillems se get’en la frescura

02336 desotz un bel pomier florit.

02337 L’ostes lo vi escolorit

02338 e cujet si que-l malautia

02339 de que-l parlet a l’autre dia

02340 l’agues en aissi descolrat;

02341 fort prega Deu que-l don santat

02342 e-l lais complir tot zo qu’el vol.

02343 Guillems entent al rossinol

02344 e non au ren que l’ostes prega.

02345 Vers [es] qu’Amors homen encega

02346 e l’auzir e-l parlar li tol,

02347 e-l fai tener adonc per fol,

02348 cant aver cuja plus de sen.

02349 Guillems non aus ni ves ni sen,

02350 ni-ls oils non mou, ni ma ni boca;

02351 una douzor al cor lo tocha

041v = 82

02352 que-l cantz del rossinol l’adus,

02353 per qu’estai cecs e sortz e mutz,

02354 et aisi-l clau tota l’aurella

02355 cil douzors que-l cor li reveilla

02356 ques autra res no i pot intrar,

02357 ans coven que per joi menar

02358 cascus dels sens al cor repaire;

02359 car le cors es seners e paire,

02360 e per so, cant ha mal ni be,

02361 cascus dels sens a lui s’en ve

02362 per saber tost sa volontat;

02363 e, quan son lains ajostat,

02364 om es defors totz escurzitz

02365 et estai quais esbalauzitz;

02366 e pos mals o bes dins los fai

02367 tornar, meravilla non ai

02368 si jois d’amors, cant es corals

02369 e mescladamens bes e mals

02370 los fai tornar ad espero

02371 a lur senor, si-l[s] en somon.

02372 E tut li sen an tal usage

02373 que, se l’us formis so message,

02374 l’autre de re non s’entremeta,

02375 mais tota s’ententio meta

02376 a lui ajudar e servir,

02377 si que tut aion un consir;

02378 e per cesta rason s’ave

02379 qui pessa fort que meinz ne ve,

02380 men[s] sen e men[s] parla et au;

042r = 83

02381 e ja no-l toc hom trop suau,

02382 cel colp non sentira negeis;

02383 zo ve chascus per si meteis.

02384 Le rossinol[s] sa voz abaissa

02385 e de chantar del tot si laissa

02386 sempre que-l sein auzi sonar.

02387 “Sener, ben es ora d’anar”,

02388 dis l’ostes, “oimais a la messa.”

02389 Guillems enten, car plus non pensa,

02390 e diz: “Hostes, aisi co-us plaz,

02391 qu’ieu la voil esser plus viatz

02392 que sia la messa moguda

02393 ni gaire de la gent venguda.”

02394 –Sener, abora lai serem.

02395 Eu e vos el cor intrarem,

02396 car ieu sai legir e cantar

02397 quesacomet, mais non ges clar.”

02398 –A! bels ostes, que ben aiatz!

02399 Perque so vos mi celavatz?

02400 Per vostre’amor eu cantarai

02401 ab vos, que de cantar pron sai.”

As is also the case with her faint, these are moments of revelation (and rapture by Amors), but the intense experience is misread as its contrary, an absence. A re-enactment of languishing lyric lovers in, for instance, Jaufre Rudel and Arnaut de Mareuil; death and desire, nothingness. The faints will feature addresses to an absent, silent, tormenting lyric lady.

Guillem’s faintings and any stereotypically-associated femininity seem to be associated with his failure as a courtly lover. Which he is of course destined to do, being a fenera d’amor cortes. To be fair, this is also because he is unable to produce the right words, on which more in a moment.

Flamenca may not be the brightest spark in literary history, but even she has not failed to notice Guillem’s frequent fits of the vapours. She remarks to him somewhat tartly that silence is not courteous, when Guillem reacts to her proposal that they end the fling:

06823 Guillems fon sai tant esmagatz

06824 qu’entre-ls braz casec ablesmatz

06825 de Flamenca, sa dous’amiga;

06826 et ill non sap alres que[-i]l diga,

06827 quar laissar no-l vol per amor

06828 ni auza cridar de paor,

06829 mais ben ac de plorar lezer.

06830 Tant si ploret, ses remaner,

06831 c’ap l’aigueta que del cor mou

06832 e per los oilz ades li plou

06833 lo fron li moilla e-l menton

06834 e la cara tot environ,

06835 e dis: “Amix, consi estatz

06836 que vos a mi ar nom parlatz?

