I’m going to start with consent here and now, then we’ll travel back via dictionaries and lexicons to consent in medieval Occitan; once we’re there, we’ll look at consent in poetry—especially in the conversational tenso and partimen—before ending with some examples of what joyous consent could look like. I’m deliberately and consciously focussing on poetry that is voiced, presents, or is coded as feminine as that’s a set that’s not too big [and of immediate and urgent importance right now; because, as a subjective reader, this is more immediate to me than the thousands of masculine-voice poems; and because, whatever your gender and sexual identity, if you’ve never or rarely met a feminine point of view in love-lyric, this could be new and exciting and a rare treat.(*)] The longer versions of this work, written differently as for reading and for different audiences, include every instance of consent in the poetic corpus.
(*) [you will observe that I have made an exception for Guilhem de Peitieus out of pure plain unashamed prejudice]
I CONSENT NOW
Consent is a current topic, usually appearing in its negative form (silence as assumed consent, lack of consent), often defensive and fearful, and in reference to sex.
When being positive, consent is the second step in a set contractual sequence of actions whose first step is by another agent. While “I consent” is in the active voice, and an active voicing, it’s in response to another’s initiative; which could be an act of aggression, or open to interpretation as such, up to the moment when consent is granted.
This kind of common sense consent can be a speech act: it changes the nature of the actions to which it refers, and changes the nature of the relationship between actors.
Things could look and sound rather different if “I consent” were to be an opening statement rather than a response: “I consent to everything you might possibly do,” “take me,” “do me now,” and any of a number of more or less subtle pick-up lines or non-verbal equivalent communications could in turn be inappropriately aggressive; inappropriate, that is, in a context where they’re the opening line between strangers. The context of situation changes everything: there are of course many places where it would be perfectly appropriate for strangers to interact in that way, and indeed inappropriate not to; in real life, online, and in certain kinds of fiction. (We’ll see a literary example later, with “pren li” in the Romance of Flamenca.) But being in such a place means that a line like “take me” doesn’t come out of the blue, it’s not an opening line any more because it’s been preceded by everything that puts you in that place, knowing what it is, consenting to its conventions beforehand by being there.
There are some problems with these ideas of consent, and this talk will see if some medieval Occitan poetry might offer some help with them and hope for the future. As contrasted with a present [all too easily confused with a dystopian alternate reality, often through wanton ill-will, to the detriment of all and for the good and greater happiness of none:]
Problem 1: consent is part of a sequence of actions, in an exchange. Consent can be difficult to distinguish from assent. Those prepositional prefixes are crucial: con, with (and for emphasis) vs. ad, to. In an ideal world—and we’re dealing with poetry, the perfect place for talking ideal worlds—that con– would have more emphasis, would be closer to inter– and a reciprocal sense and a sense of relationship. Think of the difference between embrasser, s’embrasser, and the more-or-less obsolete s’entrembrasser. Think also of how prepositions differentiate making love (or singing, or whatever you choose) with, to, at, on, onto, or into someone.
Problem 2: consent today is losing touch with its senses of –sent: of sense, sensitivity, sensoriness, and sensuality. Pleasure, delight, enjoyment. Flirtation, ambiguity, fluidity, poetry, and fun. What’s replaced them? A cold hard clear economics of exchange, a symbolic (and actual) system of profit and loss, and a simple vertical hierarchy of power relations structured around simplistic binaries: profit and loss, winners and losers, powerful and disempowered. That over-simplification of human interactions erases whole dimensions of participants’ point of view and position in a more complex network that’s at least three-dimensional, or a multidimensional graph; adding the fourth dimension—time—adds potential for movement and change.
Here, to illustrate the problem, is what “consent” looks like in UBC policy, bringing in the definition in Canadian law:
II MOVING CONSENT FROM 21st-C ENGLISH TO 13th-C OCCITAN
Moving first through Old French (the Anglo-Norman Dictionary), which won’t look too alien:
and seeing how in the Old Occitan dictionaries (Raynouard, Levy) consen / cossen is connected to sen:
For these and more Occitan lexical resources, Kathryn Klingebiel’s “Occitan Lexicon Online” provides a comprehensive (at the time of writing) collection of links to what is currently available—and as far as possible freely openly accessible—online.
