Images, Improvisations, Sound, and Silence from 1000 to 1800 - Degree Zero: Degree Zero 9789048529186

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Images, Improvisations, Sound, and Silence from 1000 to 1800 - Degree Zero: Degree Zero

Table of contents :
Table of Contents
Preface and Acknowledgements
1. The Two Bodies of the Virgin
2. The Three Ages of Man and the Materialization of an Allegory
3. Lapsus figurae
4. Drawing a Line and Questioning Art
5. Fall and Rise Again
6. Improvisation as a Chief Pillar of the Poetic Art in Persian Literary Tradition
7. Intending the Listener
8. The Sovereign Ear
9. Where Sound and Meaning Part
10. Writing about Silence and the Secret in the Twelfth Century
11. An Arrangement of Silence
12. Dimidia Hora
List of Contributors

Citation preview

Images, Improvisations, Sound, and Silence from 1000 to 1800 – Degree Zero

Knowledge Communities This series focuses on innovative scholarship in the areas of intellectual history and the history of ideas, particularly as they relate to the communication of knowledge within and among diverse scholarly, literary, religious, and social communities across Western Europe. Interdisciplinary in nature, the series especially encourages new methodological outlooks that draw on the disciplines of philosophy, theology, musicology, anthropology, paleography, and codicology. Knowledge Communities  addresses the myriad ways in which knowledge was expressed and inculcated, not only focusing upon scholarly texts from the period but also emphasizing the importance of emotions, ritual, performance, images, and gestures as modalities that communicate and acculturate ideas. The series publishes cutting-edge work that explores the nexus between ideas, communities and individuals in medieval and early modern Europe. Series Editor Clare Monagle, Macquarie University Editorial Board Mette Bruun, University of Copenhagen Babette Hellemans, University of Groningen Severin Kitanov, Salem State University Alex Novikoff, Fordham University Willemien Otten, University of Chicago Divinity School

Images, Improvisations, Sound, and Silence from 1000 to 1800 – Degree Zero

Edited by Babette Hellemans and Alissa Jones Nelson

Amsterdam University Press

Cover illustration: Schedelsche Weltchronik or Nuremberg Chronicle (detail), 1493 Source: Wikimedia Commons, Hartmann Schedel Cover design: Coördesign, Leiden Typesetting: Crius Group, Hulshout isbn 978 94 6298 005 1 e-isbn 978 90 4852 918 6 (pdf) doi 10.5117/9789462980051 nur 687 © All authors / Amsterdam University Press B.V., Amsterdam 2018 All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this book may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the written permission of both the copyright owner and the author of the book. Every efffort has been made to obtain permission to use all copyrighted illustrations reproduced in this book. Nonetheless, whosoever believes to have rights to this material is advised to contact the publisher.

For Peter and Alma

Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgements


Ouverture 13 Degree Zero Between Past and Future Babette Hellemans

Images 1 The Two Bodies of the Virgin


2 The Three Ages of Man and the Materialization of an Allegory


3 Lapsus figurae


On the Festival of Cirio de Nazaré Jean-Claude Schmitt

Inquiries on an Object at the Threshold of Modernity Andrea von Hülsen-Esch

Remarks on Iconographic Error Pierre-Olivier Dittmar

Improvisations 4 Drawing a Line and Questioning Art Nicola Suthor


5 Fall and Rise Again


6 Improvisation as a Chief Pillar of the Poetic Artin Persian Literary Tradition


Irit Ruth Kleiman

Asghar Seyed-Gohrab

Sound 7 Intending the Listener


8 The Sovereign Ear


9 Where Sound and Meaning Part


Rokus de Groot

Handel’s Water Music and Aural Historiography Sander van Maas

Language and Performance in Early Hebrew Poetry Irene Zwiep

Silence 10 Writing about Silence and the Secret in the Twelfth Century


11 An Arrangement of Silence


12 Dimidia Hora


List of Contributors


Monastic Variations on a Biblical Theme Cédric Giraud

Shaping Monastic Identity in Anselm of Canterbury’s Letter Collections Theo B. Lap

Liminal Silence in Bernard of Clairvaux, Anselm of Canterbury, and Barack Obama Burcht Pranger

Index 249

List of Figures Chapter 1 Figure 1 The Queen of the Amazons; Cirio de Nazaré, Belém, 13 October 2013. Figure 2 The Romaria fluvial; Belém, 12 October 2013. Figure 3 Map of the Town of Belém. Figure 4 The Virgin in the berlinda; Cirio de Nazaré, Belém, 13 October 2013. Figure 5 Ex voto of a house, expressing a wish for a roof to live under; Cirio de Nazaré, Belém, 13 October 2013. Figure 6 Shipwreck of the Frigate Sao Joao Batista, off the coast of Pará. Lithograph, 32 x 23 cm, signed by H. Jannim, Paris, first half of the nineteenth century. Figure 7 Wooden boat, commemorating the Virgin’s rescue of sailors at sea, sold from stalls in the Praça do Carmo; Cirio de Nazaré, Belém, 13 October 2013. Figure 8 Praça do Carmo (Square of the Carmelites); Cirio de Nazaré, Belém, 13 October 2013. Figure 9 Image of the corda, the rope that pulls and steers the berlinda, as a central symbol of the procession; Cirio de Nazaré, Belém, 13 October 2013. Figure 10 The peregrina on the arraial in front of the Basilica of San Nazaré; Cirio de Nazaré, Belém, 13 October 2013. Figure 11 Crowds placing written supplications, promessas, and coloured ribbons around the peregrina on the arraial in front of the Basilica of San Nazaré; Cirio de Nazaré, Belém, 13 October 2013. Figure 12 Crowds taking digital photos of the original in the Basilica of San Nazaré; Cirio de Nazaré, Belém, 13 October 2013. Figure 13 The wagon on which the statue of Shiva is carried around the perimeter of the temple; Madurai, Tamil Nadu. Chapter 2 Figure 1 Triciput of the Ages of Man, Inv. no. 73/1, Bavarian National Museum, Munich.