06837 Es cortezia ques estetz……………… two lines writ

06838 que vos ab mi ar nom parles?”…… one [JO’B]


And here is what happens next, over onto the next folio…

118v = 236

06839 Guillems la vos e-l plor enten,

06840 per pauc le cors d’ira no-l fen;

06841 tan gran dol a e tal vergoina

06842 a revenir mot lonc tems poina,

06843 et a grans penas li respon,

06844 car li suspir que de preon

06845 del cor a la bocha veniun

06846 la vos e-l parlar li tollion;

06847 pero si dis: “Cant mi dises

06848 qu’ieu de vos mi parta voles,

06849 no i a plus mais que-m partisses

06850 lo cor per miei e m’aucisses.”

06851 Flamenca dis: “Beus dous amix,

06852 ja es vos tam pros e tan rix,

06853 tan cortes e tan conoissens,

06854 que ben vezes que totz mos sens

06855 es en vos servir et onrar;

06856 e si-us podias neis pensar

06857 qu’ie-us pogues far majors honors,

06858 a mi seria grans douzors,

06859 e volontiera o faria,

06860 que ja per ren non remanria

06861 que-us vueillas, fos sens o folleza.”

06862 –Douza domna, vostra proesa

06863 e vostre sens es tan complitz

06864 qu’el mon non es homs tan afflitz

06865 que vos conort no-il donasses.”

06866 Adonc si baizon ben mil ves

06867 e predon comjat si con tain.

06888 mais Flamenca, coma cortesa,

06889 ab son amic dos motz parlet

06890 e dis: “Amix!” pueis lo baiset,

06891 “ab cest baisar mon cor vos liure

06892 e prenc lo vostre que-m fai viure.”

06893 Guillems respon: “Domna, e[u-]l prenc

06894 per tal covinent e-l retenc

06895 ques ieu en luec del mieu lo tenga,

06896 e prec vos del mieu vos sovenga.”

One interpretation would have Flamenca win the courtly game (see Raimon Vidal below). She does so in a facetious and flippant sense: it is because she faints the least. More seriously: it is because she exhibits the greater control and mesura. Even more seriously: Flamenca has grown up, in this, the other side of the masculine éducation sentimentale / Bildugsroman. She has outgrown the trapping of vapid feminity, successfully undermined (if not overthrown) imposed conventions of behaviour and identity, and is able to act / play as a free agent, in her own interests, in the great game of courtly love and life. (I did nearly add “on her own terms” and suchlike, but that might be going too far into over-reading.)


The use of visual disguise–Guillem as tonsued cleric, Archimbaut growing a beard, Flamenca over-veiled—is paired with verbal disguises: words are made to look opaque. Courtly composition IS tricky, and this is appreciated by both sides. An obvious example is the use of senhal and other in-joke non-dit (I think, also, increasingly so in the final part of the romance): Na Tor, the lovers’ salutz, the senhal Bella de Beaumont, and indeed all named persons in our romance.

Here is an example of the trobar process–that is, what trobadors do. It is not (just) a matter of finding the right words, but making sense of them that counts. Composition includes reading and rereading, interpretation, and using what is there to build a next part; writing in reference and reply to what precedes it. One looks at words, at gaps between words, at what is around them. When looking for the right next word, all that comes into play, as well as using and being attentive to the finding-process: finding that one is in process of saying or has already said the right word, and then disentangling the right one from its surroundings.

04537 –Aujas cal lison ai apresa,

04538 non vist tan leu ni tan cortesa:

04539 Mur mi.” Alis respont adonc:

04540 “Si m’ajut Dieu, cochatz es donc!

04541 Domna, fort vos deves penedre

04542 e vaus Amors colpavol rendre

04543 quar hanc pensest qu’el si penses

04544 causa que a vos enujes.”

04545 Margarida no-s pot tener

04546 non dig-un pauc de son plazer:

04547 “Domna”, fai s’il, “ben puesc jurar

04548 seguramen, ses perjurar,

04549 qu’ieu [anc] non vis aici bel clerc;

04550 et on plus sas faissos encerc

04551 plus belz mi par e plus complitz.

04552 Si es segon faissos aibitz,

04553 non sai nul home tan asaut;

04554 be-l deuri’om amar de saut;

04555 e Dieus volla que-l sieu saber,

04556 domna, si-us plas, voillas saber.

04557 E d’aisso no-us meravillez

04558 si nos volem que vos ametz,

04559 quar mout val mais d’amic parlar

04560 que de marit que fai plorar.

