The Medieval Review 11.02.05

Hüe, Denis. Rémanences, Mémoire de la forme dans la littérature médiévale. Essais sur le Moyen Âge, EMA 45. Paris: Honoré Champion , 2010. Pp. 320. 87.04 EUR ISBN 9782745319715. .

Reviewed by:

Markus Cruse
Arizona State University

The creation of a single-author article collection can be a tricky business, especially when the author is a prolific polymath who has been writing for years. So it is by no means obvious that Rémanences: Mémoire de la forme dans la littérature médiévale, a compilation of fourteen articles published between 1990 and 2008 by Denis Hüe, should succeed as a coherent volume, even if the articles themselves merit attention. As of this writing, Hüe's webpage lists 102 articles published or forthcoming. That this collection does, for the most part, possess conceptual integrity and reward reciprocal reading of its individual pieces is a testament to the careful selection that went into its preparation. This integrity speaks to Hüe's ability to distill common elements from multiple sources, which he does consistently in these studies despite his willingness to pursue comparisons that run counter to the traditional categories (generic, temporal, linguistic) of medieval literature and cultural production. Almost every article offers an original insight into the relationship between medieval works of literature, literature and art, or between medieval works and those of previous or later periods. These articles are a useful demonstration of how the well-formulated and concise question, largely devoid of methodological or theoretical a prioris, can lead to penetrating and revealing analyses of texts and mentalities.

Perhaps the weakest part of this volume is Hüe's introduction, which at the beginning is highly general and abstract, gives little indication of Hüe's originality, and does not offer a clear indication of the volume's purpose. But further into the introduction the arguments come into focus. The overarching concern of the collection is with epistemology, and specifically with the ways in which each culture has specific forms (hence the book's subtitle) in which it must present information for that information to be perceived as valid (be this validity historical, intellectual, aesthetic, devotional, or spiritual). Hüe is interested in the organization of thought understood in the broadest sense, such that even music and emotion count among the phenomena that he examines. Yet this focus on form does not mean that Hüe is primarily concerned with genre or that he adheres to canonical genre categories. Rather, he addresses the "interdépendance" among traditional genres and many other systematized forms of conceptual organization, from romances to antiphons to encyclopedias. Though the term recurs infrequently, these essays are fundamentally about the "art" (in the etymological sense of praxis or craft) of generating and organizing ideas.

The book is divided into three parts, the first of which is devoted to the structuring of didactic discourse through the use of metaphor. The first article, "Structures et rhétoriques dans quelques textes encyclopédiques du Moyen Âge," examines how information was organized and presented in medieval encyclopedias. This article demonstrates Hüe's talent for insightful comparison, as when he observes that whereas modern encyclopedia entries are often devoid of references and conceived as self-contained sources, their medieval counterparts were richly citational and intended as portals to authoritative works. Hüe analyzes encyclopedism's influence on lay literature of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries before concluding that laicization and moralization brought an end to the encyclopedia, which no longer responded to the needs of learned secular or ecclesiastical publics. The second article, "Miroir de mort, Miroir de vie, Miroirs du monde," examines the diverse metaphorical meanings of the mirror in a broad range of works, from encyclopedias to poetry to iconography. An interesting aspect of this study is Hüe's discussion of the influence of the design and use of real mirrors on these metaphors, an illuminating example of how material culture can inform literary analysis and the history of ideas. The third article, "Alcuin et Merlin, ou le sage imaginaire: le dialogue dans quelques textes didactiques médiévaux," examines the development of the dialogue from the ninth to thirteenth century. Hüe argues that the relatively equal relationship between interlocutors in early dialogues changed considerably in the thirteenth century under the influence of the lay nobility and its readerly tastes. The dialogue now became more about marvel and diversitas, and the sage came to resemble Merlin and the learned hermits of romance who possess all the knowledge that their interlocutors need. The fourth article, "Reliure, clôture, culture, le contenu des jardins," analyzes the garden not as a motif but as an ordering principle in medieval writing and devotion. Hüe pursues a thematic rather than chronological structure that enables him to highlight interesting parallels between works from different lands and eras. As Hüe shows, the garden was an infinitely metaphorizable object used in discussions of everything from social hierarchy to pleasure, morality, religious conduct, and natural history. The fifth and last article in this section, "La poésie palinodique comme approche encyclopédique du monde," presents one of Hüe's more original comparisons. The poetic form in question is the "chant royal," in which the last line of every stanza is repeated (not poetry of retraction, as is usually meant by "palinodique"). Hüe's argument is that encyclopedism is what you make it--an "attitude" more than a defined set of practices--and he sees the encyclopedic impulse at work in the late medieval poetry of the Puy de Rouen, about which he should have included summary information. The Marian poems of this group equate the Virgin with creation, which leads to a collection of poems in which "le monde s'ouvre." Hüe's concluding comments on the affinities between these poems, exploration, and science are quite evocative.

