[Dedicated to the dedicated Valerie Michelle Wilhite.]

This post is a spin-off from an abstract I was writing for a call for papers, which I’m also sharing and redistributing immediately here below. It’s an idea for an ideal (post-book) edition of the 13th-c. Occitan Flamenca, and the post is punctuated with illuminations from Scarfolk Council*. You see, I am still being rather overcome with joy because of two things:

  • Flamenca is gaining recognition (a steady happiness since May), and
  • yesterday, my copy of Discovering Scarfolk arrived.

Some of this post is still in note/draft form, but you’ll get the gist of the idea.

[jump straight to the idea]


The Société Guilhem IX
International Medieval Congress
May 2016 Kalamazoo

Calls for Papers

Session of Papers: Interlingual Exchange, Interlinguistic Comprehensions, and Multilinguism in Occitan Spaces (I)
Organizer: Valerie M. Wilhite
Presider: To be determined

Recent scholarship in Mediterranean Studies and Pan-European Literary Studies are coming up against a linguistic barrier as they try to explain the permeable linguistic boundaries of the Middle Ages as regards oral interlingual communication which comes to the surface only after viewing texts – especially the historical – awry. The study of interlingual or translingual oral exchanges would seem to require a different methodology than the examination of textual transmissions and translations. New terminology is being created to speak of the communicative phenomena that allow interlocutors to transcend boundaries. Rosa Maria Medina Granda speaks of intercomprensión lingüística, Jonathan Hsy develops the concept “translingual” while Léglu sees a phenomenon termed monolangue which reduces the multiplicity of the oral plane to a single language for the purposes of textual transmission. Jocelyne Dakhlia and Karla Mallette hunt down the elusive textual evidence of the Lingua Franca, elusive due to the orality that defines it. Zrinka Stahuljak is producing a book-length study of Medieval Fixers, interlingual mediators in the medieval Mediterranean. The Société Guilhem IX invites papers that examine the interlingual exchanges between Occitan actors or which take place in Occitan spaces.

Roundtable: The Medieval Occitan Romance Flamenca (II)
Organizer: Valerie M. Wilhite
Presider: to be determined

The Société Guilhem IX invites parties interested in discussing the romance of Flamenca to join a roundtable for the International Medieval Congress in May, 2016. Discussions by participants are limited to 10 minutes to ensure to encourage exchange between participants and also with listeners.

The important Occitan romance, Flamenca, has received quite a bit of attention of late. The romance was translated and edited in 2008 for an Italian-reading audience in Flamenca: romanzo occitano del XIII secolo by Roberta Manetti. Anton Espadaler has recently produced the first modern Catalan translation of the text while Jaime Covarsi Carbonero’s translation into Spanish was published in 2010. The excellent translation-editions produced by Lettres gothiques have also added Flamenca to the collection with an edition/translation produced by Zufferey and Fasseur in late 2014.

The Société Guilhem IX is pleased to offer for the 2016 Congress:

  • A one-year membership in the Société, including a subscription to the journal TENSO, to any graduate student whose abstract is accepted for inclusion in either of the sessions sponsored by the Société Guilhem IX.
  • Payment of the registration fee (in 2015, $145.00 US) for the 51st International Congress on Medieval Studies to anyone who resides outside of North America and had their abstract accepted for inclusion in either of the sessions sponsored by the Société Guilhem IX. The same individual(s) will receive a one-year membership in the Société (in 2015, $50.00 US), including a subscription to the journal TENSO.

Please send your expression of interest at your earliest convenience before summer’s end. Titles with brief descriptions or queries may be sent to Valerie M. Wilhite at:


with “Kzoo GIX” in the subject line. Please have your titles and abstracts to VMW by August 1st if you would like to be considered for the special benefits we will be providing graduate students and presenters from outside North America.

