zumthor paradoxes

Upload: sarah-massoni

Post on 05-Apr-2018




0 download

Embed Size (px)


  • 8/2/2019 Zumthor Paradoxes


    Critical ParadoxesAuthor(s): Paul ZumthorSource: MLN, Vol. 102, No. 4, French Issue (Sep., 1987), pp. 799-810Published by: The Johns Hopkins University PressStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2905791 .

    Accessed: 12/03/2011 17:28

    Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at .http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless

    you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you

    may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use.

    Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at .http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=jhup. .

    Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed

    page of such transmission.

    JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of

    content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms

    of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected].

    The Johns Hopkins University Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to



  • 8/2/2019 Zumthor Paradoxes


    Critical aradoxesPaul Zumthor

    Among organizers of medieval conventions,colloquia, seminarsand other such learned gatherings, t has alreadybecome a tradi-tion to include on the menu of special events some exhibitionofmanuscriptsor related objects, a musical concert based on copiesof original instruments, presentationof Gregorian chant, thestaging of a drama such as the Old French Play of Adam,or theprojectionof an appropriate film: from Cassenti's versionof theSong ofRolandtoBresson's Lancelot, romEric Rohmer'sPerceval othe hieratic nd almost ritualisticxcalibur fBorman. The matterof the organizer's choice, insofaras it involves simply selectionfrom among a comparable list of possibilities, presents fewproblems; problems do arise, however,when we considerthe im-plicit ntention, ometimes eftmuch in the dark,thatdictatestheinclusion of such entertainment. ndeed, it is remarkable that,over the last few years, these presentationshave moved from apositionat the marginsof our professionalmeetingsto the verycenter. As time goes on, they re less and less intendedas a simplediversion from supposedly "serious" preoccupations and havebeen increasingly ituated withinthe very context created by thescholarlydiscussions. The concertor film s thus tacitly laced onan equal footing a footing hatcertainly eeds to be defined witherudite exchanges.The sweeping importance thathas been granted to the typesofreflections and discussion fosteredby these exhibitions is sur-prisingto the over-scrupulousamong us, not to mentionthosedour academic types who have little regard for what seems, tothem at any rate,an incongruousand triflingntertainment.What

  • 8/2/2019 Zumthor Paradoxes


    800 PAUL ZUMTHORis importanthere is not the question of whetherthe medievalistestablishment s subject to a lack or an excess of audacity, norwould itbe pertinent o measure the extentto which we are alter-natelymoved or bored by suchmanifestations.What s truly ignif-icant has to do withthenature ofa kind of knowledge, hespecificinformationwe are attempting o acquire concerningour object.do not wantto be seen as the proponentof a culturalagnosticism,butam insteadconcernedabout defining ur position n regardtowhat we wish to know. And I do at the very eastassume and hopethatthis s our desire: to acquire knowledge.But: what is knowl-edge?The discourse thatwe, as professionals r as amateurs,are de-veloping in dealing withthe "Middle Ages" tendsto sketchout inits own terms he basicdesign ofour object. ts intentions to dissi-pate the fog surrounding t and, ultimately,o see thingsface toface. In sayingthis, am of coursepurposelymakinguse of a met-aphor withreligious nd evenmystical vertones.For thisdesireofwhich have been speaking s inmany ways, shamed as we mightbe to admit t, mysticaland ust as certainlymythical!).Our choiceof methodologyonly changes the appearance of things.Nonethe-less, it seems that different aths are available depending uponwhether am seekingcontactwith he objectwithinme or outsidefme. The search takesplace outsideofme if set outwith lanterninmy hand inwhat seemsto me to be theright irection nd hope,not without some reasonable expectation, to reach some goalwithin portionof temporaldurationengulfed n an irretrievabledimension precedingmyexistence.The search is inside of me if,like Narcissus ookingfor himself n the fountain, preferto gazeat the far-offnd fleeting mage sparkling n the recessesof myinner grottos.For the sake of simplification, et us call the firstof thesemethods science nd the second art: we have here two differentwaysof gaining access to knowledge and, ultimately,wowaysoflearningthat eem obe diametricallypposed. Scienceno less thanart (we could have said artno less thanscience) seeks to proclaim,ifnot to impose, a meaning. The will to impose a meaningupontheworldcould, in the strictestense,be deemed thedefining raitof culture.We all know that cultureacts upon nature,makingcer-tain thingsmeaningful.What s "nature"forthe medievalist?t is asort ofovergrown nd, at first lance,chaoticassemblageofphilo-logical, textual,moral, social, aesthetic, egal, and even biograph-

