50 years ago: philology, decolonisation, deconstruction

Image above: from the Gradual of Saint-Etienne of Toulouse, France (Toulouse), last quarter of the 11th-first quarter of the 12th century, British Library Harley MS 4951, f. 299v
via Julian Harrison (BL medieval manuscripts curator), 2016-07-31


Other medieval manuscript images below: via #medievaltwitter colleagues and Discarding Images

This is a short post, in the form of reported tweets. (Not exactly “Storified” but near enough. This is faster, for me anyway.)

It’s about decolonising philology.

Every time I read classic Romance philology & other medieval European literary scholarship from the nineteenth century (as you do), and the earlier twentieth (let’s say up to about 1930 before everything goes horribly wrong), I’m torn between admiration for the grandeur and intelligence and erudition; and wonder at what these minds would do now with the unimaginabe tools available to us; and bemusement disgust rage at attitudes of the time. Givens, preconceptions, prejudices; unthinking somehow balanced with thinking, rethinking, questioning. Even in a period when arguments against inequities are well known and have been for a long time: against conquest, colonisation, slavery; the treatment of other humans as lesser or non-humans because of their difference; and similar uses and abuses of other sentient fellow creatures and a whole world translated into “resources” for consumption, use, profit, and “progress.” What possible self-defence can one have for blindness to the world around you? What could excuse ignorance, let alone wilfull ignorance or an active contribution to immorality?

One standard excuse is of course the lethal combination of highly focussed single-minded (blinkered) driven individuals—what good, virtuous (and manly) “pure” academics are still supposed to be—and The Ivory Tower. How far has that been mythified and how far is it a perception out of fiction? For another day…

The standard story of how philology changes: medieval studies become more of a thing (and named as such) towards the end of World War II and after, into the 1950s, with a generation of German, Austrian, and other European refugee academics moving to the Anglophone world; especially enriching American academia. Auerbach and Curtius. A European Latin medieval, an idea of a unified non-national/ist Europe being disseminated at the same time as ideas are being worked out that will become the actual 1957 Europe of the Treaty of Rome. Meanwhile, medieval studies also becomes multidisciplinary: you can’t just be a philologist any more. Later, we’ll go through historicism, new historicism, new philology, various inter-/multi-/cross-disciplinarities, various influences and applications of various -isms and of assorted sorts and combinations of Theory… and come to medievalism and postmedieval within a larger and very much scarier anthropocene in which we’ve always been medieval.

This piece is about what happens in the middle. In 1966. It’s about a French journal article that may be doing something quite interesting, for its time, and that may say more about that time. I think I may be reading more from that year—let’s say, 1965 through 1967—to see if my hunches are substantiated (or not, or if they shift in a different direction). Remember the time and place; and one’s own historical prejudices. Part of me wants to scream: how can one think or write about anything without having at least a shadow of the Civil Rights Movement in mind? 1964: Martin Luther King receives the Nobel Peace Prize; the Civil Rights Act comes in. And we’re (and “we” includes France) in the middle of the Vietnam War. It’s like writing anything in summer 2016 without having all this year’s events in mind, and thinking forward to those that are building up and that we know are coming up later in the year.

Like any self-respecting Occitanist, I’d been thinking about trobar. Trobar, trobador, trobairitz are never far from mind. Especially now, when we—and by “we” I don’t just mean scholars of medieval Occitan literature—have more need than ever, a pressing urgent practical useful need, for poetry. For creativity, imagination, making and sharing beautiful things. 

Occitanists are also, like other Medievalists, thinking forward to next year’s International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo:

So here’s what got written today. I’m leaving it in stanzaic form, slightly expanding those tweets that look more lapidary than laconic; punctuated by that which is being commented on, and with as usual illuminations that aren’t necessarily directly related to the text immediately fore and aft of them; nor from the same era or world. 

(Which is, after all, how many illuminations work in medieval manuscripts: the best ones in the best books turn those juxtapositions into a fine art—sometimes even flowing as simultaneous multiple independent threads through a work—adding (depth, dimensionality, richness, layers, polysemy) texture and weaving the book together into a whole text/ile. This is the fine art and crafty cunning ingenious high craft of deep rich relevance. Superficially, it looks irrelevant. Indeed, like poetry itself; let alone poetry from many centuries ago in an ancient language.)


How this came to pass:

A happy coincidence of coincidences. 


The idea of “common” was also lurking: from Uncommon Musical Instrument Appreciation Day most obviously; and from worries about the accessible, open, democratic nature of the place where I live and work. 