Thank you,

Valerie M. Wilhite
Vice-President of the Société Guilhem IX
Assistant Professor of Modern Languages
University of the Virgin Islands
Albert A. Sheen Campus-St. Croix
RR1 10,000
Kingshill, USVI 00850-9781


There have been a fair few editions of Flamenca over the last two hundred years. The recent Lettres Gothiques one is I think the most exciting, as it’s in a major readily-available paperback series à des prix bien démocratiques. In Anglophone cultural terms, it’s the market equivalent of Penguin Classics and Oxford World Classics, but with facing-page original text and modern vernacular translation, and with more paratextual material. I’m excited about it not just because any Flamenca news is good news (and not just for me: for everyone), but because I hope this might help the work to reach out to more people, and to more audiences.

Nearly all the previous editions have been from “properly scholarly” presses, for a small “properly scholarly” audience. You will find them (editions and audience both) in university libraries, be that directly or via inter-library loan. Used copies can sometimes be found, often for scary prices. (Sadly, this last attribute is only true of the books.)

One notable exception to the rule was an earlier experiment in outreach, the UGE “10/18” series parallel-text paperback (Jean-Charles Huchet). The paper, font, and feel leave much to be desired; as do the paratextual materials; but it satisfied the need for access to “the text.” And it was decently priced.

The new editions of Flamenca will, like any other previous edition of the work, attract The Usual Suspects. That is:

  1. People who already know Flamenca.
  2. People who are already familiar with medieval Occitan literature.
  3. People who are working on or otherwise interested in medieval European vernacular romance, and/or its equivalents and parallels in other cultures.

New cheaper paperback editions will attract (or otherwise be bought and, hopefully, used by) the following Usual Suspects:

  1. Graduate students.
  2. Students (graduate and undergraduate) who have been set the work in required reading for a course, as the work can be included in syllabus due to reasonable price and availability.

Any student is a potential future medievalist, without whom the field will either fossilise preserved in aspic, or cease to exist; that’s death either way. When teaching, one can introduce and incorporate the medieval (and anything else one happens to find interesting and care about and want to share, within the limits of professionalism, ethics, and good taste) in any course: see the previous post on this present blog for an example.

A good facing-page translation does, as all teacher-scholars all the way back to Erasmus know, three things:

  1. it enables someone who doesn’t read the original language to get something out of a work, whilst seeing that further joys can be gained by being able to read the original; so it’s also an enticement, the start of seduction (in Flamenca‘s terms we’re working towards Amors and her rapture of Guillem, metaphorically speaking, in this reading of Flamenca as “breviari d’amors”…)
  2. it exposes them to the Occitan, out of the corner of an eye, and they can then start to familiarise themselves with it and learn it
  3. for the more curious and lively reader who wants more, the paratextual apparatus suggests further temptations. Like Flamenca itself, you’re looking at an open, provocative, flirtatious, and dangerously seductive creature. Such editions are, I feel, more true to the spirit of the work they contain—insofar as one can contain such a work—than many a previous approach has been.

My main problem with most editions of Flamenca is that they have targeted a captive audience. If we Occitanists and Medievalists consider that this work is a great work worth reading, we need to stand up for it. So I’m putting my money where my mouth is: this is great and worthwhile literature that could be a good read for anyone, and everyone should have a chance to read it. “Read” in a variety of ways, reading an “it” that could be a number of things.

Flamenca is so rich in so many ways that it’s a shame more people haven’t read it, in any of their individual ways. I’d love to have a public library reading group around it. Cheaper editions, more readily available, facilitate reading. Like with other Great Classics and Rich Enduring Inexhaustible Works, never-ending stories in themselves and beyond, in their existence in readings and in readers’ imaginations.

What I would like to see would be more digitisation and more open free access. A massively hypertext ecosystem project, akin to an MMPORG, for which Flamenca is ideally suited because it is already a perfect “gateway text” opening portals onto multiple other worlds: diachronic and synchronic literary parallels, a language and literature and culture, histories, infinite approaches to texts; a speculative fiction Stargate. Partly due to its encyclopaedic nature as a critical, metacritical, meta-romance, super-text literary summa. Like Andreas Capellanus’s De Amore, the Roman de Renart, the fabliaux, Jean de Meun’s Roman de la Rose, the Legenda aurea, the Codex Calixtinus, the Canterbury Tales, and all of Dante (but funnier than the last of these).

