Once upon a time, there were many Flamencas. All of them had a kernel of narratio fabulosa truth in common.
A woman, a fiery force, light-bringer priestess and oracular mouthpiece for otherworldly powers, has been trapped burning bright in perpetual fire in a tower, lighting up the skies and visible from miles away. No-one knew where she came from or who she was or had been or how long she had been there; no-one wondered or cared about why she was or what she called herself or thought about this, what her story was: she was just there, and always had been, as the burning one. She has been raped. Despite having lost her virginity and in spite of not having borne any progeny, her value and desirability are increased by her imprisonment. She cannot love or think, sorrow or joy, or do, or feel. She cannot be kind or cruel. Be thankful for such small mercies because men are lured to her from far and wide only to dash themselves to death on her rocks, every one making her burn with a purer and brighter flame. If you are very lucky, you may catch a glimpse of her during the culminating moment of a religious ceremony or when you visit a certain special natural spring to take its healing waters.
An older man, a paradox of power and impotence, of wisdom and folly, tragically condemned by contemporary convention to a life of the highest courtly love, raping once and then being a possessive jealous voyeur forever after. A man in the middle, a middle manager, who exercises what control he can over his world, assisted by the authority of age and status and manliness; but who is in turn manipulated by higher forces into a twisted game based in false perceptions of wealth, enrichment, property, investment, worth, and desire for promotion to an aristocratic élite. This drives him, and drives him mad. Being a man of enough intelligence to understand how he is trapped and stuck in this trap forever, he tries to escape it through invention and artifice. As he locked her up—though it wasn’t entirely his own idea—he would like to believe that he made Flamenca and that her ever-increasing value profits him.
A younger man, a dream man, a man woven from dreams: “fenera d’amor cortes” (l. 1197; a “courtly fake(r) of love”), a fiction made by our elder artificer is conjured out of those very contemporary conventions that trap him: a paragon of virility and vigour, wealthy, beautiful, and perfect in every way save those qualities that are naturally lacking in youth: inexperience, overenthusiasm, premature ejaculation, innocence. He is an adventurer, a seeker of knowledge and truth, a conquering hero. He is destined to be Flamenca’s lover and to live happily ever after. He, too, will engage in ingenious invention and managerial activities: disguise as a clerc and organising an engineering feat in which a tunnel is dug (not by his own hand) from natural springs to bedchamber.
A love triangle, because that is of course what all true romance and courtly love is about. Even satire, indeed especially satire as a sort of extended allegory. This is just literature, after all, and like any literature it’s part of history, and necessarily limited to the conditions and world of its making. Even so, a love story would be dull without such complications, even though every plot must necessarily lead to the same happy ending for a happy hero who ends up in a happy couple.
As expected, a love story has some further characters and complicating sub-plots, even royal and divine super-powers, who are all just there to keep the whole artifice ticking along; this pretty man-made mechanism that like any artificially intelligent device, from Persian and Byzantine automata to robots today, can and should only be expected to do certain things and move in certain ways. It’s an artificial intelligence after all: lifelike but a fake, a simulacrum, a semblance, objects to be used, not real or capable of all that goes with intelligence and life.
There have been other Flamencas on this blog; the first was the Flamenca of Trobar Cor(s): Erotics and Poetics in Flamenca (2006). Another day, there will doubtless be another version of Flamenca on here; and more on other days: for there are many Flamencas and many other stories of Flamenca, the ones that couldn’t be contained in a doctoral dissertation or subsequent readings and writings and rereadings.
The telling of this story here starts, as usual, in one of three ways:
1 A colloquial Dublin greeting, always meant literally as well as figuratively: “What’s the story?”
2 The many senses of the traditional Hiberno-Irish “Now … ”
3 “So:” (or, Heaney’s Hwæt)
My colleague and fellow Occitanist VMW brought a new Flamenca to my attention, with news from the Education section of Thursday’s El Diario. It’s always good to see more Flamencas in the world: this is how subversive ingenious trobairitz lives and breathes and continues. At least, on first reading, I thought it was a new Flamenca. I was, I admit, rather excited.