Vancouver has been in the news a lot recently because of issues about the affordability of housing (let’s just leave it at that: anyone here could Go On about it for hours). My university—a major public research university—has high student fees and issues with the availability and affordability of housing on campus (for students but also for faculty and staff). And I admit that I do constantly complain about a lack of civilised common space in my local habitat. My university desperately needs more common areas for hanging out in a civilised urbane grown-up fashion; in a manner conducive to intelligent conversation and that unpreditable spontaneous generation of actual new ideas that I see more on Twitter and in its coincidences than I do at work; with as catalysts an appropriate environment comprising sofas, armchairs, coffee, tea, alcoholic & other drinks, fast light snacks, and no music or TV screens; from say early lunchtime (11-ish) until evening (11-ish again). We also need more civilised common spaces in that other part of my local habitat, the residential area around the university. It’s quite nice, and we’re in a pleasant older part. A few minutes down the road is a major newer development which, also, is quite nice but has to my (European) mind some major lacks. It needs more restaurants and food shops. It has one pub/brasserie place, but for that size of neighbourhood needs at least three more. The same goes for cafés: there is one, need more. Bakery: ditto. Sport and yoga shops are all very well, and private music schools and suchlike (and the area does do a good line in free public concerts), and pretty parks and public landscaping; and there is a community centre, and they offer classes in all sorts of things.

But where is the free common public art? Sculptures, galleries, exhibitions of residents’ work in shared spaces (the supermarket for example)? And where is the free open life of the mind? Why, in a place this size and this rich, is there no public library? (Let alone small independent cheap second-hand bookshops. Don’t get me started on their lack in Vancouver and how that’s the fault of greedy landlords. Or the demise of record-stores and videothèques.) A residential area without a library is just that: a residential area. It’s a collection of holes in the ground rather than a burrow. It’s a suburb. As soulless and lifeless as it is heartless. 

So. That article. 

Richard Lemay, « À propos de l’origine arabe de l’art des troubadours », Annales. Économies, sociétés, civilisations, 21.5 (1966): 991

It would have been controversial at the time, as part of that very slow wave mid-century that brought medieval studies out of Christian Western Eurocentricity; just as, in the world around them, Europe moved away from colonialist modernity, from a self-centred soi-disant dans tous les sens Age of Empire and Enlightenment. Looking outward towards postmodernity, decolonisation, anti-neocolonialism, and a bigger picture of the larger anthropocene. 

This is 1966, looking back on 1861 & 1869. Looking back from a France of just before 1967 to philology a century before: from a high point of nation-state and nationalist empire; but before the historical innovation of Romania‘s founding and its transnational idea/l; precursor of a comparative, international, interdisciplinary, multiple medieval studies. 

about #trobar & #medieval #occitan #poetry & poetics
featuring pictures of microfilmed manuscript…

2/ Excerpts from a justified & ancient piece of classic philology: http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/article/ahess_0395-2649_1966_num_21_5_421446
Accompanying soundtrack:

3/ Frame of its introduction …

… & (increasingly poetic) conclusion

4/ This is about trying to find more out about & make more sense of “trobar” & a possibly-changing idea of “trobador” / troubadour, poet.

5/ Based on new (at the time) evidence from a 12th c manuscript, Saint-Victor 877 now @laBnF BNF lat 14754

6/ Lemay’s argument hints at delicious linguistic hybridising creativity; only hints 😕 but food for thought 🤓

7/ (thanks @Zweder_Masters for originally tweeting image above)
(philological squeee regarding what follows below, especially the “franglais” LOL-worthy reference)

8/ Material for anyone working in multilingualism & multiculturalism; translation studies theory practice history, narrow & broad senses

9/ Translation, language-learning, & the indissociability of language & culture: sociocultural flexible mixed approach nearly 1000 years ago

10/ #SLA #LanguageLearning #FLA #education #fashion: plus ça change, plus ça reste la même chose (& souvent c’est une bonne chose…)

11/ more sensible, sensitive, sophisticated, & intelligent than any Single Approach Dogmatic School Of Thought of the last 50 years

12/ “franglais”-icising, incorporating the good from a number of things; in our present example here of BNF lat 15754, we see a condensed combination of:
Direct Method,
and Intercultural approaches to the teaching and learning of another language…

13/… an andragogical approach of brilliantly putting together astronomy, (other) appropriate relevant everyday activities, & translation

14/ useful basic necessary everyday activities obviously include music, song, poetry: and would for centuries (still continuing now)

15/ just as for the later (early & late 13th c.) Occitan treatises, poetry would be the reason to learn the language

16/ (extend “poetry” for 2016 to include any writing of aesthetic quality; from novels to Theory to cinema)

And extend Occitan to include its descendants, kith and kin and kissing cousins, including French.

