Michel-Andre Bossy

title.none: Burgwinkle, Love for Sale (Bossy)

identifier.other: baj9928.9806.014 98.06.14

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Michel-Andre Bossy, Brown University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1998

identifier.citation: Burgwinkle, William E. Love for Sale: Materialist Readings of the Troubador Razo Corpus. The New Middle Ages, vol. 5; Garland Reference Library of the Humanities, vol. 2067. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1997. Pp. 346. $64.00. ISBN: ISBN 0-815-32842-7.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 98.06.14

Burgwinkle, William E. Love for Sale: Materialist Readings of the Troubador Razo Corpus. The New Middle Ages, vol. 5; Garland Reference Library of the Humanities, vol. 2067. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1997. Pp. 346. $64.00. ISBN: ISBN 0-815-32842-7.

Reviewed by:

Michel-Andre Bossy
Brown University

The razos are eighty-one commentaries written in Old Occitan prose to explain about one hundred troubadour songs ( cansos). These razos plus a hundred vidas or biographical sketches of the poets are preserved in some twenty manuscripts, chiefly from Northern Italy. Most of the razos and vidas appear to have been written by Uc de Saint-Circ (c.1190-c.1255), a troubadour from Quercy who moved to Italy and settled in Treviso. Uc compiled his razos for the da Romano court in Treviso and other courts of the Veneto and Lombardy. Uc probably also assembled a book of songs or chansonnier (preserved in manuscript D) for Alberico da Romano. Around Uc's collections of songs and razos grew the earliest known troubadour manuscripts.

William Burgwinkle published in 1990 a well-annotated translation of the razos (New York: Garland). His new book is a full-scale study of the razos and what they teach us about the economic and social underpinnings of troubadour lyric. Razos have often been dismissed as simplistic glosses that primitively misread the lyrics and tack onto them literal-minded anecdotes. Over the past twenty years, however, specialists of literary reception, such as Gianfranco Folena, Maria Luisa Meneghetti, and Elizabeth Poe, have re-examined the razo corpus. Within it they have uncovered valuable evidence concerning the reinterpretation and reception of troubadour poetry in Northern Italy during the thirteenth century. Love for Sale investigates Uc's role and intentions in this process of adaptation.

The book's central thesis of is that Uc de Saint Circ redirected the course of Western European lyric. The traditional model of troubadour poetry had been gifts of songs and "a game of interpretation in which singer and listener both participated" (145). Uc deliberately fashioned a different model for his new patrons in Italy: he likened poetry to a quid pro quo transaction rather than to a gift exchange. As Burgwinkle shows, Uc's razos portray almost every troubadour as a "poet/merchant" who shapes and controls the desires of his audience in order to market his poetry. Seen in this light, Uc is neither a naive reader nor a myopic commentator. He is teaching his Italian patrons that his poetry increases their prestige or "value" and that they must remunerate him for that service. The razos underscore the tangible rewards that past poet-lovers expected to obtain from their ladies and patrons. (In fact, the lady is often a fairly clear double of the patron.) Uc harps on the "real" facts and "true" incidents behind each poem not for veracity's sake, but rather to call attention to concrete transactions between poet and patron. Hence the razos convey many details that "speak of the circumstances under which poets composed" (197).

For his analysis of the razos and their lyrics Burgwinkle combines several approaches: "materialist" textual interpretation, Marxian economic history, Lacan's model of desire, Foucault's model of gender/power relations, queer studies, new historicism's concept of "self-fashioning," the concept of performativity in gender studies, etc. In short, Burgwinkle's methodology is quite eclectic and freewheeling. He often switches rather suddenly from one tack to another, yet his firm grasp of current theory and the clarity of his exposition keep the overall discussion on course. His command of the corpus and the accuracy of his translations also strengthen his presentation.

The first chapter discusses how troubadours played "the role of hired value-makers" and manipulated the public standing of their patrons. Through their poetical skills (what Pierre Bourdieu calls "cultural capital") they could raise or lower their patrons' renown ("symbolic capital"). Uc's work, for Burgwinkle, reflects a shift of paradigms: it displays that the old economy of gift and service is giving way to a newer market of poetry. Projecting the new paradigm into the lives of his predecessors, Uc depicts them as bent on controlling the value of their patrons.

