Philip Bennett

title.none: Attwood, Dynamic Dichotomy (Bennett)

identifier.other: baj9928.9910.001 99.10.01

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Philip Bennett, University of Edinburgh,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1999

identifier.citation: Attwood, Catherine. Dynamic Dichotomy: The Poetic 'I' in Fourteenth- and Fifteenth-Century French Lyric Poetry. Faux Titre, No 149. Amsterdam, Atlanta, GA: Rodopi, 1999. Pp. iv, 228. $38.50. ISBN: 9-042-00365-0.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 99.10.01

Attwood, Catherine. Dynamic Dichotomy: The Poetic 'I' in Fourteenth- and Fifteenth-Century French Lyric Poetry. Faux Titre, No 149. Amsterdam, Atlanta, GA: Rodopi, 1999. Pp. iv, 228. $38.50. ISBN: 9-042-00365-0.

Reviewed by:

Philip Bennett
University of Edinburgh

This very interesting study of the first-person poetic persona in late medieval French poetry belies its title in one important way, since the restriction to lyric verse is not observed at any point. While the exact generic affiliations of some of the dits of Machaut and Froissart may be debatable, since the inclusion of long narrative and discursive passages in verse and the incorporation of prose texts alongside lyric poems within the total construct expand considerably the definition of both lyric and poetry, there are grounds for seeing these works as extended meditations by creative poets on the problematics of the first-person persona of inherited love lyric. The detailed discussions given to Alain Chartier's Boethian Livre de l'Esperance and Christine de Pizan's neo-autobiographical Avision Christine push these bounds back even further. This, however, is not a criticism of the book as such, more a warning to potential readers that the book offers a much wider focus than the title promises. It may also be said that the insistence on the importance of binary oppositions (the dichotomy of the title) found in both the introduction and the conclusion has little application in the body of the text. Complex fragmentations and shifting uncertainties within the narrating, singing or meditating 'I', confrontations with second and third person (singular and plural) subjects and objects, mobile spatio-temporal relationships are all dealt with in ways that go far beyond the simple bipolar approach suggested.

The book actually falls into three parts, although they are not specifically identified as such. The first considers in one chapter the theoretical framework imposed by perceptions of the status of the poet, poetry and the book at the end of the Middle Ages on the study of concepts such as author and narrator. The next contains four chapters which present self- contained studies of the first-person personae deployed by Guillaume de Machaut, Jean Froissart, Eustache Deschamps and Christine de Pizan. Finally one chapter is devoted to the study of 'I' within debate literature (mostly poetic).

This last chapter does reveal one of the weaknesses of the book, since insufficient consideration is given within it to the hierarchical distinctions to be made between an author-poet who may project him or herself into a narrator who says 'I' and third person characters presented by that narrator who inevitably say 'I' in their own discourse. In some cases, for instance Alain Chartier's Belle Dame sans Mercy, a perceived similarity of emotional position between the narrator and one of the protagonists is taken as an indication that narrator and characters mutually subsume each other. The most serious effects of this reductionism are seen in the treatment of the poetry of Charles d'Orleans. On p. 33 Attwood states that protagonists in the work of other poets studied depend on the "skill of the poet-figure" to interpret reality, a judgement which is immediately extended to the relationship between Cuer and the poet in the work of Charles, with the example of Ballade 33 being given, in which Attwood conflates the poetic 'je' with the protagonist L'Amant who says 'je' in an exchange of dialogue. This point of view is reinforced on p. 210, where 'je' and Cuer are presented as "metonymic counterparts" of each other. And yet Attwood's perception of an essential hierarchisation is clear from her statement (p. 32) that "'je' distances 'Cuer''s immediacy as a speaker by continually placing its discours (sic) in reported speech." By the last expression she seems to mean direct speech introduced by a verbum dicendi, a situation equally applicable to 'je'. Indeed in one rondeau (242) which she may cite (the endnote reference is to a non-existent Rondeau 442) the status of the various speaking voices, including that of the voice which says 'je' is wilfully and confoundingly unclear in the text as preserved in Charles's autograph manuscript, on which Champion's dangerously bad edition imposes a factitious clarity.

The last example does also raise the question of the number of misprints in the text, of which there are many. Some are insignificant if annoying; others, including some in the bibliography affecting the names of authors or the titles of books, are more serious; some leave unclear Attwood's understanding of a passage under discussion. Thus on p. 90, when she refers in an analysis of the first stanza of Ballade 13 from Machaut's Louange des Dames to "recreative imagination," her meaning seems to be that the imagination deployed is ludic, since she usually hyphenates "re-creation" and derivatives when mimetic functions are involved. Context requires the latter meaning. Unfortunately printing error does not seem to be involved on p. 193 when Attwood misquotes the refrain of Charles d'Orleans's Ballade 100 as "De bien en mal par Fortune mene" (with an acute accent on the last vowel), clearly making the refrain refer to 'je', if not to the extra- diegetic poet. In fact, as we see when the refrain is quoted correctly as "En bien et mal par Fortune menee" on p. 215, the feminine past participle refers to a number of phenomena many of which are extraneous to the poet and his 'je', so that we are concerned with something much more complex than an "oxymoronic self-portrait" (p. 193).

It is indeed the multi-layered and multi-faceted complexities of the material presented, of which Attwood is fully aware, and which she sets out, often with great success, to analyse, which make the interest and importance of this study. As she comes close to acknowledging in her brief conclusion (pp. 220-21), it is not about the poetic 'I' in lyric poetry, but about the ways three generations of French writers from the mid fourteenth to the early fifteenth century grappled with the problems of creativity once the book had come to replace the song as the repository of cultural and aesthetic experience.