Then I wondered if it wasn’t new after all, and it was just a publisher trying to make money out of someone else’s work: a young scholar (well, youngish, depending on your definitions; my generation), published too soon, a book that burned out at the wrong time, now “given” a second chance at life, assisted by an appropriate authority’s patronage and protection.
“La Universidad de Murcia reeditará el libro ‘El Roman de Flamenca’ …”
Publicity is publicity and I’ve long been saying that Flamenca is one of The Great Works Of Medieval European Literature, it’s nice to have been fifteen years ahead though one must try not to be smug because that wouldn’t be properly ladylike let alone professional (remember what Terry Pratchett’s witch community has to say about cackling), and it’s good that Flamenca is getting more visibility and thus potentially more readers.
But: I’d like to see this “new” edition in the flesh before commenting further; if it is indeed one or one of significance: the 2010 Covarsí Carbonero book (out of print) being just* a Spanish translation, based on Huchet’s 1988 edition.
(*) I say “just” as someone who has read the manuscript and all the extant editions and translations of Flamenca and who is herself currently translating another Old Occitan text, but doing so without pretension to her work being an edition; though the Spanish “reeditará” is ambiguous and could simply mean reprinting a book that is currently out of print, the plan does seem to be to reshape the Spanish to make it flow better, and move it into prose. Which is a shame, as Covarsí writes good verse.
Let’s remember that the manuscript is online for anyone to read and work with. With potential for more open access scholarship: not gatekeeping via the right sorts of publishers and via the intermediary of authoritative approving nods by universities and senior professors. Not a restricted access for restricted purposes and interests: commodification, conservative values, national pride. And not what we’re seeing here, in its conjunction of university, publishing, and journalism as extractive industries.
Here is a list of extant manuscript witnesses, editions, and translations from 2016 and here is an idea of what a “new” edition might look like so as to be worthy of that adjective and of readers’ excitement. And that’s just the state of the bibliographical field with respect to “the” text itself, further to a round-table at the 51st International Congress on Medieval Studies (Kalamazoo) in 2016.
And then I was angry, and burned more furiously with every rereading of the original article in El Diario.
“El libro incluye la traducción y estudio crítico de esta obra anónima del siglo XIII cuya única copia se encuentra en la biblioteca municipal de Carcasona (Francia) desde 1834”
The unicum was rescued and moved into Carcassonne municipal library during the Revolution, the first work on the manuscript is by François Just Marie Raynouard in 1812 and his publications of excerpts from it, bringing its existence to public attention, are from the period when he was a member of the Académie de inscriptions (from 1815) and publishing transcriptions of Old Occitan poetry from manuscripts, essays thereon, and philological work associated with them (1816 through the 1820s; he is also a member of the Académie française—now formally an Immortel—and working on their dictionary); all of this well before 1834. While not complete, his confusingly-named “Notice” is the first edition of Flamenca: Notices et extraits des manuscrits de la Bibliothèque nationale et autres bibliothèques vol. XIII part 2 (Paris, 1827): 80-132. Someone may have crossed an “18..” date with the manuscript cataloguing number, 34. They might also have misread this, in the short description and introduction that accompanies the digitised manuscript at occitanica.eu:
We could quibble that Fernando Navarro writing in El País (13 November 2018) gets things even more wrong, placing the manuscript in the 14th century, but that’s a trivial detail when you read his reading and flamboyant defence of a masterpiece as a whole: “Por qué ‘El mal querer’ de Rosalía es una obra maestra. Más allá de la promoción y la atención mediática, la cantaora, que une magistralmente los universos del flamenco y el pop contemporáneo, es dueña de su propio lenguaje” is a fine review of the real new Flamenca here which is Rosalía’s album; it’s marvellous to see—speaking as a Flamenca scholar—how Rosalía has got, and communicated, Flamenca (Flamencheria?) in ways that transcend any journalistic failures in general knowledge, medieval cultural and Occitan literary understanding, research skills, and misfortunate editorial decisions.