37 38 39 40 40 44 45 45 45 49

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Chapter 3 Figure 1 L’Insensé. Illustration no. 81 in Garnier, L’âne à la lyre, sottisier d’iconographie médiévale (Paris: Léopard d’or, 1988); negative by Pierre-Olivier Dittmar. Figure 2 Moses receiving the tablets of the law and the adoration of the golden calf, Psalter of Blanche of Castile, early thirteenth century; Paris BnF, Arsenal, ms. 1186, f. 14, negative Bibliothèque nationale de France. Figure 3 ‘A Jew looks on the weeping earth’, Psalter of Marote de Hamel; Paris, BnF. Lat. 10435, f. 11v., end of the thirteenth century, negative Bibliothèque nationale de France. Figure 4 ‘Abraham repudiates his wife and son in the desert’, Bible of Pamplona; Amiens, Bibliothèque Municipale, ms. 108, f. 11. circa 1197. Chapter 4 Figure 1 Agostino Carracci, Studies of ears and profile heads; pen and brown ink, 15.1 x 10.8 cm, The Nationalmuseum Stockholm. Figure 2 Agostino Carracci, Studies of three profile heads; pen and brown ink, 15 x 10.3 cm, The Nationalmuseum Stockholm. Figure 3 Attributed to Luca Ciamberlano, after Agostino Carracci, Scuola Perfetta: Studies of two eyes, two ears and two lower portions of the face, in pairs, one in outline; engraving, 167 x 116 mm, ca. 1600–1630, The British Museum. Figure 4 Agostino Carracci, Two men in a landscape; pen and brown ink, 15 x 10.3 cm, The Nationalmuseum Stockholm.



83 87

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Chapter 7 Figure 1 W.A. Mozart, Symphony 29 in A major, K. 201, beginning of the first movement. The + denotes sound and the – absence of sound; > stands for the main accent; / refers to the bar line. The complete pattern extends between the two *. 149 Figure 2 Johann Sebastian Bach, Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C major, BWV 564, Fugue m. 78–83 and 87–92, upper voice. 154

Preface and Acknowledgements

Suppose that the future of the humanities is to be found either in the myth of a full grasp of language and the arts or the desire to have such a grasp, or else in the myth that one may have none – against the privileged claim of possessing the truth and the autonomy of the object in the arts. How would it be possible for future generations of scholars in the humanities to work with artists? Can we find a common ground between the two that does justice to both of their raisons d’être? Through the meetings and discussions I organized as the project leader of the research project Degree Zero of Sound and Image, c. 1000–1800, I have become more aware of the fragility of these questions – and their importance. From the very f irst meetings of this project, I have counted on the encouragement of Rokus de Groot, Bernard Jussen, Jean-Claude Schmitt, Asghar Seyed-Gohrab, and Irene Zwiep, who have always supported my intellectual bravado. Only a few people know how much Burcht Pranger’s not-so-silent voice in this volume means: the company of an extraordinary and graceful soul. The meetings preceding the volume were part of the Internationalization for the Humanities Grant funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). The beautiful surroundings of the dunes and the North Sea at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Studies in Wassenaar created an ideal place to start the project in 2013. The Groupe d’Anthropologie Historique de l’Occident Médiéval at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris was very hospitable in helping to organize the meeting in 2014. Pierre Monnet, director of the Institut Franco-Allemand/Sciences Historiques et Sociales in Frankfurt, offered us good times and Gemütlichkeit at his institute in 2015. The Mediävistenverband in Bonn provided us with the facilities to be able to organize two sessions in the spring of 2017. And finally, the Groningen Research Institute for the Study of Culture (ICOG) supported the finissage of the project, held in the fall of 2017 The project benefitted from the generous support of the following institutions: the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Studies (NIAS), the Royal Academy for the Arts and Sciences in the Netherlands (KNAW), the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) in Paris, the Groningen Research Institute for the Study of Culture (ICOG), and the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.



I think back with gratitude on the vivid discussions with the artists and independent scholars who joined us during our meetings. It is my pleasure to have worked with the free spirits in the arts and sciences who – in an age burdened with the pressure to publish – have been the source of renewal in apathetic institutions, seeking to overcome models of tradition and creating yet another ‘degree zero’ of the many interpretations possible in reading, listening, and looking at the remains of the past. The editing of this volume has in large part been done by Alissa Jones Nelson, and I am very grateful for her critical and careful eye, tact, and conscientiousness. Shannon Cunningham from Amsterdam University Press has patiently assisted us throughout the process. The French chapters were translated by Peter Cramer, who also provided many insightful comments on the different chapters at an earlier stage of the project and gave invaluable intellectual input during the meetings, for which the authors of this volume would like to express their appreciation. My gratefulness to Peter is beyond words. This book is dedicated to him and to Alma, our daughter. Little Alma, so unforeseen, came in the midst of many lives, some of them deeply rooted in history. Her presence represents a flash of light shattering any sense of control in this world which reminds me often, living alone with her, that love is indeed the greatest gift of all. Babette Hellemans January 2018

Ouverture Degree Zero Between Past and Future Babette Hellemans Should we say again that nothing is created out of nothing? Or is creation out of nothing (ex nihilo), from the white of the canvas or the silence that precedes sound, the freedom of the work from bondage to a preordained state? Imagining such a disenchanted condition is the triumph of critical realism today – that state of the world without authority or tradition, in which each has to find his or her way, and where nature has collapsed into social structures. The creation out of nothing was very different for modernist artists and thinkers, however, who tried to understand the meaning of form by taking its essence as something existential, which meant that their lives depended on writing, painting, or composing music. Even if the eye is staring down the ‘indifference of white paper’, to paraphrase Merleau-Ponty’s essay on painting, the nature of its virginal blankness has to be imagined too. The modernist experience is at its most intense not in the presence of an image or a sound, but in the reduction of form or its absence, hence the use of the term ‘degree zero’. The notion of degree zero is best known in French theory; it is borrowed from Roland Barthes’s Le degré zéro de l’écriture (published in 1953). This volume uses the phrase ‘degree zero’ as a hermeneutical tool to grasp sources of creative possibility as they present themselves in artistic objects. All the essays are concerned with the same fundamental question of degree zero as not either historical or personal, but as both at the same time – what I would call the ‘and also’. While the notion of ex nihilo often functions as a precise point in time, the degree zero tends to be circular and constantly developing. It has a life of its own and is not fully explainable or ‘confinable’ to a single point in time; it is not an event, but rather a type or a force. It lends significance to the disorder of the present, hence the title of my introduction, ‘between past and future’. Degree zero can be considered as a liminal state too and therefore never represents something absolute. This notion of liminality also implies that, ultimately, the meaning of degree zero is not without a sense of border. It represents the dawn of something that is entirely new. Degree zero bears therefore a sense of originality we do not yet fully understand. Using degree zero as a hermeneutical tool not only provides us with a hugely creative force for scholarship – one that seeks to overcome classical