There is a difference between the noun-form of consent, which then seems like a static fixed object that can be got, that is only used as a grammatical subject in statements defining it (consent is X, consent means X) but mostly used as the grammatical (and material) object of action on it by a verb: get consent, ask for consent, and so on. Modern English tends to use the noun form, and many of the verb’s senses are now obsolete. In Modern and Old French, and Old Occitan consent tends to be in the verb form. Copula or passive object versus active verb: this is significant. While it is far from a complete database and carries many caveats, Google ngram viewer provides a nice visualisation of these patterns:
As its constituent parts, con and sent, are undermined, the word consent is itself at risk. When a word is endangered, so is what it means. This is true of an important set of c-words woven around that cum– prefix (adding a note to precisify that some of these are the con of emphasis): consensus, concert & concerted, consideration, codes of conduct, compliance, consultation, conservative, convention, reconciliation.
Think again about consent: while its main current sense is about sex, we do still also see its political, social and ethical (including religious), and legal usage (that’s what you see in Early Modernity, through the English Civil War, and move to constitutional monarchy—constitution, another of the c-words to consider).
Working on the UBC sexual assault policy was one of two things that got me thinking about and working on consent and sex; the other was activism on consent in a broader political sense. The last two years or so have been a curious time, seeing how real life right here right now connects to the poetry–often at an irrealist extreme–of a very different place, time, and culture.
That conjunction struck me most forcibly in a meeting where we were talking about educating people (students, faculty, staff) about consent, and conversation moved to the use of role-playing exercises in teaching self-defence (and teaching more generally, we’re all familiar with this idea and practice) and in trauma counselling. Rather than recounting and reliving experience in monologue, or having that drawn out in question and answer dialogue, role-playing games take place in an imaginative and hypothetical space that allows for a critical and creative distance, without losing engagement: what would you do if the following thing happened, that classic “what if…” and “and then what happened?” that are also central to literature; especially storytelling, speculative fiction, and poetry.
Unlike other communicative forms or more or less realistic representational modes, poetry is a place to work out and at an idea, and play with in a freely hypothetical way that is not constrained by the outside actual world; that play is all the more free with the potential (for example, in CON-based jokes that might look in dubious taste) to experiment and adventure on what would otherwise be difficult, painful, taboo, or impossible terrain. We’re in the domain of the unimaginable; testing the limits of the imaginable and the possible. The idea will of course always still bear some relation to that world—as the minds behind it are inescapably in bodies of beings who live in that world—and to its issues and their creative criticism. But the expressions of consent we’re going to see never necessarily happened in real lived experience.
I was more interested in poetry that wasn’t just single-voice lyric, to see how consent is used in conversation by more than one person (in which I would include psychomachia and narrative poetry with multiple voices and characters, such as medieval romance), and how it changes that conversation, and how the idea behind the word may be changed through that use; an idea of transaction that’s not a simple exchange (as we’ve seen in the liberal, neoliberal, and business dialectical use of the term) nor an interaction, but transformative.
A final reason for focussing on debate-poetry is because it’s a game, and can be fun, and I thought it would be nice to bring back in those ideas of enjoyment and play and pleasure, moving away from the cruelty and destructive competitive machismo into which so much sport has declined. A play that is creative, cooperative, and constructive. Even when it is risky and on dangerous ground; as with flirting, diplomacy, education, government, and other human inter- and trans-actions.
So. Meet medieval Occitan poetry:
There are 400-odd identified or identifable poets, about 2,500 lyric poems (plus more non-lyric texts), in 100-odd manuscripts, many of which have been digitised and are more or less freely accessible online:
and debate poetry (℅ the thematic tables of Harvey and Paterson 2010):
I’ve actually used these topics in a FREN 215 class (this was a class on spoken French practice, including much discussion and debate), in January 2016, and the approach and structure of debate poetry, as a different way to discuss potentially more delicate questions such as those of and around consent. Introducing this alien material in that meeting about consent education with faculty and staff, introducing it there to people from very different areas of the university who don’t deal with literature and history but who do work (and live) with culture, is some of the most difficult scholarly outreach I’ve done. (Explaining why someone who isn’t French might be teaching French is still probably number one.)
And now for some medieval Occitan: here is how consent has been imagined, can be reimagined now, and what it could look like.
