15.08.11, Iseppi De Filippis, ed., Inventing a Path

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Georgianna Donavin

The Medieval Review 15.08.11

Iseppi De Filippis, Laura, ed. Inventing a Path: Studies in Medieval Rhetoric in Honour of Mary Carruthers. Nottingham Medieval Studies 56. Turnhout: Brepols, 2012. pp. ix, 470. ISBN: 9782503543000 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Georgianna Donavin
Westminster College

This special issue of Nottingham Medieval Studies is an elegantly packaged gift for Mary Carruthers, who has changed the landscape in medieval memory studies and taught us to see medieval aesthetics anew. As is appropriate in a festschrift for an eminent scholar, this book rolls out like a pageant, opening with a brief biography, a list of publications, a foreword, a preface, an introduction, and nineteen essays--many of whose authors are luminaries in their fields, though the entire cast covers various levels of academe from emeriti to former graduate students of the honoree. On the footer of each essay's first page rests a short biography of the author, his or her email address, an abstract, and a list of key words. There are twenty-eight figures, two plates, one musical example, and two tables. The book is rounded out with a useful index. In command of these proceedings is the journal's guest editor, Laura Iseppi De Filippis, who was Carruthers' research assistant at the Center for Research in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance at NYU and who, for the most part, ably directs the whole.

Besides making a handsome gesture to the deserving recipient, this festschrift offers essays that build provocatively on Carruthers' scholarship. As Iseppi De Filippis's introduction points out, topics such as sounds in texts (Bent, Flynn, Roesner, Treitler, Ziolkowski), ductus (Anderson, Flynn, Tylus), invention (Binski, Otter), rhetorical structures in art (Binski, Sandler, Torre), manuscripts (Coleman, Minnis, Rust), and the history of rhetoric (Camargo, Eden) provide common threads. Another connection among the essays is made by various perspectives on medieval performance, such as Margaret Bent's on music, painting, and dance; Iseppi De Filippis's on the Corpus Christi Proclamation Banns and the York Ordo Paginarum, and Meg Twycross's on Tudor revels. There is also an undercurrent on teaching--essays by dedicated teachers about teaching texts in honor of a well-known professor. Kathy Eden, for example, analyzes the teaching of style in the sixteenth century, and Kimberly Rivers illuminates Franciscus de Zabarellis's writing on canon law instruction. And, of course, many of the contributors rely on Carruthers' groundbreaking work on memory. Leo Treitler corroborates Carruthers' construction of this mental faculty as a foundation for invention and artistic production by declaring that "brain science and experimental psychology on the one side and sociology and folklore on the other eschew...a commonplace view of memory" that emphasizes simplistic, rote practices (383). Although the intersections among the essays and their indebtedness to Carruthers' scholarship enable a wonderfully cohesive volume, the table of contents, listing the contributors in alphabetical order, does nothing to underscore this cohesiveness. Whether the volume's structure was mandated by Nottingham Medieval Studies or determined in an attempt to present the authors democratically, some readers may wish for an organizational scheme that could have highlighted the essays' links to Carruthers' scholarship and to each other.

Although some unevenness in the quality of the essays appears (as is almost always the case with anthologies), often the contributors bring Carruthers' theories to bear on well-worn scholarly topoi and surface with something shining and new. Such is the case with Lucy D. Anderson's analysis of ductus in the color symbolism of the Middle English Pearl and Alastair Minnis's discoveries concerning the shifting relationship between images and marginalia during the vernacular commentary movement. Among the most innovative essays is Joyce Coleman's "Memory and the Illuminated Pedagogy of the Propriétés des choses," which treats early Propriétés manuscript images that are so unusual that Coleman admits "struggling for some time to find a name" for them (136). The images in question depict teaching, and since Propriétés des choses is a translation of De proprietatibus rerum, they must represent "a conscious attempt to bridge the text from its academic to its new lay audience" (131). Featuring globes hovering in mid air under the control of the master and green hills blossoming amidst the classroom, these images, according to Coleman, comprise "a stored memory image or a phantasm" of the master projecting his knowledge to readers through the translated text (136).

Like Coleman's, most of the essays deploy the interdisciplinary approaches for which Carruthers is renowned. For instance, "In Living Memory: Portraits of the Fourteenth-Century Canons of Dorchester Abbey" by Lucy Freeman Sandler deploys religious, architectural, art, manuscript, and textual histories to discuss connections among a fourteenth-century English Biblical Concordance, abecedaria, the monastic community at Arrouasian Abbey, the monks' portraits as illustrated in the Concordance, and three windows in the Abbey church chancel. Similarly interdisciplinary, "Remembering Canon and Civil Law around 1400" by Kimberly Rivers brings medieval memory and legal studies to bear on the "Tract of the Method of Teaching" in order to show "how medieval lawyers learned and remembered legal material" (266).

So far, this review has covered what might be expected in a festschrift for Carruthers, but there are a few surprises. In isolated instances, surprise comes from a need for firmer editorial control, such as a reference to the honoree as "Mary" inside one of the essays (52) and a very slim list of secondary resources on one well-researched medieval author (188-189). For the most part, however, surprise comes from the admirable unexpected, such as the appearance of the first English translations of nine occasional verses attributed to the famous author of the Poetria nova in Martin Camargo's "Geoffrey of Vinsauf's Memorial Verses." Readers may thank Camargo for correcting previous editions and translating poems that many have seen only as excerpts in Geoffrey's textbooks. One hopes that the newly increased availability of these poems will launch interpretive work on the historical moments and rhetorical principles these poems were meant to memorialize and teach.

In the constraints of this publication, it is impossible to amplify on all nineteen essays and the extensive apparatus of this book. This reviewer's hope is that readers will be convinced by the overview provided here that Inventing a Path: Studies in Honour of Mary Carruthers is an admirable volume worth reading for themselves. Congratulations to Mary Carruthers for many scholarly successes. Inventing a Path showcases the excellent work for which she has laid foundations.

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