The text and its editing and scholarly work has a much longer history than El Diario suggests. Albeit one factor here—in Spain as in countries like the UK and France, and their media—might be what counts as history and knowledge: a whole world, or one’s own home in all its glorious nationalism, monolingual insularism, and nostalgic imperialist rêverie. A second factor: this piece look like PR spin, and it is: you’ll find versions of this “story,” to use the journalistic and marketing communications term, on the websites of the university concerned and its university press. I recognise the style and phenomenon, not just from my own institution, but from regular reading of the reporting (and misreporting, hilarious at best, actively dangerous at worst) of university and research news, butchered and (re)written by non-experts for their perception of a general public. (This is, if you will, a further Flamenca.)
What is arts and humanities research for? What use is it? It’s in the very first paragraph:
La próxima edición está ultimándose y la previsión es que pueda estar a la venta dentro de un mes, aproximadamente.
If the reference is to that 2010 book published by Murcia university press, that’s overselling it. It’s just* a translation with a rather short and superficial introduction; that is, in comparison with Roberta Manetti (2008, Stem Mucchi, more expensive but the best edition this century) and Zufferey & Fasseur (2014, Livre de Poche collection “Lettres Gothiques,” and still the best value for money), both of which have the added virtues of being available as they are in print.
(*) a qualified “just,” as in the earlier note
“los ejemplares disponibles del libro, publicado en 2007”
🧐 is factually bibliographically untrue, to the best of my knowledge:
I know of no edition of it from 2007. The only extant Spanish text was not published in 2007 but 2010 and is no longer available (library copies only), being out of print.
[There are other problems with this article, but I have valiantly tried to do that Fair And Balanced thing.]
It’s a shame, but in fairness it’s no worse a case of lazy scholarship and error-perpetuation than happens in the scholarly world. I’m never sure how to balance anger at injustice and getting thing wrong and not caring enough about them to get them right, with patience and clemency towards ignorance and being understanding towards enthusiasm. I can feel the excitement here about a wonderful musical and multimedia project; I’ve always thought—and it’s a very old thought, one that’s been had by many—that this sort of work and movement to another medium is the most exciting, renovative and innovative, kind of translation (broad and narrow sense).
I’m hoping the Rosalía musical translation does well and brings Flamenca to a range of audiences, and in many places. And we can also think of this as Rosalia’s Flamenca, as much Flamenca as Rosalia, a reading and interpretation, and to my mind a finer kind of medievalist work being one that is more humble and respectful, more honestly creative and critical, both more human and more hers than a pseudo-objective-critically-distanced-proper-scholarly-scientifique translation (and a promised new edition with authoritative buttressing by an authoritative senior older man).
I’d been thinking about “how to translate Flamenca” for a long time; I don’t think that yet another fixed printed book, or yet another Proper Serious Scholarly Edition Of An Authoritative Text, is either the way to go or appropriate. I was only half kidding in an old blog post (2015) on an idea for an ideal (post-book) edition.
I do actually think that multimedia is The Way, and after the success of the recent Netflix Black Mirror “Bandersnatch” interactive special (2018), feel vindicated in my PhD’s reading of Flamenca as a Choose Your Own Adventure literary, imaginative, moral, speculative fictioneering experiment. Rosalía’s work is part of that Way.
“El román de Flamenca llegó a la editorial de la Universidad de Murcia de la mano de Fernando Carmona, profesor emérito de Filología Románica de la Universidad de Murcia, especializado en literatura medieval.”
That’s the last sentence of the El Diario article. So: no, stuff all that “in all fairness” foolishness and its sulphurous whiff of both-sides-ism.
**** being overly-understanding.
Let’s call a spade a spade. A publisher is trying to make money out of a multimedia tie-in (music this time, we usually see this with film and TV adaptations), off the back of someone else’s work.
Work on a literary work that is, amongst many things, about being an object of use, about consent, about resistance and perdurance and survival, and about objecting to abuse.
The narrative motor in Flamenca is rape.
Rape, in the plural.
The first rape is the most obvious. There is no way that a reader can fail to see it. There is no way that an intelligent reader can fail to see the cold dark bitter burning rage behind the irony of its portrayal. Well, there could be ways: if you have no knowledge or awareness of rape. If you are not of this world. If you are from an alien species to whom this is new and perhaps—physically and otherwise—impossible and inconceivable.