  • 8/2/2019 Zumthor Paradoxes


    M L N 801ical givens. Lagrange's Tristan r Rohmer'sPercevaldo not (fromthis viewpoint) fulfil function withinour own experience dif-ferentfromthatof a research projectconcerningBeroul's text orthe use of proverbs in Chretien de Troyes. The differencebe-tween a film and a research project is of another order and hasmore to do with heoperation of our intellectual aculties hanouremotional ones, whether we wish to admit it or not. Scientificmethod venturesforth o as to encountermeaning along itspath:it aspires for it in a spirit of hope, makes it the object of its re-search, and, sometimes quite laboriously,constructs t. Artisticmethod, on the other hand, starts out froman intuitively on-ceived or even imagined meaning, but in any event a provisionalone that is always incomplete. This "artistic"method goes on toput this meaningto the test,gauging it, extrapolating t and quiteliterally xhausting t.Now, what if we were to say poetic nstead of artistic?n thepresent instance, t comes down to the same thing.The adjectivequalifies somethingthat s the opposite of science on the level of. . Of what? Of the verifiable?This is at best a contingent rite-rion. Just try and "verify" the meaning of the scene betweenTristan and Isolde under the pine treeas told by Beroul, or thatofthe inscription n the hazel twig n Marie de France's shortstory!Shall we speak of the level of verisimilitude? ut what order ofverisimilitudere we getting t?Whatabout the evel of the trueorthe false?What indeed is the truth?People have been askingthisquestionforwellover two thousandyearsnow, and mostly nd upwashing their hands of the whole business.We can qualifyas "sci-entific" hatwhichrefuses n principleto be considered "poetic";but the converseof this statements not at all true,forpoetsdon'treallycare.As a matterof fact,once an attempt t interpretation as beenmanifested, tending either toward the simple suggestion ofmeaning or its fullscale elaboration, science and art inevitablybegin to intermingle n our discourse,even though we may con-sider it a failure on intellectual grounds. They penetrate eachother. Some thirty ears ago, Levi-Straussremarked thatthe onlytruesciences are those we call exactor natural. This amountedto adenunciationof theequivocal natureof the "human" sciences,ourown included. It does happen that certainamong us evoke the"pure sciences" with the ecstatic look of anchorite monks tor-mented by the world's turpitudes.And such colleagues will occa-

