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Memory and Re-Creation in Troubadour Lyric.

This book's thesis is that modern views of textuality which underpin scholarly editions of troubadour poetry produce a misrepresentation of the texts. Professor Van Vleck argues for the primacy of voice over writing, of memory and orality over written transmission. She questions the existence of written song-sheets as precursors of chansonniers and endorses Rupert Pickens's view that whilst some troubadours resisted mouvance, the majority invited the revision and improvement of their work. Paradoxically, Van Vleck is most persuasive when demonstrating the hostility of many troubadours to mouvance; unsurprisingly, she produces little firm evidence that troubadours actively incited transmitters to revise their songs, for few do so unequivocally. Much of Van Vleck's evidence regarding attitudes to mouvance rests on metaphors which are in fact more readily applicable to hermeneutics than to textual stability. Consequently, the assumption which underscores this book - that is, that if a troubadour does not explicitly oppose mouvance he necessarily encourages it - seems rash given the body of evidence pointing to a concern for textual stability. Through detailed statistical evidence Van Vleck demonstrates eloquently that mouvance is an important feature of the tradition, and that if troubadours and transmitters were acutely aware of the |problem', modern scholars have misrepresented their material in their quest for a single |authentic text'. However, in order to redress the balance Van Vleck distorts the tradition as much as Lachmannian editors: she fails to account for the complex relationship between writing and the voice in the Middle Ages. Mediaeval culture was not a print culture, but nor was it illiterate, and taking all variants as evidence of oral transmission suppresses the written textuality of the poems as preserved in the chansonniers. Furthermore, Van Vleck fails to account for the complex relationships between chansonniers, some of which can only result from early written transmission; her unqualified disdain for Lachmannian editors therefore seems overstated. There are some illuminating and blisteringly intelligent sections: for example, those on voice, on the use of rhyme-schemes to guarantee textual stability, on the significance of different stanza-orders, and on the stanza as the significant semantic unit. Van Vlec is surely right to exhort her readers to undertake |a multiple reading of "the moving text"'. Yet she relies almost entirely on the editions she disparages and often does not read them as meticulously as her method requires. Thus her |multiple reading' of PC 70.31, though a critical tour de force, simply reshuffles the stanzas as edited by Appel. More seriously, she at times ignores a text's manuscript tradition: for instance PC 293.5, the subject of an elaborate commentary, is in five manuscripts, not three as stated. These preserve two different incipits and other significant variants which go unremarked; notably, the presence of the poem's crucial image - that of the enclosed garden - rests largely on a line which is preserved in only one manuscript. Incidentally, the impression is repeatedly given that the poet calls this text a vers desviatz |borrowed poem', where-as in fact he only talks of its son desviatz |borrowed tune'. Finally, the preface indicates that this book had a long period of gestation: there are some gaps in the bibliography from the early 1980s, and Van Vleck could profitably have engaged with the work of Gruber (1983) and Meneghetti (1984). Troubadour studies are in desperate need of a cogent critique of Lachmannian principles of textual criticism; despite its many qualities, this thought-provoking book does not quite deliver what it promises.
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Author:Gaunt, Simon B.
Publication:Medium Aevum
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1992
Words:573
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