III MEDIEVAL OCCITAN POETIC CONSEN
The poem that started this consent work is a partimen, Lanfranc Cigala & Guilelma de Rosers, “Na Guillielma, maint cavalier aratge” PC 282.14 (Bruckner et al 1995):
We can see the same ideas around consent knitting together in the two next examples:
A first tenso … Felipa & Arnaut Plagues, “Ben volgra midons sauber” PC 32.1 (Bruckner et al 1995):
The Flamenca tenso, composed by the eponymous heroine and her lover Guillem together, with a reversal of the usual roles in consent conversations and then a flipping back after a key moment when intent (of both) seems clear: their co-composition of this poem occupies the main middle portion of this romance, spanning several thousand lines, with up to hundreds of lines (and some time, and time between their short secret-in-public meetings) devoted to the finding (the “trobar” in trobador) of each two-syllable replique. [Tangent in talk: plot summary and demonstrating what happens at these meetings in the chapel, with the gracious assistance of my good brave noble colleague Prof. Jon Beasley-Murray.]
Superficially, in interpersonal and dialogic dynamics, this looks like nice neat binaries:
question / answer
agressive / passive
dominant / subservient
“Pren li” and/or silence signal consent.
(Romance of Flamenca text on slides = O’Brien working version 2006 based on MS via Ryan diss. 1974 & Gshwind ed. 1976 via Concordance of Medieval Occitan 2005.)
(see also “The Trobairitz and Flamenca,” Kalamazoo 2012; “La Consolation de l’amitié poétique au féminin dans le Roman de Flamenca,” SATOR 2012)
In this project I took a similar approach to that I’d used in previous work, for example looking at TROBAR combined with COR, CORAL, and CORTES. The first stage was spotting something, CONSENT, that was a tangent to another piece of work (ICLS 2016, about a rape joke in a debate poem that takes an unexpected turn). The next stage was to see what happens in the rest of the Occitan poetic corpus.
Here’s CONSEN* and CONSSEN* in the Concordance of Medieval Occitan (Ricketts et al 2001-05, COM2), rapid raw findings [note that I need to add COSEN* and check that I have indeed covered all orthographic options]:
There’s a lot of the expected formal consent, debatably “granted” or “given”; as a free gift (no strings attached, hospitality and fair welcome), or as an act of charity and mercy, but usually in exchange for loyalty, fidelity, fealty. The word appears in the whole literature’s history, and across categories within it: lyric, plural-voice and debate poetry, romance, novas / short verse narrative, epic / chanson de geste, saints’ lives and mysteries and other religious writing, didactic allegory, encyclopaedic works such as the Breviari d’Amor (it and the Leys d’amor feature a lot of consent as they are, amongst other things, collections of troubadour poetry), and treatises on language and poetic composition. Within lyric and debate poetry, the topics and context can be any combination of the erotic, religious, social, and political; it is highly unusual that any poem, and any use of CONSENT, is just in one sense (in my experience: never, but I’m hedging just in case). Even in later poetry, during and after the Albigensian Crusade and French invasion and attempts at annihilation, when Occitan poetry takes a more political turn and lyric is increasingly dominated by the satirical sirventes rather than the lyric canso (chanson, canzone). While we’ll be looking here at a small sample of poems dealing at an immediate level with the erotic, all of our examples are also about consent in all areas of human existence. CONSENT also appears in prose texts such as 12th-century legal and political documents about government, rights, and religious and other toleration in entities such as the city of Toulouse; somewhat like the foundational materials for medieval Italian city-states.
I was expecting more CON + SEN puns and word-play, but I realised that that would be too obvious. Hints are really all that’s needed, with that scent of the c-word as a lingering evanescence that wafts discreetly in the background. Then you start seeing COMs everywhere; in the case of Occitan lyric poetry, with the added complications that much of it is ironic or parodic or contributing to intertextual networks of poems that continue, riff off, and transform one another. It’s tricky to figure out whether what you’re dealing with is misogyny or radical anti-misogynist subversion or subtle facetious playfulness. Or–this being a sophisticated poetry–if you’re lucky, all of the above at once. This elevates what’s too easily dismissed and diminished as “smut” and “filth” to uplifting lascivious delights. [And makes reading and working with the poetry a further joy in its own right.]
