The Medieval Review 17.10.29

Jeay, Madeleine. Poétique de la nomination dans la lyrique médiévale - "Mult volentiers me numerai" . Recherches littéraires médiévales, 18 / Le lyrisme de la fin du Moyen Âge, 4. Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2015. pp. 350. ISBN: 978-2-8124-3691-8 (paperback).

Reviewed by:

Barbara Altmann
Bucknell University

This rich book by Madeleine Jeay counters a number of deeply entrenched generalizations about medieval literary production, including the long-held belief that the great majority of medieval works of literature are anonymous ("le postulat de l'anonymat," 8). She also questions the assumption that medieval writers had no sense of individual intellectual property (7). These refreshing challenges are in and of themselves good reason to read Jeay's book, even before diving into the details on naming practices in Occitan and French authors from the troubadours through the Rhétoriqueurs.

In a 22-page introduction, Jeay runs quickly through disciplinary historiography, identifying major figures in medieval studies (e.g. Paul Zumthor, Roger Dragonetti) whose work was foundational in establishing the received stance on medieval authorship that she intends to correct with this book, critics who saw as "sporadic" or unusual any exceptions to the generalized principles of the anonymous and infinitely recyclable literary canon. She points out others who have argued the existence of a marked literary authorial consciousness (e.g. Michel Zink, Cynthia Brown, Simon Gaunt). As suggested in the book's sub-title, "mult volentiers me numerai," [1] Jeay's case rests on documentation showing that many medieval authors were demonstrably willing and eager to name themselves as the creative agent behind their texts and associate themselves with it. Jeay makes clear that the phenomenon of naming is not applicable to all medieval vernacular texts. Rather, as she clarifies, "il est nécessaire en effet de distinguer entre les genres attachés a un nom d'auteur, comme la poésie et le roman, et ceux qui favorisent l'anonymat, la chanson de geste et, à la fin de la période, les mises en prose" (8-9). It does not apply in the tradition of le grand chant courtois, with its generalized, universalized, first-person subject. She chooses to focus on the corpus of lyric poetry from the troubadours to the poets of the Pléiade, "car dès les tous premiers textes en langue d'oc, la poésie est associée à des noms d'auteurs" (9).

The theoretical scaffold on which her notion of names and naming is based is two-fold: la fonction-auteur, a term she borrows from Michel Foucault, and the work of anthropologists, linguists, and literary critics on proper names (9). Under the sub-heading, "Qu'est-ce qu'un nom propre?", Jeay dips into anthropology, psychoanalysis, and linguistics to look at the notion of "the author" (18). She is interested not in "la notion d'auteur comme telle," but rather "aux procédures d'identification, au lien entre un texte et un nom propre" (9). Her concern is not with precise identification of authors' names with historical figures, but rather the act of naming by which the author inscribes names into the text--his or her own, or that of others important to its production or reception.

Another refreshing aspect of Jeay's analysis is the refusal to see the phenomenon of naming as a teleological process. She acknowledges that textual strategies change, evolve, and vary in stages, depending on cultural context, but she does not attempt to pinpoint beginning and end points within the spectrum of medieval Occitan and French literature. Instead, her argument refers back to authors of Greco-Roman Antiquity and forward to Montaigne and beyond, emphasizing continuities of interest and practice. The objective of the book is articulated clearly throughout. One such statement, taken from the end of the introduction, states the goal as follows: "l'intention est d'identifier et décrire au cours des époques, le regard que les poètes posent sur leur pratique par le fait même de l'inscription d'un nom" (27).

The introduction is followed by five chapters, a conclusion, a bibliography, and an index. The first two chapters track the use of proper names, first in the twelfth- and thirteenth-century work of the troubadours and trouvères, and then in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Middle French authors. The third, fourth, and fifth chapters engage specific strategies and outcomes of naming that apply to all of those groups.