We all need to think of this in teaching languages—living and dead and undead in-betweeners—at universities, to adults who are here to learn in scholarly institutions devoted to higher education and advanced abstract sophisticated higher intellectual work. It’s certainly true for French that many of our best students, more obviously graduate students but also some undergraduates too, have an interest in learning the language so as to understand and work inter/actively with its culture. Especially ideas, the history of ideas, late-twentieth century thought; but also art history and what might look more like more touristy interests. As ever, it’s wise to beware of dismissing superficial superficialities out of hand: an interest in châteaux, wine and cheese, and The Impressionists is a small step away from medieval Occitan poetry… and that’s a mere historical step, you’re already in the right geographical physical space.

Here’s another thought: languages aren’t just “dead” or “alive.” There are more categories and nuances than that, and more opportunities for movement and changes of state. Artificially alive, on life support, never alive; the seemingly unkillable like Project Management Lingo and others in the Orwellian NewSpeak group; the dying; those that fade away; those that generations try to swat down but that come back up like weeds; the repressed and oppressed; the dormant that look dead but prove not to be; flimsy scattered dried-out shreds and scraps that turn out to be fortified seeds that bloom in deserts once every few hundred years. 

17/ Here endeth the digression on teaching other languages in 2016.
(Go forth, be poetic, and poeticise.)
Back to BNF lat 14754 now.

18/ We’re talking Latin & Arabic here (& getting into Occitan & other languages via poetry)
During the Crusades
Warmongers in 2016 could learn a lesson

Remembering, too, that the article in question is from France and 1966. Consider what France is building up to—which was not unexpected nor were these events bolts out of the blue—in 1967 and 1968.

19/ Here’s darab > tangere > trobar and its original @laBnF manuscript context:

20/ And look, just look, o #medievaltwitter friends, at what else is in BNF lat 14754 & indeed occupies most of it:

(Supplementary explanatory / expiatory note: Martianus Capella will feature in MDVL 301 in the Fall…)

21/ (is there an emoji for “squeee?”) Making me nearly as happy as ṭaraba > trobar…

22/… though unhappy about Lemay via Engelmann rejection: why shouldn’t a culture adopt words that express ideas & states of mind/being

23/ (rather than only concrete objects) into popular parlance?
In a poetic culture & language?
A vernacular that is far from “vulgar”?

24/ Doesn’t this say more about Engelmann & Lemay?
about their cultures?
about their sociocultural and sociolinguistic attitudes towards popular parlance & people?

… in a material culture that’s about reification, commodification, asset-stripping, and colonial use? And that therefore assumes the same attitudes of others in other times, reading it into earlier material in Engelmann’s case: a Spanish Conquistador spirit / mentality that’s always been there even before the Reconquista and The Birth Of Empire…

And how much does this say about attitudes towards “popular culture” and its interests and intellectual level.

Historical context: bearing in mind that Lord & Parry is around; Barthes’ Mythologies came out nearly ten years before, and he and Lévi-Strauss are in full travel-and-research flight. La Pensée sauvage & Le Cru et le cuit are out and Lévi-Strauss is in the early stages of that long work in South America. Barthes has been to the USA and goes to Japan. 1966 is an intermediate stage before these intellectually-crucial moves away from France and Francocentricity. 

Lemay’s article is in a French specialist scholarly journal’s September-October 1966 issue. Was he aware of what else was happening in his immediate surroundings, with Critique and Tel Quel? While his article is already looking outwards to some extent—and commendably so for its time—how different might it have looked had it been written and published a few months later? (at least, my alternate-history-and-speculative-fiction-loving self would like to think so) after a major event across the Atlantic, also in October 1966: the Johns Hopkins “The Language of Criticism and the Sciences of Man” conference that brought together Barthes, Derrida (talking about Lévi-Strauss; “bricolage” would have been a precious addition to Lemay’s article, and remains a precious vital tool for medievalism… ), Lacan, De Man, & Hyppolite; the infamous structuralism / North American post-structuralism Event; quite aside from Derrida himself on “l’événement.” (Some might even go so far as to consider this Advent Of French Thought to be The Singularity.) 

A digression to the digression, this hilariously snide comment on Wikipedia that I know certain friends have been fighting about for years… 

Meanwhile, also:

Bakhtin’s Rabelais and his World has just (1965) been published in Russian and isn’t yet available in translation in the West (first English translation 1968, French 1970). That work and The Dialogic Imagination will come to change attitudes, bringing heteroglossia and polyphony from the margins into a mainstream of sorts (without being tamed, while remaining resolutely resiliently wild) to enrich and liven it up; in addition to Marxist criticism and anthropological folklore studies bringing oral and other underground cultures up and out… not to forget punk and the remixing fluidity and irony of postmodern art forms…

So. All these things are going on in this historical moment. 

