12.08.04, Plumley, ed., Citation, Intertextuality and Memory in the Middle Ages and Renaissance

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Jason Stoessel

The Medieval Review 12.08.04

Plumley, Yolanda, Giuliano Di Bacco, and Stefano Jossa. Citation, Intertextuality and Memory in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Volume One: Text, Music and Image from Machaut to Ariosto. Exeter Studies in Medieval Europe. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2011. Pp. 272. ISBN: 978-0-85989-851-5.

Reviewed by:
Jason Stoessel

Memory's role in processes of cultural production, including intertextuality and citation, has emerged in the last few decades as an prominent area of enquiry in medieval and Renaissance studies, not only in literary studies but also in histories of art, music, religion and law. The recognition-- precipitated by the "linguistic turn" of the 1960s and 1970s-- that early European cultural productions operated within a "web of significance" (to use Max Weber's turn of phrase popularized by Clifford Geertz) in which innovation occurred against the backdrop of tradition, brought a new appreciation of, for example, late medieval literature. Rather than dismissing this early literature as unoriginal, scholars understanding memory's place in the medieval reception of literature acknowledged the role that references to earlier models play in situating a work within literary culture. Part of the problem for present day readers, auditors and viewers of medieval literary, musical and pictorial arts, however, is our inability (unless appropriately tutored) to recognize citation when not part of these early European cultures. Compounding our distance from these cultures is our uncertainty as to where a familiar turn of phrase fits within a spectrum of authorial intentionality: is it a direct and salient reference to a particular work (and therefore must be read against the backdrop of that work) or is it simply part of general artistic culture? Thus serious scholarship that attempts to nurture a present-day awareness of these models and influences upon medieval and early modern cultural productions is to be greeted with enthusiasm.

If we consider its theoretical roots, Julia Kristeva proposed a radical and all-encompassing definition of intertextuality. [1] Whether it is justified or not, this radical view of intertextuality (which I actually favor) has been subsequently shunned in some circles in favor of more constrained, but sometimes no less problematic, terms such as "citation," "allusion" or "influence". These terms occupy a narrow band on intertextuality's spectrum of intentionality without resorting to the semiotic theory that lies at the heart of Kristeva's groundbreaking work. Given the intractability of past and present theoretical debate in this area of enquiry across multiple disciplines, the editors of this collection have opted to focus on examples that illustrate the practice of citation, intertextuality, and memory. Its thirteen chapters--preceded by a preface by the editors and an introduction by Lina Bolzoni which broaches many of the issues discussed above--as a whole exhibit a cross-disciplinary approach, although the degree to which individual contributions span more than one discipline is limited. Five chapters concern the fourteenth-century poet- composer Guillaume de Machaut (or his reputation); two chapters deal with early English lyric; a central kernel of chapters explores citation in early modern Italian literature and medical texts; and three chapters examine the pictorial arts, including book decoration. Jan Stejskal's chapter on the role that Italian humanists and the reformist John Jerome of Prague played in maintaining the memory of the Hussite reformists condemned at the Council of Constance fits less comfortably within the themes of this collection, despite its intrinsic merit. As such, this collection will appeal to historians of literature, music, art, and law, as well as to general historians whose interests lie in the period spanning the thirteenth to sixteenth centuries. The breadth of the collection may lie in the fact that its chapters originate from no less than three interdisciplinary gatherings of scholars over a period of five years: a pair of sessions convened by Plumley and Jossa at the 2004 annual conference of the Renaissance Society of America, and two workshops held in 2008 and 2009 at the University of Exeter as part of Plumley's "Citation and Allusion in the Late French Ars Nova Chanson and Motet" project.