04561 …………………………………………………..iskip

04562 del respondre vos apensatz,

04563 quar ben es obs al mieu vejaire;

04564 mon sener non estara gaire.

079v = 158

04565 E nonperquant tost er pessat,

04566 qu’ieu ai, so-m cug, bon mot trobat;

04567 mas avan dires vos lo vostre

04568 et Alis lo sieu, qu’eu lo mostre.”

04569 –Amiga, per que i pessaram

04570 si de vos bon mot aviam?”

04571 –Voles, domna, doncas qu’iei-l diga?”

04572 –S’o voil! Ans vos o prec, amiga.”

04573 –Ar augas donc se i ave:

04574 Ai las! –Que plans? –Muer mi. –De que?”

04575 –De que? Deu!” –Hoc, domna, bos es?”

04576 –Margarida, trop ben t’es pres

04577 e ja iest bona trobairis.”

04578 –O eu, domna, mellor non vist,

04579 daus vos e daus Alis en fora.”

04580 En Archimbautz plus non demora,

04581 ans venc mugent coma taurelz,

04582 de malesa toma sas pelz

04583 e dis: “Qu’en faitz? Es mellurada?

04584 Ben garretz quant seres disnada.”

04585 –Sener”, so respon Margarida,

04586 ben agra obs mieilz [fos] garida”,

04587 e fa-il de la lenga bosi.

04588 Cascuna en som poin s’en ri.

4810s-20s: we see how a very full literary activity, of reading/reception and interpretation and production, is a regular practice and habit for Flamenca and her ladies. It is perhaps not the most expected of spiritual exercises, this consolation:

04803 e fort bon son ara dimergue

04804 la merce [Deu] e del bel clergue,

04805 que ben aia qui l’ensenet

04806 ni hanc primas letra-l mostret!

04807 Quar ben conosc que pa ni sal

04808 negus hom ses letras non val,

04809 e trop ne val meins totz rix hom

04810 si non sap letras queacom,

04811 e dona es trop melz cabida

04812 s’es de letras un pauc garnida.

04813 Ara digas, fe que-m deves,

04814 si non saupses tan con sabes

04815 ques agras fag ar a dos anz

04816 qu’aves durat aquestz afanz?

04817 Morta foras e cruciada!

04818 Mais non seres ja tan irada,

04819 quan leges, que l’ira no-s fonda.”

04820 No-s pot tenir que no-il responda

04821 Flamenca, e dau[s] si l’acolla:

04822 “Amiga, vos non es ges folla,

04823 e be m’acort d’aitant ab vos

04824 que negus repaus non es bos

04825 ad home si letras non sap,

04826 ans es vilzis et quais mort sap;

084r = 167

04827 e ja tant non encercares

04828 que negun home atrobes,

04829 si letras sap, que non volgues

04830 ancara mais aver apres;

04831 e cel que non sap ne volria

04832 ancar apenre si podia.

04833 E qui-l saber pogues comprar,

04834 anc non vist home tan avar

04835 que sivals un pauc non compres,

04836 sol que a vendre n’atrobes.

04837 Ja hom que letras non saupes

04838 d’aiso no-s fora entrames.”



And another lesson: sometimes it is better to say nothing. For Guillem has quite different problems with composition; in discussion with Amors and himself, in psychomachia, he exhibits an unfortunate impotence.

067r = 133

03841 Guillems no i poc gaire dormir;

03842 trobat ha un novel consir,

03843 et a pessamen que dira

03844 a si dons quan paz li dara

03845 e dis: “Amors, que faitz, on ses?

03846 Que dirai eu? car no-m venes

03847 esseinar so que deurai dire.

03848 Ben pauc vos cal de mon consire!

03849 Vos es sorda o adormida,

03850 esperduda o amudida,

03851 o erguillosa tan qu’en re

03852 non tenes ar autre ni me.

03853 Cujas o far si con fes Dieus

03854 quan trames los apostols sieus

03855 e dis lur: “Baron, quan venres

03856 davan los reis, ja non penses

03857 que-us digas, que be-us avenra

03858 aqui eis so c’obs vos sera?”

03859 Anc apostols tan gran paor

03860 non ac davan emperador

03861 con eu ai ancui de faillir

03862 davan cella cui tan desir.

03863 E nonperquant tot proarai

03864 vostre sen, et assajarai

067v = 134

03865 si m’aures ben apparellat

03866 que sapcha dir bon mot cochat,

03867 quar ben a obs que sia leu

03868 so que dirai, e bon e breu,

03869 e tal com posca leu entendre

03870 cella que-m fai lo cor encendre.