The contrast drawn between the "closed" economy of the early feudal period and the "more open, monetized, market economy of the later feudal period" (40) constitutes one of the book's less convincing sections. The shift from the first to the second paradigm is treated as a quick crossover, not as a systemic evolution through a series of transitional stages. The term "feudal" peppers the discussion, even though historians increasingly question both the general concept of feudalism and its local pertinence to twelfth- and thirteenth- century social structures in Southern France and Northern Italy. Following an insight of Eugene Vance, Burgwinkle argues that there is a correlation between the growth of currency- based exchanges (stoked by new silver coinage) and the heightened rhetorical self-awareness on the part of poets such as Uc. That is an important and exciting conjecture; however, it needs to be demonstrated and tested against contrary evidence. For example, early troubadours such as Guilhem IX and Marcabru praise the culture of gift-giving, yet they are also focussed on the power of words in shaping perceptions of value and in negotiating exchanges. Where exactly do such poets fit in Burgwinkle's economic and ideological time-line? If Guilhem IX, the earliest known troubadour and a great lord, already challenges the notion of fixed, stable values, why is it that seven decades later the lowly born Giraut de Bornelh "deplores the interruption of the gift economy with its universalist notions of intrinsic value" (47)? Puzzling questions such as these remain unexplained.

More persuasive is the second chapter's analysis of the court milieu in which Uc plied his craft and attempted to turn a profit. Sifting through all available evidence, Burgwinkle gives vivid profiles of Uc's principal patrons, especially the ruthless, wily Ezzelino da Romano and his predatory brother, Alberico. The links between Uc and other Italian patrons and troubadours who frequented their courts are brought to light through perceptive discussions of cansos, razos, and verse debates (tensos). These rich readings convey a sharp sense of a poetical tradition in which "ladies and lords are conflated as 'patrons,' addressed as women, and the troubadour enhances his own worth by encouraging speculative bidding" (111). Also very informative is the chapter dealing with the manuscript transmission of the razo corpus. Burgwinkle deftly maps out the affinities and differences between different groups of manuscripts. He relates how patterns of troubadour compilation took shape in Italy, then crossed the Alps and took hold in the troubadours' own regions of origin. At the same time, he offers a discerning overview of the current state of Occitan codicological research.

A chapter entitled "Anti-Idealism in the Razos" explores their psychological designs and, in particular, their projection of multiple triangles of desire. One of their favorite patterns is the lady courted by rival lovers whom she holds at bay: "it is implicitly understood throughout the razos that a Lady is worth more when more than one man desires her" (172). Another recurring pattern features "two poets (or a patron and a poet) addressing each other across the figure of an absent third pole (Lady) who acts only as a site through which the two males can exchange their desire for each other's desire" (188- 89). Burgwinkle employs here both Rene Girard's concept of mimetic or emulative desire and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's concept of homosocial desire. (A telling example of this pattern is furnished by Raimbaut de Vaqueiras's "Bel me's qu'eu chant," a song which, according to its razo, prompted Peire II of Aragon to march against Simon de Montfort and die at the battle of Muret). Burgwinkle also shows that razos praise mimetic desire as a way of reinventing the self and gaining upward social mobility.

In the final chapter, Burgwinkle reads the razos and their lyrics "through and against one another," in order to focus especially on questions of "gender play." In his razos Uc maintains "a narrative of romantic heterosexual attachments," but he also undercuts it by disclosing that crass haggling and influence peddling permeates poetry. Razos sometimes decode the figurative language of love into more explicit questions of commerce: How long should Gaucelm Faidit wait before being paid ("pagatz") his reward by Lady Maria de Ventadorn? To which of her poets should a lady grant her goods ("sos bes")? At other times the razos rewrite homosocial man-to-man relations between poet and patron into heterosexual narratives. For example, Uc redirects a love song addressed by Raimon de Miraval to King Peire II toward Peire's sister, Elienor. Similarly, when Raimbaut de Vaqueiras repeatedly expresses his love for Bonifacio of Montferrat, whom he calls "N'Engles," Uc reinterprets the name "Engles" into a senhal (or nickname) for Bonifacio's sister, Beatrix. In short, Uc appears intent on revising the polymorphous love interests of the troubadours along strictly heterosexual lines. Burgwinkle, however, contends that this primly revisionist game is only a ploy on Uc's part: he is not trying to tone down the poetry, but rather to privilege "the controlling and self-fashioning stance of the merchant/poet" (256-57). In the end, Burgwinkle aligns Uc both with the past and the future. Uc commemorates the troubadours who "were able to rewrite gender/power relations at the Southern courts in the image of a fantasy of mastery." Moreover, by creating "his own deliberate, and allegorical fantasy of a heterosexual love as a game which he will always win," Uc heralds a model of Western subjectivity that will be developed by Italian poets of the next century -- the self-fashioning of the self through language.

Love for Sale will not convince every reader that Uc pointed the way toward a Foucauldian view of power/gender relations. However, the book offers a provocative reappraisal of the interconnections between razos and lyrics. Skillfully drawing together codicology and cultural history, it sharpens our understanding of troubadour literary practices and poetics.