  • 8/2/2019 Zumthor Paradoxes


    802 PAUL ZUMTHORsionally ite some truismunder the guiseofa supposedly algebraicformula, n the same way that theywould attempt o disguise itsimperfectionswith fake nose. This is of course an eminently o-eticoperationin its essence (ifnot in itseffect), nbeknownst o itsperpetrators.Let me be perfectly lear. The word poetic, eferring o a modeof knowledge, does not necessarily mply n this context a partic-ular styleof expression, nor does it indicatean avowed aestheticintention.This symbiosis hat,with rare exceptions, ssociates thepoeticwiththe "scientific"n our disciplineaccountsfora uniquefeatureof thatdiscipline: namely,the multiplicityf possible in-terpretations pplicable to one same fact.Certainly,most othersciences are aware of thisphenomenon,but theycan onlycatego-rize it as a sortof residue, and progress n researchtends toreduce(or rather should say,consists n reducing)themultiplicity.hisphenomenon appears on thecontrary obe an integralpartof ourown humanisticresearch. Our nineteenth-centuryorebearscon-ceived the future of their intellectual ontributionn termsof areduction to oneness, a total agreementof perspectives.The veryidea of plural interpretationwould have appeared to theireyes atypeof aporia. They couldn't get past thiswayofthinking,whencethe scathing tone and undue harshnessof learned polemicson ascale that s not to be foundanymore. For them, t was a questionof Truth (with a capital T). For us, in our occasional learnedbrawls, t is scarcely more than a question of conflicting anities.Willingly r not, each of us has come to be waryof the misdeedsperpetrated byreductionists f manycloths.The new ideal of in-terdisciplinaritys not ust a pretextforobtainingmore substantialresearch subsidies. t ultimately pens us up to an extremediversi-fication n the pointsof view expressed by scholars, n the ques-tionsthattheybringto light, nd in the possibleanswers to thesequestions.Nonetheless,some sortofcoherencehas to be maintained.A lotof the concerted efforts t interdisciplinaryesearch, s we are allaware, have merely rumbled away. Such a "poetic"undertaking smore easily adapted to the imperativeof coherence,because it ismore globalizing, ess a captiveofdeductive reasoning, nd richerin its abilityto exploit the resourcesof analogical conceptualiza-tion.Withour several years experience, do notthink am takinganyone by surprise in suggestingthat the so-called scientific p-proach to interdisciplinaritys an art.And this tatement,heperti-

  • 8/2/2019 Zumthor Paradoxes


    M L N 803nence of which is most evident when we are dealing withdisci-plines as divergent as paleography and mathematics, s no lessvalid in a more narrow circle, which for us might includegrammar, thematic study,social history, nd folklore. I wouldsubmitas proof the diffusion n the last fewyearswithin he iso-lated (yet tightlywoven) realm occupied bymedieval scholarsofnotionsthat originated n other areas (such as textuality),nd thenew inflexiongiven to older termswhich had long beforebecomealmost emptied of signification, uch as "tradition," myth,"or"legend." Where is thiscultural interferenceeading, if it is not,ratherpredictably, o theeventualdilutionof the asttracesofthatbenign scientificityear to our fathers?Which is to say, the ab-sorptionof their lreadyquite weakened impact upon our intellec-tual behavior?By virtue of a secondary,but perhaps even more deeply felt,effect, t is no longer simplythe contourof our medieval object,but itsverynature,that s called into question.The term iteraturebetrays tsown incapacity o define thatobject,even in thecrudestway.To deal withThomas's or Gottfried on Strassburg's ales as"literary" exts, ccordingto the conventional nd scarcely riticalsignificationttachedto the adjective, s reallyto be aimingat thewrong target.Littlebylittle, nd withoutmostof us even noticingwhatwas going on, one of the cardinal presuppositionsmade bymedievalistsfor the last centuryhas been slowlydissolving.Thecommonplace assimilation of medieval texts to what our eigh-teenth-centuryredecessorshave led us to understandas "litera-ture" is in theprocess ofbecoming,quite simply, bsolete.

    I am insisting n thispoint at the riskofbelaboringthe obvious.I especiallydo notwish to endow the term literary"with precisedefinition hat t ust doesn't have. One of themethodological m-perativesthatno medievalist ould attempt o sidestepwithout e-riously nd irremediably alsifying is undertaking, onsists n set-tingaside the notion of "literature" s something otally nsuitedto his object . .. even ifhe mustthen,albeitprudently, eexaminetheconsequences of this xclusion.This is a pointthatHugo Kuhnmade back in 1967, when speakingof thirteenth-centuryermantexts. n fact, n order to maintainthe validity f our discourseonthe Middle Ages, it is important hat we transcendthe prejudicewhich, since the era of Romanticism,has induced us to refertoliteratures though it were an essence freed fromany temporalconditioning. don't simplywishto saythatthe modalitiesofliter-

  • 8/2/2019 Zumthor Paradoxes


    804 PAULZUMTHORature are transformedwith the passage of time,but ratherthattheredoes not existin and of itself category alled "literature."The preliminaryremarks of Tzvetan Todorov in his book LesGenres u discoursre notlimitedbytheirtheoretical pplicationtothe ensemble of modern texts;theyapply historicallyo any suc-cessionof discourses."Literature"neverexisted exceptas one partof a chronologicallyunique whole, recognizablefrom various pe-ripheral indicators for example, the existenceof parasiticdisci-plines such as literary criticism" r literary history") nd yetdif-ficult o specify n theory. n effect,iteraturepartakes n thecul-tural environmentwithinwhich it is possible for us to name it.Thus, to question its validity s, for us, to take a distance fromourselves.Having maintained tsposition n our midstas thepre-dominantmodel of discourse for at least threeor four centuries,whatwe call "literature"has never ceased being challenged fromtheinsidewithrespectto itsvariantforms.But up untilnow, t hasnever been challenged in what can be called its constituent le-ments.Language is unquestionably a universal phenomenon, a de-finingfactorofhumanity. t is probable thatanyprimary ivenofour existenceconstitutes he potentialfoundationforsomekind ofart (just as language formsthe foundationfor some kind of po-etry).But literature s suchdoes notbelongto thisorderof values.Even more than the idea of Nature, it belongs to the arsenal ofmyths hat an expanding bourgeois societydeveloped for tself tthe dawn of modern times. This bourgeois society preserved itover and againstall other setbacks nd reversals, s long as it wasempowered by a genuine project; the mythof "literature"wasnurtured as long as it continued to manifestthe society'sdyna-mism and to provide resources for its ustification. Literatureshould onlyhave lastedas long as thisproject.And if ts egitimacy,its very existence, s called into question nowadays,it is becausethatprojecthas slowlyfizzledout whileno otherone has taken tsplace. Thus, literatureconstitutes complex historicalfact,butone which,over long periods of time,has provento be transitory.In a global, long-term ashion,we could consider it to be a punc-tual phenomenon, limited n durationand narrowly onditionedbya cultural situation.Untilaround 1150-1200, themedievalpe-riodwas movingtowardthiscultural ituation tep bystep,slowly,and withoutclearlyrealizingexactlywhat sortof web was beingwoven.

  • 8/2/2019 Zumthor Paradoxes


    M L N 805The word literature id not enter common usage in any of the

    European languages until the eighteenthcentury.Although itseems tohave occurredat firstnEngland,sometime round 1730,it took more than a half century o become generally ccepted. By1800 it had finally ecome suitable as the designationfor a set ofrepresentations nd mental tendencies that had up to then onlybeen stored randomlyin the collectiveconsciousnessof the let-tered class: the idea of an autonomous "subject," and, along withthat, he conceptof a reified object"; the prestige ccorded to lan-guage's referential unction nd, simultaneously thoughnot coin-cidentally), o fiction. his latter nvolves he presupposition hatsort of extratemporalitye granted to a certain typeof discourse,as though it could transcendsocial and cultural barriersand besuspended in a void, itselfmakingup its own Order. This newvision ed to the determination f a canon of model textsproposedto the reader as a source of admirationand a targetfor study;hence the delimitation fwhat mightbe called the horizonof theimaginary,which can be contrastedwiththe unceasing opennessof more primitive ormulaic endencies.

    It is possible that Classical Antiquityhad conceivedof some no-tion close to thisone. At the very east,we can be certainthat twasnever transmittednd that n thisparticular ase therewasno con-tinuity romClassical to medieval culture.The contrary hesis, sformulatedby Ernst Robert Curtius in a well-known ut bynowoutdated book, simplifies this historyin a somewhat abusivemanner. The classical tradition, enewedveryearly n theMiddleAges by writers uch as Fortunatus, nd revitalized n the Carolin-gian period thanks to its application in the politicalsphere,wasonce again stifled n the very same period in which writerswerebecomingconscious of the autonomous existenceof a vernaculartongue. Since in the civilization f the High Middle Ages this cul-tural traditionwas transmitted olelythroughLatin, it remainedtoo language-specific o affect n any lastingway thatcivilization'slarge-scalemental patterns nd typesof behavior. Its field of ap-plicationwas, ndue time,destinedto become increasingly arrow.Furthermore, tarting t a time which,depending upon the loca-tion, stretches romaround 1150 to theend of the thirteenth en-tury,we begin to see the writing own in the vernacularofvarioustexts, tories, ongs and liturgicalworks.Many of these textshadeven been composed quill in hand. It was indirectly hroughthisscriptorial echnology hatwhatL. Costa-Lima has termeda "con-

  • 8/2/2019 Zumthor Paradoxes


    806 PAUL ZUMTHORtrolof the maginary"was discretelyntroduced; but the efficacy fthis control does not reallyappear untilafter 1500, in the wake ofa period of growingtensionsthat, n spiteof its differentmanifes-tations,was common to all the Occidental nations: in particular,tensionsbetween traditionalpoetic energiesand forcesseeking toimpose upon language a rationality hatwould be proper to it-arationality that would be, ultimately,detrimental to the livingword. In this way,Western culture, as itbecame more and moresecularized fromthe twelfth enturyon, transferred nto thosewho held the power of writing he old theological conceptionofthe divine Speaker. Such culturally ound factors s the modernconcept of the author and the sortsof writingpracticesthat thisconcept imposes on us, as well as the resulting relationshipbe-tweenman and his text, ll begin totakeshape, somewhat poradi-cally, n the twelfthentury.n the Frenchtradition hismovementbecomes apparent in such far-offncestors s Chretiende Troyesand Gace Brule. These modifications are set into motion in aworld where a social order dominated by economic factors s al-ready trying o establish tself.Whatwillhappen is that zone des-ignated by the word "culture" begins to set itself apart, sur-rounding itselfwithprotective arriers.An outsidewillcome to becontrastedwith an inside.A textwill break from all that can beconsidered exterior to it and then,at a time that will onlycomemuch later, literaturewill be contrastedwith all the rest.By theend of the twelfth entury,we can detect, in certain prefatorystatements nd in occasional blustering irades voiced byvernac-ular "authors," diffuseperceptionof these mplications. hus wefind romance writersprotesting gainst storytellerstheirrivals,whose production is implanted in the oral tradition),the well-known ongleurswho countenancedrebellion againstthedisciplineofwriting. s this simply cliche?Maybe it s,but at thevery eastwe must consider it a revealingone. Somewhat later, in the fif-teenthcentury,mostof the courts n the Westernworld will havetheir own fixed minstrels, ompletewithofficial itles nd regularsalaries. These are theprecursors f our own lettered lass.Societyhad thus become aware of a distinction hat would henceforth eindelible.All thesevariousfactors,whichremained diffuselycatteredfora lengthyperiod of time,began to coalesce sometime n thefour-teenthor fifteenthentury.Fromthenon, thesigns beginto mul-tiply.To give ust one example, it is onlyafter the second half of