03871 Mas ren non sai qu’ieu deja dir,

03872 et on plus fort eu m’o albir

03873 on meins atrop mot que li faza.

03874 Mas folz semble ques ara jassa.”

03875 Abtan s’en eis e son uis clau,

068r = 135

03907 Guillems saup mout ben sa fasenda,

03908 l’ofizi saup ben e l’uffrenda

03909 ce cor, e la comunio.

03910 Le capellas non fes sermo

03911 ni mandet festa la semana.

03912 Guillems hac vos clara e sana

03913 e canta ben apertamen

03914 a l’Agnus Dei, et el pren

03915 pas, en aisi con far devia,

03916 et a son oste, que sezia

03917 el cor, desempre n’a donat.

03918 L’ostes non ho a ges celat,

03919 si ben s’era lains el cor,

03920 quar als borzes en dona for,

03921 e-l pas pel monasteir s’esten.

03922 Guillems vai son libre queren,

068v = 136

03923 e per aiso demora tan

03924 qu’en Archimbaut[z] ne prend’avan

03925 qu’el sia lai defor vengutz

03926 on estai sos jois escundutz.

03927 Per nulla ren [non] vol baisar

03928 n’Archimbaut, neis [s]a pas donar;

03929 abtan s’en eis, e Dieus l’ajut!

03930 car hanc mais per tan esperdut

03931 no-s tenc per ren con el fai ara.

03932 Non levet sos oilz ni sa cara

03933 per so que sai ni lai gardes.

03934 Vaus Flamenca s’en vai ades,

03935 e cuja ben certanamen

03936 ab si dons aia parlamen

03937 e-l pusca dir sivals u mot,

03938 mas sobr’Amor o laissa tot

03939 e dis: “S’Amors hui non m’aduz

03940 de mon desir a qualque luz,

03941 jamais en leis no-m fisarai;

03942 mas, si Dieu plaz, be i avenrai.

03943 Amors non fail ges a la cocha,

03944 mas a mi par que trop i locha

03945 pel gran desir que-l cor m’afflama.”

03946 Et aitals es totz hom ques ama.

03947 Guillems davan si donz estet;

03948 quan il lo sauteri baiset,

03949 el li dis suavet: “Hailas!”

03950 Pero ges on o dis tam bas

03951 ques il fort be non o ausis.

To be fair, he is acting properly in character, true to himself. For he is a fenera: not a true lover, in at least three senses. He is a fake, play-acting at love, not doing and living it properly, in truth; playing sterile word-games. He is a fake and a rake: a faker and feigner, a deceitful fictioneer who makes things up, his intention and aim to deceive and seduce for his own end / to get his own end away. He is also a fiction, a figment of Flamenca’s imagination, a glittering illusionthat shimmers between his bedazzling her and her deluding herself.

Contrast the passage above with the comparative ease with which women find the right words, together:

04463 Flamenca es en gran doptansa;

04464 a si meseissa pren esmansa

04465 se poc auzir so qu’il a dig

04466 sel qu’en son cor o a escrig.

04467 “Alis,” dis il, “vostr’ensenat

04468 ai hoi retrag e comandat;

04469 ausist o tu, bell’amigueta?”

04470 –Eu non.” –E tu, Margarideta?”

04471 –Domna, eu non. Con o dises?

04472 Digas nos o un autra ves;

04473 adonc sabrem s’ausir o poc.”

04474 –Voles o vos?” –Domna, nos hoc.”

04475 –Vai sus, Alis, e contrafai

078r = 155

04476 que-m dones pas si con il fai;

04477 pren lo romanz de Blancaflor.”

04478 Alis si leva tost, e cor

04479 vas una taula on estava

04480 cel romans ab qu’ella mandava

04481 qu’il dones pas, e pois s’en ven

04482 a si dons, c’a penas si ten

04483 de rire quan vi ques Alis

04484 a contrafar ap pauc non ris.

04485 Lo romanz ausa davaus destre

04486 e fa-l biaissar a senestre,

04487 e quan fes parer que-l baises

04488 il dis: “Que plans?” et en apres

04489 a demandat: “Et ausist o?”

04490 –Hoc, dona, ben, s’en aquest to

04491 o dissest oi, ben o auzi

04492 cel que-us fai parlar cest lati.”

04493 Cesta lisson ben recorderon

04494 la semana, tro que aneron

04495 al mostier on Guillems esta

04496 ben apensatz que respondra.