In the articles and reports presented here, and they are a representative sample of the Spanish media, rape is absent; and in the Authoritative Territorial Quotes making Responsible Wise Expert Statements; absent too, any awareness of what rape means in its extended significance.
This is rape culture.
I’m still tempted to be fair here—for I am weak and flawed—and see some good in Covarsí’s Flamenca being granted renewed life, as it’s good to have more Flamenca in the world, and it’s good that should include scholarly Flamencas.
Also, Covarsí has written (amongst other things) a Flamenca fiction too, as a supplement and parallel to his doctoral research work: the novel El Bastón de Avellano (2015). That’s brilliant: would that there were more of that in the arts and literate humanities (and further afield, why not?) and more possibilities at universities elsewhere, as I was priviledged to enjoy, of doing independent innovative doctoral research work that is both critical and creative; while, yes of course, being properly grounded in historical work, close reading of primary texts, comprehensive reading of all diachronic and synchronic relatives, literary history, literary criticism, critical theory, philology, and anything and everything that could possibly be related or even tenuously relevant. That is why a humanities doctorate takes time, even for the hyperlexic.
A lack of the creative, that sense of constraint and limitation, and its frustration is one of the points of a fine sensitive interview with Covarsí on Lecturafilia, “EL PROBLEMA ACTUAL DE LA EDUCACIÓN ES SU POLITIZACIÓN, FALTA VOCACIÓN HUMANÍSTICA EN SU PLANIFICACIÓN” (27 February 2016) about his novel and its relationship with his other work. See for example:
Just as we saw with Emily Wilson’s Odyssey, I would love to see more translations and new creative versions that are poems. Nothing flows like poetry. No prose can be as fluid; if it is, it’s probably actually a Ponge proëme or otherwise prose poetry. Murcia have are mistaken in thinking that it’s an exciting editorial move to emphasize that a translation is a prose one:
La reedición que se está preparando, ha realizado pequeños ajustes en la traducción para hacer más fluida la lectura del texto. Además, su traducción está adaptada a la prosa, frente a la redacción en verso del original.
I hope that Covarsí not only continues to write fiction, but considers continuing with poetry too (fictional or otherwise), and maybe brings a Spanish verse Flamenca into being elsewhere, with a more appropriate, intellectually and aesthetically responsible, publisher. I hope that he is able to do so, and not subjected to manipulation for others’ profit.
I’m on his side here. For while, in the El Diario article above, there is no direct mention of rape; Covarsí comes close, referring to themes of feminism and liberation, and using the phrase “posesion y maltrato” in what looks like it was originally a longer quotation that’s been taken out of context and cut, which reappears in the reporter’s prose as “maltrato psicológico y une situación de dominación.” I guess that sounds sexier. We mustn’t forget that we’re in the business of selling a product here.
The other spade to call out as being a spade here is some classic classy journalism. The creative work of Rosalía was, by the time of writing, well known. National and international exposure aside, Alicia García de Francisco had also written about her work in El Diario’s Culture section on 11 September.
In the 17 January article in the Education section, the creative work of a female artist has been overshadowed, reduced to a reason for talking about the non-creative work of a male proper scholar, which frames reference to her work. A non-creative work that’s not very critical and arguably even anti-creative, perpetuating as it does a certain kind of work and publishing, and their place as central cogs in an insitutional (and institutionalising) system that is one of systemic institutional social injustice. That male scholar is framed in turn within the context of an authoritative institution, which occupyies the position in this narrative of an opening courtly frame. The Flamenca Carcassonne manuscript is an excellent example of such courtly framing devices, its whole first section being set at Archambaut’s court, including a famous long wedding-party episode that has been worked on by many scholars over the last 200 years as a rich valuable source of useful historical information.
Meanwhile a few lines away, in a shorter few lines, Archambaut rapes Flamenca.
Both the manuscript and El Diario’s article end by returning to that courtly frame, closing it in this case with an authoritative older man who gets the last word. Closing down a book and its reading and the continuing active work of making sense of it; shutting out a younger outsider woman; excluding her from trobar, except as an object to be used to stimulate one’s own motive force and generate one’s own (pseudo-)creative output.