  • 8/2/2019 Zumthor Paradoxes


    M L N 807the thirteenthentury hatpeople begin to assemble poeticanthol-ogies, and it is largelythanks to this activity hat the earliestex-amples of courtlyyricwere saved fromoblivion: Frenchand Pro-vencal anthologies,otherwiseknownas chansonniers,talian canzo-nieri, nd Spanish cancioneros. hese were occasionallyrecopied,rewritten nd reordered by sixteenth-centurynthusiasts nd thisactivity ontinuedsporadically ntothe seventeenth entury, factthat demonstrates in no uncertain way the conscious desire tobuild an authoritative anon in the various vernacular tongues.Such an intention an alreadybe read betweenthe inesof Dante'sDe Vulgari loquentia II, ii, 8), whenthe Italian masterevokes theexample of his illustriouspoetic forebears,Bertran de Born, Ar-naut Daniel, Giraut de Bornelh, and Cino da Pistoia.The first extin a romance vernacularto be translated and here I am referringto the modernmeaning given to this erm, s opposed to the medi-eval acception,which s somewhatcloserto our idea of adaptationor reworking) nto other romance languages was Boccaccio'sDeca-meron. his is a further ndicationof the move toward canoniza-tion. Anothersignof change is the progressivedissociationof po-etic text and music thathad alreadybegun in the thirteenth en-tury n Italy and was generalizedby the fourteenth entury.Whatthis separationamounts to is the exclusionof musicfrom thedo-main of poetry nd poetics,even though tmightbe expectedthatsome professionalcould come along later and set thepoeticversetomusic. In other words, everythingttending o the operationofthe voice is reduced to the register f spoken language. Anotherexample I could give is the personalizationof poetic discourse,which had occurred here and there as of about 1200, becameespeciallywidespreadafter1300, and triumphed short ime aterin the work of Petrarch. n the fifteenthentury, he well-estab-lished personal voice of the poet resoundsmore or less clearly nthe poetryof Charles d'Orleans, Francois Villon,and that of sev-eral authors fromthe Cancionero e Baena. A fiction f verisimili-tude associatesthe of thepoeticmessagewith he"author," nd ittransformshecircumstances f whichthis is said in the text obethe subject ntoa concrete ndividualexperience. Such a fiction frepresentationwould have been unimaginable n the twelfth en-tury. The Artde dictierwrittenby Eustache Deschamps in 1392,and the "Artsof Second Rhetoric"which were to followfor morethan a hundredyears after t n Franceand inBurgundy, he ConstvanRhetorikeny the Flemishscholar MathysCastelein-all sketch

  • 8/2/2019 Zumthor Paradoxes


    808 PAUL ZUMTHORout a sequence of reflections bout writing,historical s well astechnical. They all multiplyreferencesto strongly ndividualizedmodel authors who we-re upposed to guarantee the "new poeticform"and at the same time ultimately onfer upon thisform tsown claim to nobility.After ll, thisformwas increasingly quatedwith the exercise of a distinct killor art that, t was expected,would functionto replenish the nation's cultural repositorywithnew masterpieces.The widespread diffusion f printinghad the effect f disman-tlingthe last remainingobstacles blockingthe foundationof whatwould come tobe called-once these so-called"MiddleAges"weregotten past-a literature. t the very same time, throughout aEurope that was ust recoveringfromone of theworst rises n itshistory, dominantclass that was on its way to becomingan en-dangered species began to exercisediversetactics f repression nthe name of an order that few people continued to believe n.As aresult, poetic discoursemarks a retreat,becoming isolatedwithinits own pleasure; whatever hematicpretext t was using todisguiseitself, his poetic discourse was in reality eeking its ustification,indeed its veryfreedom,within tself. his movetowards nteriori-zation, due to the special circumstances of a changing, andchanged, world,was without doubt thedetermining actor n theestablishment fwhat we call our national"literatures."European poetryhad never knownanything f the sortbeforethe end of the twelfth entury nd, in some cases, the thirteenthcentury.We can with some confidence consider that the appear-ance of the firstcourtlyromances in France and in Germany,which occurred as earlyas thethird uarterof the twelfthentury,heralds the advent of what will later be called "literature."Buteven the romances were stillperfectlyntegrated nto the largelyoral cultureof the twelfth entury s far as their mmediateorga-nizing intention, ndeed their veryroots, are concerned. To besure, t can be argued thatthe transformationf a work nto itera-ture is alreadyunder waytheminute t s written own. But this sonly n appearance. In the"romance" (and even moreprofoundlyin the other poeticgenres) themaintenanceof a vocal presenceatthe heart of the text slows down, and even totallyblocks, thistransformation nto "literature." Out of its originaryvocal ele-ments,a gestating"literature" an only realize itselfveryslowly,and even then not withoutrepeated hesitations nd steps back-ward. This newlyformed iterature fforded nearly otalcontrast