04497 Quan fon sazos no-s demoret

04498 de penre pas, ans la portet

04499 pel mostier a tota la gent.

04500 Vas si dons venc prumeirament

04501 que non s’estreis tan de la benda

04502 con sol, per so que mielz l’entenda.

04503 Quant il pren pas, il dis: “Mor mi”,

04504 et aitan tost part si d’aqui.


On the one hand, that’s a contrast with the rapidity and brilliance of courtly discourse, suggesting that verbosity and sociability are natural advantages in courtesy. Or one might argue for a rather misogynist interpretation: that this is glibness, words uttered without sufficient pause, and women are naturally gifted with the gab–in both the Anglo-Irish and Occitan senses of the word–and that this is evidence for their falseness: therefore they cannot love truly.

fenera d’amor cortes, truphairitz, trobairitz, per gein at end of this section, before RV bit
[sorry, this is one these bits that needs serious tweaking. Possibly even in this sense:]


Excessive interpretation, and misinterpretation occupy a considerable portion of Flamenca. Thinking is good (see good judges); but you can think too much. Read too much into what little is there: and here it is comically little.
6250s, 6010s: here we have an excess of courtliness. Trying too hard, sins of excess (fits well with mesura etc.)

A note, with a foot back in he real world of the here and now: Some recent research in experimental neuropsychology suggests that there is a distinction between sound as physically-produced phenomenon, and sound perception, by its recipients (human and other animal): the debate seems to be whether or not this supports phenomenological work on perception, reception, and interpretation. Moving from focus on source and intention, to audience reception and reading: including the identification of parts of the brain that would appear to deal with meaningful sound and its interpretation. It’s a matter of reading into rather than reading out of: presaging or echoing current work on speech perception, Flamenca has an emphasis on reception and interpretation rather than utterance and intention. Phenomenological perception is also, at a higher level of abstraction, a matter of resonances across readings and in the critical reception, reading, and interpretation of texts. 3



Neuroscience data, metadata, and philosophical work on it also point towards the need to widen notions of meaningful sound, including sorts of sound that have previously been treated as non-speech.

The total soundscape includes background noise, from which signal may be disentangled; also white noise. In the case of Flamenca we’re looking at unthinking speech: utterances without consideration.

Guillem’s courteous chatter with Flamenca at the start of every meeting in the baths. Gabble, nonsense, and chatter: white noise. This is quite different from the silence of complete absence: and as communicatively difficult, as the public mask lets no intended meaning through. Women’s chat is not only a possible indicator of their incapacity for truth, returning again to
4450, domnas parlon volontiers:
Guillem’s ease with singing contrasts with his own creative impotence:

The distinctions between speech and song are interesting, but would be a tangent at this point;4 suffice it to say that parlar is distinguished from silence, gesture, facial expression, touch, laughter, and the lusty ringing of bells.
his crass superstition (prayers, gestures);
…There is a lot of sighing going on in Flamenca
I’m treating sighs, for non-dit purposes, as distinct from pauses. Heavy breathing isn’t exactly still–after all, it shows inner turmoil–and its second part, the expression of breath, is after all an expression. Even though, in the case of Guillem’s Ai las, it’s left open that we may be looking at a trobar that’s accidental and unintentional: properly amorously inspired, but with meaning very much in the mind of the recipient, and again that division between intention and source, and interpretation.

Musique concrète and Messiaen: any sound has the potential to be musical-or not; it’s not an intrinsic quality, nor necessarily attached to its means of production.

Flamenca’s deployment of echo: we have song that’s meaningless, meaningful instances of birdsong, and the lovers’ discourse itself is derived directly from the basic human rhythms of heartbeat and breathing. Again, a move away from source and intention, to perception: in the manner of John Cage’s 4 minutes and 33 seconds.

Contrary to Pythagorean acousmatics, hearing without seeing: Flamenca shows us the perils of muffled and veiled communication, and the irresistible drive to listen at keyholes AND peer through holes in walls, even if that means one needs to dig out the apertures oneself. 5

The lovers’ misinterpretations and overinterpretations highlight the insufficiency of pure speech, and a need for cross-mode, multiple-mode communication. Though it is most obvious that vision is affected–Flamenca’s imprisonment and covered up in church; her blinding others with her beauty; Guillem dazzling her with his fancy clothes–Flamenca

In order to make full sense of sensory input, we need to see the full picture: face recognition, motion bounce illusion, McGurk effect. Flamenca’s shifting focalizations–court, Archimbaut, Guillem, alternation between the lovers, Flamenca, court.