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boundaries between disciplines such as art, music, philosophy and literature – but it also transcends historical periods. In the pre-modern universe, humankind was permanently connected to the supranatural – even in such a way that their understanding of nature was at the same time a world of spiritual reality, with preeminent attention to God.1 This particular worldview deeply influenced all kinds of articulations, both creative and intellectual, and it manifested itself in word, sound and image. To compare this worldview with the modernist worldview might be a doubtful exercise if the latter is interpreted as merely nihilistic. One of the surprising insights of this volume seems to me that the nihilism which is often attributed to modern society is the source of creation itself – an everlasting ex nihilo expressed in the most powerful way. It also suggests the open character of the work, its opera aperta, and its integrity. To compare different time spans means exploring the meaning of creativity, articulation, spirituality, mysticism and notions such as presence and absence in an excitingly new way. As Jean-Claude Schmitt indicates in his contribution, the question is not the point of origin, but the immediacy and tangibility of coming into being: ‘the deeper roots push down too far to be visible, and in this sense, they have no beginning’. However, the explicit artistic intentions within modernism might be helpful in understanding the idiosyncrasies of each period and their encounters with the unfamiliar. The modernist universe often seems bereft of any signposts, as in Cézanne’s paintings of Montagne Sainte-Victoire in the South of France. Cézanne’s oeuvre is often considered a milestone in the history of modern painting. Stripped of any sensation of the mountain’s having ‘been there’, these paintings reveal a substantial knowledge, a dazzling and disenchanted truth. What kind of language do people use when they live in such a universe? Are truth and fiction still valid categories in a disenchanted world? Is the ear still able to translate structures of sound, silence, and echo into a meaningful musical texture? I believe that these questions reflect the kind of degree zero Roland Barthes was pointing at in his book Writing Degree Zero. The translation in English includes an introduction by Susan Sontag who understood the different cultural backgrounds of the French and the Anglo-American intellectual traditions from the inside. It seems she struggled with the difference. Perhaps the translation of the title is telling enough in this respect, 1 The suggestion by Lucien Febvre stating that the outillage mental in pre-modern society is inherent to the divine seems still valuable. This thesis is explained in: Le problème de l’incroyance au XVIe siècle. La religion de Rabelais, published for the first time in 1947 and reprinted many times afterwards.



since the more ambiguous and sketchy Le degré zéro de l’écriture reveals some of the fundamental differences in the ways language and truth are understood and analyzed in the two languages. In any case, Writing Degree Zero is considered central to Barthes’ thinking on semiotics. The book itself seeks to understand what writing is – and what it is not. There is nothing ‘natural’ about writing itself, writes Barthes, nor is the notion of style a given fact, since together they constitute the make-up of the writer’s biology (body) and biography (past). Writing is a possibility – it is not a destiny. However, within the sense of possibility, as expressed for instance in the iconic modernist poem Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard by Stéphane Mallarmé (translated into English as ‘A Throw of the Dice Will Never Abolish Chance’), the artistic form becomes crucial. Un coup de dés is considered iconic because of the typesetting of the poem, which stretches sentences and words across the spread of the page and uses different kinds of typefaces. The white paper placed between the letters, sometimes with very wide blank spaces, creates impressions of randomness, as Mallarmé himself described in the introduction to the poem (although he preferred the introduction not to be read): The paper intervenes every time an image, on its own, ceases or retires on the page, accepting the succession of the others; it is not a question, unlike the usual state of affairs, of regular sound effects or verses – rather of prismatic subdivisions of the idea, of the instant when they appear and during which their cooperation lasts, in some exact mental setting. The text imposes itself in various places, near or far from the latent guiding thread, according to what seems to be the probable sense.2

The words in ink and the whiteness of the paper together form a semiotic force without comparison, because the message is to be reinterpreted each time by the reader. Hence, any possible understanding of the poem – or the book – becomes both a performative and a historical act. The audience needs to make up the message, which is alternating and therefore difficult, perhaps, but in the end not secretive. A book can be a bomb, as Mallarmé said elsewhere, its explosive force depending on the intention(s) of the audience. But in the end, reading words becomes a ritual, in the same sense that ‘poetry, accompanied by the idea, becomes music’.3 We learn that Mallarmé’s 2 Mallarmé, ‘Preface,’ 105. A PDF of the first edition from 1914 is available online at: http:// 3 Mallarmé, Œuvres complètes, 380.


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writing, the narrative of Coup de dés – which seems to be about a captain at the helm of a ship making a last-ditch effort to survive an unrelenting storm at sea, as some have suggested – is in the end as random as a ‘roll of the dice’. The ideological message of the poem, a ‘diffusion of the divine’, on the other hand, comes through. The private aspect of religion was a hotly debated topic amongst Catholic intellectuals and artists at the time, and Stéphane Mallarmé had his own view of the matter. Like the presence of the Eucharist, a throw of the dice through the words and the blank spaces is fragmented, diffuse, and hovers between memory and expectation: ‘The Eucharistic mode of presence is no longer anticipative but becomes the supreme regime of divine being-there’. 4 The degree zero of the Eucharist, one might say, like the diffusion between representation and presentation, was for Mallarmé the ultimate meaning of poetry. We see from this example that the engagement of the modernist artist with the great crises of History – for Mallarmé, the crisis of the socio-theological implications of prosody in secular France – is fundamental. This is also, according to Barthes, what characterizes modern writers and their écriture.5 It seems to me that Barthes points here to one of the most fundamental issues that lurk in the fragile field of the arts – namely, the merging of the artists’ way of life with form, which makes life itself intentionally historical, in the sense that the presence is already lived. This is all perfectly acceptable as a paradigm, as indeed modernist artists have shown, but it also misses the implicit reference to what it seeks to escape. With the myriad possibilities in writing, composing, drawing, and sculpting all culminating in form, modernism changed the meaning of the Word (logos) as the symbol that stands at the beginning of creation with God (and the Word was God, says the Gospel of John) into a blending of life and form. Restating the cosmological nature of creation as the human condition, without having a common symbol or common past, seems to be one of the challenges of modernism. This is the challenge Mallarmé tried to express. These examples demonstrate the rootedness of modernism in tradition; therefore, it appears to me that the claim of the ahistorical character of modernism – often made by scholars – is founded on a semantic misunderstanding, suggesting that shape, symbol, and composition would merely reflect an external world. I believe that modernism should not be considered 4 Meillassoux, The Number and the Siren, 112; the formulation of the ‘diffusion of the divine’ is also discussed here. 5 ‘A language and a style are objects; a mode of writing is a function: it is the relationship between creation and society, the literary language transformed by its social f inality, form considered as a human intention and thus linked to the great crises of History’; Barthes, Writing Degree Zero, 14.