Here’s another con-heavy example from Flamenca, with further punning derivative rhyme around “ingenious finding,” around the poetic echo conssi:
IV THE JOY OF CONSENT
In this final part, I’ll bring back and mix back in some single first-person voice canso with tenso and partimen and we’ll end up back with Flamenca. But first, let’s look at how two pairs of classic famous early Occitan lyric poems, from Guilhem de Peiteu [for all roads lead from and back to him] and the Comtessa (Beatriz) de Día, weave together consent and joy; and how the aim is that joy (which can be many things, and many things at once, we recall): looking especially at Guilhem’s use of COMUNALMEN.
Guilhem IX con+/- ioi: l’us l’autre non cossen (plural subject, reciprocal action) in “Companho, farai un vers qu’er covinen” (PC 183.3), related to horsey imagery in the partimen that started this project (see also his most (yet least) “con”-centric poem):
Guilhem IX Non es consens + Ben deu chascus lo joi jauzir / Don es jauzens in “Pos vezem de novel florir” PC 183.11:
(Guilhem de Peitieus examples above via trobar.org; the main edition is Bond. The trobairitz examples that follow are from Bruckner et al 1995.)
A reminder from the Comtessa de Día that another key word and idea is VOLER / VOLIA in joyous active interactive consent: “Estat ai en grey cossirier” PC 46.4:
and “Fin ioi me dona alegranssa” (PC 46.5), again moving around and towards JOY (ioi e ioven, also in “ Ab ioi et ab ioven m’apais,” PC 46.1):
Some more from a feminine-voice / -coded point of view, remembering the importance, in discussions of consent today, of point of view and position in structures (or actual “relations,” if you’re really lucky) of power and priviledge: Domna & Pistoleta, “Bona domna, un conseill vos deman” (PC 372.4):
and Azalais d’Altier, “Tanz salutz e tantas amors” PC 42a, ending in cosenta (in supplication or prayer):
Domna & Donzela, “Bona domna, tan vos ay fin coratge” PC 461.56:
We’ve gone back 800 years to make the obvious connection between enjoyment and joy, and to put the consensuality back into consent.
The last word, though, goes to Flamenca [and Love herself, and Guilhem, and Guilhem de Peitieus].
We’d already seen Flamenca make several appearances in the preliminary CONSEN* search; it’s one of main sources for CONSEN* + JOI*.
Flamenca—romance and character—turns out to be a rich and enriching source of consent. Every utterance of the word is by a female protagonist, and almost all are by Flamenca.
The first one is a tragi-comic miscommunication that sets up the narrative’s main plot, the education of Flamenca and its culmination in an intensely joyous erotic episode. Flamenca’s first expression of consent, before she has lived and learned (at least a little), is a terrible mistake. Her future husband Archimbaut breaks convention by asking her for consent (correct me if I’m wrong, but I read this as an unnecessary step in business that would otherwise have been concluded directly between two men). She accepts, in a politely formulaic way, a courteous cardboard caricature. Alas, Archimbaut interprets her response as more, in an episode that will end in nuptial rape. Flamenca is an upside-down parallel to romances that end in a happy-ever-after wedding, or to other critical romances that start with marriage rather than ending with it; think of Erec et Enide for example.
Flamenca ll. 251-92:
While Flamenca is a romance of many messages, some of them mixed, one of them is a cautionary tale that satirises a courtliness that has lost its meaning; part of that is its ideas being at risk as the words that carry them have been overused and emptied of meaning.
One of Flamenca’s joys is the consolation of conversation, healing through humour (and waters, meeting in the other place to which Flamenca is allowed to go, the local curative springs / baths), as Flamenca lives, learns, and loves; we see this in her creative transactions—to use next year’s MLA theme—that provide escape from her state of insecurity, this year’s MLA theme. A story of trauma that could more realistically have ended in suicide turns instead to resistance and perdurance, through collaborative poetic composition. Play with words means thinking about their roots and deeper meanings, and helps to heal them too. A long passage builds up through CONSENT and gradually interweaving JOY to a culminating joy in parity (joc par) and with, as is not unusual in Old French and Old Occitan erotic scenes, a move to a plural subject “they” that “plays” together in equity and parity, a joc par.