Jeay pays special attention to the locus of naming, beginning that discussion in her introduction and then leading off with more detail in the chapter on troubadours and trouvères. She specifies that most often, "l'espace dévolu à l'identification est celui des zones péritextuelles" (27). Whereas in the romance, the naming of the author occurs in the prologue or in the explicit, in the poetry of the troubadours and trouvères it takes place in the tornada and the envoi. She recalls that we know approximately 460 names of troubadours and about 20 names of troubairitz (30), many from the call to an interlocutor in tensos and partimens and, of course, in the narrativized biographies in the vidas and razos. Three troubadours stand out for self-naming in their lyric poems--Marcabru, Raimon de Marival, and Arnaut Daniel--and each is the subject of detailed discussion, followed by a section on "le 'senhal.'" Other sub-sections of the first chapter discuss the phenomenon of naming in the Occitan sirventès, plahn, vidas, and razos, before turning to an examination of how naming strategies operate in the work of the trouvères and other Old French authors.

The section on Old French literature begins with a consideration of Chrétien de Troyes and the stamp he leaves on his work, which, while insistent, and a marker of pride, provides little on which to base any narrative elements of a biography. Thereafter, analysis of work by Blondel de Nesle, Gace Brulé, Thibaut de Champagne, Colin Muset, and Rutebeuf demonstrates the different personae that emerge from their naming practices, from markers of affiliation to the faithful lover, the noble knight-poet, the self-deprecating professional jongleur, and a fictional autobiography. A final section on the northern French jeux-partis identifies this forme dialoguée as primarily an urban phenomenon, linked to the school of Arras and the conditions there favorable to the production of poetry, a cultural matrix quite different than the courtly circles that generated the corpus in Occitan. The chapter concludes with a quick summary of similarities and differences between the troubadours and their northern counterparts in their identification of poets and protectors, and then signals the much more elaborate écriture de soi manifest in French literature as of the fourteenth century as an outgrowth of the earlier period.

The second chapter begins with the statement on the self-reflexive nature of the work of the later Middle Ages: "On ne saurait trop insister: le nom de l'auteur, éventuellement un pseudonyme, et les éléments autobiographiques qu'il donne de lui sont à la fois d'ordre textuel, avec les lieux communs attachés à l'image du poète, et référentiel" (95). Not surprisingly, the works of Guillaume de Machaut, Jean Froissart, Eustache Deschamps, and Christine de Pizan are the corpus in which Jeay traces this creation of the authorial persona, complete with an individualized name and details of lived experience that legitimize their writings. Naming in these authors takes place both within their works and in the paratextual apparatus of the manuscripts that contain them, a possibility reinforced by the agency and interest these authors begin to assume in the copying and organization of their oeuvres. Jeay highlights Machaut's personnalités multiples, Froissart's use of autobiography in both his lyric production and his chronicles, and the significance of Deschamps's various patronyms and nicknames. Concerning Christine, Jeay lays out the multiple strategies, textual and pictorial, that Christine deploys to construct her authority within the possibilities of her day--in Jeay's words, "la façon dont elle a su faire correspondre la singularité d'une destinée au destin collectif" (127).

Thereafter, Charles d'Orléans and François Villon come under discussion for the "paradoxales identifications" (127) that lay claim to their works, before the analysis turns to figures from the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. In Jeay's reckoning, a key figure from that later era is Jean Molinet, whose signature evolves from the metaphorical to the straightforward as a result of his changing audience. For Molinet's generation, a determining factor in the status of the author is, of course, the advent of printing, a transformative change in book production. While the extension du biographique in authors from the fourteenth century and beyond allows in certain genres for a more playful, poetic approach to naming (in the form of anagrams, metaphors, and multivalent versions of a proper name), they are engaging in the same practice as their troubadour and trouvère predecessors in pointing to an individual outside the world of the literary creation who attaches his or her name to the text (144-145).

