Dr. Richard J. Utz

title.none: Bloch, Medievalism and the Modernist Temper (Utz)

identifier.other: baj9928.9803.001 98.03.01

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Dr. Richard J. Utz, Universität Tübingen; University of Northern Iowa, richard.utz@uni-tü;

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1998

identifier.citation: Bloch, R. Howard and Stephen G. Nichols, eds. Medievalism and the Modernist Temper. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996. Pp.. $19.95. ISBN: ISBN 0801850878.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 98.03.01

Bloch, R. Howard and Stephen G. Nichols, eds. Medievalism and the Modernist Temper. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996. Pp.. $19.95. ISBN: ISBN 0801850878.

Reviewed by:

Dr. Richard J. Utz
Universität Tübingen; University of Northern Iowa

"WORD'S OUT. There's something exciting going on in medieval studies, and maybe in the Renaissance too. The study of medieval literature and culture has never been more alive or at a more interesting, innovative stage" (1). Such dashing enthusiasm greets the reader of a volume which purports to represent the decisive developments for the study of medieval culture in the last fifteen years. Everywhere the editors see the "institutional signs of a New Medievalism" (1): in the appointment of medievalists at major universities formerly without medieval specialists; in a renewed interest among graduate students who flock around teachers working at the "new frontier" of a "theoretically interested philology" (1); in "recent scholarly gatherings" dealing with "new understandings of the Middle Ages" (1) and the founding of new scholarly journals in the field (Assays, Exemplaria, Médiévales, Envoi); in special issues of Yale French Studies, the Romantic [sic!] Review, Esprit Créateur, Littérature, and "the recent appearance of an issue of Speculum devoted to the so-called New Philology" (2). Unlike Ann Middleton's gloomy 1992 statement that her field was still "the most isolated from, and unchanged by, recent developments within a radically revised and expanded definition of what constitutes literary studies" ("Medieval Studies," in Redrawing the Boundaries: The Transformation of English and American Literary Studies, ed. Stephen Greenblatt and Giles Gunn (New York, 1992), p. 12), R. Howard Bloch and Stephen G. Nichols paint a bright picture of a discipline full of youthful vigor and "united by an enthusiastic sense of wonder at the discovery of how familiar the Middle Ages seem within the context of the contemporary discourses of cultural criticism" (3). Moreover, they express a "sense of relief that those who studied medieval texts are not as irrelevant to the present as many of our own teachers hoped we would be" (3). Newness, radical revisions, recentness, and relevance are reserved exclusively for the progressive movement the editors want to exemplify; former generations of medieval scholars or--implicitly--all those who are unwilling to join what is depicted as a mighty phalanx expanding the old frontiers of medieval studies are said to use their "philological expertise" as a "cordon sanitaire to prevent the reading" of medieval literature and to "inhibit dialogue between medievalists and specialists from other fields" (3).

While the editors enlist a whole host of authorities from the realm of contemporary theories in support of their binary judgments of what constitutes old and new philology (or old and new medievalism), their introductory essay establishes Paul Zumthor's Speaking of the Middle Ages (Engl. trans. 1986) as one exemplary critical text that can free the field from the "'unexamined positivism' that forms the basis of the prejudice called 'objectivity'" and introduces the inquiring subject "as a socially contextualized being in a network of predetermined subjectivities such as sex, social position, or ethnic origin" (5). Thus, professors Bloch and Nichols propagate the "irruption of a personalized subject in the otherwise dispassionate discourse of medievalism" (6) by including the memoir as a legitimate exemplum within a history of medieval studies. Moreover, editors and authors in the volume include letters, written records of private conversations, unpublished notes, works of fiction by academics otherwise only known for the scholarly writings, title pages, prefaces of printed editions, manuscript pages ignored by textual editors, forgeries, restorations as well as the entire realm of biography as important contextualizing features of an archaeology of their discipline.