Flamenca ll. 5205-6532 in full:
[ADDED AFTER TALK] Bear in mind that for several thousand lines we’ve alternated point of view between Guilhem and Flamenca—another joc par, here with the audience—in very short encounters (only long enough for one of them to utter two syllables at Mass in the Pax) with a long time, and lengthy close-up slowed-down composition, between encounters. Once they meet up properly, as it were, narrative pace and tempo change to reverse the ratio of relative time spent between encounters to that spent in encounters. The perception of time itself changes. Shifts in focalisation speed up. Now in this climactic moment, these shifts accelerate to a near blur, punctuated by (again more frequent and faster-changing) first-person voice comment. We move from Guilhem to “they” (ill) to “each of them” (chascus) and back to a conjoined “they,” then to Flamenca, back to chascus, to “them,” before Love intervenes and matters are at once brought gently to an end and prolonged and promised future continuation (ben soven … e longamen); collapsing and expanding time, in a deeply moving and delicate way that is at the same time comic, a parody (of for example the Guinièvre and Lancelot night of love in Chrétien de Troyes’s Chevalier de la Charrette… which is in turn not entirely devoid of comedy), and brilliant poker-faced comic timing.
“Each of them” and “they” as subjects have lost their names (and could therefore, rhetorically and didactically, be empty shells for any potential future audience), stripped of the outer trappings of identity and differentiation, and indeed gender and number, an equity and parity that goes beyond the obvious nudity, melting and remolding, transformed into transcendent pure lover/lovers/love.
The way the “game” works is rather different from stereotypical erotic scenarios (and poetry) that lead to and end with the originially intended goal, one man’s satisfaction. It is Flamenca who “wins everything,” then chascus each “win” without getting angry (inc. swearing, being frustrated, losing their temper, losing self-control, and resorting to violence), and we have a final move back to “them” and their pleasures, slowed down with the “help” of Love—perfectly patient perfect teacher—when she calms and reassures them, enabling proper full conscious savouring of the moment, as a joy that incorporates the Occitan (poetic, erotic, and ethical) values of mesura and entendemen (measure and understanding—including comprehension and compassion—in their broadest senses).
Joy requires participants to consent, and this joc par is what consenting looks like. This is a consent of consensuality, of feeling together. This is a consent that is sensitive, aware and attentive, perhaps hyper-sensitive; a consent that is itself another delightful game, one that continues and changes (and changes its players) along the way; in a full sensory eroticism that includes verbal play and thought (penssar ni dir ni desirar, dir e far ll. 6501-02). It is not full consent unless it is fun and it means playing together. It’s not going to be possible with any imbalance in ability to participate properly in parity or with impediments to volition, wit, skill, and measure; such as intoxication or that greatest of post-medieval fictions, “romantic passion.”
For another version of this idea, see “courtly, consenting, carnivalesque condoms” (January 2016) and imagine expanding the writing on them into interactive transactive poems using the wrapper, and how it unwraps, and its inside, and the condom itself for inscribing further poetry in three dimensions, with more of the poem revealed through a slowed-down interactive consenting in movement, and perhaps a punning comic punch-line or happy amusing refrain or tornada that is only revealed at a key moment of unfurling and use. This idea won’t and can’t stop every rape. It could help prevent some of the many that involve miscommunications and misunderstandings, subsequently provoke controversy, and are (ab)used so as to reinforce rape culture. Witty and poetic condoms could refocus lovers on communication and playfulness and pleasure. Just as Amor did in the text above, words in this innovative poetry could slow lovers down and make them think and pay attention to one another, to transform an experience from far alone into an enriched enjoyment enhanced by penssar e dir in which they ben trob[aràn] […] que non es jocs tan saboros.
This is not an erotics of so-called passion, valuing and expecting individual wildness and selfish abandon as an expression of single-minded all-consuming devotion; quite the opposite, it is living a night that might be the only one not as though it were the last night after which one will die, but as though it could be the first of many together. Bearing in mind that Flamenca is, amongst other things, a social satire on courtliness and a political allegory (most if not all of which was) composed after the Albigensian Crusade: flamboyant idealism and art de vivre as resistance, decadent folly tied to a decline and fall, endearing and enduring human silliness, speculative fictional imaginary other world, all of the above?