And, yes, England beat Germany at football. That’s more a last ripple of an older world, of the 1870s—just after Engelmann but before Paris, Meyer, & co.—and World War I, of imperial clashes, of their resurgence with a second World War just twenty years before Lemay’s time of writing. And we are in the early years of this precious shiny fledgling new thing that is Europe, though Spain under Franco will be unimaginable as part of democratic idealistic Europe for another twenty years. 

1966 is a very interesting pivotal hinge-year indeed. 

But we’re still looking back to Spanish philology and historical morphology, and its sociocultural and political (and doubtless religious and racist) baggage, of a century before…

Given which, it’s delightful to see some of the sort of ingenuity and subversive creative thinking that could have come from any time between 1967 and 2016:

25/ (though I like the sneaky work-around via the physical person of the trobador and the cultural status-loading of the analogous mutrib)

26/ Hai las, as for Engelmann…

27/ … which adds insult to injury:
to Spanish
to Occitan (because its loanwords and derivatives aren’t coming in via Spanish… as the latter doesn’t exist yet, at the time of this manuscript!)
to both as both languages and cultures (and how they work, and the sophistication and intelligence of all that is popular, of the people, common, and vulgar (all senses) in them)
to actual history

Medievalism has Jeffrey Jerome Cohen to thank for spreading the joys of that densely richly expressively poetic medieval variation on #unicorn:

28/ More #poetry:
=> more exultant ecstatic exalted joy
=> “make” the world a better place

On which happy note, and if you are intrigued or maybe even attracted by the ideas of trobar and of musicality in poetry and life? Here are further details on those calls for papers for Kalamazoo next year. 

If you haven’t yet started reading medieval Occitan poetry: it’s never too late to start. Most people have started later in life for the last 700-odd years. Do some reading, and come hang out with us at Kalamazoo.

If you’ve dabbled, come hang out, consider offering a paper or other contribution. We’re a field that plays nicely with other fields; not least as Troubadour poetry and poetics are fundamental to all later Western European poetry whilst being affiliated with contemporaries and predecessors around Mediterranean Southern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East; from Al-Andalus to the Black Sea to Persia. The connecting hinge; cardinal hub, nexus, node; and imaginative koine-inclusive heart of Europe. 

We’re koine in spirit: kind and kithy.

Very “us” and “both-and,” without being “us vs them.”

And we’re very #🦄

Panel: Soundscapes in Occitania

Sound studies is the name for an interdisciplinary field encompassing the study of noise, music, vibrations, and what T.S. Eliot called ‘auditory imagination.’ It is a capacious field, encompassing examinations of the individual sonic space of iPod use and the historical sound of rural and urban life. Sound (or the lack thereof) can immerse a subject in worlds that may not exist or distance the listener from the world that is. This panel contributes to the excellent work done on soundscapes in other parts of Europe (northern France, Spain, Byzantium) by gathering together scholars working on the soundscapes of southern France, the homeland of the troubadours. Topics may deal with troubadours or any number of other questions of sound in the region.

They may include:

• The representations of sound in the visual arts (manuscript painting, monumental sculpture, etc.).

• Sound in Occitan villages, cities, great halls, or churches.

• The ‘auditory imagination’ as a theoretical concept.

• The shaping of sound in lyric (rhythm, rhyme).

• The shaping of sound in music (melodic line or accompaniment of troubadour song, or the sacred music of the region, including the school of St. Martial).

• Performance and re-creation.

Roundtable: Trobar!

This roundtable will focus on the notion of ‘trobar.’ The word gave the troubadours their name, but its origins are obscure and its meanings many.

Areas of exploration include:

• Revising the discussion of the etymology of the term ‘trobar’ to arrive at new etymologies or to explore political and practical reasons for the previous studies. • The idea of ‘finding,’ ‘stumbling upon,’ or ‘seeking out.’

• Tracing the art of ‘trobar’ from the Odyssey to the present day, reacting to Albert Lord’s The Singer of Tales (1960).

• Reflecting on the art of musical composition among the troubadours.

• Other realms of ‘trobar’: ‘trova’ in Brazil, the Caribbean, etc.

• Connections between modern Occitan rap and medieval roots.

Please send proposals of 300 words to Mary Franklin-Brown (brow2085-at-umn-dot-edu) by September 15, 2016.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.