As a critical reader of this volume (here the personalized subject of the reviewer inevitably irrupts into a review begun in a less passionate kind of discourse), I think that the scholarly program just described yields a variety of interesting results: To link, for example, as David Hult does in his contribution, the genesis of Gaston Paris's concept of "amour courtois" with the psychological consequences of his father's (i.e., Paulin Paris's) death; to detect, as does Carl Landauer, in Ernst Robert Curtius's sudden turn toward Rome and Latinity an act of filial sacrilege toward his grandfather, a famed scholar of Greek (I recommend that Curtius's scandalous 1938 review of Hans H. Glunz's Literaturästhetik des Mittelalters in the Zeitschrift für Romanische Philologie (199 pages long!) should be considered in future attempts to explain his turn toward the Latin Middle Ages and Mussolini's Rome; before this review, Curtius's publications had centered almost exclusively on modern literature; Umberto Eco's reaction to both Glunz and Curtius in his 1968 dissertation would have been an additional admission ticket to the topic!); or to frame, as Alain Boureau does, Ernst Kantorowicz's peculiar addiction to the intra-paginal note in his later career with information on the devastating reception of his essayistic biography of Frederick II (published without annotations) as the work of an amateur by his positivistic, science-oriented colleagues; these perspectives offered me fresh insights into the manifold workings which shaped the genesis of the academic study of medievalia. I was similarly surprised by Per Nykrog's and Alain Corbellari's revelations about Joseph Bedier whose academic work appears in a more informed light now that I know about his time with the French war office and his earnest efforts to find philological proof of German(ic) barbarity by analyzing the journals found with dead German soldiers (this essay reminded me of Pierre Duhem's famous 1916 lectures to the Catholic students at Bordeaux University on the parallels between German politics and a "scientia germanica"). And I will be a different user of the Patrologia Latina after my reading of R. Howard Bloch's fascinating account of the Abbé Jacques-Paul Migne's publishing empire (the Ateliers Catholiques) which produced "a book every ten days for thirty years" (169).

There are some other contributions which I can similarly only summarize in passing: E. Jane Burns, Sarah Kay, Roberta L. Krueger, and Helen Solterer present a witty and thought-provoking collaborative essay about the "bele disjointure" they perceive as scholars caught in between Old French philology and varieties of feminism, a site of conflict and challenge which they find equally constructive for the rethinking of both kinds of approaches; Suzanne Fleischmann demonstrates how some early grammars and dictionaries of Old French display the modernist agendas and ideologies of their authors and compilers; Seth Lerer, in a powerful re-reading of Erich Auerbach's most famous work, Mimesis: Dargestellte Wirklichkeit in der abendländischen Literatur, shows how this book uniquely touches the discourses of "the scholarly and the colloquial", of "the learned techniques of Geisteswissenschaft and the felt experience of Feingefühl", of what Auerbach defined as the "historical and the legendary" (328); John M. Ganim provides a helpful sketch of the semantic history of the term and genre of "romance" from Hurd's Letters on Chivalry and Romance to the present; Jeffrey M. Peck evaluates the difficult interconnections between German historical and philological discourses and practices on the one hand and the various shadings of German nationalist thought on the other; John M. Graham examines the history of nineteenth century editorial scholarship of troubadour texts as a paradigmatic path characterizing the development of Romance philology as a whole; Laura Kendrick describes the initial phase in the professionalization of medieval Occitan literary studies between 1789 and the 1830s; Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, in a text which clearly emulates Zumthor's own passionate memoirs, gives a sometimes shockingly honest insider's report on the genesis and (partial) failure of a twentieth-century academic "Summa", the Grundriß der romanischen Literaturen des Mittelalters (Gumbrecht's musings in footnote 23 that the Grundriß authors and editors have been among those who caused the Carl Winter Verlag to file for bankruptcy in 1993 may not be entirely incorrect; I should like to mention here that this prestigious publishing house managed to survive, is still in business, and maintains his backlist of books published long before the history of the Grundriß even began); and Stephen G. Nichols traces the interrelationship of modernist thought and the nineteenth- century French medieval scholarship of E. Littré, G. Paris, Viollet-le-Duc, and L. Gautier.