There’s already the COM CD-ROM version of the text, using the Gschwind edition, and the COM is a wonderful tool for cross-referential searches and pattern-seeking across the whole medieval Occitan corpus. In an ideal world, it would be great to link that up to Flamenca’s whole world, earlier and around the time and later, to literature in Catalan (especially later Catalan, and Spanish), Italian, French, and further afield.

Scholarship on Flamenca produced by my generation and previous ones included a lot of drudge-work; my generation has benefitted from the invaluable and duly much valued COM and other computational and digital humanities resources, which saved some donkey-work on the Occitan front which in turn meant more time and energy for higher-order intellectual work. A better use of our minds and talents than mindless drudgery, surely?

I am not just saying that out of laziness, arrogant impatience, disdain for hard graft, or resistance to the slow painstaking slog of research (all too often a thinly-veiled hazing and fagging by Elders And Betters). Consider the chap who got a PhD out of a manually-made (no computers) concordance to Montaigne’s Essais. And his wife did all the typing. That would be unimaginable and ridiculous today. Consider much scholarly work of the past, and it either looks similarly ridiculous (and unthinking, or lacking in thought, and thus lacking in evidence of intelligence let alone brilliance) or charming, quaintly heroic, verging on the Quixotic; we can still admire the effort and the intelligence exhibited in trying to overcome adversity with the meagre tools at the poor man’s disposal (such as the wife). Think of Beethoven and Brahms performing innovative miracles composing for a future piano that did not yet (and maybe still does not) exist.

That corpus of scholarly work still has merit, at a historical distance, read and interpreted in its contemporary context. Like others before us, we are dwarves on the shoulders of giants. And that’s a fine thing for giants and dwarves both.

I am not being charitable but sympathetic, because I hope future Flamenca-ists might be able to be as sympathetic about us today. Or would it be better still if the best we can hope for is empathy?

So. What next?

(1) We (by which I mean all friends and allies of Flamenca) need a good proper solid online edition.

(2) It should have good digitised images of the manuscript, in colour. This will mean unbinding the Carcassonne unicum, which means that we’ll also be able to see how it’s actually been put together at long blinking last. Putting some questions to rest.

By “the manuscript” I also include everything else that is physically part of the material book, including close-ups of rips, tears, excisions, all Flamenca’s lovely gaps; and of the late 19th-c bindings and covers.

(3) Transcription: we already have several and one wonders why there would be a need for more, given that the text is in a single copy in a nice clear hand. Existing transcriptions still vary; they should, with variae lectiones, be amalgamated. If anyone feels the need for yet more transcriptions, let’s farm it out to students, interactively, worldwide, in online practice side-exercises.

(4) Translations, plural, into several languages. Maybe crowd-source translations into other languages, involve the erudite reading publics in other countries once they can access the Occitan through their own second languages.

The idea of interlingual access fits nicely with the theme of the Société Guilhem IX’s first Kalamazoo session, as outlined in the Call For Papers above: a lingua franca / langue véhiculaire approach to intercultural intercomprehension.

As for communal work, for the common good? Don’t laugh: if cooperative translation is good enough for Paul Muldoon via being an integral part of Princeton’s creative writing / literary translation courses; and if open online cooperation is good enough for pure maths and philosophy; then I don’t see why our fields should be sniffy about crowd-sourcing. Besides, the more languages and internationality are involved, the more and bigger funding agencies can be involved. Aim high: UNESCO. Occitan is a world literature, more than fulfilling Goethe’s criteria.

(5) Introductions, comments, notes, critical commentary, the whole background and landscape and environment: an online edition permits all of these to be plural, as best suits the character of a work like Flamenca.