Floire et Blanchefleur is the romance used by Flamenca to reenact her first encounter with Guillem, which she performs with her ladies, as part of her attempt at full understanding: I’d see here a reference to that other ekphrastic object, the tomb of Floire, with its visual and auditory illusions.



We don’t know which came first, Raimon Vidal’s work or Flamenca (or, more exactly, the oldest parts of what is now Flamenca). Whichever did, whatever the intent, and in whichever way the intertextual commentary goes, conversation there is: and especially if Flamenca is read as, amongst several things, a practical treatise on composition, and a contribution to debates on the relationship between courtesy–both in speech and in general behaviour–and true love. Can measure be compatible with sincerity? Are clarity, understanding, and true knowledge possible, in and of themselves–stressing the production and intention end of communication–or only perception and reception–with an emphasis on interpretation, and its risks of over-interpretation and misinterpretation?

The Razos de trobar: as Marshall puts it in his edition, as a work of literary criticism and theory it’s “a disappointment.” What’s worth noting in the present context is the emphasis on avoiding errors and aiming for grammatical and lexical purity, to the point of hypercorrectness, and–effectively–a literary language that has separated from common parlance. Now, Raimon’s other work share traits behind these aims: being aware of potential errors and avoiding them, and the desire for clear and unambiguous explanation, slowed-down and blow-by-blow.

Abrils issi e mays intrava is (amongst other things) a cynical practical guide from an older trobaire to a younger practitioner of that art; including nobility of heart, the cor noble.

En aquel temps c’om era jaus: continuation of the idea of that inner nobility, and a clash between courtliness and truth, between measure and excess–and Love falls on the side of an anti-courtly sincerity. En aquel temps sets up a judici d’amors, in which Huc de Mataplana will consider the case of two ladies disputing their rights to a man. Here are, briefly, the cogent points. In a manner reminiscent of Flamenca’s (and other contemporary) use of lyric citation, and of heavily-allusive vocabulary, En aquel temps makes even more extended use of lyric poems, here as supporting evidence and key witnesses in argument. The points debated resonate between our two texts:

  1. elaborating the doctrine that true love is associated with the heart, and its nobility: amor coral.
  2. socially-acceptable periods of time in love: the one-year rule, the excess of a seven-year wait, deceitfulness vs. trust: including an accusation of acting “per gein” that echoes the per gein and triumph of trickery in Flamenca
  3. some specifics: excessive speech that is too free, and fluent, unrestrained: including “estai en pauza” and “trop parlar” as a contrary to proper measure.
  4. the importance of rumour, hearsay, and reputation to the forming of opinion and the enhancement of qualities (and, in both texts, satirical play with this idea)
  5. Accusations of misunderstanding, with misinterpretation being based on missing a poetic allusion.
  6. The importance of interpretation: the key scenes are retold several times. The first time is viewed directly. The second, a reporting of events by the second lady to the first, with a few differences between the two accounts. A third version is ellided (or, alternatively, we have already met it): being the joglartz’s account to Huc de Mataplana. A fourth one, in his judgement.

Our judge, Huc de Mataplana, is pros, veray, molt cortes, suau: calm and considered. The associations of courtesy with pausing for thought are reiterated —estet un pauc, that pause again–and in that pause, cant un pauc se fon acordatz: note that he pauses because
ades aital baro / volon estar suau e gen
which is not to be confused with
anc dessebre–ever deceiving anyone– or being empty-headed–per sofraita de razo. Though the grand pause is only to postpone judgement until after a good night’s sleep.

Huc’s retelling differs significantly from previous versions / episodes in that same text: focussing on the facts of the case, noting, for instance, that he does not know the truth and cannot prove that the first lady erred against her friend except in words–mas sol en dig–with two double senses here: the first, no sai ni puesc en ver proar, alludes to the impossibility of proving anything by means of poetry; in the second, mas sol en dig alludes to the lady’s error, or to the impossibility of proving anything en ver but only en dig: thus, through straight-forward narrative accounts, minus the allusions (be they explicit or implicit). Prose is more truthful than verse: it contains the dit but evades all other communicative content that is open to uncertainty and instability, including the non-dit.

However, there is no escaping verse: as the case’s judgement balances on the inconstancy of love–with our lover condemned and indeed publicly shamed as a flighty sort–Huc’s argument is not free of lyric inserts: a moderate, tempered, and judicious sprinkling of lyric back-up to his razo: including a Raimon Vidal citation, pitting love as constant, firm, unremitting desire, cor d’amor e veray amistat against cor trichador e trobat en blandirs. Which may well remind the reader of our Guillem the feneraas well as the truphairitz-trobairitz Flamenca.

