PATRICK BOUCHERON (History, Collège de France)
“Middle Ages as a Theorical Model of Contemporary Societies: Reflections On the “Theologico-Political” Framework of Contemporary Governmentality”
In April 15, 2019, in Paris, Notre-Dame Cathedral triggered what the anthropologist Daniel Fabre called a “patrimonial emotion” on a global scale, which in fact tested our political relationship with the medieval past. To be a medievalist in the face of this great and intrusive narrative meant first and foremost recalling that what we call medieval is essentially the shade cast by the nineteenth century upon the Middle Ages. But Viollet-Le-Duc’s spire was not the only feature of Notre-Dame that perished in the flames. The building’s magnificent wooden frame, dating back to the thirteenth century, was also lost. Among the general public, no one had ever seen it, and they learned of its existence at the very moment they learned of its destruction. It would be fitting, for that matter, to point out a few things: one ought not to say of an object that it dates back to the thirteenth century, but rather that it has survived since the thirteenth century. Coming from an ancient past, it is our contemporary. And if we wanted to spin this metaphor, we might say this: what structures contemporary societies, what holds them up and together, is something very much like a medieval building frame. Because that structure is all the more binding the longer it remains invisible, the history that consists of making it known by exposing it is an art of liberation. I suggest that political theology should be, in the present too, the framework of contemporary governmentality. As the jurist and psychoanalyst Pierre Legendre puts it, based on the work of Ernst Kantorowicz, “the Middle Ages set forth the anthropological truth of the foundations of European modernity.”
MARY CHANNEN CALDWELL (Musicology, University of Pennsylvania)
“Hearing Choreomania: New Perspectives on Music, Dance, and the Body in Medieval Europe”
In 1997 John W. Baldwin published an article in Speculum titled “The Image of the Jongleur in Northern France around 1200.” Required reading for musicologists interested in musical life in the Middle Ages, Baldwin’s article testifies to the knowledge gained about music even in the absence of traditional forms of musical information (such as notation), as well as serving as a reminder of the sheer sonic volume of quotidian and ritual life represented in medieval texts. More recently, musicologists and literary scholars have begun to more fully explore the sounding dimensions of medieval texts (Dillon 2012, Butterfield 2010, and Bude 2022), with an eye toward expanding not only what we know about medieval sound and music, but how we know it and where we look for it. By attending to the diversity of the hows and wheres, an opportunity arises to overturn longstanding historiographical and colonial approaches that have privileged the notated over the unnotated; sacred over secular; textual over aural; mind over body; wealthy over impoverished; and white Christians over everyone else.
In this paper I begin with a traditional medieval textual form, the exemplum, but read and interpret the text in ways that reveal otherwise inaccessible forms of knowledge around dance, bodies, disability, aurality, and music in medieval Europe. The eleventh-century exemplum I examine, often labeled the “cursed carolers of Kölbigk,” has long-captured the imagination of scholars, ethnographers, artists, and the general public since it describes what would become termed “choreomania,” a socially contagious and uncontrollable outbreak of dancing (and singing), often leading to death or disfigurement. Variously pathologized as food poisoning, mass hysteria, or spiritual punishment, episodes of dancing mania began to be recorded in antiquity and continued to occur globally into the twentieth century, linked to colonial expansion and expressions of civic unrest (Gotman 2018). I consider how the “cursed carolers” exemplum represents one node within the lengthy history of choreomania, highlighting questions of how Christianity as a colonial force operates on peoples’ voices and bodies and how music, sound, and dance are implicated within larger histories of social control. Tracing musical threads throughout numerous renderings of the exemplum, dating from eleventh-century France, Germany, and England through to the nineteenth-century in the folklore collection of the Brothers Grimm, I also offer new insights on the changing historical relationship between music and bodies in moments of perceived social disorder.