The second section of the book examines the use of citation in medieval texts and the ways in which it helps construct a first-person narrator or presence. In the first article in this section, "L'apprentissage de la louange. Pour une typologie de la prière dans les Pèlerinages de Guillaume de Digulleville," Hüe addresses the ways in which Digulleville resolves the contradiction of writing prayers that are emotionally spontaneous yet highly codified. He argues that for Digulleville, prayer is a superior form of instruction that simultaneously contributes to narrative or dramatic progression. He sees Digulleville's pilgrimage texts as mimicking the hierarchy of prayer, which leads from pleas for freedom from evil, for good for oneself, and for good for others, to the final stage of adoration. The second article, "La vérité du mensonge: stratégie poétique et polémique chez Rutebeuf," analyzes how Rutebeuf deploys multiple messages simultaneously to create a unique kind of satire and irony. Hüe's observation that Rutebeuf had a freedom to employ allegory and imagery forbidden to theologians is particularly noteworthy, as it underscores the extent to which vernacular writing could draw on and subvert official discourse. The third article, "À la lettre: Le Voir Dit comme roman épistolaire," argues that Machaut was the first author to use letters in a "modern"--psychologically spontaneous and intimate-- manner. Hüe compares Machaut's work to razos, thirteenth- and sixteenth-century treatises on rhetoric, and medieval music to illustrate the innovative nature of the Voir Dit, which he argues is not a lyric and narrative work enriched by letters, but an epistolary novel embedded in other peritexts. The fourth and final article in this section, "Psaumes, prières, paraphrases et récritures," studies the ways in which late medieval poets adapted biblical and liturgical texts. Hüe observes that authors such as Molinet, Meschinot, and those of the Puy de Rouen had to be very attentive as they used sacred texts in their poetry lest they deviate from orthodoxy. He sees their vernacularization of prayer as a phenomenon parallel to but ultimately separate from the Reformation, and as the foundation for the more creative paths taken in later devotional poetry.

The third and final section of the book is concerned with rewriting as a literary practice. The first article, "L'entrée de jeu de Merlin," examines Merlin's role in Robert de Boron's Merlin by focusing on the meaning of his laughter. Hüe begins by interpreting Merlin's laugh in light of the Bible and of clerical culture, where laughter is tied to astonishment and wonder. He then demonstrates that Merlin's laugh signals the rewriting of his cthonic associations, since he laughs when he prophesizes and all of his prophecies are linked to the earth. He concludes by arguing that Arthur's birth leads to a more syncretic narrative model in which Merlin, who co-exists uneasily with a Christianized universe, is necessarily marginalized. The second article, "Marie de France exemplaire," analyzes the ways in which Marie reconciles her didactic aims with lyric form. Hüe argues that "Equitan" is a key to understanding Marie's purpose because she refers to it as an "ensemple"--exemplum--and it is the only one of her lais in which adulterers die. "Equitan" exposes Marie's other lais as anti-exempla--a polyphonic collection of instructive tales focused on a morality grounded in courtly love. The third essay, "Un chien dans le cycle du Roi: le lévrier d'Auberi et les enjeux symboliques du pouvoir dans l'imaginaire carolingien," discusses the various intertexts of the Chanson de Macaire. Hüe argues convincingly that this text not only cites the Roland, the Guillaume d'Orange cycle, Renaut de Montauban, and the Pèlerinage de Charlemagne, but that it was rewritten in northern Italy to emphasize economic rather than royal power, thus reflecting the ideology of its new audience. The fourth article, "La Fontaine et le pin," examines the ways in which characters perceive the marvelous fountain in Yvain to construct an anthropology of the marvel. Hüe notes that the fountain is never described independently by the narrator, but only as it appears to different characters for whom its meaning and appearance keep changing. He argues that the fountain is the perfect symbol of conjointure, in that through it Chrétien both fuses his source material to the courtly and chivalric ethos, and articulates the division between masculine and feminine space. The final article in the collection, "Faire d'armes, parler d'amour: les stratégies du récit dans Partonopeu de Blois," analyzes the intratextual and intertextual structuring of this romance. Hüe shows that Partonopeu is a narrative diptych in which characters from each half reflect and reconfigure each other. At the same time, it is a richly-and, for its period, uniquely--intertextual romance that draws on Greco-Roman mythology, the chanson de geste, the matière de Bretagne, and the work of Chrétien in an innovative play of genres that anticipates many later works.

There are a few editorial problems in this volume that could have been addressed. The articles on Marie de France and Rutebeuf feel somewhat slight and hastily written, although this is probably due less to their deficiency than to the strength of the accompanying pieces. Although the author states that all the articles were "repris et actualisés" (317), several reflect their origins as colloquia papers and needed more contextualization of their subjects to facilitate comprehension. There is no consistent treatment of Latin translations, which appear in some articles but not in others. The images referenced on pages 48, 119, and 149 should have been reproduced.

These are minor criticisms of what is overall an engaging and illuminating set of essays. The foregoing summaries cannot do justice to the complexity and creativity of Hüe's thinking, or to the clarity and verve of his writing. One has the impression of following a quick and curious mind as it weaves stimulating connections between an impressively diverse array of works and media. Although Hüe owes a great deal to structuralism and related morphological approaches, he does not have a codified or overt methodology, and he avoids the sterility common in structuralist-inspired studies by focusing not only on works but on their larger literary, intellectual, and cultural contexts. The cover of Rémanences shows Narcissus contemplating himself in the water. Denis Hüe's collection may be a form of self-reflection, but it is also a mirror held up to the Middle Ages in which readers will find much that is insightful and provocative.