a functionalist or a stable worldview. In integrating history into the modernist ideology of form, this volume seeks to develop a method that runs against the grain of conceptualized notions of society and culture as isolated metaphors. In contrast, the volume attempts to build up a historical method to trace past cultural codes of creativity that pull off randomness through continuous adjustments, shifts, and fluctuations. One of the rhetorical risks of treating a historical method on the basis of randomness and possibility, as if it had an ambivalent truth-value, is that methodology approximates fiction or a new mythology. Such a practice of rhetorically bracketing the textual, musical, or visual truth would blind the scholar to the fact that Barthes’ use of degree zero as a critique of writing is really about the truth and how this is achieved – and not about an arbitrary exploration of different possibilities in artistic expression. Recognizing the state of degree zero in Barthes’s sense is, in other words, already history. Hence, if the use of degree zero as a hermeneutical tool is a ‘deliberate investigation of the conditions of creation and creativity’, as Nicola Suthor defines it in her contribution, then the creative function of managing the project that gave rise to this volume should be given its due. This is as true for the author’s interests as it is for the project leader’s sense of themes, organization, and consistency. Similarly for Barthes and his critics, the act of directing is ‘a release rather than an applied strategy or technique’, as Sander van Maas observes in this volume. Directing a project on degree zero becomes a form of inspiration. It is fundamentally an improvisation. For those familiar with the French intellectual tradition, these artistic attempts at framing writing and truth are to be located in structuralism. In particular, the work of Claude Lévi-Strauss and his structural anthropology, in which cultural codes and their modulations reveal the possibilities of expression and translation across different cultures and languages in history, has been an inspiration in framing the method of this volume. As a result, the understanding of the past – like anything else in the field of the humanities – can only be performed through codes of contrasts, because the understanding of history, just like space and time, is not a privilege that grants exclusive access to truth. In other words, historicism comes from within, and time is incarnated in the object at hand. Within the frame of such a heuristic historiography, the ‘newness’ of a modern ex nihilo can be reassessed, since typical modernist concepts such as degree zero will prove helpful in understanding the meaning of mental references to creativity in pre-modern culture. Hence, the introduction of degree zero as an epistemological tool is not an attempt to follow the genealogy of an idea throughout history, nor is it about the reception of an idea in the classical sense of the word. For the modern scholar, the introduction of anachronism


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and the challenging of teleology will help to discern how the forming of history within the object of art takes place. In other words, the degree zero of history as a certain presence of the past is dynamic and can be intrinsically active in the way the object of art performs in space and time. The chapter in this volume on the procession of the Cirio of Nazaré, written by Jean-Claude Schmitt, is a good example of this. It shows how the founding miracle of the ritual of the procession is, in fact, pushed back to a more remote past, which, in turn, is composed of several imported traditions. In a sense, the ritual has no real historical beginning. In their participation in the unfolding of the procession, the pilgrims who travel to the event represent the meaning of degree zero, as they actively give shape to the procession and thus explore the possibilities of articulation, interpretation, and meaning in the Virgin’s physical presence. We learn from this example how – in spite of the limits of texts and contexts, as put forward by modernists – a more profound historical dynamic in artistic expression is still being unearthed. Hence, the question at the center of this volume is whether the degree zero of modernism – with its concomitant sense of possibility, the ‘throwing of dice’, and contextualization, all culminating in a commitment to form – does not in fact represent an epiphenomenon of already age-old, existing creative expressions, long-term currents that meander beneath the deep waters of History. The notion of degree zero as the myriad possibilities of artistic expression in the object – through imagination, intention, or improvisation – might represent nothing more and nothing less than realism as a different form. Not the critical form of critical realism but, again, as an existential form. This is the inevitable blurred state of expression before a line, a pattern, or a meaning becomes clear – and this is what constitutes the degree zero of sound and image. Rather than taking degree zero in the factual sense of time with the logic of causality, all the contributions in this volume have in common their description of the imaginative aftermath of the historical event. But there is something else at stake here too, which makes the interdisciplinary approach of the humanities so terribly complicated – and therefore difficult to defend. The uniqueness and idiosyncrasy of each artist, their daily struggle with the world, going back to the degree zero of the object as an artistic endeavor, also suggests that any academic desire to formulate a genealogy of artists (say, from Manet to Monet to Seurat to Matisse to Miró – or from Mozart to Beethoven to Webern to Mahler) is essentially decadent. Wouldn’t any effort to create a genealogy culminate in the end of aesthetics? More generally, I believe that the tendency to formulate categories in the arts is profoundly damaging to the intensity of the artistic experience – by which I mean visual or musical plenitude as well as void or silence.



Deus Artifex: The Fabric of the Artistic Experience It has been the precept of this volume, even with the assumption that a rational approach to the arts is impossible and raises doubts about any possible co-existence between the rational and the aesthetical-sensual, that the potential benefits of believing in such an approach are so vast as to make any argument which creates possible bridges from reason to sense begin to look like a rational one. In this sense, my guidance of this volume has been a radical thought experiment, carried out by composing a volume in which all sorts of possibilities are explored – like extensions of the subject matter. The only frame used is chronological-historical limitation. Challenging the question of a rational approach to the arts, the volume focuses on the time in history that covers the dawn of academic thinking at the height of monastic intellectual life in the eleventh century up until the moment the supremacy of epistemic proof took over academic debates in the period of the Enlightenment. This argument for framing the history of ideas might be seen as an argument against the secular in art, or even against progress, and therefore – perhaps implicitly – as grounded in the catastrophe that consumes History. To quote Walter Benjamin, the achievements of humankind ‘owe their existence not only to the effort of the great minds and talents who have created them, but also to the enormous toil of their contemporaries. There is no document of civilization that is not at the same time a document of barbarism’.6 I believe this is very true for the meaning of creativity. In fact, the notion of destruction or disquiet is inherent in making art – a thought that may be lost on those who interpret art only as a thing to be consumed in the interests of irenic quiet, rather than as a product that goes against the grain. As a corollary, creative possibility in medieval and early modern art – its degree zero – has often been remembered as being concentrated on the articulate power of the individual genius. The present volume, however, takes a very different approach. It is not the genius’s degree zero that lies at the heart of the method, nor is any form of psychology of the artist relevant. Rather, the focus is on the question of how creative possibility can be understood from within the object of art: the patterns, sketches, improvisations, blurriness, and ambiguities that arise from the different artistic materials at hand. When I try to draw an analogy between the modern degree zero and the fabric of artistic understanding in the pre-modern past, I use this analogy of cultural forms in order to provide a system that gives meaning to experiences 6 Benjamin, Illuminations, 248.