FLORENT COSTE (Medieval Literature, Université de Lorraine)
“How to Give a Future to the Voices from the Past? Paul Zumthor, from Oral Poetry to Sound Poetry”
Paul Zumthor is among the few who have reconciled in a positive feedback loop his medievalist research with literary theory. More specifically, his concern to highlight the voice in medieval literature has had some major consequences: if the traces left by the voice on written documents remain insufficient, if the voice fades away once performed, one must find means and procedures to continue to experience it in its material and physical aspects. By preferring, as conceptual tools, performance and vocality rather than orality, Zumthor aims at listening to the voice where it is still heard. This implies changing radically the parameters and the perimeter of his own objects of study. For Zumthor, the future of the medieval voice lies in the contemporary Brazilian cordeis that modulate the geste of Charlemagne, as well as, and maybe even more so, in the avant-garde experiments of sound poetry that he encountered in collaboration with poet Henri Chopin in the 1980s.
MICHAEL T DAVIS (Professor emeritus, Department of Art History and Architectural Studies, Mount Holyoke College)
“Present in Medieval France: Assembly, Analysis, Immersion”
Far from a historical relic displayed in an airless vitrine, medieval France remains a vital part of our contemporary world. The Notre-Dame fire of April 15, 2019 offered a brutal reminder of how deeply the cathedral was woven into the physical fabric of the city and the global spiritual environment. On a brighter note, Saint-Martin-des-Champs offers a Wunderkammer of the history of technology while its spaces, repurposed as the Conservatoire national des arts et metiers, generate research in scientific and technical culture. This talk slips through the looking glass to consider the impacts that digital technology might have on the narrative of French Gothic architecture. Is this at heart a representational question, an addition to hand drawing, black and white or color photography, film and video in the toolkit of visual documentation? Does it threaten to replace engagement with the “real” with an artificial metaverse of pixels or facilitate surveillance? I approach these issues through my own and colleagues’ recent projects to suggest the positive potential of digital technology to unlock doors to an expanded field of inquiry by enabling new possibilites of assembly, analysis, and immersion for the study of the medieval world.
What happens to the familiar picture Parisian Gothic architecture, defined by the structural boldness and formal sophistication of Saint-Denis, Notre-Dame, and the Saint-Chapelle, when the Franciscan convent church of Sainte-Marie-Madeleine is added to the canon of buildings erected during the reign of Louis IX? Or what of the colleges, Cluny or Navarre, that rose on the Left Bank establishing a new institutional architectural type? Digital technology proves to be an effective and agile medium to assemble archaeological, graphic, and verbal evidence to recuperate lost buildings and transform them from words on a page into credible architectural objects. Laser scanning, photogrammetry, the TotalStation, and AutoCAD open new avenues of analysis by providing unprecedented access to the physical structure—vault surfaces, flyer arches, portal voussoirs– that reveal the ideals and working methods of medieval masters. They inform a study of the 13th-century full-scale drawings on the choir terrace of the cathedral of Clermont-Ferrand, undertaken with Stefaan Van Liefferinge of Columbia University, that demonstrates the use of graphic strategies to represent 3-dimensions in a 2-dimensional format and revises the understanding of the conceptual sophistication of medieval builders. Finally, medieval buildings live profoundly different lives in the present: often silent, stripped of furniture, monuments, images, color. Reimagining these multimedia environments in three dimensions creates a setting that facilitates critical re-evaluation of the interaction of their architectural, spatial, visual, and sonic dimensions. In short, medieval France is not a closed book; it remains a work in progress. To borrow the words of Ocean Vuong from On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, “…the end of the sentence is where we might begin.”
