16.08.10, Kleiman, ed., Voice and Voicelessness in Medieval Europe

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Victoria Blud

The Medieval Review 16.08.10

Kleiman, Irit Ruth, ed. Voice and Voicelessness in Medieval Europe. The New Middle Ages. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. pp. xviii, 264. . ISBN: 978-1-137-39705-8 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Victoria Blud
University of York

In the introduction to this collection, editor Irit Kleiman uses the metaphor of "a choir singing" to describe the harmony of the essays that follow (6). That this is an interdisciplinary collection almost goes without saying, but the essays nevertheless clearly cohere around a particular set of questions: what is it to have or to be deprived of a voice? what is a voice? what can it do?

The collection is interested in how notions of subjectivity may be augmented or challenged by historicist approaches, the pervasiveness of theological and philosophical theories of voice in medieval culture more widely, and the aesthetics of medieval voice and vocalization. The essays often prioritize materiality, corporeality and the lived body, making connections periodically with contemporary thinkers (de Certeau, Merleau-Ponty, Lacan, Agamben, and Scarry are all here, although--perhaps surprisingly--not Derrida). The collection also picks up on recent philosophical interest in voice (Adriana Cavarero's work, for instance), and chimes with medieval studies' concern with orality and narration (as foregrounded in another recent collection, Duys, Emery and Postlewate's Telling the Story in the Middle Ages). [1] The corresponding concern for the lack of a voice and those circumstances that occasion an inability to speak might equally have gestured towards the turn to apophasis in contemporary philosophy and theology (for example, Chris Boesel and Catherine Keller's collection Apophatic Bodies, which situates the discussion in a challenging material and corporeal framework, as do several of the essays here). [2] Nevertheless, the bibliography is expansive and is perhaps especially useful for the number of items in languages other than English, particularly French works (three of the essays here have been translated by Kleiman), offering a more eclectic, less Anglo-centric take on the topic.

The volume is divided into sections on voice and language (Casas and Stanton), voice and authority (Bernier-Farella, Lemesle, Hellemans), rhetoric and polyphony (Galvez, Orlemanski, Marculescu), and representations of voices (Zayaruznaya, Albin, Giroud, Shoaf). The introduction, which takes its cue from Kleiman's musical metaphor of the collection (including a bridge and refrain), orients the reader and outlines the principally Aristotelian and Augustinian intellectual inheritance that informs the essays. The Aristotelian equation of voice and soul and distinction between phone and logos highlight the principle that language is peculiar to man, while Augustine's memories of song, lamentation and disembodied voices in the Confessions are used to introduce the book's thematic concerns of subjectivity and the emergence into language, the affective power of music, and the vocalization of sorrow.

Ghislain Casas starts, as it were, at the top, looking at the theory of angelic speech and its logical paradoxes in "Language without Voice: Locutio angelica as a Political Issue." Beginning with questions that draw on the Aristotelian distinctions already introduced--can angels be said to possess voices, without being corporeal beings? Can they have language without voice? How can they bring messages?--Casas analyses how the Aristotelian revival evolved the thinking on angelology (using William of Auvergne and Giles of Rome as case studies). He argues that angelic speech may be seen as a highly significant in a political sense since, while voice represents a locus of humanity as opposed to animality, ultimately the incorporeal, immaterial angelic voice "does not represent the next step...where language and politics would reach their proper spiritual nature" but rather shows the human voice as a "necessary dimension of political life" (25).

By contrast, Robert Stanton's essay "Mimicry, Subjectivity, and the Embodied Voice in Anglo-Saxon Bird Riddles" completes the first section with a move to a rather more mundane variety of winged speaker. Stanton looks to the Anglo-Saxon animal-voiced riddles (specifically those of the birds) and the question of the awareness of these narrators--what sort of ontological questions do their roles provoke? The essay considers classical forebears and, interestingly, neoplatonic analogues, which show Plutarch, Eusebius and the Exeter Book riddler all blurring the same lines between nature and culture (36). Excavating the mimicry and multiple registers of sounds and voices in the riddles, Stanton makes a case for the Anglo-Saxon riddlers going further in this regard than their classical antecedents, since their birds not only appear to speak but understand how to use their voices.