Free informed choice and heterodoxy should be the guiding principles for this happy possible future of a utopian literary world beyond The Book.

As wide a range as possible of introductions and commentaries and essays and so on ought to be available. For each one, in the style of many journals, the abstract and first page would be free and anyone wishing to read more would need to pay for it. Links via JStore, Muse, etc. These papers would also be linked to the text itself, like longer notes (ex. all papers considering the famous wedding song-feast episode would be linked to that passage in the text).

Here is where, as we must consider such worldly realities, a project can be monetised: just reading the text (including manuscript and all translations) would be free, as would be any shorter notes (simple explanatory ones maximum 5 lines), longer notes would be free for the first 5 lines, then one would need to pay to access the rest of that information.

Rates should be different for individuals and multi-user institutions. For all users, they should also be proportional to financial means, with the option of need-based meritocratic scholarships for poor clever people. There would be witty creative competitions (see “apps for mobile devices” further down), whose first prize would be free access to the entirety of Flamencaworld for a year, runners-up paying a massively reduced rate for full access (say, in the order of $5 and $10). There would be student/scholar positions available, where in return for performing some work an individual would benefit from a reduced rate or free access.

(6) Bibliographies: open and free, interactive (a wiki would already work nicely), dynamic, with options for annotation. Like the translations (4. above), with crowd-sourcing. Options for students to work with and on them, uploading short descriptions and comments, perhaps for apprenticeship-pay as a Research Assistantship or for one of the scholarships in (5.) above.

As with translation crowd-sourcing, there will need to be quality control with at least a minimum of moderation by trustworthy wise editors exercising their good judgement in a freer variation on peer review. Aristocratic government is a compromise, but a lesser evil than idiocracy: see how the wikipedia has moved from total openness to a hierarchy. There is of course work, and political work, still to be done to avoid trolling and destructive acts and behaviour, and to avoid the pitfalls of patriarchal authority too often tied to vertical hierarchy.

Consider this to be an open question larger than Flamenca and this hypothetical ideal-edition project: Is gynarchist rhizomal networking possible?

(7) In another monetised-web move, the bibliography would be linked to an online bookstore. I would prefer that links go directly to the publishers rather than A****n, but beggars can’t be choosers.

Every item on the bibliography should also be accessible for free via libraries (SUPPORT LIBRARIES!!!) with links to them by way of a “where is your nearest library copy?” feature and interactive map.

(8) Plus a whole hypertext and metatextual lexico-grammatical, poetic, rhetorical, semiotic, onomastic side-project. Tables and charts and graphs. All fully searchable and intra-, inter-, hyper-linked. Expandable and contractable pop-up windows.

(9) Short video pieces, one to five minutes long, by Leading Scholars and other stand-up comedians; freely available on Vimeo or similar. A YouTube channel with appropriate sponsored links for further monetisation.

(10) Accompanying son et lumière: images, other manuscripts, diagrams, maps, images of places, 3D reconstructions. Recorded perfomances, from straight-forward audiobook readings to more creative interpretations. Soundtracks, with options from the neomedieval (re-enactment on period instruments aiming for historical accuracy) to medievalist (indie electro post-punk) to the tangential, non-medieval, allusive, echoingly fitting in a poetic way. As provided by layers of previous readers and added to along the way.

Perhaps Sequentia would be open to a co-production?

(11) Creative space: further commentary and readers’ notes (deploying a blog for example), alternative translations, versifications, parodies (as though Flamenca weren’t parody enough already), rewritings, prequels, continuations, side-quests, and other fan fiction; more readers’ soundtracks, performances, animated and live-action short and long films, games. Illustrations, collages, curated collections.

Bref: a collaborative submersive reality.