In general, the book is well presented and carefully edited, although there are some minor problems and inconsistencies that might have been avoided. A more consistent approach to providing translations for readers less confident with non-English texts might have been adopted. Some chapters adopt the preferable approach of providing parallel translations; others relegate translations to endnotes (which are a compromise in my opinion). Those who read Chaucer in their youth will be able to cope with middle English texts, but not all readers will be comfortable with its archaic characters and more obscure words (e.g. "me reweth" [44], which some readers might recognize as a modal form of "(it) rues me" but still not understand this impersonal construction as "I pity"). Musical examples are crisp and clear, although the use of a "tilde" to indicate a plicated breve in one musical example (35) is not explained and some slurs appear to have disappeared on another musical example (177). Also, where is the caption on the following page (178)? The index of names is useful, but a volume like this would surely profit from a general index.

In the first chapter, Benjamin Albritton discusses the influence of Machaut's Lay de confort (L17) upon Chaucer and Froissart within the context of the English court of the early 1360s, a period during which a swath of French royalty and nobility had submitted to captivity in exchange for the release of King Jean II (which was short-lived following Louis of Anjou's escape from English custody). Following James Wimsatt's lead, Albritton illustrates how Chaucer models his English lyric on Machaut's L17, thus broaching a recurring thread examining how citation and intertextuality can span language boundaries. Ardis Butterfield is similarly concerned with how medieval English lyric forms might be re-evaluated in terms of the dynamism inherent in their re-use of Latin, French and English quotations (often moving from one language to another). This phenomenon, by virtue of its dispersal and lack of fixity, offers a glimpse of the medieval lyric's existence "off the page" that runs counter to "absolute" conceptions of form imposed by nineteenth-century anthologizers of Middle English lyric. Kathleen Palti takes up a closely related topic, examining how references to song and singing are incorporated into Middle English carols in two sources: London, British Library, MS Sloane 2593, and Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Eng.poet.1. In these carols, quotations of liturgical or moral texts evoke artificial and natural memories in literate and illiterate listeners.

Jacques Boogaart and Anne Stone furnish the volume's musicological essays. Boogaart examines how Machaut transforms (and sets to music) his textual models in four works, each a different genre. Boogaart perhaps goes too far in claiming that "such transformations allow us a glimpse into [Machaut's] creative mind, into the way in which he pondered and interpreted his chosen texts" (15). Besides there being simply too many questions in my own mind about what constitutes a "creative mind" at any one moment in a creative process, too often Boogaart is not certain whether Machaut used one model or another. But Boogaart is successful in demonstrating Machaut's constant re-voicing of poetic gender, although he is reticent to ascribe any significance to this fascinating feature. Anne Stone's playful "Machaut Sighted at Modena" is a valuable and timely contribution to the study of the reception of the dead fourteenth-century poet's works by early fifteenth-century composers, particularly the compiler of a famous music manuscript now housed at the Biblioteca Estense in Modena. Stone in part anticipates Elizabeth E. Leach's recent call for more scholarly attention to how Machaut's works succumb to new readings, adaptions and commentary in subsequent intertextual literary and music culture. [2] Stone also observes that early- fifteenth-century composers, operating within a more textualized culture, increasingly used musical citations in ways that asserted their authorial/compositional identity, often in stark contrast to their models.

One of the most striking aspect's of Leach's recent monograph on Machaut is its straightforward pronouncements on problematic uses of Machaut's works as a means of fleshing out the composer's still largely skeletal biography. [3] Machaut's Le livre du voir dit, purportedly a "true tale" of the over-70- year-old poet's affair with a young girl, is one work that has set biographers' imagination alight. Although R. Barton Palmer maintains in his contribution to this volume that a "real" love affair lay behind the letters scattered throughout the Voir dit, its narrativization reveals a tension between the autobiographical/mundane, Machaut's models (such as the Roman de la Rose), and the use of self-allusion dependent on this dit's material presence in a complete works manuscript as envisaged by Machaut himself. More than anything, Machaut's mind-boggling literary conceit reveals the genius of his old age constructing an impermeable metafictionality of his poetic identity. That Machaut was not unassisted in this task is the suggestion of the seventh chapter in this collection, Domenic Leo's reading of the two large miniatures that the Jean de Sy Master painted (possibly shortly after Machaut's death in 1377) at the beginning of what is now Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale MS Fr. 1584. These miniatures situate the composer, stooped over with old age, within an iconographical model that resembles Adoration of the Madonna scenes in late medieval art. Leo argues that this sets up an allegory in which Machaut represents the chaste, quasi-immaculate progenitor of his literary and musical works. Leo does not discuss whether his reading also suggests that Machaut has finally lost his grip on reality and was convinced of the salvific value of his art, but the Jean de Sy Master is clearly an accomplice to Machaut's surprisingly modern (Stravinsky-like?) concern for posterity.