Hélène Bernier-Farella's contribution, "Ritual Voices and Social Silence: Funerary Lamentations in Byzantium," locates traditional images of the lamentation of the Virgin within pagan practices of antiquity. The essay returns to the suspension of voice and voicelessness in expressions of sorrow, which re-emerges periodically through the volume, and traces how such expression gives voice to women not normally heard but whose voices are heard in the rites of threnos. Resituating Marian discourse among the voices of the psalms and the mourning of ordinary Byzantine women, Bernier-Farella frames the development of Christian funerary practices as one of superposition, rather than synthesis (59) and highlights the enduring significance of women's lamentation.

The notion of the mournful voice likewise informs Bruno Lemesle's piece on vox funesta, "Viva voce: Voice and Voicelessness among Twelfth-Century Clerics." The chapter takes as a starting point Rufinus's Summa, in which criminal prelates do not have a voice to accuse, punish or teach. How significant is this voicelessness or denial of voices? The discussion is set in the context of the increased significance of preaching in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and the need to distinguish the proper voice of pastoral instruction. It is particularly interesting on the voices of heretics, who may not accuse Christians but who may accuse each other, and the denunciations of clergy in a period of papal desire for control over their subordinates. It also considers the case of what may have been epilepsy sufferers (76-77), whose voices appear confused and potentially devilish.

In "Abelard and Heloise between Voice and Silence," Babette S. Hellemans undertakes a philosophical and anthropological analysis of the famous letters, listening for the voice of the letters as a corpus, rather than the competing voices of the individuals who wrote them. Hellemans develops a reading of the occulta cordis that figures Heloise's reticence (88); she doesn't write so that she doesn't speak. The chapter also responds to Peter von Moos's observations on the aposiopesis (falling silent) in Heloise's letters in its analysis of the negotiations between public and private and between subjectivity and authenticity that the letters stage.

From the asceticism and rhetorical silence of the cloister, Marisa Galvez moves to the crusades, asking "Is it possible to hear the inner voice of the medieval crusader?" In "The Voice of the Unrepentant Crusader: 'Aler m'estuet' by the Châtelain d'Arras," Galvez reads trouvère lyrics against penitential discourse to shed light on the conflation of piety and fin amor. She argues that as the lady's voice inspires crusading "chivalry" as the preacher inspires intentio recta, the crusader's voice effects the relation that overcomes corporeal distance from both his lady and from Christ. Problematically for the principles of confession and courtly profession, the crusader-lover goes against the intention of his body (to stay with his lady) and his actions do not accord with his heart. Yet for this reason, he must "envoice" his lady in song and it is therefore this external voice that guarantees his intention. Thus despite the contradictions, Galvez argues, the Châtelain establishes and maintains his credibility.

A collection on voice would not be complete without Margery Kempe, and Julie Orlemanski manages the impressive feat of finding a new angle on the notorious division of authority suggested by the proem. In "Margery's 'Noyse' and Distributed Expressivity," Orlemanski looks at Margery's cryings and roarings as "distributed expressivity"--they do not represent intention but rather cause, staging the confrontation between vox confuse and vox articulate. This "distributed" expression "peels apart the seemingly inevitable metonymy of speech and self" (127). In a lively argument, Orlemanski uses this notion to reinterpret the Book's insistence on staging opposition to Margery Kempe--her divinely-willed "noysings" re-focus communal piety around her own voice and these responses, particularly in their skepticism, must therefore be recorded--and shows how the insistence on the meaningfulness of roars and noise "makes these vocalizations into the irritating grain of sand around which the Book forms its pearl, its own text" that constantly negotiates signs and meanings (136).