BEATE FRICKE (Institute of Art History, Universität Bern)
“Opening Horizons – Thinking Objects as a Constellation”
Objects can help us to reveal the past of medieval France and beyond not recorded by written sources. They can help us to write about a past not documented by authorities, clerics, mostly male and white, from privileged parts of societies, and from cultures whose past is continued, institutionally, whose language still exists, whose myths and stories have been recorded. Several cultures are only preserved through excavations, or known from tombs, or they have not written down their myths and histories in form of chronicles, and their archives, institutions, and written documents have been destroyed. We should work together and turn challenges, disparities, and imbalances into the basis for collaborative efforts to develop new methods together, methods to strive for a better understanding of the past revealed by and in visual cultures. Objects can tell the other side of the “officially” recorded history; they can provide insight into the everyday lives of people, or into the realities of underrepresented, suppressed, or disenfranchised groups in a society, for example by showing the meaning, the impact, and the contribution of slave labor to the production of works of art. Images, if not studied according to certain established master-narratives, can diversify recorded voices; they are symptoms of the impact of theft, and especially of cultural constructions of “heritage”. They make us conscious of the hegemonies embedded in the dominant narratives coining our discipline, our methods, and our thinking and vision of the past.
MARISA GALVEZ (French and Italian, Stanford University)
“Unthought Medievalism and New Approaches to Worlding Medieval France”
Recent contemporary translations of medieval French and Occitan authors (Machaut, Villon, troubadours) by contemporary poets and critics (Augusto de Campos, Édouard Glissant, Gérard Zuchetto and Jean-Luc Séverac) illuminate new approaches to Global South cultures, new ways of lyric knowing. This paper will examine how a creative medievalism that translates medieval lyric—what I call “unthought medievalism”—gives us methodologies for interpreting latent material poetic vernaculars such as precolonial Philippine gold objects and new relationalities that make vitally present silenced voices of the past (the medieval ballade and the American ballad of racial injustice). Drawing inspiration from recent discussions of untranslatablity and connected literature (Apter, Stahuljak, Solterer) I propose a productive worlding futurity of medieval Frenchness from unthought medievalism that is grounded in specificities of form, trans-medial relation, and historical situation.
SARAH GUÉRIN (Art History, U Penn)
“Goldrush 1270: Gothic Connected Histories”
The enigma about the Crusade of 1270 still puzzles historians. Instead of the Jerusalem, vulnerable Acre, or even Mamluk Egypt, the troupes of Louis IX quixotically headed for Hafsid Tunisia, where the saintly king died of dysentery on African soil. I propose that we read the actions of Louis IX and Charles of Anjou within a much broader field of actors, moving beyond the Mediterranean world to sub-Saharan Africa. Parallel to the geographic shift, not only do I propose eschewing the hagiographic accent put on studies of Louis IX, but I also question “global medieval” models of historical inquiry based on Ferdinand Braudel, to embrace instead Sanjay Subrahmanyam’s model of Connected histories where individual journeys and interactions are highlighted. Therefore, the political jostling that led up to the 1270 Crusade included not only Louis IX, Charles of Anjou, and Hafsid emir al-Mustanstir, but also the head of an Ayyubid force roaming the Sahara in search of gold, Qarâqush, and the second-generation black king of the Empire of Kanem-Bornu, situated on the shores of Lake Chad, named in the emic sources as Mai Dunama Dabbalemi. The struggle to control the sources of West African gold bullion occupied rulers from across Eurasia, leading them to intervene in sub-Saharan politics.
This project, although largely historical, grows from the history of art’s increasing interest in the origins of materials. I tie this new reading of the 1270 Crusade to elements of material culture, from the flourishing of ivory carvings at royal foundations in France in the late 1260s, to Louis IX radical monetary policies, that ranged from sanctioning the counterfeiting of Almohad silver coins, to the failed launch of the écu d’or. The rise of the central trans-Saharan route furthermore radically shifted the wealth available in the central Savannah, and the importance of Kanem-Bornu offers a compelling context for explaining the extraordinarily rich graves of Durbi Takusheyi, for example.
WILLIAM C. JORDAN (History, Princeton University)
“Converting the Whole World: Dream or Nightmare?”