Karel Thein also discusses an example of latent iconography. The intrusion of the Apocalypse into Bernardino of Siena's ekphrastic response in 1425 to Ambrogio Lorenzetti's Allegory of Good and Bad Government fits well with earlier proposals that the Good Government fresco is patterned upon pictorial compositions of the Last Judgement. Just as the Jean de Sy Master's miniatures might have reminded viewers of Marian imagery, Lorenzetti's fresco invites viewers to regard their deeds in terms of both civic and divine justice. Similarly, Anthony Musson considers how images decorating late medieval law manuscripts serve to guide, remind or entertain their readers. In one example, animals adorning the margins of a Magna carta in the Bodleian Library (MS Hattin 10) adopt human behaviors such as singing from a music book--behaviors which medieval thinkers regarded as the preserve of rational humanity. Although Musson holds that these images refer to the natural justice that is presumed to lie at the heart of the Magna carta (123), a visual irony or subversiveness also permeates these images since, while natural justice is regarded as an impulse shared by all creatures, humanity alone was capable of rationalizing it, in this case within a legal framework.

A sequence of three chapters by Monica Calabritto, Alessandro Daneloni and Stefano Jossa share several themes, but above all they are concerned with how classical models were received and repurposed by humanist and post-humanist Italian authors in the early modern period. Calabritto argues that for selected sixteenth-century Italian medical writers, including Giovanni Manardi, Antonio Musa Brasavola, Domenico Leoni, and Girolamo Mercuriale, the citation of classical authors played a central role in the period's program of humanist education, although these same authors often appropriate and decontextualize the past to serve their present medical concerns. Daneloni's essay on Angelo Poliziano's preface to his Miscellaneorum centuria prima reveals the extent to which this fifteenth-century humanist despised the pretentious misuse and abuse of classical authorities, the weighing down of texts with "operosissimae vanitates" (which Daneloni loosely tranlates as "useless and tiresome erudition") (78). Daneloni's impressive and masterful analysis of the classical authors imitated and emulated by Poliziano is matched by his understanding of Poliziano's role in moving humanist philology towards a strict and ethical reconstruction of ancient authors (81-83), an ideal that still resounds in the halls of Western learning. With his Orlando furioso, Ariosto operated within a slightly later form of Italian humanist culture, steeped in its obsession with imitatio and variation, and making abundant use of classical and medieval models. But as Jossa argues in his essay, Ariosto stitches his sources together in such a way that they stand in stark, dialogic contrast to his own novel and modern language. Jossa may be correct in pointing out the similarities of Ariosto's intertextual process with Bahktin's theory of dialogism. I don't see, however, how one of Ariosto's sources, the twelfth-century forgery that was supposedly Archbishop Turpin's History of Charlemagne and Roland, can be considered an "imaginary literary source" (83).

The strength of this collection (which is the first volume in a two-volume set) is a cross-disciplinarity that brings the arts and related fields into fruitful dialog. This is to be commended, especially from my perspective, that of musicology, which all to often adopts a highly specialized approach to its topic without considering music's synoptic relationship with the other arts. I look forward to the continuation of this dialog in the forthcoming second volume.

-------- Notes:

1. Julia Kristeva, Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art (Oxford: Blackwell, 1980).

2. Elizabeth Eva Leach, Guillaume de Machaut: Secretary, Poet, Musician (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2011), 319.

3. Leach, Guillaume de Machaut, 27

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Jason Stoessel