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that cannot be known directly, even though they are lived. These analogies may work on different levels. The chapter by Nicola Suthor, for instance – on improvisation and the skill of drawing a straight line in the drawings of Agostino Carracci, as well as in the work of more famous artists such as Giotto and Michelangelo, and the carrying out of that which is literally ‘unforeseen’ (from the Latin improvisus) – shows how improvisation reveals the unfolding pattern of ‘the beginning of the beginning’. In music, on the other hand, any understanding of the artistic fabric should rely on the workings of memory, which is evoked from musical familiarity or from the suggestion of such an experience outside of memory that lies at the center of a fully shaped musical pattern, which is then presented in its complete form and repeated. The workings of this process are the topic of Rokus de Groot’s chapter on Johann Sebastian Bach’s Toccata, Adagio and Fugue and the Hindustani raga. We now understand from both examples that the approach to creativity from within the object requires analogous cultural forms – illusions even, if need be – in order to develop a method that is lived. Any other attempt to understand the dynamic fabric of creation would put the process into systems of image and sound, or metaphor or symbol, which would soon develop into an academic argument of ‘significance’. This external approach leads to the question of whether Bach or Giotto can really be understood as interested in symbols, rather than in the proliferation and working out of sounds and lines; or to the question of whether performances of medieval poems are presented to suggest what is happening in words, rather than what is happening within the speakers. In other words, is scholarly tradition interested in the psychological background of characters rather than in the way shifts and changes occur in the words that are uttered – and quieted – by these same characters? These examples give an inkling of how this book seeks to understand whether it is possible to approach the epistemological question of working from both ends differently. It goes against the grain of what is normally processed throughout the standard academic argument(s); in this counterintuitive understanding lies the true answer. For instance, the academic concentration on the intention of the artist and their individual genius is motivated by the words, sounds, and colors themselves – as if this were the required rational evidence for a ‘correct interpretation’. But the most curious aspect of the shifts and tensions between the artistic fabric and the analysis of words used to grasp the creation of the object of art is to say that we have forgotten art’s idiosyncrasy and historicity. The problem is that bringing interpretation to a close, we might say, is the coming to terms with endless artistic possibilities that derive from the degree zero of



the object – everything which is the case – and discovering when and how to stop theorizing. This important insight into the misconception of logic, that there is no a priori order of language and the world, gave Wittgenstein the peace he needed in his philosophical efforts.7 Moreover, the idea that philosophy is not a doctrine to be approached dogmatically is one of the most important insights of the Tractatus logico-philosophicus. That Wittgenstein was concerned about the dominance of dogmata against the fragility of language – and within this fragility, his sense of psychology – is well known. His interpretations of aesthetic and religious questions as interwoven with the rest of philosophy, presented mostly in lectures, are less known. In a similar way as Wittgenstein’s criticism against philosophy concerns its preoccupation with the form of words rather than the use made of the form of words, he also stresses that the contextualization of works of art permits us to see how the dialogically unfolding artistic ‘language-game’ of the object of art can unfold itself. Just as we, in our use of language and our attempts to understand each other, do not start with one single word, but rather from a specific context, event or occasion, our aesthetic engagements are activities of a similar kind. If we consider art and beauty as a field of conceptual inquiry, we should not suppose that its ‘central task is to analyze the determinant properties that are named by aesthetic predicates’, but rather that it is concerned ‘with a full-blooded consideration of the activities of aesthetic life’.8 In his lectures, Wittgenstein regularly uses the example of a drawing of a face and the expressiveness of the face. He explains how the differences between live performances (dancing, singing, speech) and representations of expressivity (drawing, sculpting, poetry) call into question what is considered a derivative expressiveness of autonomous artworks which do not ‘own’ the natural expressiveness of a living human body. He then goes on to explain how, as in philosophy, a dualistic picture of language stands behind the thought of the drawing of the face. Asking for any expression to be given without the face is deeply troubling, because the causal status of language, drawing and expression is misleading. For the expression is not an effect of the face. Any sense of dualism, whether in terms of causality or in terms of the materiality and expressiveness that make up the material work of art, is out of place. Throughout his lectures, Wittgenstein gives many examples of the struggle within the pictures, each in their own way illustrating an unfolding ‘language-game’. One (perhaps) hidden intention of this volume 7 Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, §§ 108–133. 8 The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, by Garry Hagberg, gives a good account of Wittgenstein’s aesthetics; see:


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has been to see whether Wittgenstein was right – as I believe he was – with the additional aim of defending the complexity of art. The first step for the humanities is to take back autonomy (in particular from the natural sciences or Naturwisschenschaften). For Wittgenstein, an appreciation of the aesthetic requires an immediacy that is much larger and more diverse than any causal-mechanistic model could accommodate. It is what he calls the ‘click’ when everything falls into place.9 Using degree zero as a hermeneutical tool in this volume can be described as a Wittgensteinian attempt to create a click – one that resonates from cover to cover – in order to give aesthetics back to the realm of silence, whether supranatural or supralinguistic, as in the famous last sentence of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus: ‘Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent’. It will now be helpful to rethink some of the modernist attitudes towards art, such as in Mallarmé. As with most of his work, the interpretation of Coup de dés is very difficult, and there is no common opinion amongst scholars on the meaning of the poem, let alone its artistic intention. But we have the fabric of the poem, and between brackets, it might well have been the aim of the work to leave the question of artistic intention open. The poem is about the undoing of any sense – to end a curse, to find redemption. But the message Mallarmé is seeking to express is very difficult to understand because he wants us to experience a breakdown through disintegrating language in order to give language back to the world. A similar process can be found in the work of another iconic writer of modernity: Samuel Beckett. Writing about Beckett’s play Endgame, Stanley Cavell noted the difficulties in understanding this text, which is not about the lack of meaning.10 Nor is it about, to put it in Cavell’s words, ‘marketing subjectivity, popularizing angst and thereby excusing us with pictures of our own psychopathology: he is outlining the facts – of mind, of community – which shows why they have become our pastimes. The discovery of Endgame, both in topic and technique, is not the failure of meaning (if that means lack of meaning) but its total, even totalitarian, success – our inability not to mean what we are given to mean’.11 Language is also the curse of humankind, who have to learn to understand the shape of their birth, to figure out why they must die, and that they are neither gods nor beasts – all this in order to understand their own lives as fabric being woven from one state to the other, the hanging state of degree zero. I will come back to this liminal state as degree zero at 9 Wittgenstein, Lectures and Conversations, 19. 10 Beckett, Endgame. A Play in one Act, followed by Act Without Words: A Mime for one Player. 11 Cavell, Must We Mean What We Say?, 117.