A look at Michael Camille's essay, entitled "Philological Iconoclasm: Edition and Image in the Vie de Saint Alexis" allows me to transition over to some general critical remarks about the volume and its contributions. In an effort to expose the potentially limiting influences of academic disciplines and their tools, Camille demonstrates conclusively how Gaston Paris and other philological editors of the text separated, according to the premises of "Literaturwissenschaft", the Old French poem from its manuscript context, thereby erasing from it "all aspects of enactment,--sound" (one illustration shows David playing the harp), "sight, and sense" (375). To be sure, Camille does remind readers that art historians did their share to create the divorce between the discursive and visual aspects of the manuscript (the St. Albans Psalter). His essay, however, like several others, centers on philology as the main culprit because philologists (scil. Gaston Paris's edition) "closed off the poem for more a century" (381) or managed to "bury" (382) it, as the uncoverer of the Hildesheim manuscript, Wilhelm Müller (his name is misspelled on p. 382), is supposed to have done with his edition. While I can share Camille's wish to arrive at truly interdisciplinary readings of the Vie de Saint Alexis which take into consideration the entirety of its textual and visual offerings, I think it means barking up the wrong tree to expect such interdisciplinary notions from scholars themselves busy with establishing their not yet existing respective disciplinary fields (this is also the reason, as Roberta Frank has shown, why the word "interdisciplinary" did come into sporadic academic use as late as in the 1920s). Moreover, what may appear, at first sight, as just another example of Lady Philology's promoting of the vice of decontextualization might well have had non-ideological, practical purposes. How many students, scholars, or even libraries could have purchased, let us say, John Koch's edition of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (based on the Ellesmere Manuscript) in post World War I Germany, if it had contained all of its color- and meaningful illustrations? It would have cost more than twenty times the eight German Marks which Carl Winter Universitätsverlag asked for the volume as it appeared, text only, as volume 16 in Johannes Hoops's series, "Englische Textbibliothek".

In Camille's refusal to read anything except ideology into the divorce of the verbal and pictorial aspects of the Vie de Saint Alexis I detect a general tendency toward one-sidedness and toward a disregard for any non-postmodernist approaches to medieval literature and culture by several contributors and the editors of Medievalism and the Modernist Temper. One-sidedness I see when, with some minor exceptions, the manifold critical pieces in this book result in a mosaic of philology which brands its protagonists as a clan of conservatives whose dispassionate discourse excludes the role of the subject and whose critical work comes with a dangerous overdose of militant nationalism, thrives on displaying masculine intellectual genealogies, enjoys a wounded narcissism all too content to hide behind the veil of unexamined positivistic expertise, and inhibits interdisciplinarity (the terminological ingredients for this phrase are taken from the introductory essay). For reasons of space and time I will try to indicate how the inclusion of one single 'other' philologist (perhaps instead of a second essay on Bédier, the "warrior scholar"), Bernhard ten Brink (1841-1892), would have challenged such essentializing assumptions about philology:

To my knowledge, ten Brink, a famous German Chaucerian, never focused on the subject investigated to the exclusion of the investigating subject; some of his essays abound with references to himself, moments of awareness of his own role as reader, his opinions, convictions, limitations or strenghts; in his German translations of Chaucerian texts he is certainly close to "writing at the intersection of the personal and the professional" (Bloch/Nichols 8) which is why they are praised not only for their exactitude but also for their poetic grace; while he followed the footsteps of Wilhelm von Humboldt in regarding philology as the science of everything pertaining to the national, and despite the fact that his appointment (as the first German chair of English philology), like that of his colleague, Wilhelm Scherer, was meant to Germanize Strasbourg/Straßburg and its university, I have not read a single remark in his academic or personal writing which would warrant calling ten Brink a nationalist; ten Brink's masculine intellectual genealogies which, in general (according to professors Bloch and Nichols), "record filiations from mâitre to disciple" (2) consist of occasional quotes from his academic teachers (e.g., Friedrich Diez, Nikolaus Delius) and the dedication of his History of English Literature to Frederick Furnivall; while establishing the young discipline of "Anglistik" in Germany he did not have time for wounded narcissism, and his positivism was put to the test and praised by some of the most formidable specialists of his day, Furnivall, Skeat, Wülcker, etc.; his philological expertise did not inhibit interdisciplinary dialogue with specialists in other fields either; his History of English Literature actually opened up the field to colleagues in other disciplines and a more general readership; to ten Brink philology was an admission ticket to arrive at critical readings using linguistic, literary, and cultural backgrounds; as a scholar who fluently spoke at least five modern, regularly worked with at least seven "dead" languages, who lectured on English, French, and Dutch letters, he was interdisciplinary in the best sense of that word. Thus, ten Brink was a philologist, a man of letters, a humanist, and a prominent maker of the middle ages, but he cannot be charged with any of the philological crimes of the century Medievalism and the Modernist Temper or The New Medievalism (ed. K. Brownlee, M. Brownlee, and S. G. Nichols, 1991) present as typical.