There are many other stories of Flamenca that have yet to be written.
Stories of the manuscript’s writing (some is happening with work on Daude de Pradas) and its medieval reading and reception history; of the currently unknown (and perhaps unknowable) adventures that resulted in “our” “having” “one” manuscript.
Stories of two centuries’ readings and their readers, of scholarly work, editions, translations, and versions of all kinds; the kith and kin that are the many Flamencas; and long and far may that storytelling, and thus Flamenca, trobairitz, and engien, continue.
Opening up a book. Sharing and welcoming others into what is a very open (admittedly dangerously seductively so) hospitable text and textual community, into the continuing interactive collaborative work of opening up ever more senses, plural; multiplying Flamencas, embracing and including all into trobairitz.
These stories include how each of us came to Flamenca. For many, this was as students. Some of our stories share Flamenca’s triangular structures (there are other triangles at work, other configurations—gender and orientation, for example—and other shapes, besides the simple superficial one above). Sometimes this is disquieting, and just as with our shared common medieval book, I marvel at how it manipulates and plays us. I feel sorrow and sympathy—for, yes, women can and do feel—for men cast in Guilhem’s role, working under Archambauts to “find” and “dig” more out of our book and “make” it “theirs” and make their own “book” out of it.
Some of us were or are not men, in other kinds of relationship with our literary environment—less extractive, proprietorial, exclusive; more open, symbiotic, lively, co-creative—and in other triangular arrangements. In my own case, my first doctoral advisor was an older man, Karl D. Uitti, who had, amongst other things, worked extensively on ideas of the “lyric triangle” (roughly speaking: the first-person voice in a poem, the lover, the poet-compositor-writer-creator). He died when I was part way into starting writing, after which I then worked with three other scholars who generously took on a troubled orphan. Two men (François Rigolot and John V. Fleming) and a woman (Sarah Kay), all older than me, in relationships that mixed the avuncular, collegial, and friendly. One reason why I’ve never reworked my doctoral dissertation as a book is that it’s as much about that time and those working relationships as it is about Flamenca, and I wasn’t sure how to disentangle those narrative threads (to make a proper scholarly monograph out of one of them) or whether I ought to (to avoid risking breaking threads and destroying a thing as a whole). It’s also a work about loss: the losses around a manuscript and a culture, and the loss of a real live person. Complications and all: there is some of Uitti in “my” Archambaut and in my work from that time, and a few years after, on lyrical imprisonment and other literary entrapment. In the year or so after he died, I produced some strange things, parts of which made their way into the dissertation: eating hearts and true love (and love triangles and the first public outing of a theory of amor coral), parity and companionship (much of it completely wrong, but fun slides), rehabilitating a villain (on Archambaut).
Complications. It was when Uitti died that I spent, or felt able to spend, more time reading beyond that Flamenca-Guilhem-Archambaut triangle. I had already gone beyond the obvious simple linear single-hero story of Guilhem a long time before, in early reading of Flamenca; it’s already in the 2003 prospectus and proposal. I know now but am not sure how aware I was at the time that it was in an odd sort of homage and honour to Uitti that, in 2004-5, I was still thinking of Archambaut as a less obvious but meritorious focus within the triangle and as its apex. My next advisers helped gently to free me from triangles, hierarchical constructs, vicious circles, and snares that were as much of my own perverse devising as they were of a haunting and of a perilous text. As I can be a combination of instinctively anti-authoritarian, blind, and stubborn, directly guiding me doesn’t always work very well; it would also be inappropriate in doctoral work, which is supposed to be individual autonomous new research. As I’m also an intuitive sort of reader, lazy, overambitious, and undisciplined it’s a miracle that they steered me away from doing anything too grotesquely stupid.