(12) There should be the opportunity, should a reader so desire, to design, order, and buy their very own special individual physical book that would include whichever elements they wanted. Some options: a manuscript facsimile with facing page transcription, perhaps in a more expensive larger format made from finer materials, a Lettres Gothiques-style simpler transcription and translation, two columns per page to permit the inclusion of more than one translation viewed simultaneously across the facing pages, with or without one’s preferred introduction and notes. Paperback, hardback, a cheap plain edition, a fancier one, design your own front cover, choose your illustrations, and so on.

As with making Medieval books to order, the world’s your oyster and the sky’s the limit.

At the same time, as with the printed book, there’s still also free access to knowledge for everyone.

Returning to this post’s starting-point and its visual punctuation, Scarfolk Council offers a multi-media exemplary model for post-book (that is, including but not restricted to the physical book) literature (that is, a work of art whose main medium is words).

Each of the work’s modes of existence allows for different creative expressions; each mode is essential to the idea and thing that is Scarfolk Council; only one (the book) costs money; it also differs structurally in that it has had framing devices and appendices added and has been stitched together into a continuous narrative, like Arnault de Mareuil. All three modes beautifully embed non-book artefacts in ekphrastic cabinets of curiosities.

Bonus: there’s lots of opportunities for spin-off lucrative non-book-product merchandising. A Topatoco or Etsy shop with the usual coffee-cups, drinks coasters, t-shirts, etc. Flamenca-specific tie-ins? Well now:

  • Wind-up amphibious toys
  • Pyjamas and lounge-wear
  • Romantic make-your-own-salutz kits
  • Bathing unguents and towels
  • Finger-puppet collections
  • Wigs and veils and sleeves (the detachable sleeve as love-token is long overdue a fashion resurrection)
  • Board games; for example, amorous and/or argumentative snakes and ladders; and Medieval Occitan Boggle and Scrabble, to be played using the standard lyrico-erotic lexis
  • Wormwood-based confectionery or other comestibles
  • Crochet, embroidery, and knitting patterns 
  • DIY kits for making your own pertuis spy-holes
  • Book covers and e-reader sleeves with a 13th-century psalter on the outside but cunningly hiding Floire et Blanchaflor on the inside (or vice versa)
  • Magnetic poetry word-sets for refrigerators

Apps for mobile devices:

  • Puzzles and conundrums
  • A soppy/sarcastic lyric poetry generator based on Flamenca or indeed the whole Occitan lyric and narrative corpus
  • Poetic composition games, where participants are given a word, phrase, line, or rhyme-word of the day to continue into a couplet or a full cobla.
  • Or rearrange passages or, if using the whole Occitan corpus (via Flamenca referential allusions), coblas to create new works
  • Or take two unrelated passages or coblas and insert a third between them to connect them and create a new sequence
  • Debate challenges, using topics and questions from the tensos, partimens, castia gilos and other amorous casuistry
  • Or taking current affairs and issues as materia to which to give Flamenca-style pastiche or parodic sen e razo (for a variation on this theme, see Grumpy Eleanor of Aquitaine). Soaps, celebrity pseudo-culture, reality TV, episodic series are not just fair game but perfectly fitting, as our cultural parallels for life-art / art-life slippages.

And so on.

All the better to keep the jocs florals alive and well, and to revive and continue the international influence of medieval Occitan literature and literary culture!




* If you like Scarfolk, you might also enjoy: Sellafield, the Norfolk fenlands and their fenlanders, Innsmouth, Laird Barron, Elizabeth Bear, Chris Brookmyre, Neil Gaiman, Elizabeth Hand, Nick Harkaway, Tove Jansson, Caitlín R. Kiernan, HPL, China Miéville, Terry Pratchett, François Rabelais, Charles Stross, and Jeff VanderMeer. Especially the last two.


(though it’s not as pretty or indeed sexy and hot as anything above; but as it is one of the main online sources for Isidore’s Etymologiaein Latin, in a nice digitised version that argues strongly for the superiority of the digital over the codical–caudical?–if you have to choose one one of the two rather than working to morph and evolve both (and the scroll, and film, and virtuality) into something else; so it gets my seal of approval)


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