Several historians have described the European impulse to expand the boundaries of Catholic Christianity in the thirteenth century as the “dream of conversion.” It was a dream shared by many rulers, including King Louis IX of France. To explore his understanding and attempted execution of plans in the service of this dream is to get a fair glimpse of an important and persistent French view of the world, one that had an enormous impact on colonialism, missionary activity, and the responsibility that the French imputed to themselves to “civilize” humankind.
SHIRIN KHANMOHAMADI (Comparative Literature, San Francisco State University)
“Empires of the Saracens in High Medieval Literature”
This talk is part of a current project that aims to rethink the role of Muslims in medieval European narratives (including chronicles, epics and travel writing) beyond the default “crusading” frame into which they are usually cast, arguing instead for Europe’s emulation and appropriation of Islamicate imperial prestige in its earliest imperial self-expression. I do so by arguing for the participation and inclusion of medieval Muslims in the widespread trope of translatio imperii, in relation to which they are rarely considered in spite of Muslims’ recognized and concurrent participation in the translation of Greek philosophy and sciences, or translatio studii, to high medieval Europe.
My study examines chansons de geste in particular to argue for evidence of Frankish desire for what I call (adapting Mauss) “prestigious association” with the imperial authority of various “empires of the Saracens” (including the Fatimids, the Andalusis, and the Saljuqs), a desire expressed not verbally but through the symbolic language of objects within the narratives. Objects such as swords, tents and monuments have been shown in recent inter-disciplinary scholarship by specialists of both Latin Europe and medieval Islamicate realms (including Geary, Clanchy, Shalem, Akbari, Flood, Mathews, and others) to confer and transfer the sovereign and imperial authority of their past bearers to new possessors. Drawing on these studies, my talk will trace the movement of such “objects of translation” from Muslim to Frankish possession as modes of translatio imperii. Specifically, I will treat and exemplify the translational functions of (in ascending order of scale) swords; tents; monuments; and finally imperial capitals in a number of chansons de geste as well as in one text of the geographic imagination, the Anglo-Norman Letter of Prester John.
The study of these objects as objects of translation allows us to perceive and tell the story of northern Europe’s earliest genealogical and imperial self-fashioning as an inter-imperial one, i.e. one forged through and in relation to, rather than merely against, external empires including Islamicate ones. In addition to offering a more complex and multivalent picture of Europe’s regard on the Muslim world than narratives of Islamophobia generally allow (though such hostility also finds its place within the translatio trope), this approach also opens up a view of a northern Europe and France as more aware of Islamic imperial culture and history—including its storied imperial capitals such as Samarghand (“Sarmazane”, referenced in both the Letter of Prester John and in the Chanson d’Antioche)—than we are given to credit. Coming “before European hegemony” and the Eurocentrism which we now work to unsettle to create better futures for medieval France, our medieval European sources, unlike us, occupy a precolonial gaze on the world from a periphery, a positionality which, if we can inhabit imaginatively, can serve as a worthy embarkation point for a decolonized construction of the French middle ages.
KATARINA LIVLJANIĆ (Voice, Schola Cantorum Basiliensis / Ensemble Dialogos)
“Legend of Saint Barlaam and Josaphat: From the Medieval Christianized Version of Buddha’s Life to a Multimedia Performance”
The legend of saint Barlaam and Josaphat was among the most popular Christian legends of the Middle Ages. Transforming Bodhisattva to Josaphat in various medieval translations, this christianised version of Buddha’s life, crossed over at least four religions and was transmitted through almost all the medieval languages.
This paper focuses on two aspects of the the story of Barlaam and Josaphat. The first will breefly present its medieval path from one religion to another, from one medieval language to another. The second aspect will present the transformation of this legend into the performance project of the Ensemble Dialogos which interweaves the story with its various translations, musical reconstructions of medieval sources and contemporary staging.