The fourth chapter, "Listes de poètes et mise en place d'un canon," describes the elaboration and function of lists of the best authors. Such lists work by excluding the unworthy and including those whose work others must know and have mastered, namely the authors worthy of being remembered and cited as standard-bearers and authorities. This tendency to establish a canon starts in the mid-twelfth century in medieval vernacular literature, and reaches a peak in the work of the Rhétoriqueurs and then of La Pléiade.

The fifth and final chapter, "Nommer les protecteurs," examines the relationship between poet and patron. This mutually beneficial relationship is defined not only in terms of material gain, but also as an "échange de prestige, ce qu'emblématise le fait même de célébrer un nom dont on présume qu'il restera ainsi dans les mémoires" (265). Jeay makes the case that as with the act of naming an author, identifying a patron refers to a biographical referent outside the text that carries the same ambiguities regarding historical reality and poetic construction (265). The section on patrons of the troubadours reflects on what we can learn about the itinerant life of poets from the multiple dedications they use. Certain patrons carry particular prestige, including some women linked to the courts in Poitiers, Narbonne, and Ventadour. The trouvères are given to listing participants in tournaments to catalogue and enumerate the members of the nobility whose courts they frequent. Fourteenth- and fifteenth-century authors have other methods. Machaut is discreet in naming his patrons; Froissart both lists the many who have rewarded him for his work and also plays with their names by disguising and decoding them; Deschamps assumes the status of the quémandeur, solliciting recognition and reward; Christine dedicates her works to multiple patrons but also prepares presentation copies of her works for them. The Rhétoriqueurs, among whom Jean Molinet and Jean Lemaire de Belges are representative, enjoy greater stability than their precursors, naming their patrons directly in celebratory texts, but also encode them in allegorical constructions, emblems, metaphors, often thinly veiled. Again, the transition to printed editions brings an important change, in that the printed book is destined for a general audience, and no longer for a particular patron, who therefore loses his or her privileged status in the presentation of the work.

Jeay's conclusion gives a succinct overview of the detailed findings in her five chapters. In a thesis statement that nicely sums up the great variety of strategies involving the use of proper names she has categorized in a broad primary corpus, she writes: "Nommer constitue le geste poétique par excellence puisqu'il s'agit de recréer le monde par le verbe, particulièrement lorsqu'il s'agit d'imprimer sa marque soit par la signature d'un texte, soit par l'identification de ses proches" (307). The "I" named can be multi-dimensional, as can the role the author-persona plays in relation to the text he or she claims. The preoccupation with glory, durability of reputation, and posthumous renown in the fifteenth century, Jeay argues, opens toward the optimism of the sixteenth century regarding "[les] espoirs d'éternité des poètes" (315).

There are a few infelicities in the technical aspects of this volume. These include numbering footnotes page by page rather than continuously throughout a given chapter. Although running titles at the top of the page keep the name of the chapter in view, the chapters are not numbered, nor are the sub-headings, with the result that the hierarchies of information and division of content are sometimes unclear. The typographic formatting of sub-headings results in some odd blank spaces on the page (e.g. 29, 177, 245). More of a challenge to the reader is a lack of precision or shifting definitions for some of the concepts and terms central to the book. For example, while the title identifies the corpus as "la lyrique médiévale," and while Dante, Boccaccio, and Petrarch are subject to some discussion (either because they are included among authors catalogued in French works or because they themselves make such catalogues), the body of literature under review is otherwise exclusively Occitan and French. That limitation is completely reasonable, but it could have been reflected more accurately in the title, which promises a broader corpus. As for delimiting that Occitan and French corpus, Jeay identifies it as "les textes reliés au lyrisme" (28), as opposed to the tradition of le grand chant courtois or the romance, for example; but that definition does not cover all the genres from which she draws her examples, which range as far as chronicles and other long prose works of didactic or allegorical literature. These are small distractions in what is on the whole a very useful and informative treatise that refines our understanding of medieval literary production.

-------- Notes:

1. The quotation is taken from Adgar's Le Gracial, quoted on p. 13.

Copyright (c) 2017 Barbara Altmann

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