From Margery's cries, Andreea Marculescu turns to "The Voice of the Possessed in Late Medieval French Theater." The chapter looks at French mysteries in which characters are possessed by demons: the possessed is "possessed by the other, but dispossessed of what makes her a human being: articulated speech" (140). Again, the focus is on the link between speech and humanity, and (echoing Orlemanski's chapter) inarticulate sounds and how they create meaning. It also picks up on (and provides a nice contrast with) the voices of angels and the angelic canor in Casas and Albin's contributions. It would have been interesting to consider the implications of the fact that players must the text, since the chapter engages again in the negotiations of the corporeality and incorporeality of voice in lived bodies.

This lived, or vocalized, experience of the text is something Anna Zayaruznaya, takes up in her chapter "'Sanz note' & 'sanz mesure': Toward a Premodern Aesthetics of the Dirge." Once more, the chapter considers the relation of suffering and inexpressibility, but also the written expressions of sound, here in musical notation. The essay explores suffering as the condition for creativity and here again the vox confuse and vox articulate are focal points: this time for metrically confused notation, or for songs without notes or which preclude the addition of other instrumentation. The excavation of the silence evoked by these texts and notation--shown to be desmesuree in feeling and metre--is a fascinating cross-disciplinary exercise.

The musical interlude continues with Andrew Albin's "Listening for canor in Richard Rolle's Melos Amoris." Like other essays in the volume, the chapter looks at supernatural voice, specifically angelic song in Rolle's Melos Amorisand how its oral/vocal performance "summons and refuses voice" (178). Angelic canor are not ineffable simply because they are divine but also because they are musical: Albin thus reflects on the acoustic conditions of the experiences Rolle describes, in accordance with Rolle's architectural metaphors. The focus on canor is also used to elaborate on Rolle's long passages of prolix alliteration, a bodily and a grammatical challenge that traces what Albin dubs canoric aesthetics. Here as in other essays, the focus is on listening for what texts do as well as what they say, a theme of the collection in general.

In the penultimate essay, Cédric Giraud rediscovers Bernard de Rosier and makes the case for further scholarship on his work. "Mary between Voice and Voicelessness: The Latin Meditationes of Bernard de Rosier" once again draws on an Augustinian tradition, showing how de Rosier's meditations make a point of staging dialogue with the Virgin, of speaking Mary and making Mary speak, and causing a traditionally silent figure to hold forth. By filling canonical silences, Giraud argues, the Virgin is made accessible to a readership that reflects on this spiritual exercise.

The final essay, Matthew G Shoaf's "Voice and Wisdom in Early Italian Art" examines the voice in art--how is this represented, and in particular what are the stakes of picturing divine speech? It takes a cue from the disruptive potential of voice that does not operate through intelligible frameworks, as explored elsewhere in the volume, and turns to speaking images and visibile parlare, the emitted words and opened mouths of art and sculpture. Perhaps fittingly for the collection, as well as the section in which it is contained, Shoaf wraps up with another silent representation of voice, which is, however, no less "vocal" for that.

As these synopses indicate, the plurality of approaches here represents an unusually broad range including literature, history, philosophy, musicology, art history, rhetoric, anthropology, gender studies and post-humanism. The topics under discussion range from studies of the early Christian church in Byzantium to the religious plays and meditations of fifteenth-century France. With the possible exception of Stanton, there is a firmly theological emphasis at the heart of the collection. This can occasionally leave the impression that, despite the broad scope anticipated in the introduction (which emphasises legal and political discourses, the interplay of subjectivity and authority and the "poetics and esthetics of marginality" [6]), the creation or suppression of medieval voice receives less attention in more secular domains, but this small point aside this focus clearly underpins the undoubted coherence and cohesion of this volume. This is a collection whose contributions "speak" to each other in a number of ways and which will likewise speak to scholars and disciplines that listen for past and lost voices--among medievalists, who can that leave out?



1. Kathryn A Duys, Elizabeth Emerym and Laurie Postlewate (eds.), Telling the Story in the Middle Ages: Essays in Honor of Evelyn Birge Vitz (Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 2015).

2. Chris Boesel and Catherine Keller (eds.), Apophatic Bodies: Negative Theology, Incarnation, and Relationality (New York: Fordham University Press, 2009).

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