  • 8/2/2019 Zumthor Paradoxes


    M L N 809to traditional poetic practices, at least as much by virtue of itsformal structures nd its way of functioning s by the values itpromoted and eventually ucceeded in imposing upon Europeansociety.What I call traditionalpoetic practices n the vernacularswere already three or four centuriesold when the first arbingersof the literary ge appeared on the scene. They continued to putup some resistance to this onslaught for two or three centuriesmore and only gave in completelywhen their epistemological,ideological and socio-political oundationshad succumbed thosefoundations which, of course, constituted the very universe towhichthese traditionalpoetic practices ent theirvoice.The sequence of facts have ust presented to you should comeas neithernew nor surprising.But at least until the 1970's, themedievalist stablishment as almostunanimouslyformed a blockaimed at ignoring hese facts, r at least atcoveringup theepistemo-logical consequences of these facts. For, after all, what we aretalkingabout is an episteme,hat s, the nature f a typeof knowl-edge rather than a method. Relatively ewmedievalistshave up tonow acknowledged even the existenceof a problem. What is atstake is a multiplication f points of view,a necessary ntermin-glingof disciplines, nd an untidy xtensionof the otherwise deal-ized information etwork.There is a lot of resistance othis, nd itis perhaps not surprising.Things used to be so simple! These so-called "masterpiecesfromthe distantpast"took theirplace nexttothose of our own more recent era, in a general grouping togetherof what was considered a homogeneous culture. But, to put it suc-cinctly,this vision is past. "Medieval literature" is simply notChapter One of what we call modern literature. Medieval litera-ture" should not be considered the beginningof anything xceptitself, s it moves from sentenceto sentence. It is not the Origin(with capital 0) dreamed ofbythe Romantics. t isnot iterature.Rather, it is what existed beforeiterature. t is not a part of theinstitutionwe call by this name.This is why there can be no "history f medieval literature,"which s itself n absurd phrase unitingfundamentally ncompat-ible elements. "What do I care?" will be the replyof the honestacademic laborer hurrying o turn out his next article.And yet, sit not preferable to be certainof the ground we are standing on,the natureof the clouds passing overhead,or the labyrinthwhichis readytoengulfus? Nobodywilldenythatour medieval texts rehistorical bjects.But theycan onlybe objectswithin global his-

  • 8/2/2019 Zumthor Paradoxes


    810 PAULZUMTHORtory.This last expressionmayseem todaytobe pretentious fnotarchaic,and manyhave abandoned it. In using it I mean nothingmore than a history hatattempts o describe its object in a vir-tuallyglobalizingfashion.Our task is to determinethe parametersof an existential paceand, ifpossible,to appreciateitsdimensions.This undertakinghaslittle hance of succeeding fwe do notconceptualizeand evenfeelthis space of the medieval textas an other,n comparison to thespace of our own existence. . . in the same waythatLagrange feelsand makesus experienceinhisfilm he space occupied byTristan,or Rohmer, the space of Chretiende Troyes's Perceval romance.These filmschart theircourse along an intervalthat cannot befathomedother than throughthe brief flashes or discontinuousrushes of an emotion. They pass beyond an emptiness withinwhich the trainedand attentive ar can detectweak echoes ema-natingfromvoices of the past. This situationrequiresfromus anethnologist's crutiny ombined with the sensitivityf a stage di-rector. It involves a critical maginationthat is sufficientlygilecontinually o re-situate he object in the perspectiveof some pri-mordial functionthat, depending upon its varyingmodalities,never ceases to manifest tself hroughthatobject.Whatevercanbe said about thisobjectwill have only imitedvalue if tdoes notalso address in some fashion,even indirectly,he following ues-tion:"Whatdoes itmean to be a human being?"In this anthropo-logical" vision,all oppositionsare neutralizedand arbitrary ormsof exclusion lose all their meaning.