Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Foucaultian Things

This week I'm re-reading Allen Frantzen's Desire for Origins coupled with James Simpson's Burning to Read. Frantzen's book is necessary for me to reread every few years just because it is about identity--the identity that readers formulate when they read medieval books. And this is something I'm always wondering about: why read medieval; what is it about us that constructs our (my!) identities, scholarly and otherwise? Frantzen has an interesting section on Foucault, whose picture I reproduce here from wpclipart, because, I think, I hardly ever imagine scholars as faces (just books and book titles!) and I want to think of him as a person. And also because I need to link to this image from elsewhere!



Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Networks of English Fifteenth-Century Lyrics: Part One

This blog has had a strange and intermittent life, and was really out of commission from the end of 2011 until now. I'm now hoping to post more, and more often, on this blog and elsewhere, as I develop my PhD research and embark on a new project. Below are extracts from my postdoctoral proposal, "Networks of English Fifteenth-Century Lyrics: From Fragments to Genre."

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22 January 2013


When I identified my corpus of English lyrics for Chapter One of my thesis, I compiled a list of over 100 manuscripts of lyrics copied between 1200 and 1400. The year 1400 was a useful limit since it was then that the production of books of all kinds increased. In the fifteenth century, innovations such as paper and the printing press dramatically alter the literary landscape. Focusing on lyric manuscripts copied before 1400 therefore allowed me to significantly reduce my corpus, a necessary move given that I wanted to limit coverage of the medieval context of English lyric to one chapter of my thesis. At the same time, however, it became evident that the field after 1400 would be a particularly fruitful area for further research. The period and literature after 1400, sometimes referred to as Late Middle English, includes far more anonymous lyrics and manuscripts.  A common phenomenon is for a short anonymous lyric to appear in one or two books prior to 1400, and for scribes to then generate 10 or 20 more variations of that lyric by 1600.

Medieval English scholars have in the past thirty years revealed much about named lyric poets writing after 1350 and into the fifteenth century—for example, John Hoccleve, John Lydgate, John the Blind Audelay, Charles d’Orleans, William Dunbar, and Robert Henryson. When scholars turn to the anonymous religious and secular poetry in this period, however, it is difficult to know where to start. Without the guiding category of the author’s name, the field is for practical purposes a chaotic mass of manuscripts. A notable attempt to make inroads in the field is Julia Boffey’s Manuscripts of English Courtly Love Lyrics in the Later Middle Ages, which investigates fifteenth- and sixteenth-century manuscripts of short amorous verse. Boffey’s book is one sign of Middle English scholars’ mounting curiosity about anonymous lyrics.  And yet for every secular lyric from the period there are perhaps two or three “religious” lyrics. About 75 percent of the lyrics written in English in the fifteenth century are thus devotional, religious, or moral lyrics. These lyrics are particularly relevant to the study of amorous verse, since the devotional lyrics share many literary techniques, refrains, and tropes with courtly lyrics.

Social network analysis has much potential to map out the myriad surfaces of the field of both religious and secular late Middle English anonymous lyrics. Networks theory and practice can offer an entry point into a field that has up to now rather intimidated Middle English scholars. My first step is therefore to add to my own list of 150 fifteenth century manuscripts containing short and anonymous English verse. Next, I will cross-reference the lyrics which occur in multiple copies in these manuscripts, and map relationships between these lyrics. Scholarly work on the textual overlap of specific manuscripts currently relies on detailed written descriptions of this overlap, rather than any visual representations. I will use NetDraw, a social networks mapping software, to provide a visual display of identifiable groups of books. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Organizing Passion

The 246 Poems of John of Grimestone’s Book, MS Edin. NLS Adv. 18.7.21

This paper was to be given at the 2012 New Chaucer Society Congress in Portland, Oregon, but sadly I was not able to attend. The proposal is given below.

My paper will close-read the material and literary forms of Friar John of Grimestone’s commonplace book and consider what John’s copying practices tell us about the collection and collocation of vernacular English poetry in the late fourteenth century. A glance inside the book reveals that John uses double- and single-column layouts, rubrication, tail-rhyme braces, marginal lists, and an index to arrange 246 English poems with Latin verses and Latin and French sermon material. These material forms prompt me to ask the following questions: how does the ordinatio of John’s book suggest a taxonomic scheme, a theory of poetry, or a theory of how poetry informs and is informed by sermons? How does John’s apparently commonplace book, compiled around 1372, compare with fourteenth-century professionally compiled manuscripts, such as Auchinleck or Harley 2253? In general, how do John’s scribal practices allow us to continue the conversation about the relationship between bookish and poetic form at the end of the fourteenth century?

It has been almost 40 years now since Edward Wilson provided a descriptive index of John’s lyrics, and 25 years since Siegfried Wenzel delineated the categories and kinds of verses John transcribes and translates, verses which embody an affective theology by addressing Christ’s passion and wordly bliss. Both Wilson’s and Wenzel’s approaches to the lyrics consider them as abstract religious and literary texts. This paper will continue the exploration of John of Grimestone’s devotional and didactic practices, while using bibliographic and formal literary methods in order to consider the functions of devotional English poetry compilation in the late fourteenth century.