The end result, in Huc’s experiment with favouring the dit over the non-dit? A lose-lose for the protagonists, as far as the tale tells, but the audience wins. We’re in the priviledged position to perceive it all: dits, non-dit, redit. And we can follow the poetic process in the pauses–Flamenca and Guillem figuring each other out; the razo-reasoning of the two ladies, gentleman, and judge in En aquel temps.

Yes, it’s didactic and voyeuristic–an educational carrot-and-stick method–but at the end of the day, besides interpretative excess, and all the chatter and ponderings that make up most of Flamenca, what are we left with? We have the lovers’ composition itself: the earnest labours of tongue-tied adolescents, comically simple, fast, and short, especially given the comparative length of the surrounding extended razo (that is, the whole of Flamenca; or, the romance as it stands, as a whole). It’s an elaborate joke. It plays with the construction of jokes, as it does with the making of poetry.

At its heart is nothing: a profound, deep, meaningful, serious nothingness of the unspeakable, ineffable, sublime. One of those magic moments of deconstruction, at which the postmodern audience utters a delighted gasp in sympathetic concert. The Moment between two persons over which a veil Must Be Drawn. Or a nothingness that is just that, nothing: the non-dit here is just a dit that says nothing. Empty barrels make the most noise. The Emperor’s New Clothes. Rendered the more comical from the heightened emotional overload, dramatic tension, and over-analysing built and woven around Gullem’s and Flamenca’s communication.

Skip that, skip to the quotable short poem, and you miss the whole beauty of the elaborate joke; beauteous in its ingenious and elegant construction. Involving several layers of commentating voices, and ambiguity as to the correct attribution of words to speakers (including some delights, when it is uncertain whether a comment is made by a major character, a minor one, or one of the commentating voices, or Love). This is a kind of literary activity that is a sort of “literary criticism” in that it engages critically, at a higher level, outside the narrative’s main action. These complications and games with the reader feel very familiar to readers of later 20th- (or, post-Borges and -Kafka) and early 21st-century fictions, of “postmodern,” meta- and super-novel sort, speculative fictions, with multiple realities and temporalities, forking paths, multiple points of view, untrustworthy narrators, and allusive literary jokes.

What we see in Flamenca is a sophisticated literature of a sophisticated literati with different and perhaps more complex tastes and a more refined palate. No need for what is thought of in our current period as “literary criticism and theory” or desire for it. Instead, into other things that seem more interesting. But still involve aesthetic activity and abstract thought. Because, yes, jokes and play are just that. And deadly serious. And deadly, in the Irish sense or otherwise.

Sokal or any other sensible sceptical person would have a field day. Not just haters of that old-fashioned grand monstrous maniacal dinosaur that is Theory: but any good, intelligent, balanced, sensitive, human reader. One of mesura, sens, razon, and humanity. One who has not forgotten, in the immortal words of another ancient monster: “remember you’re a Womble.”

The sort of thing that is happening in Flamenca is also perhaps why Occitan treatises / “grammars,” especially when wrangled into anthologies of Medieval literary criticism, may seem disappointing: because they are, that’s the point, and literary criticism is not their point. Or rather: it is inappropriate to apply 20th-century ideas of literary criticism: leading one to go back and ask what that is, how it relates to literature, its hows and whys and wherefores. Leading one to see literary criticism itself in a different light, to reappraise it from the point of view of other (non-Modernist) texts, the better to enrich one’s idea of what it is. A work like Flamenca destabilises received ideas about literary criticism and literary aesthetics, providing ammunition for the usual angsty angry arguments of Medievalists showing that a normative theory claiming universal applicability is wrong because it doesn’t work for (a) Medieval text(s) and is therefore not universal, and ought even to be rejected. The classic counter is that such texts are therefore not literature. This could return the discussion full circle: literature (or, what counts as literature) is Modern, and anything earlier or otherwise “other” is either not literature or it is Modernist avant la lettre.