ROBERT A. MAXWELL (Institute of Fine Arts, New York University)
“Medieval Alterity and the Strangeness in/of Historical Images”
Among the many threads that run through the scholarly oeuvre of John Baldwin is the intersection of medieval French politics and Paris university study. Political and social circumstances have always shaped universities and historical research, and, true to form, current movements are likewise reinvigorating how scholars approach their subjects. Study of the medieval world has been particularly impacted in recent years, and medievalists have responded with great deal of self-reflection. This welcome reckoning has shaken things up but has also created uncertainty for the future of studying medieval France.
One way forward may lie in the rediscovery of medieval imagery’s inherent strangeness. Rather than normalizing or assimilating imagery to today’s normative conventions, research that holds medieval imagery at arm’s length can renew its power and potential, and, ultimately, renew its relevance for today. This is essentially a hermeneutic problem, along the lines argued by Hans-Georg Gadamer and others, and it is precisely an interpreter’s engagement with the past, including objects from the past, that leads to productive interventions. The fullness of such a project well exceeds a short presentation which will instead strive for more modest goals. It explores how a hermeneutics of alterity can provide insights into the production of medieval manuscript illumination, particular the secular imagery of legal texts. Attention to the process of making those texts, and especially the scribal engagement with the past, provides productive access to the works’ situated strangeness, while it shines a light also on contemporary manuscript study.
DANY SANDRON (Medieval Art, Sorbonne Université, Faculté des Lettres)
“Medieval Architecture in France: An Enormous Heritage to Pass on”
The importance of France’s medieval architectural heritage raises the question of its conservation, a problem considered crucial when the Commission of Historic Monuments was set up in 1837 to deal with this task.
Almost two centuries later, the question is just as acute, and the case of Notre-Dame de Paris, which fell victim to a fire on 15 April 2019, should not hide a more complex reality that concerns hundreds, if not thousands, of buildings of worrying fragility. The awareness of the need to preserve medieval heritage, both tangible and intangible, as shown by the inclusion in UNESCO’s World Heritage List of the know-how of cathedral construction sites (extending into the contemporary era) is encouraging. It is to be hoped that it will enable us to tackle a general problem effectively, without confining to spectacular operations such as the reconstruction of the spire of Notre-Dame or that of the old abbey church of Saint-Denis, as the tree should not hide the forest.
CAROL SYMES (History, Theater and Medieval Studies, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
“Conques to Compostela, Arras to Outremer: Toward a New History of Local “French” Vernaculars and Their Contexts”
For centuries, the vernacular languages of medieval Europe have been at the center of debates over regional and national identities, within and beyond the territories encompassed by medieval polities or their modern successor states. The result has been a zero-sum game, in which one entity’s supposedly decisive claim to linguistic antiquity, authenticity, and influence has negated the claims of all others. In the case of France, philologists, literary critics, and political apologists have reached back to such texts the “Serment de Strasbourg,” the “Chanson de Roland,” and the “Jeu d’Adam” for their earliest examples of what Philippe Walter termed “La naissances de la littérature française”: the beginnings of France’s national becoming and the global prestige of its literary language. And yet all of these written romance artifacts are the remnants of processes that were geographically and temporally situated (usually in places that were not “French”) as well as contingent upon a range of external factors.
Embracing Marc Bloch’s admonition to topple “l’idole des origines,” this paper moves toward a history of roman that is not rooted in anachronism or reaching toward teleology. It will consider two medieval locales which produced highly mobile, performative texts that have long been central to the origin story of French. The first is the tiny langue d’oc community of Conques, in the mountainous Rouergue, which was the immediate beneficiary (if not the home) of the linguistically indeterminate “Chanson de Sainte Foy” (or, for Occitan and Catalan scholars, the “Canço de Santa Fe”), composed in a contact/pilgrimage vernacular around the middle of the eleventh century. The second is the Franco-Flemish urban environment of Arras, whose Picard dialect was not only a decisive contributor to the langue d’oil but an export to the Mediterranean entrepôts of Outremer during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.