Preamble or postscript: some more Kermit the Frog …
Context: FROG WEEK. From Tuesday’s ecosystemical reading of a small frog—linking through to Marie de France—we zoom out to Big Books Of Everything. We’re continuing to read froggishly, with frogs in the background all week, and an introduction to Marie de France and Michel de Montaigne and to their introductions to their works—or, “our” works that are set readings—contextualised within their ecosystems / literary and cultural environments. (We’re observing their environments further, and from varying angles, next week and later too.) That environment will include one of the most fabulous kinds of medieval book with amazing images: bestiaries.TUESDAY LECTURE NOTES including lots of extra bonus stuff: images and links, and the frog stories in Aesop’s Fables and in the Pancatantra.
Big books containing everything: all knowledge, universal histories, “mirrors of humanity,” encyclopaedias. Not a new phenomenon or unique to this part of the world: part of a literary continuum (Physiologus, Isidore of Seville, etc.). One of the commonest, most published and widespread, and most popular kinds of book in the medieval Romance world, and indeed later
Here’s what they look like…
… and, bonus extra, a historically-important 18th c. French encyclopaedia, L’Encyclopédie:
(includes lots of images at the end, of everything down to tiny nuts and bolts: everything counts, however small)
NOW WE GET FUN PICTURES! Bestiaries.
Bestiaries overlap with fables and other kinds of writing: descriptions, stories, for educational purposes (with morals and as social and political commentary), sometimes subversively or shockingly.
What would you expect to find in a bestiary? In what order?
Where would you expect a frog?
What’s actually in a bestiary?
How is it organised?
Is there a prologue, contents, index, catalogue, etc.?
A bonus speculative fiction bestiary from 2015:
How do you make a Big Book Of Everything?
What do you include, exclude, how, why?
Who’s it for: anyone, anywhere, anytime?
How do you organise it?
Big Books Of Everything that you know —> assemble your knowledge.
Marie’s Fables is in lots of manuscripts; her Lais in only five, four of which is missing parts (the longest of them has half the stories and no prologue). The other (BL Harley 978) is a Big Book Of Everything that includes the Fables (+ prologue) and complete extant Lais (+ prologue), amongst a number of things. Marie’s Prologues for her two collections are both asking and answering the question “what’s the point of a collection like this?” A writer has choices: throw you straight in, sink or swim like the frogs, in mud or pond or river, or give some guidance.
Marie’s guidance won’t always be simple and direct. There might be misdirection. The end of the prologue to the Lais, for example, is addressed to a noble king for whom she’s making and dedicating this work: it’s a subtle balance of honouring and flattering him, AND hoping that he can learn something from it (and improve, and be a wise/wiser ruler), AND with hints of sarcasm and mockery … but balanced out by hope that he will be wise, read carefully, and learn.
Go back to the beginning of the prologue: there’s a lot about learning. Everyone can learn; everyone should learn; this book, and learning, is for everyone.
Think about frogs: small, humble, but even a noble wise king can be like a frog in humility.
Montaigne: what he’s doing in and as one whole book, and as a whole self. Rewritings and continuations (up to the last version of his book, “C” in your text): a living book, changing along the way. “To the reader” is the most important Essays reading for today; I’ll weave in excerpts from some other essays: painting a portrait, as an individual and as an everyman / universal human figure.
Have a look at what happens with clothing, disguise, and nakedness; and clothes as a human artifice, what separates from animals, fake skin, and what “culture” might be. (We’ve seen a little about clothes being associated with falseness and hypocrisy in the last three stanzas of the Marcabru poem from Tuesday; we will be talking more about clothing in a later section of the course.)
Like other collections of poems and fables, and like other Big Books Of Everything, and reference works now: the Lais and the Essays are for dipping into, for reading in many directions many times, and they’re (amongst many things) non-linear books for non-linear reading. They are books that contain multiple worlds, and create further possible worlds with every rereading. (Montaigne talks about multiple worlds in II.12, an essay that we’ll meet—in parts, “from lily-pad to lily-pad” as one student nicely put it—in week 3.)
Like other collections of poems and fables, and like other Big Books Of Everything, and reference works now: the Lais and the Essays are for dipping into, for reading in many directions many times, and they’re non-linear books for non-linear reading.
- one of which is our own local public bestiary
- your final project can be a continuation and deepening of that work, and adding more entries
- and what to do for this week’s reading commentary example: Pancatantra: frogs
- One reason why we do not have tests and a final exam in this course: to encourage reading and thinking, including slow reading and fast, skim-reading of lots of things and deep reading of smaller ones, in your own way and at your own pace; never as material to be memorised, always as areas for adventuring. The Pancatantra bonus excerpt also provides an example of commentary and discussion around a reading.
What’s non-linear literature and reading?
(Reading like frogs.)
—Commentary is an important kind of writing in this broad period, and sermons, and translation
—Another major kind of commentary: legal. Here’s where Montaigne comes in (brief bio background).
Here are some examples of multi-layer texts with commentary, of several types: religious, medical, legal, Aristotle; and Montaigne: