The Medieval Review 12.06.36

Dartmann, Christoph, Thomas Scharff, and Christoph Friedrich Weber. Zwischen Pragmatik und Performanz: Dimensionen Mittelalterlicher Schriftkultur. Utrecht Studies in Medieval Literacy. Turnhout: Brepols, 2011. Pp. viii, 489. 90 EUR. 978-2-503-54137-2. . .

Reviewed by:

Krijn Pansters
Tilburg University

Zwischen Pragmatik und Performanz deals with a whole spectrum of medieval written communication (from Pragmatik to Performanz) and succeeds in realizing a whole set of aims while clarifying both the main dimensions and the more specific developments in certain areas of pragmatic and symbolic Schriftkultur. Its conceptual, structural, and systematic approach makes it a very instructive and pleasant read.

The volume is a collection of papers presented at a conference held in Münster in 2007, and presents a panorama of the current state of the research on the practices and impacts of literacy in medieval culture in a consistent and coherent way. Not one article misfits this collection, although it deals with "a wide range of social and political uses of the written word during the Middle Ages, from the Carolingian era to late medieval Italy, Switzerland, Germany and Burgundy," and even though the authors' distinct approaches give evidence of discourses formed by national research traditions. That the book appears in the series Utrecht Studies in Medieval Literacy (which is intended "to provide a forum for publications on the history of non-verbal, oral and written communication in the Middle Ages") is quite surprising at first sight as there are no Utrecht or other Dutch authors involved; however, publication in this series is due to the fact that "it would not be easy to find a publisher willing to release a viersprachige collection" (viii).

The Münster conference was organized in honor of the 70th birthday of Hagen Keller, whose influential work on medieval social and cultural history, and Italian urban communities, literacy, and symbolic communication in particular, provided the thematic basis. Furthermore, the papers presented at this conference resulted from or followed the programmatic directions of two major research programs (Sonderforschungsbereiche 231 and 496) in which Keller was a leading specialist: "Träger, Felder, Formen pragmatischer Schriftlichkeit im Mittelalter" and "Symbolische Kommunikation und gesellschaftliche Wertesysteme vom Mittelalter bis zur Französischen Revolution" in which Keller led the subprogram "Urkunde und Buch in der symbolischen Kommunikation mittelalterlicher Rechtsgemeinschaften und Herrschaftsverbände." The main strength of this conference was that it connected the thematic approaches of both research programs ("Pragmatische Schriftlichkeit" and "Symbolische Kommunikation") and aimed to show how all four aspects (Schriftlichkeit, symbolische Kommunikation, Pragmatik, Performanz) interdepend on and influence each other.

Not all 17 articles in this volume deal with all four aspects, and the general focus on political developments unfortunately, but probably inevitably, leads to the neglect of other important dimensions such as those regarding spiritual transmission and aesthetic power. However, the collection as a whole has a clear structure around which the central theme of "pragmatics and performance" and the various dimensions of medieval Schriftkultur revolve. I will focus on this thematic structure in two of the articles, in order to illustrate the way in which the authors have managed not only to concentrate on important primary sources and put specific developments in their historical contexts, but also to present primary research results against the background of key historiographical developments in the field of pragmatic and symbolic communication.

The first article I focus on is the one by Gerd Althoff ("Memoria, Schriftlichkeit, symbolische Kommunikation: Zur Neubewertung des 10. Jahrhunderts" [85-101]) in which he reevaluates political developments in the tenth century by dealing with paradigm shifts in the study of the Ottonian emperors during the last forty years. The pioneering work of Hagen Keller, especially, contributed greatly to the deconstruction of the old master narratives (and, thus, of the post-war construction of German national identity), by shifting the attention from Ottonian central power and majesty to the personal basis of Ottonian government and the polycentric power structures of the Ottonian Empire. Whereas the older historiography accentuated the hierarchy of power and the grandeur of the empire, historians now highlighted the integrational function of power, consensuality, and the emperor's relationship with God. The breach with the prevailing image of the Ottonians happened when historians interested in memorial traditions started studying new sources that contained much information on Alemannic nobility in the ninth and tenth centuries. This also led to a reinterpretation of traditional historiographical sources, which obviously contained intentional distortions and falsifications. The analysis of rituals and forms of symbolic communication in these sources added to the new understanding of Ottonian rulership as situated between God and the many faithful, and thus integrated in a strong network of personal contacts and bonds. In this way, research on the Ottonians indeed shifted from Schriftlichkeit as historical narrative an sich, to symbolische Kommunikation as the maintenance of strong personal relations with God and the others by way of publicly performed negotiation processes (viz., by giving, forgiving, and rewarding).