the very end of this introduction, since Burcht Pranger’s contribution deals with this theme. For now, it will suffice to keep in mind that any sense of epistemic truth will not emerge in Coup de dés or Endgame – this truth being morphologically similar to the Christian faith, so dominant in pre-modern society – in the sense that there is no plot that can be understood from any human point of view, and hence, there is no solution. The texts ultimate aim is to ‘defeat meaning, of word and deed’.12 In the process of innovation towards something entirely new and different, creative works that are juxtaposed are not standing in for each other as historical realities; rather, a new reality arises out of the debris of the past and is created by artists and the public simultaneously. This process is described by Alexander Nagel and Christopher Wood as ‘anachronic art’, underlining what art does so that we can distinguish the performativity of the object from a mere anachronism in search of witnesses to its own times. The anachronic, however, defeats meanings of custom and tradition in order to establish an agency, giving the work of art a quality that does not cut time into a ‘before’ or an ‘after’.13 To defeat meaning is also what Wittgenstein meant when he stated that the world is everything which is the case, that language stops where life announces itself, in such a way that speaking is philosophically no longer possible. Does Wittgenstein here state a mystical-religious proposition, where the end of human creation announces the divine, as is sometimes suggested? The question is very oblique. It is certainly oblique in the worldview of the pre-modern period, on which this volume focuses. When the world is everything which is the case – for God created everything in the world – then the unspeakable belongs to the realm of the divine love that redeems nature. It would be here that we would find the defeat of language – in the culmination of the aesthetic moment (we may call it epiphany) resulting from the relation of belief to art. It is from this point of view – whether in Cézanne’s paintings of Montagne Sainte-Victoire, the typesetting of Mallarmé’s poetry, or the void in Beckett’s play Endgame, with their simultaneous breakdown of language and form – that we can start to reinterpret the understanding of the sacrifice again. If mythology prevails, we continue to live in a realm of magic, and redemption will not be possible. The connection between suffering and redemption can only be made through love for God, as expressed not so much in words, but as in, say, the oeuvre of Bach, who composed new pieces of music through such a love his whole life long. 12 Cavell, Must We Mean What We Say?, 148. 13 See the introduction ‘Plural Temporality of the Work of Art’, in: Nagel and Wood, Anachronic Renaissance, here: 14-15.


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How does the figure of God the craftsman, the deus artifex, fit into this? Isn’t the world ‘ordered in measure and number and weight’, as the Wisdom of Solomon 11:12 has it – the fabric of the artistic experience itself, and thus the ontological proof of its being a work of art? Is not the religious worldview – Jewish, Christian, Islamic – which is said to be anthropologically predominant in the period at hand, pointing to a similar problem as that which modernist artists tried to express? As long as humankind stays in history – that is, in time – we will not step out of the responsibility of participating in creation. The bridging of the gap between humankind and God through creation was amongst the key themes of thirteenth-century scholasticism – questioning ontology (‘What is the character of God and Creation?’), epistemology (‘How can we know anything about God through Creation?’), and language (‘What do the words we use from Creation to describe God mean?’). From these questions, we perceive the gap between God’s eternity and the infinity of geometry, as in the Pythagorean tradition, and the limits of human articulation in time. It was Augustine who solved the semantic confusion with time, by pointing out the difference between ‘made’ and ‘created’, stating that ‘we take “made” to denote that which, if not made, would not at all be, and “create” to fashion or form something out of that which already was’.14 We see here how the idea of creativity is supple, taking on different meanings. However, the shifting from the deus artifex to the homo secundus deus – or the homo creator – is not easily resolved by that particular moment when God created the earth. The inner speech – the poetic silence – of writing before the beginning of creation, the creation in which everything would be the case, is trembling in the Hebrew scribe before his empty scroll, as we read in Irene Zwiep’s chapter. The scribe’s first line is perched on the brink of ‘dieser Abgrund einer heiligen Sprache’ (‘this abyss of a sacred language’), as Gershom Scholem had it. This is perhaps why, theologically speaking, the ex nihilo does not occur in the Bible. Before turning to this collection of chapters in more detail, I would like to make one final remark – to emphasize that, if the fabric of artistic possibility in the historical object belongs to the redemptive character of its culture, it cannot be left up to us alone to interpret. On the other hand, there can be no suggestion – not even in the metaphorical representation of the figure of the crucified Christ – that we can take it up only through redemption or mysticism and think that everything has been resolved. The imagination desires concrete, final solutions, but is the methodological tool of degree zero – as in the deus artifex figure who understands that the 14 Augustinus, Contra adversarium legis et prophetarum, 1:43.



world is everything which is the case – not an alternative redemption, an attempt to express a symbol that embodies hope?

Finding the Audience: Introducing the Chapters The twelve chapters that follow this introduction do not compose a book in which one contribution will find resonance in another – an absence of relation very much in the spirit of degree zero as a hermeneutical tool. The relations between the chapters and the themes brought up by the writers do not aim at one single purpose, since the process of writing and composing this volume has been the defense of the subtlety and fragility of the arts. The fabric of the artistic experience in the chapters is, I think – perhaps thanks to their refinement – surprisingly overlapping. Common themes include the acknowledgement of language, its breakdown, and the return of commitment to language as a symbol (and its refusal); the tension between the inner world of the object and the audience; the transgression of morality through formlessness and the regaining of form; the several meaning of silences, ranging from tyranny to poetics; and the entwinement of the ordinary and the sacred. All the contributions dealing with the modernity of writing and viewing pre-modern art come together in the question: What is the audience? How is the volume to be described? In case a reader pretends indifference to this question, I want to raise another: What is thinking about art? How is it to be written? How should it be taught? These questions will hopefully be answered in what follows – they are an attempt to defend complexity. The volume is divided into four clusters, entitled ‘Images’, ‘Improvisations’, ‘Sound’, and ‘Silence’. Each comprises three chapters. Since the academic background of the authors is very diverse, it makes sense that they are involving themselves in their subjects differently, and the ways in which they apply the hermeneutical tool of degree zero also differ. However, they all have in common the fact that their approach to art – music, literature, letter-writing, rhetoric, poetry, and visual art – is not to objectify it, but to understand art as a degree zero of continual making. As a consequence, the authors have approached their subject matter as a different way of seeing and writing, sometimes challenging standard academic conventions. In the cluster on ‘Images’, Jean-Claude Schmitt’s contribution describes with precision the great procession of the Cirio of Nazaré that takes place in Belém, the city on the mouth of the Amazon, in October each year. We see the unfolding of an image through the active participation of the pilgrims. As I have described above, the chapter shows an understanding of degree