Paper Panel: Reading Scribes and Scribal Readings
Organizer: Aditi Nafde

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Rhyming Charters

This short paper was presented at the 46th International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo in 2011.

According to Emily Steiner in Documentary Culture and the Making of Middle English Literature, the social dimension of the lyric lies “not only in legal practice but also the textual apparatus of the law, the formal and material processes by which legal documents come into being” (2003: 33). Such processes inform our understanding of the performative power of lyric, or rather, its power to have a material effect upon the world. In this talk I inquire into what lyric charters of feoffment and manumission might suggest about the performative power of rhyme in Middle English.

Middle English rhyming charters pose some intriguing questions. Was rhyme imagined to enhance the performance of legal acts in the world, and did such acts interpellate a lyric subject? Was the performative legal power of lyric somehow related to the spiritual power that medieval people attributed to prayers and devotions? Like the Middle English charters of Christ, these verse charters attempt to enact the voice and gift of a long-dead king. Assessing these verse charters more closely may therefore provide insight into the medieval imagination of lyric as a material object.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Maidstone A.XIII

One of the manuscripts I looked at this summer, Maidstone A.xiii, has the lyric "Man mei longe him liues wene." I should say that it's actually a song lyric: the Maidstone witness has music above it.

Here are the words, edited by Carleton Brown, English Lyrics of the Thirteenth Century.

Man mei longe him liues wene
ac ofte him liyet ├że wreinch
fair weder ofte him went to rene
an ferliche maket is blench .

Here's my ad hoc translation:

Man may imagine a long life for himself
but often a trick awaits him
his fair weather often turns to rain
and filthy turns the sunshine .

The song lyric is edited by Brown as having short octosyllabic lines, but such breaks are not evident in the copy text. I think I'd favour longer lines, perhaps with spaces between line sections to emphasize the line-internal rhymes. Still, I guess the rhymes indicate what we would now think of as poetic line breaks, in English poetry, anyway.

There is however a punctus after “blench,” suggesting that it might be good to pause the stanza here. This seems important given the sense of the phrase. "Fair weather often turns to rain / and dreadful turns the sunshine” is a nice chiasmus which plays upon the similar-sounding “fair” and “ferliche.” ("Ferliche" could be suddenly, as well as dreadfully--here I used "filthy" just because it sounds better.)

I see a similar kind of wordplay going on with "longe" and "wene"--I think the sense is "long life" but there is a play on longing for or yearning for a long life. There is also a distinctive Anglo-Saxon alliterative echo here: “man mei” is echoed by “maket,” and the “w” of wene, wreinch, and weder also echo throughout the phrase. The other repeating sound is “l” (longe, liues, liyet, blench).

I don’t usually think of alliterative poetry as having been sung; shame on me. Maybe it's because in English studies my focus is so often on the words, to the exclusion of all else. I haven't seen any articles on the music of this song, and it's not in DIAMM from what I can see.

This song is indexed as NIMEV 2070.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

That word is good to seye and synge

In Mischef and in bonchef bothe
that word is good to seye and synge

And not to wayle ne to bi wrothe

Thaugh all be nought at ure lykynge


--Vernon Manuscript folio 407a
ed. Carleton Brown, Religious Lyrics of the Fourteenth Century, No. 96, ll. 49-50

The words "Deo Gracias" are good to say and sing, according to this fourteenth-century lyric-writer. Christiana Whitehead suggests the words come to have a talismanic power--as the lyric suggests, it's important to say these words in adversity and in good times. Reading is perhaps equally important as singing and saying, however, since the lyric begins with an image of a clerk bringing a book forward and reading from it the words "Deo Gracias."

Textual witnesses
We can see from the New Index of Middle English Verse that this lyric also appears in BL Additional 22283, also known as the Simeon manuscript, as well as NLS Advocates 19.31, a fifteenth-century manuscript. The first line ("In a church, where I can kneel...") is also very similar to the first line of a chanson d'aventure lyric that appears in Bodleian Ashmole 61 (a fifteenth-century manuscript) and Bodleian Rawlinson C.86, a miscellany containing Chaucer's Clerk's Tale and Prioress's Tale.

Connecting the Dots

Toward Mapping a Network of Early English Lyrics

For a talk at the Medieval Song Network Workshop 1, London, UK, 6 September 2010.

There is a widespread belief that short English poems and songs were a fragmentary or marginal textual phenomenon in the late medieval period. Instead I argue for the tenacity of English lyric, which circulated in a pattern best described as a network.

In my talk I will discuss the use of social networks analysis software to map out a web of 68 manuscripts produced from 1200 to 1400. My talk will then explore the nature and theoretical uses of a textual network, as opposed to a textual community or circle. Complex maps of lyrics and their manuscripts suggest a network approach could be fruitful not only for the study of lyric but also for the study of other texts for which multiple copies exist, including sermons and prose tales. Some of the theoretical principles of networks, such as bridges, hubs, and weak links, can be usefully applied to lyric studies.