One-sidedness, or working in a closed system, may also be the cause for the editors' questionable terminological choices. When they expose the perceived weaknesses of nineteenth-century philology and propose a 'New' Philology (as early as 1990 in the special volume of Speculum which general editor Luke Wenger somewhat nebulously defined as a "symposium on current issues in literary studies"), they marginalize all those European scholars whose daily routine includes entering buildings called "Neuphilologikum", who are members of a "Neuphilologische Fakultät", and who go to the library to read essays in Neophilologus (Helsinki, Finland) or Neuphilologische Mitteilungen (Dordrecht, Netherlands). For all those colleagues, "New" philology is the philology which marked off its newly won territories against the earlier established, "old" philologies in the Classical languages and literatures in the second half of the nineteenth century. I am astonished how scholars with international reputations managed to overlook this well-known terminological status quo and geared their choices exclusively to the North American market. Siegfried Wenzel, in the title of his essay for the 1990 Speculum volume, "Reflections on the 'New' Philology", indicated his doubts about the validity of this nomenclature; so did Karl Stackmann in an essay called "Neue Philologie" (in Modernes Mittelalter: Neue Bilder einer populären Epoche, ed. Joachim Heinzle, Frankfurt: Insel Verlag, 1994, 398-427) and Barbara N. Sargent-Baur, "Philology Through the Looking-Glass", (in Towards a Synthesis: Essays on the New Philology, ed. Keith Busby, Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1993, pp. 97-118). The editors of Medievalism and the Modernist Temper either do not read certain colleagues' work or they consciously disregard it.

I have similar suspicions about the second neologism coined by professors Bloch and Nichols, the so-called "New" Medievalism; it is nowhere clearly defined (even if the back cover makes that claim) but nevertheless appears every now and then as a vague synonym for the 'new' philology. The term 'medievalism' has specific histories in various countries: Carl Landauer (338ff.) discusses Curtius's Deutscher Geist in Gefahr (1932), but is not interested enough in terminological matters to notice the astonishing appearance--probably for the first time in the German language--of a word apparently translated into German from a British text, "Mediaevalismus", which for Curtius has programmatic character; Curtius' medievalism recommends his readers to abandon the traditions of France and to orient towards the one country in Europe in which "the idea of Rome has lived through a Renaissance since the victory of fascism" ("seit dem Siege des Faschismus die Romidee eine Renaissance erlebt"), i.e., Mussolini's Italy. Interestingly, "Mediaevalismus" did not make it into the German academic lexicon where "Mediävistik" (as an equivalent for "Medieval Studies") prevailed. In correspondence with German cultural history, "Mittelalter-Rezeption" is now commonly used to describe the creative and academic invention of the Middle Ages in postmedieval times. A series of conference proceedings entitled "Mittelalter-Rezeption" which have appeared since 1979 in the series of Goeppinger Arbeiten zur Germanistik, Peter Wapnewski's volume, Mittelalter-Rezeption. Ein Symposion (Stuttgart, 1987), Francis G. Gentry's and Ulrich Müller's "The Reception of the Middle Ages in Germany: An Overview" ( Studies in Medievalism III/4 (1991), 399-422, and especially Gerd Althoff's excellent Die Deutschen und ihr Mittelalter (Darmstadt, 1992) could and should have been consulted. Handy definitions of "Mittelalter-Rezeption" and "Medievalism/Mediävalismus" would have been easily available in the now most commonly used shorter German dictionary of Medieval Studies, Peter Dinzelbacher's Sachwörterbuch der Mediävistik (Stuttgart, 1992). Germanicum est, non legitur?