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zero that is fundamental to the integration of history and modernity. Schmitt does not start from the observation of a fixed, iconic image of the Virgin, the way we know her in the history of Christian culture. Providing the reader with an anthropological account, he presents the unfolding history of the Virgin’s procession, the origins of which remain unclear, to the point that the founding miracle – whether the miraculous salvation of a knight in the Middle Ages, or the ‘invention’ of the statue in 1700, or the new beginning of a ‘second’ degree zero in 1966 – is no longer visible according to traditional historical interpretations. In a sense, the procession has no real beginning, and as such, the crowd of pilgrims represents a permanent state of degree zero, as they give meaning to the Virgin’s physical presence. Far from remaining aloof as a scholar, Schmitt allows himself to be drawn into the historical as he gives shape to the Virgin’s procession – the degree zero which constitutes the theme of this volume. Andrea von Hülschen-Esch’s chapter is of a very different spirit, and her way of dealing with the degree zero of the image is more defined. At the centre of the contribution lies a three-sided triciput, housed in the Bavarian National Museum in Munich. The sculpture depicts three male heads at three different ages. Without departing from the historical frame within which the object was made – after all, its very theme is time, age, and historicity – Von Hülschen-Esch shows how the image reinvents itself out of its circumstances and raises the circumstantial to a staged performance. The historical purpose of the triciput is very unclear: Is it a cane handle for ceremonial use? The top of a throne-like armchair? In any case, the design of this triciput raises the question of the specific meaning and contextualization of the depiction of the three ages of man in this circular arrangement. As such, the dynamics of age that the object embodies create a permanent suspense that is constituted by the audience again and again. The suspense between the responsiveness of the audience and the image is also the topic of the next chapter. At this point, Pierre-Olivier Dittmar’s contribution proves vital. It shows how the austerity of the written word can be addressed by the artist, who needs to invent a new image, and how that adapted image responds in the public sphere. Together, the text and the image create a new message with its own semiotics – not unlike the typographic message held in the words and spaces in the Coup de dés. Dittmar skilfully shows how a compassionate reading of the work of the artist can uncover the existence of ‘mistakes’, which are not simple errors of understanding or execution (of an illumination, for example), but developments of the given sense, departures from it, or comments on it – sometimes humorous, sometimes with far-reaching implications, and sometimes even substantive



variations on an iconographical theme. Like Schmitt’s contribution, Dittmar bases his analysis on the discovery that not everything functions in strict obedience to the aetiology of society. The nature of truth and falsehood in history and its images is a case in point, for the interpretation made by the historian or art historian may be the right one, but it is nevertheless an interpretation of the artist’s interpretation, which can be very much ‘in the eye of the beholder’. The claim to truth in iconography is problematic because it depends on the assumption of norms that tend to label interpretations as mere errors, without taking the angle of vision of the artist into account. This can lead to serious gaps in the understanding of the past. Dittmar pleads for a more generous, more open, and therefore more accurate view of images as they appear in history. This openness also represents the degree zero of writing art history. The second cluster, entitled ‘Improvisations’, takes up the degree zero of variation, this time as it appears within the improvised process of creating images. As I mentioned earlier in this introduction, Nicola Suthor’s contribution shows how the literally unforeseen character of improvisation is formed by the degree zero of drawing the right line on white paper. This question of the unforeseen is a topos amongst all great artists, from Giotto to Michelangelo. Yet her case study traverses the sheets of the seventeenth-century painter Agostino Carracci, a lesser-known artist. From these examples, Suthor gives us the experience of a rhythmic and improvised following of the lines in the process of drawing. She has to look and look again at – and even imaginatively repeat – the lines he draws and the rhythms of his hand, as if he is doing them from scratch. The shakiness of the first sketch is slowly developed in a steadier hand. Closely comparing the delineations of the various drawings, Suthor demonstrates how different options for directing the line’s path are worked out in the drawing’s unfolding, in the degree zero of its movement from unforeseen to ultimate impression. This interplay of lines – the rhythm built up between trembling, thin lines and straighter, thicker lines – creates the final outline of what will ultimately appear to the beholder’s gaze. From the visual arts, we move to an understanding of improvisation in medieval literature from the point of view of bodily, sensual experience. Irit Kleiman explores what she calls a ‘choreographed improvisation’ around the theme of touch. Her literary renditions of several famous examples, such as Perceval in Chrétien de Troyes’ Le Conte du Graal, show how the hero’s awareness of the unknown and unforeseen, the degree zero of his physical memory, goes through a process of awakening the senses. Kleiman reminds us that, if improvisation is the degree zero of surprise, then the pattern must be anticipated, and preferably a certain gratification promised. But


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that is also the path to complacency in the hero’s psyche, and eliminates the question to the audience of whether we might have made a mistake in our interpretation of what we thought we saw. This chapter astutely shows how the artist (in this case, the narrator) must remind us that we do not comprehend the physical memory of the hero’s psychology and makes evident the integrity – an impregnable wholeness – of the particular degree zero of memory originating in the physical-sensual, in touch, with which the audience’s will-to-know is confronted. More importantly perhaps, the chapter by Kleiman reminds us that the difference between the writer’s biology and biography, as stated by Barthes, forces us to rethink again possible interpretations of the metaphor, not as a historical devise but, rather, as an existential feature that connects form and content. The themes of integrity, wholeness, morality, possibility, and their effects on the audience culminate in Asghar Seyed-Gohrab’s contribution on the enlivened nature of poetry. Taking his examples from medieval Persian culture, Seyed-Gohrab shows how the poet’s capacity for improvisation, as he performs the poem, is vital to successfully communicating with his audience. Adapting the same story to different audiences, the poet changes certain elements by adding long episodes, emphasizing certain themes, or removing controversial passages. This performativity provides an excellent example of how the audience gives shape to the ongoing reinterpretation of poetry through the poet’s improvisation. Similarly to the motifs and observations we have encountered in some of the previous chapters, the audience constitutes the degree zero of the work. The poet’s talent for improvisation and change tests the power and the effect of the poetry on the audience. From this discovery of the degree zero of the audience and the requirement that it be drawn into a story or a painting through a process of improvisation, we move on to the third cluster on ‘Sound’. Here we will take the meaning of improvisation one step further, by including the question of the intention of art. The chapter by Rokus de Groot shows how the notion of anticipating the attention of the listener as he or she listens to a performance becomes part of a process in which the attentive ear is already present in the musical composition. The meaning of the word intention resonates in the very nature of degree zero; thus De Groot explains how ‘intention’ ranges from tension or attention to will or purpose, up to the Latin meaning of the word tendere, ‘to tune’. By taking Bach’s Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C (BWV 564) and the classical Hindustani raga as examples of two opposite approaches in musical composition, the one starting in mediis rebus and the other out of nothing (ex nihilo), De Groot demonstrates the workings of musical beginnings – how Bach’s music, with didactic skill, incorporates the possible beginning and