The passage can also be read as several other alternative love-scenes, one of which is the fumbling and bumbling incompetence of hasty youth too quick on the draw. The “game” and “dice” are in poetic continuation and comment on Guilhem de Peitieus, “Ben vuelh que sapchon li pluzor” (PC 183.2), itself an ironic critique of stereotypes of ideal lovers (and poets, and rulers, and men), in poetic conversation on how to be a good lover (etc.) woven around ben vuelh, ben sen, bona ma; conosc, coyssi, cosselh; and juec. Offering further guidance to “consent” in 21st-century English, we see what delights are enabled by a move from the nominal (juec) to the verbal (fon joguatz) plus some crucial interactive movement (leviey, levat) that transforms the game (fon camjatz) and shows what it means to be a maistre certa […] tan ensenhatz [qui] conosc assatz qu’atressi dei voler lor fi e lor solatz (rough 20th-century idiomatic Englishing: “it’s not the size of the commotion but the motion in the ocean”).
Through shifting the terms from the nominal to the verbal form of “consent,” medieval Occitan poetry and medievalism can help us to move from rape culture to consent culture, from passion to compassion, towards joy, in convivencia.
[End of post-talk expansion]
We could all do worse than to keep JOY in mind as what we’re looking for, yearning after, and aiming towards.
[end of talk; about 3000 words]
POSTSCRIPT & EPILOGUE
[ADDITIONAL ALTERNATIVE ENDINGS LEFT OUT OF TALK]
But. Flamenca is also a deeply cynical romance that toys with its readers, might be one big joke, and has higher-level characters—the queen and Love—play with characters. In the last appearance of consent and joy together: Flamenca certainly derives pleasure from it, but she’s not the one directly speaking (Amor takes over Guilhem in rapture near the start, and does something similar with Flamenca here; just as happens with a motile anthropomorphism in fables and Renart, personification flits from abstract quality to internal psychological attribute, to drive and desire, to physical person). As with the “pren li” scene, Flamenca moves from untrustworthy speech to unambiguous physical action and touch in this, the culminating sexual encounter at the end of which she will send Guillem away… (see the end of the last Flamenca quotation)
But. Is this Amor the goddess of love, or Flamenca as Love, or the personification as idea of Love, or our lovers who have been transformed into love itself as a more poetically elegant version of the proverbial beast with two backs, a conjoined being that feels together in transported joy? (see the very last slide at the end of this post)
[ADDITIONAL NOTES FROM QUESTIONS AND DISCUSSION AT THE END OF THE TALK, AND THINKING SOME MORE ABOUT THEM]
(1) On how Occitan can sound like Portuguese, and its kinship with other modern Romance vernaculars, and prosody (warning: this video is not entirely historically accurate, ex. the early history and mixing up two of the Counts of Toulouse, and is what it would be tactful and polite to call “controversial” in that there is controversy re. recent history. But it’s a useful start.)
(2) CONSEN and CONSENTIMEN as noun-forms:
There is a rationale for the choice of term: practicalities of composition, formal considerations; noting that CONSENTIMEN appears most frequently in the Mystère de Saint Barthélemy (a late 15th-c mystery play, one of the mystères alpins).
Rethinking “consent” to reinforce its connection to “sens(e)”: as we see in the 19th- to early-20th-century Old Occitan dictionaries.
(3) Collaborative work and some further conclusions around Guilhem de Peitieus’s COMUNALMEN:
Flamenca offered examples (caveat: THIS IS FICTION, AND POETRY, NOT NECESSARILY REAL LIFE PRACTICE) of poetic composition, in slow motion, as each of the two-syllable utterances that make up the lovers’ central tenso that structures the work are found—trobat—through conversation. In the case of Guilhem, monologue… or discussion with himself, questioning himself along the way, verging on psychomachia. Knowing that Amor is at least lurking in the background (a voyeur paralleling Archimbaut’s role with respect to Flamenca), it is fun to reread his compositional sequences and seeing at which points it’s possible that it is Amor who is talking, or talking through him (she is referred to as using others oracularly or speaking through them elsewhere; see for ex. l. 5578). All of this composition is collaborative: Guilhem and Amor, Flamenca and Margarida and Alis, and both Flamenca and Guillem with other poetry. My own hypothesis is that this romance was co-composed collaboratively, and done so in at least two layers. (Incidentally, looking at the use of CONSEN* across the Occitan corpus supports recent research identifying Daude de Pradas as (an) author.)