Now, that would might seem perfectly acceptable in, say, 1814 or 1914; but not in 2014, in a post-colonial world that includes as valued and valuable cultural artifacts works that are pre-Modern, post-Modern, and from cultures to which such a categorisation is irrelevant. Indeed, from cultures whose artifacts and aesthetics push the boundaries of what counts as “literary”: the art-works of the Chauvet and Sulawesi caves, for example. A world that is changing its own view of itself and its culture as not just being human either: think of non-man-made arts, of other higher primates (ex. bonobos and chimpanzees) and of artificial intelligences. A more diverse and inclusive world, already in the making in 18th- to 20th-century Modernism through its embrace of minority rights. Medieval literature’s value, its different literary value and its own different ideas of literary value, is a question of tolerance, diversity, and resisting the oppression and exclusion of the marginal. Or rather, the marginalised. What counts as “literary” and what we are looking for in it can be expanded and thereby enriched: rethinking theoretical and critical approaches themselves can be a positive exercise. We need not throw the baby out with bathwater, as theories may gain as theories through proving they are not closed-circle, cults, pseudosciences; by being open to question, testing, and reformulation. They may also benefit from moving from being static Grand Theories that are then applied to works (at worst, in the most heinous sorts of cookie-cutter applications), to having the more flexible status of being approaches (a practice or set of practices, rather than a fixed system), if one applies the idea that it is not the thing itself (in this case, a theory with its set of rules) that creates meaning, but rather, the perception of that thing. Power to the reading and interpreting people.

What is our final practical lesson from this razo de trobar? What is the end result of our giddy lovers’ exercise? A light teenage pop-song that’s easy to learn, can be sung or recited, is easy to understand, employs minimal syntax, is already in the appropriate universal language, and is highly translatable especially if it is a multi-media piece of performance art with dance-moves. This is a very useful teaching technique: and one reason why, when teaching language, I always incorporate sketches (also, they’re amusing and entertaining for all concerned: sentence and solaas). The poppy piece is also a comic raccourci quick guide to love; up to the audience’s wit to decide whether that’s amour or ameurs, and what it is saying about courtliness or courtesy.

I leave you with that non-dit, and the poem around it:

Hai las!        –Que plans?   –Mor mi.   –De que?

date: 7 mai       14 mai       21 mai     28 mai

line: 3949         4344         4503        4761

-D’amor. –Per cui? –Per vos. -Qu’en pucs?

1 juin/Asc. 4 juin 11 juin/Pent 12 juin/Pent lun.

4878 4940 4968 5039

-Garir. –Conssi? –Per gein. [-Pren li.]*

18 juin 24 juin/St Jean 25 juin 29 juin/Sts Pierre et Paul

5096 5155 5204 [5277-86]

-Pres l’ai. –E cal? –Iretz. –Es on?

2 juillet 9 juillet 16 juillet 22 juillet

5309 5487 5460 5465

-Als banz. –Cora? –Jorn breu – Plas mi.

23 juillet 25 juillet/St Jacques 30 juillet 1 août/St Pierre

long-lost winner, Eurovision Song Contest 12xx

1Impossibility of total silence: see Blanchot and John Cage, and love-lyric. It may be difficult to distinguish the total silence of sensory absence, when each sense is deadened through sensory overload; taking the visual metaphor, blinding and white-out have often been confused with white noise and with silence. This total perception, in multiple modes, does offer a final paradox of the extreme non-dit in its reworking of tropes of true love and true, perfect, complete knowledge and their typical association with a clear and complete perception that is also blinding. Falling in love (Archimbaut too), the narrator’s coy veil-drawing, etc.

2 Flamenca’s imprisonment (aka normal feminine life) is pointed out to her, as are alternative: and perceives self to be languishing only as a response (no real, just perception): 5504, 5710s, 5650s.


3Linguistic information is projected by means of articulations but is not embodied in them” (Harris & Lindsay 2000, “vowel patterns in mind and sound”)

4Recognition of voice and recognition of person: Belin et al 2000, ‘Voice selective areas in human auditory cortex’ – in the superior temporal sulei; specifically voice, as distinct from other sounds. Also von Kriegstein et al 2003, ‘Modulations of neural responses to speech by directional attention to voice or verbal content’, area dedicated to voice processing and not the linguistic analysis of speech sounds. Henry C. Smith, ‘Speech sounds and the direct meeting of minds.’

5I’d agree here with Strawson’s ambiguous statement that “sounds have no location”: filling in the gap, “so as to locate sound, you need more than sound alone, multi-modal perception”.


  • “La Consolation de l’amitié poétique au féminin dans le Roman de Flamenca
    Colloque SATOR
    University of Victoria, 2012
  • “Chat-up lines: the expression of feminine ingenuity in some Occitan hagiography”
    46th International Congress on Medieval Studies
    Kalamazoo, 2011


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