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Technique and Technology: Script, Print, and Poetics in France, 1470-1550 & Jean-Antoine de Baif and the Valois Court.

Adrian Armstrong, Technique and Technology: Script, Print, and Poetics in France, 1470-1550

(Oxford Modern Languages and Literature Monographs.) Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2000. xii + 37 pls. + 246 pp. $74. ISBN: 0-19-815989-7.

Yvonne Roberts, Jean-Antoine de Baif and the Valois Court

Bern: Peter Lang, 2000. 231 pp. $37.95. ISBN: 3-906765-01-6.

Adrian Armstrong's book deals with the work of three of the best-known rhetoriqueur poets: Jean Molinet, Jean Lemaire de Belges, and Guillaume Bouchet, whose varied careers spanned almost the whole of the rhetoriqueur school. What interests Armstrong are the changes in literary self-consciousness manifested in the presentational features, layout, illustrations, and paratexts of these works produced during a period of transition from manuscript to print culture. By "literary self-consciousness" Armstrong means the "various ways in which a text may foreground its author's creative investment in it" (7). Although Armstrong's interpretative practices derive from recent theoretical approaches to literature, they are eclectic and proceed by detailed case studies rather than by a single overarching theory.

The chapters on manuscripts and editions of Molinet's poetry highlight the differences between printed and manuscript presentations, of which the latter are generally more adventurous technically and visually, reflecting the differences between the tastes of the mass-market audience for printed works and the more elite and restricted readership for manuscripts. Manuscripts generally require a more active reader, and printed texts a more passive reader, although this is not always the case, as in the example of the exceptional Lyons edition of the Temple de Mars, whose title-page woodcut is not easily mappable onto the text, and invites the reader to interpret those differences, more in the style of manuscript than printed text. Such phenomena indicate these texts' role in making "reading as self-conscious as writing: unusual layouts defamiliarize the reading process, and force readers to make choices as to how poems can be completed or 'solved'" (33).

Lemaire, as successor to Molinet in service to Margaret of Austria, belonged to the next generation of court poets, mote attuned to the printing press. Armstrong's comments on text-image interaction in his discussion of the Carpentras manuscript of the Concorde des deux langages, particularly the description of the miniature depicting the interior of the Temple of Venus, are fascinating but problematic. Not all readers will agree with the overstated sexual interpretation of the image. Less exceptionable are the remarks on the second miniature depicting the Palace of Honor and the Temple of Minerva. Here Armstrong asserts that the juxtaposition implies a relationship between the two which is not didactically imposed on the reader, who is, rather, invited to interpret. Printed editions of Lemaire's poetry display a narrower range of self-conscious techniques than do the manuscripts. Less prominence is given to the allegories so important in the manuscript version of the Concorde. Woodcuts, especially printers' stock cuts, are not always related to the text they supposedly illustrate, thus reflecting printers' esthetic or commercial interests rather than the author's intentions.

There are few surviving manuscripts of the works of Guillaume Bouchet; by his time print was the dominant medium. Bouchet customarily took charge of later editions of his works, and often reworked them himself, frequently influencing changes in their physical presentation. For example, Les Regnars traversant (first published 1503-04) reappeared in later versions differing sharply in textual details and modes of transmission. "The Regnars is particularly fruitful for analysis because it is illustrated by complex woodcuts, which interact in intriguing ways with the piece's governing metaphor" (159), i.e., humans as foxes representing deceit and malice. In his analysis of the Regnars, Armstrong has very suggestive things to say about the relationship between text and image, and how it complicates the reader's task. His extensive and fascinating discussion of the Labirynth de Fortune focuses not only on the importance of the labyrinth metaphor in the thematics of free will and fate; he shows how Bouchet replicat es it on many levels, giving the work a "thematic and formal density" (176). The work displays Bouchet's self-consciousness as well, because it images the text's own literary and poetic "labyrinthicity." Examining illustrations, marginal annotations, liminary texts, and layout, Armstrong finds that the Poitiers editions tend to respect the labyrinthine aspects of the text, while the Paris editions seem more interested in foregrounding traditional moral themes.