Rethinking “consent” as a verb rather than a noun. The idea that consent isn’t a static object but a process; that it continues, and changes along the way, also in so doing transforming the idea itself and the persons concerned. Consent now also feels more like a living thing, rather than an object that is subject to possession. This grants it a greater right to respect and gives it greater value: true value, removing it and ideas of value from social and economic worth and from a capitalist commodifying ideological system.
Rethinking “consenting” in its verb-form, as a mutable process: this offers potential for resolution (if not “solution,” but that’s an oft-overemphasized gross simplification anyway) to the problem of consent (in its nominal form) as a black-and-white fixed thing with fixed borders and limits: consent is either there or it isn’t. Acknowledging grey areas, or rather, turning it into a whole rainbow, would mean that it’s no longer assumed to be a simple “yes/no” thing but something that needs to be considered more fully and awarely every time, and that is instead assumed to be complicated. This in turn could lessen the risks of tragic and traumatic misunderstanding and of misinterpreting (one way or the other). And could add value, enrichment, diversity, and enjoyment to erotic activity, making it different and changing it along the way; moving from action to interaction to transaction; and away from its reduction to exchanges, appropriations, conquests, and possession within, again, a capitalist commodifying ideological system. Complicated can be good, and to be embraced. It’s more work than taking a logic-gate and project management flow-chart approach, but it’s more intelligent and ethical and aesthetic, more valuable and better in all senses bar that ascribing elegance to over-simplification and reductionism in the name of simplicity and efficiency.
Continuing that mutable process, with respect to poetry, and thinking about it allegorically: We can learn from (medieval Occitan) poetry so as to make consent, and sex and other human relations, more poetic. Just as happens with consenting as active verb-form process, each individual poem—even just in this small corpus, let alone the 300+ in the next stage of this work—questions, rethinks, and reimagines the idea in turn as another active process. The same goes for any poem in relation to other poems known previously, being replied to, being engaged with; see for example the poetic group treating the question “during a storm two knights were on the way to see their ladies. One stopped to help other knights in difficulty, the other rushed on his way to his beloved. Which of the two behaved better?” (ex. Lanfranc Cigala & Guillelma de Rosers, “Na Guilielma, maint cavallier arratge” PC 282.14). And for a poem in relation to others by the same poet(s); and in relation to their contemporaries, that is, other poets and patrons, and with further networks of inter-relationship synchronically and diacronically; and for poems themselves—imagining them, posthumanly, as living breathing beings—as material texts in relation to their context of preservation and transmission through manuscripts, what surrounds a text of a poem in a manuscript, what its relationship is to the the poems around it, and what the relationships are between manuscripts (and their human hands and patrons and owners and readers and so on). A poem is a living part of a collective, community, and ecosystem.
This is the next—longer, more difficult—stage in this present Consent Project: properly and respectfully looking not just at every one of those 300-odd instances of CONSEN/COSSEN in the medieval Occitan corpus; but at each instance in its text, context, intertext, and community; with a view to working towards some higher understanding of transformational transcendent transtextuality. Again, as with a single instance of humans consenting, such work is about resisting and refusing over-simplification and instead embracing the complicated as it is more diverse, richer, more valuable, more enjoyable, and its higher understanding is a joy. This is also a return to my PhD’s title and two of its central themes, “Trobar Cor(s)” and “Erotics and Poetics,” but where these two things are about creative and critical reading (itself a further joyous conjoining).
In classic medieval philological terms of the last century: mouvance (Paul Zumthor) and l’éloge de la variante (Bernard Cerquiglini), writ large.
