Albrecht Classen

title.none: Paden, ed., Future of the Middle Ages

identifier.other: baj9928.9408.002 94.08.02

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Albrecht Classen, University of Arizona

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1994

identifier.citation: Paden, William D., ed. The Future of the Middle Ages: Medieval Literature in the 1990s. Gainesville-Tallahassee-et al.: University Press of Florida, 1994. Pp. xiii + 233; 14 Illustrations. $37.95 (hb) $17.95 (pb).

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: Bryn Mawr Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 94.08.02

Paden, William D., ed. The Future of the Middle Ages: Medieval Literature in the 1990s. Gainesville-Tallahassee-et al.: University Press of Florida, 1994. Pp. xiii + 233; 14 Illustrations. $37.95 (hb) $17.95 (pb).

Reviewed by:

Albrecht Classen
University of Arizona

The American and European Universities are changing, new trends are observable in terms of how Western and Non-Western cultures are evaluated, what texts are considered to be part of the canon and which not (see my monograph Canon and Canon Transgressions in Medieval German Literature. Goeppingen: Kuemmerle, 1993). Similarly the question looms large what the future will bring for the study of the Middle Ages; what position Medieval Studies still hold in the academe's esteem; and whether they deserve to be included in humanistic research at all. We could even say, the relevance of the European medieval history and literature is at stake. For example, there are a number of universities where the history of German literature begins with the age of Goethe and Schiller (Irvine, Northwestern)—simply an academic scandal! At other schools, English Departments limit their historical orientation to the modern period beginning with the 16th century (for example Johns Hopkins, see Paden, 23). Moreover, the dawn of the computer age, the onslaught of contemporary literary theory, the opening of literary and cultural studies to a wide spectrum of new disciplines (e.g. film) intriguingly offer new options for the incoming graduate students who then ignore the Middle Ages, philology, and related research areas. Again, medieval studies could become a discipline at risk because modern literature seems to exert such an attraction in every sense of the word that it threatens to dwarf all research on the Middle Ages and makes it look old- fashioned and stale.

As rhetorical as this statement appears to be, as fundamental is the implied concern in an age in which sparse monetary funds force many universities to reconsider what they do, and what they do best/worst, cutting all the allegedly "redundant" or "outdated" programs, such as Medieval Studies. Certainly, in face of the dramatic changes in world politics over the last five to eight years it is understandable that such fundamental discussions have raged through the universities and are also fought in the public. This is, to be sure, a healthy development since we would become stalemate in all our intellectual efforts, if we were not to revise the basics of our disciplines at regular intervals and shake them up to see what is worth keeping, and what deserves to be cut. There is no question in my mind that we need to be aware of the current status of our disciplines and of which directions it is supposed +to take in the future. We need to determine the future of medieval studies ourselves, not let administrators or the public determine what they matter in the overall schema of things.

In the wake of Bernard Cerquiglini's Eloge de la variante: Histoire critique de la philologie (1989) a number of North American romanists responded to his call to arms and published a special issue of Speculum (ed. S. G. Nichols, The New Philology, 65, 1 [1990]). This issue in turn aroused a loud outcry among many colleagues primarily working as philologists. A colloquium titled "The Future of the Middle Ages: Medieval French Literature in the 1990s" convened at the Newberry Library in Chicago on March 9 and 10, 1990, at which both the overall picture of what the future will and should bring for Medieval Studies and what responses to the Speculum issue would be appropriate were discussed. The papers are contained in the present volume.

Whereas the editor provides an overview of the history of medieval philology, Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht examines antecedents to the present debate in Spanish medieval studies from the late 1880s and 90s. Rupert T. Pickens and Peter F. Dembowski marshall their forces against the Speculum authors in defending the classical role and methodology of philology as it is practised today, whereas Stephen G. Nichols presents the new concept of how to approach medieval manuscripts, as it was basically developed by Cerquiglini. Joan M. Ferrante examines possible avenues which medieval studies could follow to incorporate ideas, concepts, and interpretive techniques developed by modern literary scholars. Finally R. Howard Bloch presents his view of the traditional centrality of medieval studies within the University and what needs to be done to reassume that position.

Considering the title of this volume, I must emphasize that only Ferrante has fully satisfied my expectations. She clearly outlines what steps have to be taken to make the quantum leap from old-age medieval studies to new-age research in the same field. Among other recommendations she stresses the need to apply a comparative point of view, to incorporate feminist criteria in our research, to utilize the computer to its fullest extent for editions, to expand our knowledge of popular culture in the Middle Ages (but what is "popular"?), and to begin with interdisciplinary explorations of specific cultural units, such as the court of Emperor Frederick II. Ferrante's call for a reception history, as the Germans have coined it ("Rezeptionsge- schichte"), rings pleasantly in my ears, but I have great doubts that the majority of medievalists, myself included, have the necessary linguistic abilities to read the broad spectrum of European medieval texts either in the original (if editions are available) or in translations (also, if available). Ferrante goes on to illuminate her approach in a brief discussion of the Nibelungenlied, combining social-historical aspects with some general feminist viewpoints. In other words, she wants to ground the literary document in the historical reality of its time; but she ignores the dangers implied in this approach in which specific historical figures are identified with literary figures. She wonders about the true role of the two female heroines, and claims that Gunther is an unworthy king (153; see my article "Matriarchalische Strukturen" in Int. Archiv fuer Sozialge- schichte der deutschen Literatur 16 [1991]). I wonder, also, whether the comparatist is not entering rather slippery territory without the necessary preparation. E. Haymes (1986) had wisely refrained from making such extreme associations between, say, Henry the Lion and Siegfried, but Ferrante suggests that this might be a hypothesis worthwhile to pursue. Would we then not return to old-fashioned positivistic literary interpretations? Or should not the future medievalist really strive to know more modern languages in order to familiarize him/herself with secondary literature in other languages than his/her own? Ferrante highlights the role of women patrons and urges us to study them more closely. Joachim Bumke, for instance, whom she does not even mention, has done a marvelous job in his monograph on Maezene in Mittelalter (1979). And Herbert Grundmann's seminal article, "Die Frauen und die Literatur im Mittelalter," Archiv fuer Kulturgeschichte 26 (1936): 129-161, continues to be widely ignored by feminists of all colors, particularly if they do not read German (he is not considered here either).

