Alexandra Sterling-Hellenbrand

title.none: Dobozy, Re-Membering the Present (Alexandra Sterling-Hellenbrand)

identifier.other: baj9928.0707.017 07.07.17

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Alexandra Sterling-Hellenbrand, Appalachian State University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2007

identifier.citation: Dobozy, Maria. Re-Membering the Past: The Medieval German Poet-Minstrel in Cultural Context. Turnhout: Brepols Publishers, 2005. Pp. xiv, 354. $72.00 (hb) 978-2-503-51516-9 (hb). ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 07.07.17

Dobozy, Maria. Re-Membering the Past: The Medieval German Poet-Minstrel in Cultural Context. Turnhout: Brepols Publishers, 2005. Pp. xiv, 354. $72.00 (hb) 978-2-503-51516-9 (hb). ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Alexandra Sterling-Hellenbrand
Appalachian State University

Who were medieval performers and what did they do? Loosely paraphrased and somewhat simplified, this is the central question for Maria Dobozy's Re-Membering the Present. The Medieval German Poet- Minstrel in Cultural Context. The simplicity of the question, however, belies the comprehensive nature of the project, which is a welcome addition to the growing corpus of scholarly work on performance in medieval literature and culture. Focusing on the time period between 1170 and 1400, from the rise of short narratives and the earliest extant political-praise songs to the increasing 'professionalization' or 'specialization' of minstrels as artisans organized into brotherhoods and localized in urban areas, Dobozy guides the reader through an impressive discussion of the attitudes toward and perspectives of medieval performers.

The book is divided into two sections. Part 1 ("Living in the Interstices: The Performer") focuses on the perspective of the performer, dealing with extant evidence from legal codes and court account books as well as ecclesiastical sources (sermons and theological writings) that describe the status of minstrels and other performers in medieval society. Part 2 ("Appealing to the Audience") turns our attention toward the issue of affect and the way in which literary sources deal with the "function and dynamics of performance"; these sources include romances, short narratives and Spruchdichtung (verses) that all variously describe the activities of poet-performers.

After a general introduction in chapter 1, chapter 2 examines the status of the minstrel as a pariah, an outsider both in a legal sense and in a theological sense. Dobozy examines in detail the arguments put forward by twelfth- and thirteenth-century theologians (among them Meinhard of Bamberg, Adam of Bremen, Thomas of Chobham, Thomas Aquinas), concluding that not only do the legal codes marginalize performers; the clerics also elevate this marginalization by turning performers "into a symbol of transgression." (83)

Chapter 3 continues the discussion of medieval theological voices, balanced with modern performance theories to place performance in a broader context, indeed in a kind of performance continuum over time. This continuum includes aspects that define performance, that make it uniquely what it is, and that remain (at least for Dobozy's analysis) constant over time. These aspects include the performing space and the performing body (involving gesture and comportment). Along with other ecclesiastical voices, Dobozy also places performance in the context of medieval conduct literature, notably Thomasin's Der waelsche Gast which "provides us with a general sense of the social code of gestures and some evidence of the cultural parameters framing the ideals of courtliness." (108) The performance situation was also complicated by the fact that clerics such as Berthold of Regensburg were reluctantly forced to recognize, as they inveighed against the minstrels, that the minstrels were perhaps better performers than the preachers who vied with them for the attention of their shared public. Chapter 4 concludes this part with an analysis of this public and its sphere, examining the performers' activities at court and in the city. Dobozy's scholarship is impressive as she combs the records for evidence, offering a rare and detailed look at Austrian records from the Tyrolean court to the city of Vienna. (148 ff.)

While Part I discusses the status and situation of performers, looking at available documentation and records, Part II is devoted to the voices of the poet-minstrels themselves. If "successful performances produce an electrically charged, collective experience between audience and performer," (199) then we must examine the texts being performed. Chapters 5 and 6 go on to discuss poets as tellers of (his)stories, as king-makers and polemicists, detailing the obligations of minstrels to patrons (praise) and patrons to minstrels (payment). Chapter 5 specifically explores Heinrich von Veldeke's Eneas and Heinrich von dem Turlin's Diu Crone. Considered "transitional" narratives, neither narrative "fits any generic category definitively" and "their undetermined nature makes them all the more revealing" for Dobozy. (200) The performances of the poets "ensure the fulfillment of the minstrel's mission for society." (222)

Chapters 7 and 8 attempt to place this mission into a broader aesthetic context. In particular, chapter 7 offers a broad analysis of a variety of medieval German texts, viewed through the lens of giving and negotiating gifts. Interesting in this context is the discussion of the event songs that commemorate a particular identifiable event and "illustrate the minstrel's role in the process of evaluating public events to shape a sense of history and identity." (281) The performance, in turn, "re-members the past and the present of the transforming time, space, and persons...through words, music and movement." (294) Dobozy concludes that "the affective nature of performance art re-structures the audience's memory.... When the past event is remembered for the audience, they experience it as real." (295) Thus, Dobozy brings the work of German poet-minstrels into the light of recent scholarship on medieval performance and memory.

I suggest that Dobozy's achievement in Re-Membering the Present for future performance scholarship is twofold. First, the book provides the social/economic/cultural/literary context for poet- minstrels outside of France between 1170 and 1400. Here, Dobozy firmly (re)places poet-minstrels in a position of prominence as shapers of public discourse. Second, as she illustrates the craft of the poet-minstrel's performance, Dobozy re-situates the (post)modern reader firmly in the medieval performer's audience. When we as readers encounter medieval performers through their texts, we simultaneously enact the process Dobozy describes of re-membering both the present and the past in our scholarship and teaching.

In sum, if Re-Membering the Present is any indication, German minstrels as performers are beginning to receive the recognition they deserve in a scholarly culture increasingly focused on the art of performance in/of medieval literature. Medieval poets and artists were generally concerned with issues of aurality/orality and literacy, of performance and self-reflexive understanding. As she offers a new appreciation of the complexity of performers and performance strategies from medieval Germany, Maria Dobozy here takes the modern reader, as yet another "member" of the extended audience, through the multi-layered performance process that was (and remains) integral to understanding medieval literature, not only in Germany but across Europe. I believe that this study will have implications for scholars in a wide range of fields throughout medieval studies.