For the English language, the OED credits writer and critic John Ruskin (1854) with inventing the term when he attempted to distinguish predominantly Christian art (mediaevalism) from its pagan (classicalism) and modern (modernism) counterparts. Ruskin (called "William" Ruskin on p. 148) would have been another truly worthwhile figure to discuss, especially in a volume which boasts both "medievalism" and "modernist temper" in its title. Moreover, Medievalism also has a much more recent academic history, one which challenges the term's usage by professors Bloch and Nichols who would like to distinguish rather simplistically between the "New", current Medievalism (i.e., their own critical approach) and the Medievalism of the founding generations in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. There has existed, since the 1970s, what I would like to call the Studies in Medievalism movement (founded by Leslie J. Workman) which organizes yearly conferences at varying locations in Europe and the USA (International Conference on Medievalism), assembles conference proceedings (The Year's Work in Medievalism), sponsors summer institutes (first at Hope College and, most recently, at the University of York, England), and distributed a newsletter. Most importantly, this movement brought about the journal Studies in Medievalism (1979; since 1991 issued by Boydell & Brewer), which has been negotiating the meaning and histories of the term for such important fields as architecture, literature, and history. According to my readings, not a single author or editor of Medievalism and the Modernist Temper or The New Medievalism acknowledges one single title from the pages of Studies in Medievalism. John Ganim ("The Myth of Medieval Romance", 148-66), who discusses the "politics of medievalism" in his footnote 4, makes mention of the important studies by Alice Chandler and Mark Girouard, but never consults the programmatic work on this topic published in Studies in Medievalism or in the special edition of the journal Poetica (vol. 39/40, 1994) which contains Leslie Workman's seminal essay on "Medievalism and Romanticism" (which elucidates that both terms were virtually interchangeable between 1750 and 1918). I am even more amazed at how this many scholars of Romance literatures and languages (as most 'New' Medievalists are) could fail to take notice of the volumes Medievalism in France (= Studies in Medievalism II/2 [1983]), edited by Heather Arden and containing essays on the Encyclopédie Méthodique, G. Flaubert, and G. Paris (!), and Medievalism in France 1500-1700 (Studies in Medievalism III/1 [1987]), also edited by Arden. And Norman Cantor's Inventing the Middle Ages, controversial as it may be, should also have been on the reading list of the 'New' Medievalists as it is the first book-length study on the archaeology of medieval philology and history which is entirely based on the notion that any scholarly investigation of medieval culture says more about the cultures and paradigms of the reinventing medievalist scholars than they do about the subjects of these scholars' researches. Cantor's importance has by now been acknowledged by many proponents of cultural studies, e.g., the editors (M. Shichtman, J.P. Carley) of Culture and the King: The Social Implications of the Arthurian Legend, Albany, NY, 1994), the Festschrift for Valerie Lagorio. The 'New' Medievalists, although singing a tune not much unlike Cantor, do not seem to know the book. Finally, for a volume in which the modern reception of the middle ages in Romance languages and literatures is so central, I miss (more) reference to Jürgen Voss's magisterial Das Mittelalter im historischen Denken Frankreichs (Munich, 1972).

Any serious archaeology of the discipline of medieval philology or medieval studies needs to reread the foundational documents which helped shape that discipline. Therefore, to conclude Medievalism and the Modernist Temper by making available a recent English translation of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm's "Preface" to the Kinder- und Hausmärchen of 1819, is an excellent idea. While the quality of Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht and Jeffrey T. Schnapp's translation deserves high praise, I must add that the "relatively small number of translators' notes" added to "provide some contextual references and linguistic commentaries that would otherwise only be available to Germanists" (475) look as if they have been scanned in and left that way: in addition to spelling Roelleke's name in two different ways several times (488f.) and leaving out half of the title of of J. J. Müller's book (489), there are at least ten other mistakes (e.g.: "Abhundlungen"; "Taschbuch"; "anstöbig"; "zewiten"; "Heerstraben") in these notes alone. I have found well over fifty other gravamina with German in this volume which only contains very few lines of German to begin with; while French and English have been treated more fairly, the book (especially its footnotes) cannot have undergone anything approaching editorial revision; no clear policy regarding the translation of passages from foreign or historical languages has been followed; and an index--I admit it would have taken some time and effort with such a hefty tome--would have rendered the volume a more valuable research tool. Perhaps at least in the realm of scholarly exactitude the representatives of the 'New' Philology (cf. the spelling 'Philogy' on pp. 308, 329, and 331), who speak so condescendingly about the "unexamined positivism" (5) of their philological predecessors, could learn a small lesson.

Medievalism and the Modernist Temper contains a good number of fine essays and supplies many original insights into the foundational moments of medieval scholarship. Unfortunately, the exclusion of much existing research, a somewhat nonchalant approach to terminology, and various formal lacunae show dark clouds on the bright horizon of expectations the editors' introduction attempts to paint. One would hope that those interested in medievalism can fill at least some of the questions left unanswered (and even unasked) by this volume via consulting the perhaps less agonistically anti-philological studies in Helen Damico's Garland series on Medieval Scholarship: Biographical Studies in the Formation of a Discipline, the forthcoming two issues of Studies in Medievalism on "Medievalism in the Academy", and Simone Bernard-Griffiths, Pierre Glaudes, and Bertrand Vibert's mega-project entitled La fabrique du moyen âge: La reception de la civilisation médiévale dans la littérature française du XIX siècle.