Nevertheless, Ferrante is on the right track, especially when she also points out the need to investigate social and economic aspects and reflections in medieval literary terms, not to forget legal criteria which exert a considerable influence as well. In other words, the outline of what options there are for medievalists when they want to enter the 21st century without losing any further ground at the universities is comprehensive, though not exhaustive. I quibble with some of the details and the material assembled by Ferrante, and some of her methodological approaches are questionable, but in general I can only agree with her suggestions.

R. Howard Bloch's optimistic statement that the Middle Ages are back on center stage is very comforting to read, but a lot of changes need to be realized before it can be confirmed on a large scale. His point, however, that recent research has discovered that a certain identity exists "between the medieval period and our own" (166) is well taken and very important for the general status of our discipline (I argued along the same lines in "Warum und zu welchem Zweck studieren wir das Mittelalter?," Wirkendes Wort 43 [1993]:7-24). It is also true that in the last few years interest not only in the Middle Ages as such has risen, but also in the history of philology and in modern adaptations of medieval texts (Medievalism). Yet I doubt that this "external history of the various disciplines of medieval studies" will actually catapult us back onto this ominous center stage. Similarly as Ferrante, Bloch emphasizes the need for interdisciplinary and cross-cultural studies, yet then overstates his claim that modern investigations of the Middle Ages are fully on their way to rediscover the corpus of texts by the Church Fathers. They are very important documents, indeed, but are they really "essential to our own esthetic and intellectual sense" (173)? A study of troubadour texts or of heroic poems would not really profit from a reading of Augustine or Jerome. These authors express profound ideas, certainly, yet they do not necessarily apply to every aspect of medieval studies.

To go backwards in the sequence of articles, Stephen Nichols suggests that philology would be well advised to focus primarily on manuscript contexts, i.e. on the layout, the marginalia, the illuminations, and the polyphonic discourse within the manuscript. Instead of searching for the "lost voice of a single author," Nichols advocates to take into account what the scribe, illuminator, and rubricator had to say as well; in other words to study the "manuscript matrix" (119). Fortunately Nichols does not want to discard with traditional editorial work, but proposes to add a new dimension of context studies. This is certainly not new, and would not be in contradiction to what modern scholars have been pursuing themselves. I perceive a difference only in degree. Nichols wants to see manuscripts by themselves as cultural artifacts—a viewpoint which would require from us no longer to separate the poetic text from the manuscript context. Overall, we might as well support Nichols' thesis, but not because he makes a new point, but rather because he formulates anew what many researchers have explored for quite a while and whose work he has not consulted, see, for example, Hella Fruehmorgen-Voss, ed., Text und Illustration im Mittelalter. Munich: Beck, 1975; Christel Meier and Uwe Ruberg, eds., Text und Bild: Aspekte des Zusammenwirkens zweier Kuenste in Mittelalter und frueher Neuzeit. Wiesbaden: Reichert, 1980.

The articles by Paden, Pickens, and Dembowski are primarily responses to the Speculum issue. Whereas Paden discusses the crisis (alleged or not) of medieval studies from a global perspective, incorporating a vast array of aspects pertaining to modernity or post-modernity, Pickens and Dembowski reexamine traditional and current editorial practices. They are especially opposed to Cerquiglini and his school, and defend current practices of editing medieval texts. Furthermore, they outline which options there are available through the computer for future editions. Both authors follow very much the same line of argument, even duplicating each other at times (p. 62 and 97). For them, modern editors have made considerable progress, not only in terms of text editions as such, but also in terms of theoretical approaches to medieval manuscripts (e.g. P. Zumthor's theory of "mouvance" as developed, for example, in his "Intertextualite et mouvance," *Litterature) 41 [1981]: 8-16).

Finally, Gumbrecht presents an essay on the conflicts in late-19th century Spanish philology which were considerably parallel to the modern debate about the appropriate form of manuscript editions. The main "fighters" involved then were Menendez Pelayo who espoused a form of "rudimentary essentialism" geared towards preserving the religious traditions of the "mainstream" medieval Spain, and Menendez Pidal who included the "broadest possible range of variants" and "took the multiplicity of the variants as a direct symptom for the life...of the tradition" (39).

The debate will go on, indeed, must go on for us as medievalists to reach the 21st century in a healthy state of affairs. I do not believe that philology is a discipline really at risk, but it is embattled, to say the least. The fact, however, that this volume was even printed by a University Press, indicates to me that medieval studies have become a vibrant discipline again, and that our position at the universities will be strengthened by such debates. After all, we demonstrate to our students that we are open to modern questions, hence to the challenges of the modern age. To conclude, the book's title could also have been: The Medieval Future, or: Our Future lies in the Past.