I do remember a phase of forever rewriting plans, and Sarah Kay telling me to stop that and start writing, forget about linearity and order, call it “chapter x” and then continue writing fore and aft of that centre. She was of course right and wise, and saved me for future wilder adventures in multi-dimensional creative reading: burrowing, swimming, flying, time travel, hinges, folds, gaps, making space and time where it didn’t exist previously, fluid taphonomics, and opening up a text in fair welcome to all readers, imaginable and beyond. And so I wrote a dissertation from the middle outwards, a writing that followed a reading that in turn followed an unprovable hunch that that was how Flamenca was composed, shaped, made, trobat. Ten years later, nearly eight after I’d finished and defended, there would be a frisson of uncanny déjà vu when I first met “Area X” in Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy. It was around then, February 2014, that I was first able to return to Flamenca. X, the hinge of chiasmus, of ineffable transcendent poetic moment, X marks the spot.
There would later be adventures beyond simple single focalisation and a straight narrative line: in simultaneous multiple readings from all three points of view, and choose your own adventure readings from the point of view of each of these three principal protagonists. One of this romance’s technical complications is its multiple focalisation, the narrative’s parts being distinguished from one another by their change in focalisation. We see some events from the point of view of Archambaut, some from that of Guilhem, some from that of Flamenca, some from that of Flamenca and Guilhem together; court-centred focalisation is also used, and there are very interesting passages seen through the eyes of (a) first-person narrator(s) and commentator(s), and of Love herself.
By the time that Uitti died, I had already been looking beyond the triangle at other characters, and narrative and commentating voices, as is usual in multiple close readings; combining that with an awareness and wariness of the text’s instabilities (including its silences of history and prehistory), unfiability, and play with readers; and investigating questions of authorship and authority, finding and making, and questioning post-medieval preconceptions and expectations around writing and writers. I have to thank my good fortune in ending up working not just with one advisor but with three, together though mostly with a Doktormutter. I am grateful to them, and Dame Fortune herself too of course, for this polyphonic and interrogative approach; less Guillaume de Lorris’s jardin de Déduit with a fountain in the middle, more Jean de Meun’s rose-bush that’s in several places (and none) at once and Borges’s Garden of Forking Paths. These questions grew as the dissertation and I moved into our later stages of writing.
Some of these questions, which other readers might be interested in working on and working out too:
Why should we assume that this is one single text, by one hand, and that hand should be that of a man, who has had a specific kind of education, and who names himself (or better still, cunningly disguises himself in fake modesty) in “his” “own” work?
Why should we assume that what we have in this book (which has been barbarously rebound in such as a way as to disguise its quire structure) is in “the right” order?
What assumptions are we making about that right order, and “original” “sense,” and intent and purpose as what we think of as a certain formal and categorical kind of work?
If a text seems to have layers and discontinuities, does that indicate a preservation of older and other threads, woven and knitted in, with patches over holes (though lacunae remain and could be an aesthetic feature and deliberate playful artifice in their own right) and embroidery on top?
Could an apparently layered text be one of fusion and translatio, creative remixing, “tret d’un conte d’avanture / une mout bele conjointure” (Chrétien de Troyes, prologue to Erec et Enide, ll. 13-14)?
Could it have been made by more than one hand at the same time, the hands of pseudonymous or anonymous co-compositors, working together but differently, in concert? This could be in one of the several senses of the prologue to Chrétien de Troyes’s Chevalier de la charrette:
Del Chevalier de la Charrete
comance Crestïens son livre
matiere et san li done et livre
la contesse, et il s’antremet
de panser, que gueres n’i met
fors sa painne et s’antancïon. (ll. 24-29)
Why close something down and shut others out?
Why narrow sense to a single correct one, or even look for such a thing? This is poetry, after all. Why not look for as many senses as possible, luxuriate in them, and revel in opening them up and in helping Flamenca open up to more senses? To more readings, more readers, and a virtuous cycle of making sense; a toast to trobar, and to a trobairitz feminist derivative ingenuity that expands trobar and extends it in fair welcome to all!
How, and how far, is this work also other things at the same time: literary compendium, parodic encyclopaedic summa, allegory, political satire, metaphorical fabulous universal history, treatise on government and education and composition, self-help guide to reading and life, experimental alternative speculative fiction, work of (and maybe even by, if it includes itself and its future readers and writers) and about intelligence and artificial intelligence, and a joke?