Armstrong concludes from his detailed study of the material aspects of the manuscripts and editions of rhetoriqueur poetry and the development of literary self-consciousness in the three case studies, that in moving from manuscript to print there is a clear drift from scriptible to lisible (in Roland Barthes' terms), and together with this, a greater prominence of authorial discourse. Armstrong's study also has implications for reception theory and for the complementarity of historicist and theoretical methodologies. He makes a persuasive case for his principal thesis that "literature cannot adequately be studied solely in terms of texts, for it is through books that texts are transmitted and perceived" (221). Armstrong's book is a model of scholarship that combines impeccable textual and historical research and analysis with sophisticated but never inappropriate use of modern theory. It is itself a beautifully produced and illustrated book-object that is also remarkably free of the misspellings, typos, and poor editing all too common in book production these days.

Let me now turn to Yvonne Roberts's book. She contends that Baif's reputation has suffered because of the protracted influence of critics like Chamard and others who never gave Baif his due, claiming that with the "latest research" on Baif's intimate milieu, "it is clear than a major re-evaluation of his work is long overdue" (9). The principal focus will be to concentrate on the "considerable body of political verse which...has been completely overlooked," making it possible "to trace the development of Baif's personal philosophy from a complete acceptance of Catholic, monarchist policy to the advocacy of the separation of state and religion and the submission of the monarch to the code of law" (10-1 1).

After Baif became Catherine de Medici's trusted court poet, the trauma of the St. Barthelemy massacre of August 1572 was to take Baif far away from his Pleiade beginnings and to lead him to develop a new style of political poetry. Roberts devotes a chapter to the Saint-Barthelemy poems, not to rehabilitate Catherine, but to explain the dilemma posed to moderate Catholics like Baif, who defended the Valois but were uncomfortable with the violent turn that events had taken.

Baif's increasing independence from the court poet's ritual poetry of praise, is seen in Les Mimes, the most complex of the poems written to publicize Valois policies of unity and reconciliation. Although a seemingly harmless collection of proverbs, a miscellany in the contemporary taste, Les Mimes is in fact a satirical work of royalist propaganda, "in which Henri III's policies of religious tolerance and unity under the crown are given passionate support" (122).

In the first book of Mimes (1576), Baif is still overwhelmed by the horror of the St. Barthelemy massacre, but that does not shake the firmness of his belief in one church and one king. In the second book (1581), Baif is still writing royalist propaganda but is now expressing his "own deeply felt convictions" (140), promoting Henri III's politique goals of national unity and religious tolerance. The firmly Catholic tone of the first book gives way to a tone that is more consistent with the demands of the Reform, concerned less with Catholic dogma than with respect for law, reconciliation of conflict, and avoidance of a return to anarchy. Though disillusioned with Henri III, Baif reaffirms his belief in the institution of monarchy without following Bodin down the road to absolutism.

Baif's personal agenda in the posthumous mimes (1581-1589) is characterized by his attempt to promote religious tolerance between Catholics and Protestants, in the interest of peace and national unity. A remarkable transformation takes place in these final mimes. Baif's disillusionment with the power of poetry is joined to regret and bitter self-accusation about the part he had played in the justification of the Saint-Barthelemy massacre. "Baif makes a final attempt to set the record straight. He feels an urgent need to distance himself from his official verse and to declare that he played an unwilling part in the glorification of the Valois dynasty...The roots of Baif's self-disgust lie in the fact that he had never made use of [the] right to freedom of speech, in which he so deeply believed, to proclaim aloud the evils of the Valois rule of which he was ever more conscious" (183-184). In Baif's last mimes the change of mentality reflects, according to Roberts, the attitudes and aesthetics of a new -- "baro que" -- generation.

Despite some carelessness in production and editing (typos, misspellings and run-on sentences), Roberts's book is a useful effort to clarify Baif's evolution as a political poet.
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Title Annotation:Review
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2001
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