(4) The Next Steps:
- Stage 2: the Lanfranc Cigala tenso group
- Stage 3: the group of trobadors and works where “consent” features more prominently
—early 12th c. group: Guilhem de Peitieus, Cercamon
—mid-12th c.: Guilhem de Saint-Leidier, Guiraut de Bornelh, Peire de Valeira, Raimbaut d’Aurenga, Rigaut de Barbezilh
—mid- to later 12th c: Arnaut Daniel, Blacatz, Elias de Barjols, Gaucelm Faidit, Guillem Ademar, Perdigon, Pons de Capduelh
—13th c., from the end of the Albigensian Crusade through its aftermath and into exile and the further conversation (and continuation and transformation) into Italy, and shift in poetic culture from canso to sirventes: Azalais d’Altier, Bartolome Zorzi, Bertran d’Alamanon, Bonifaci Calvo, Cerveri de Girona, Daude de Pradas, Gausbert de Puycibot, Guilhem de Montanhagol, Guiraut Riquier, Lanfranc Cigala, Peire Cardenal, Sordello
+ Cansó de la crozada, Flamenca, Girart de Roussilho, Vida de Sant Honorat, Breviari d’Amor
—14th c.: Las Leys d’Amor o Flors del gay saber
—15th c.: Mystère de St Barthélemy
- Stage 4: the what, where, how, and why of every single occurence of CONSEN* and COSSEN*… and COSEN* (which I forgot and will add in here at the end of the week; and re-recheck that I’ve covered the full orthographic range)
Methodology (= reading, close reading, rereading, multiple simultaneous readings, etc.):
- Checking collocation with COMUNALMEN and a couple of other c-words (choice of words to investigate based—as with trobar, amor cortes(a), amor coral, and now consen—on pure subjective gut hunch)
- COMUNALMEN, community, collectivity, and consenting expressed in plural-voice verbs; and in reflexive and reciprocal verbs that are mutual rather than exchanges
- CONSENTADOR: akin to “fenera d’amor cortes” (Flamenca: 1197), a manipulative insincere false (vs true) lover, hollow or incomplete vs perfeit, superficial and the many qualities that are anything but fin; but definitely courtly, courtliness incarnate, with all that that says about cortes as a value and valuing cortesia. This is Bernart de Ventadorn, as compared to Guilhem de Peitieus and most of the poets listed above. (Bonus idea, feel free to play with it: that I was wrong in my old readings of him (diss. ch. 2), missing something key to Flamenca’s criticism and satirising of amor cortes, and Guilhem is a parody of Bernart… at least, in that layer of reading; this romance is about a number of things, simultaneously, including the idea of being about a number of things simultaneously.)
- CONSEN in derivative rhyme, assonance, phonic echoes, and paranomasia (like the buildup to, and building of, “conssi” in Flamenca)
- CONSEN and rhyme, and poems in conversation with one another through shared rhyme (and other metrical matters; and continuation, contrafactum, parody, satire). I’m not just looking for multiple occurences near each other, or multiple occurrences in a poem, or multiple uses by the same poet; but poetically significant use. Quality trumps quantity. Analysis over analytics. Down with metrics, up with mesura.
- In negative structures and in the subjunctive
- Manuscript variation for each text (of course, as usual)
- Manuscripts and materiality: where and how poems exist, in which chansonniers and other books; poems in the context of what lies fore and aft of them, how they are organised in a physical book, what this says about organisational principles and how they are perceived (by at least those persons directly involved with the making of that manuscript)
- Material collectives: networks of relations between poems and poets, between poets and other poets, between poets and patrons, and between patrons and poems and poetry as a cultural whole (via—usually later—manuscript production). Poetry and active participation in poetry is cultural identity. An identity above and beyond and transcending that other less imaginative invention, the nation-state and nation (and its definition and delimitation by birth, which we’ll recall from Aristotle to Christine de Pizan via William of Aragon is a lower form of pseudo-nobility, in contrast with the higher forms of true nobility), and even that idea and ideal in which I grew up, l’Europe sans frontières.
Thinking about all of this ecocritically, of sounds and words and poems and a whole poetry and culture and what happens to it next (death, decomposition, feeding new life, kith and kin, symbionts) bound up all together as one whole living active dynamic environment. This needs more work (i.e. reading by yours truly) to ensure I don’t fall into anthropomorphising poetry through trying to humanise it, to give it (or give it back, or bring out and show) ethical and aesthetic value and life; despite a lifetime of reading speculative fiction, I’m still very wobbly about the borders between the posthuman, the panhuman, and the transhuman. The latter feels like the right idea at the moment, considering all the “trans-“ ideas in and around The Consent Project; transformation, translation, transubstantiation, transcendence, transtextuality. And thinking forward to MLA 2019’s presidential theme, “textual transactions,” which also infused the MLA 2018 “states of insecurity” version of this talk.