Later, I ventured into wondering what Amor (the feminine personification of Love) was doing. I still do: and about her relationship to Flamenca herself (another post coming soon here: Flamenca As Vessel, with thanks to AK for the reminder) and to Fortune, without whom my doctoral work would have been different, as would I, as would have been the next fifteen years, and as would my late first advisor.
Flamenca is much more than a simple triangle or a simplistic tale of desire; or rather, of a certain kind of heterosexual desire, as perceived and expressed by a certain kind of man. These things ought be spelled out because there is more to desire—and to men, humanity, and life—than toxic masculinity and rape. There is hope, and there are ways out of this book’s nightmarish sterile repetitions, condemning generations of future readers to their worlds’ versions of triangular entrapment: in writing, in love, in life, in work, in academia. One way is to look to the multiple other voices: those that might look minor and marginal, who might look irrelevant or alien, but who may turn out to have more potential for movement, be possessed of a more lively intelligence, and show an ability to work together, collaboratively and collegially rather than competitively. One way to do this, in practical terms, is to read Flamenca not as too many of us have done on a one-on-one graduate level—or rather, that ill-fated group of three that is two individuals and a book—but in groups: as an undergraduate class text, in group work projects (creative and/or critical, encore une mout bele conjointure), in reading groups inside and outside “the” “academy” that bridge a divide and transcend actual and perceived walls around academia. “My” Flamenca is an anarchist and feminist one, and unashamedly anachronistic: a woman for all seasons and, alas, who may often seem to be a woman for none.
There is hope in new Flamencas.
The new Flamenca that is the most exciting and innovative one of the last decade is a new kind Flamenca and an old one, older and more radical, in both senses of the word, than any modern printed text or scholarly edition.
A Flamenca of song and dance, in a music of experimental artistic fusions and renaissances, renovations and innovations, a Flamenca conjoined with Flamenco (who thus saves all Flamenca scholars from ever having to say again, “no, no relation”). She was dreamed by a woman artist, Rosalía, in her second album El Mal Querer. Critics have called it “radical” and “experimental”; in a good way, though sometimes ambiguously or negatively in Spain. Its first single is “Malamente.”
Coverage in the mainstream Spanish and Catalan media is well worth reading: not just for any Flamenca specialist but for anyone working with literature, translation, genre, adaptation and appropriation, appropriateness and propriety and property, medievalism, and feminism. See, for example, how ABC’s tune changes between November …
… and December of last year:
Critical attention, positive and negative, has shifted over four months from heretical hybridity by an outsider, to its medievalism and questions of purity and outrageous transgression that are all too familiar to anyone working on authorship and authority, women’s work, social structures, power relations, class, race, nationalism, and gender. Media coverage of the Rosalía Flamenca phenomenon has resulted in some more people knowing some more about the 13th-century Occitan Flamenca, though at what cost? For it does, of course, still need to be mansplained by someone suitably authoritative brought back specially from the past* and with, in both articles, photographs by a lightly-veiled Guilhem de Nevers himself.
(*) I’m guessing from the mid-19th century: certainly from before any international scholarly Flamenca work of the last forty years, fairly definitely antedating Paul Meyer’s second edition of the manuscript in 1901, and probably from before his work with Gaston Paris, the latter’s work on courtly love, and their philological work on Romania in the second half of the century. The august expert’s misgendering of Amors suggests that he was reading a translation rather than the original Old Occitan. It’s a revealing error, if I had to choose just one of the many, to place alongside the absence of rape.
So. Do of course read all the other people writing about this new Flamenca, but more importantly and urgently, listen to Rosalía herself: compared to the expert explanations and gatekeeping and indeed vasty swathes of our scholarly work, there’s more Flamenca in any single track from El Mal Querer. Rosalía is doing stellar work of opening Flamenca up to bring others in: those who even the most uncreative readers and crustiest scholars might have considered dubiously plausible or possible; the possible and the impossible; the imaginable and the unimaginable. In a Flamenca sans frontières, of bridges not walls: who’s next? What’s next? What other Flamencas will there be?