Second, I look at the article by Michael Jucker ("Pragmatische Schriftlichkeit und Macht: Methodische und inhaltliche Annäherungen an Herstellung und Gebrauch von Protokollen auf politischen Treffen im Spätmittelalter" [405-441]), in which he studies the political- administrative functions and communicative contexts of protocols of conciliar and transregional meetings, produced and used in Luzern and Zürich (in modern-day Switzerland). He thereby evaluates the question of the growth of literacy and administrative efficiency in medieval cities, describes the change in technique of the production and use of protocols and Abschiede (recesses), and tries to explain the quantitative increase of protocols from the middle of the fifteenth century (which is caused not by internal administrative and bureaucratic needs [!] but by external circumstances like increasing contacts and conflicts and shifting power constellations). Particularly interesting is how Jucker traces the paradigm shifts in the study of pragmatic literacy (408- 412): the eldest paradigm, too simple and teleological in its explanations, studied the rise of literacy from the perspective of modernization, bureaucratization, and rationalization. The second paradigm, putting earlier findings in perspective, traced the effectiveness of normative texts and their participatory and emancipatory instrumentalization. The third paradigm, still in development, analyzed the functions and the use of written texts in the communicative and public contexts of a face-to-face society. Jucker's introduction of a new method to approach the production and communicative use of protocols (412-415) is equally interesting: the question of what was held to be verschriftungswürdig and what influenced recording processes can only be answered when the connection of texts with the power strategies and political intentions of urban or transregional rulers has been established; the moment, meaning, and method of documentation defined; their In-Schrift-Setzen thematically, socially, and culturally contextualized; and the interaction of oral, non-verbal, written, gesticulatory, and sign language analyzed. Jucker thus illustrates the complexity of the matter, as well as the possibility of approaching it from a clearly defined strategy.

I would like to finish with three general observations. First, the three organizers/editors seem to have done an excellent job of putting together a balanced conference program as well as a coherent volume, including essays on writing power in the ninth century (Janet L. Nelson), the memory of Montecassino after 883 (Walter Pohl), the production of political documents in France (François Bougard), symbolic communication in the tenth century (Gerd Althoff), getting justice in twelfth-century Rome (Chris Wickham), the practical application of law in twelfth-century communal processes (Massimo Vallerani), Peter Abelard and the question of medieval individuality (Franz-Josef Arlinghaus), the efficacy of signs and the matter of authenticity in canon law (Brigitte Miriam Bedos-Rezak), public speaking and the political eloquence of laymen in thirteenth-century Italian communes (Enrico Artifoni), the failure of communication in communal Italy (Christoph Friedrich Weber), medieval paintings in Brescia as visual register (Giuliano Milani), functions of literacy in the Braunschweig town council around 1400 (Thomas Scharff), the radiocarbon dating of the Swiss foundational charters (Roger Sablonier), the production and use of protocols in late medieval Italy (Michael Jucker), representations of power and the political use of manuscripts by Charles V (Martin Kintzinger), and the ethics of Burgundian political communication (Petra Schulte). The book's variety is also its strength, as all authors stay close to the main theme of pragmatic literacy and symbolic communication from a political and Kellerian perspective, and all authors break through the artificial barrier between literacy and orality. The collection as a whole, furthermore, seems to have very few flaws, except for the missing index. It shows that the editors knew what they were doing. The book can undoubtedly function as a model edition for other historians, including church historians and historians of mentality.

Second, the issue of language is not only a thematic one. While the different languages of the authors seem to have been a bit of a problem in getting this book on "texts written and performed" published, the different levels of clarity and complexity that are so striking in this volume seem to have been dictated more by language and style than by quality of research (which is constant). It is quite ironic that the English article dealing with the most material of subjects (signs and seals, Bedos-Rezak) is also the most abstract and theory-laden, while the German article that is the longest and richest in historical illustration (the failure of communication, Weber) is the least aussagekräftig in a theoretical sense. Also, one sometimes wonders if there is not too much theorizing going on (e.g., should the sporadic tearing of letters [274] really be put in their "communal," "communicative" and "performative" context?) and what is really stated more, for example, by "Gerade aus der Interferenz und den divergierenden Potentialen wie Begrenzungen von Schrift und Ritual ergaben sich bessere Verständnismöglichkeiten für politisches Agieren" (15) than that politics often concerned "rhetoric, not reality" (30)? In other words, the volume itself appears to present a multi- dimensional literacy that is often as performative as it is pragmatic; a fact best shown by the discussion of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro, Act 2, Scene 11 and Don Giovanni, Act 1, Scene 4 at the very beginning and end of Dartmann's introduction.

Third, all contributions are strongly influenced by the programmatic impulses of Hagen Keller, who, being the author and editor of many groundbreaking publications such as Statutencodices des 13. Jahrhunderts als Zeugen pragmatischer Schriftlichkeit (1991), Kommunales Schriftgut in Oberitalien: Formen, Funktionen, Überlieferung (1995), and "Vorschrift, Mitschrift, Nachschrift" (in: Schriftlichkeit und Lebenspraxis, 1999), influenced many a "pragmatist" and "performer" in the world-wide community of medievalists due to his combining of fundamental new insights of medieval literacy and symbolic communication with a pioneering reflection on formal approaches to their many dimensions.