09.10.17, Romagnoli and Wahlen, Figures de l'oubli

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Paul Rockwell

The Medieval Review 09.10.17

Romagnoli, Patrizia and Barbara Wahlen. Figures de l'oubli (IVe--XVIe siècle). Etudes de Lettres, 2007/1-2. Lausanne: Universite de Lausanne, 2007. Pp. 358. ISBN: 978-2-940331-13-8.

Reviewed by:
Paul Rockwell
Amherst College

The editors of this fascinating collection of fifteen articles have chosen a deceptively modest title. They portray the volume as an effort to historicize the scholarly debates that, over the last two decades, have sought to re-assess the cultural representation of oubli in a variety of contexts. The present contributions provide the professional reader with much valuable information and take students on a tour of the issues in a volume that reads like a series of case studies. The best of these go far beyond simple thematic analyses and seek to situate oubli within diverse systems of metaphorical values that are far more complex than the title of the volume might suggest. The choice to provide close, detailed readings of the texts examined underscores the value of historicizing the debate. The representations of oubli delineated are remarkably varied. They range from the ambivalence of oubli in the works of Augustine to the foundational role of oubli in Montaigne's pedagogical ideals and in his representation of the relationship between self and writing. Even though the articles present the materials studied more or less in chronological order, the editors, to their credit, do not portray the contributors' conclusions as defining a linear evolution. What results is a scattershot sampling of historical examples that highlights the specificity of each in a way that defies easy distillation into the critical metaphor of a "period."

After a helpful overview of the collection by Patrizia Romagnoli, Phillippe Frieden revisits the well-known representation of memory in book X of Augustine's Confessions to demonstrate the strange interdependence of memory and oubli in Augustine's sense of place. Yasmina Foehr-Janssens finds that, despite the strong thematic emphasis on memory and commemoration in such early French works as the Chanson de Roland and the Roman de Troie, a positive role for oubli is articulated in discrete references to such concepts as forgiveness and consolation. Sylviane Messerli examines oubli in the Roman d'Eneas. Michelle Szkilnik describes the rewriting of Chrétien de Troyes's figure of the forgetful knight in several early thirteenth-century verse texts, including Meraugis de Portlesguez, Hunbaut, the Perceval Continuations and La Vengeance Raguidel. Romaine Wolf-Bonvin uses a comparison between Gawain's forgetfulness in this latter work and his well-established literary reputation as a pretext for a subtle meditation on the relationships among oubli, irony and parody.

Using the work of Krause, Boulton, and Keller as a point of departure, Francine Mora revisits two episodes in the Roman de la Violette in which the hero completely forgets his amie, and out of which an aesthetic of poetic memory emerges. Along similar lines, Barbara Wahlen sees a mise-en-abyme of romance composition in the episode of the "Roche aux pucelles" of the Suite du roman de Merlin. Alain Corbellari details a resistance to the notion of symbolism and a quasi-nietzscheen representation of absolute liberty, both of which arise from the oubli de Dieu in the long fabliau of Trubert. Using as his examples Guillaume de Deguilleville's Pelerinage de vie humaine and Thomas de Saluces's Chevalier errant, Phillippe Maupeu examines the foundational role of oubli in allegorical narratives that purport to edify the reader. Jean-Claude Muhlethaler focuses on Alain Chartier's Livre de l'Espérance and discovers a diptych-like structure inspired by Boethius's Consolatio. He maintains that the poetic function of oubli in Chartier's work was known and parodied by Villon. Christopher Lucken highlights the association that links oubli to nonchaloir in the works of Charles d'Orléans and concludes that the chest in which he stores his poetry becomes a metaphorical coffin d'oublie that permits the poet to heal the wounds caused by the memory of his absent beloved. Nelly Labère outlines the interplay between memory and oubli in Les Evangiles des Quenouilles. Teresa Chevrolet contributes the excellent piece on Montaigne mentioned above.

In addition to the critical analyses of literary texts listed here, two additional articles delve into historical issues concerning book production. Tania van Hemelryck examines the effacement of "the author" that is inherent in modes of early manuscript production, and proposes new metaphors to characterize the renaissance of the image of the author in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Michel Jourde relates how, upon the arrival of the printing press, Humanists' praise of the longevity that it offered written works soon gave way to concerns about overproduction and the resultant oblivion into which the unsold book might fall.

This fine volume has very few flaws. I would take issue only with some small, but important assertions in Messerli's analysis of the Roman d'Eneas. Messerli maintains that in some way Troy, and by extension the past of the Trojan protagonist, is "forgotten" through the mediation of the catabasis that Eneas undertakes. His crossing of the river "Lethe," the waters of forgetfulness, which occurs twice in the Roman d'Eneas, figures this process. Messerli neglects to mention that unlike those underworld souls that are subjected to this oubliance, Eneas never drinks of the waters. When he emerges from the underworld and is said to have "oblé...le duel de Troie," he has forgotten not Troy, but rather le duel, a symptom of his separation from the city. He will no longer be separated from Troy, because Albe, the city he is to found, is Troy restored, as the Gods have prophesied. The forgetting to which this line refers is a function of the remanbrance that makes the restoration possible. Messerli's only error was to have accepted without question certain assertions that were published in Mora-Lebrun's now classic work in 1985, but which were questioned by subsequent publications that do not appear in Messerli's bibliography.

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Paul Rockwell

Amherst College