(also) an actual beginning of a musical composition in the midst of an ongoing musical theme, suggesting reminiscences of an earlier beginning; and how the ex nihilo nature of the raga represents a kind of musical genesis, a process of creation, from elementary forms towards increasing degrees of ordering and structuring. As we have observed in the previous cluster on ‘Improvisations’, in the performing arts, such as music, composers have to deal with the task of conducting the listeners – as well as themselves – from the degree zero of non-musical time into the temporal structure ordered by music. Or, as de Groot puts it: ‘“Being composed” is also, at the same time, a way of “composing”’. Continuing in the compassionate field of listening and its fragility, Sander van Maas’ contribution is of the essence, as he deals with the historical nature of sound’s degree zero as ‘spiraling listening’. Referring to Barthes’ mode of aural metahistory, wherein Barthes introduces the idea of listening by means of the trope of the spiral, Van Maas proposes an alternative history of listening altogether. As he writes, one of the criticisms of Barthes could be precisely that a lack of compassion in listening, ‘the phantasm of its sovereign ipseity, might suggest the fatal attraction of the “theological” circle of the absolute’ – and, I would add, listening is shattered by any lack of historical sensitivity. Van Maas shows us what this failure of compassion is like through the story of an intently listening king, borrowed from Italo Calvino: ‘From his position on the throne, the king’s ear (arguably a singular ear, monaural) hears, overhears, and listens to every sound within his sovereign aural-territorial domain’. The theme of aural sovereignty is then creatively linked to the commission of Handel’s Water Music by King George I; the circumstances, political and otherwise, of the genesis of this music are shown to be an example of spiralling listening. Handel composed melodies and rhythms that he knew had never previously been heard by the listener. The King’s listening will not be a listening to music in any stable sense; the sound, ‘[h] alf blown away across the water and into the wind, […] will force [the King’s] ear to fill in the gaps’. This instability of listening as degree zero reflects the shaky lines of the drawings in Suthor’s chapter. Ultimately, the integration of music, wind, and water culminate in the silence of compassionate listening. From the sound of winds and waters, we gradually move towards the beginning of all beginnings: the book of Genesis. Irene Zwiep describes the nature of the perplexity in degree zero’s implications: ‘Where Sound and Meaning Part’. As I mentioned above, this inner perplexity trembles between sound and silence. It is the shaky scribe in front of his empty scroll or the cantor facing his perplexed congregation. We read in the Bible how, on the first day, the world was saturated with speech, and God filled the earth with creative sound. Then humankind entered the scene, and man


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mixed his voice into the cosmic harmony in the Garden of Eden, in search of a mate. For the rabbis, the language Adam uttered must have been Hebrew, ‘the pre-existent tool of creation’. This is the world of human being and society; but how, asks Zwiep, did the poets and scribes manage to combine their private lives with the smooth surface of aesthetics in creation? What happened ‘in the solitary moment just before the act of poiesis’? Would God be compassionate as his poet trembles? In taking an excerpt from a sixth-century poem by Yannai, Zwiep suggests that poets took great pains to please the divine ear. The consolation for the poet’s private life lies, Zwiep suggests, ‘in the very image of the dry, wasted shoot’, for ‘God provided solace in the wilderness and could make the desert blossom as the rose’. Thus we learn that the understanding of degree zero does not represent the horizontal line of a tabula rasa, or the beginning of Genesis and the Garden of Eden, but rather the perplexity when sound and meaning part, within the dryness of the wasted shoot as a semiotic incision. From these images of solitary poiesis, the incision between sound and meaning, and a king turning his head away from the audience, we now turn to the realm of ‘Silence’. Cédric Giraud’s contribution describes how silence in the twelfth-century monastery was not merely an obligation prescribed by the Rule of Saint Benedict. As part of what Giraud calls ‘biblical reality’, the understanding of silence was loose and open, even polysemous. The chapter demonstrates – without entering into a historiographical debate, however – that if silence is only thought of negatively, it is often seen as a sign of privation. Giraud argues, in the same vein of the arguments in the section on ‘Improvisation’, that the purpose of ‘silent writing’ is teaching and thus transforming its audience. The hermeneutical principle of degree zero can also be a tool enabling a more profound understanding of the role played by silence in the monastic mind. The shape of silence as a figure of degree zero has a reflective quality, which helped medieval monks ruminate and reflect on their own experiences as writers and artists, creating new books, in quest of innovative ideas. The next chapter keeps us within the walls of the monastic world, where silence has different shapes. Hence Theo Lap presents us with yet another kind of monastic silence – one that withholds information. Taking the collection of letters written by Anselm of Canterbury as a case study, Lap shows how the omission of information, or sometimes the removal of entire letters from the collection, belongs among the paradoxes of monastic politics. Taking the notion of the ‘macro-text’– narratives transcending the arrangements of separate texts – as degree zero, Lap argues that Anselm’s letters artfully make of him a figure which idealizes silence. He goes so



far as to suggest that ‘letter collections harboured essential aspects of the interplay between the act of keeping silent and the virtue of silence in their forms and contents’. This would lead to a double-sided image of Anselm, balanced between the inner world of monasticism and the outer world of ecclesiastical leadership. The degree zero nature of the letter collection thus ‘closes the circle of silence’. We now turn to the last chapter in this volume. I mentioned above how Burcht Pranger proposes to interpret the nature of degree zero as the liminality of the human condition. We are back in vintage modernist territory. Taking the intellectual understanding of degree zero in its purest form – and here form becomes crucial – Pranger sets three ‘images of liminal silence’ next to each other: we have Anselm standing next to Bernard of Clairvaux and Barack Obama. In line with the spirit of degree zero as a hermeneutical tool, according to the principles of modernism, as Pranger argues, these three images cannot be said to resonate, yet they share common ground in their articulation – creating a singular silence – where words and gaps fall into a new Coup de dés. Borrowing the term from the anthropologist Victor Turner, Pranger suggests ‘a realm of pure possibility’. Within this possibility, the discursive speech of memory does not allow the poet or the orator access to the wholeness of time. Like in music ‘the sound experience of the psalm or hymn as such remains, [and can be,] both overwhelmingly present and mute’. This being so, as Pranger further argues, ‘the full effect of silence, its white spaces between words, can only be achieved if we do away with both the constraints of melodious successiveness and the well-ordered expectations of subjectivity’. Taking the phrase from the book of Revelation, ‘Et factum est silentium in caelo quasi dimidia hora’ (‘And, for about half an hour, there was silence in heaven’), as the red thread woven throughout his contribution, Pranger shows how his degree zero is ultimately turned into a song of redemption. The random roll of the dice, from Anselm to Bernard, ricochets towards Obama singing ‘Amazing Grace’, trying to find the pitch of that silent rhythm incorporating the history of suffering and slavery. In this stretching of silence, quasi dimidia hora, the degree zero of liminality with its notion of the unforeseen, enters into new a form, de silentio. I will now leave the floor to the authors and am moved to say that I have learned more from them than I ever anticipated. The several forms of degree zero that arise in this volume are part of my own artistic intention with this volume. My perception is that each contribution provides – in thinking about art, history, and time – a more generous language for and against academic tradition, a language that takes an interest in the unknown. Often, the first step towards a new approach is being interested in the unfamiliar and the


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strange, without doubt also overcoming a certain strangeness in oneself. This volume proves that such a pitch of tone, silence, and language can be found.

Works Cited Augustine, Aurelius. Contra adversarium legis et prophetarum. Series Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 49. Turnhout: Brepols, 1985. Barthes, Roland. Writing Degree Zero. Translated by Annette Lavers and Colin Smith and with a foreword by Susan Sontag. New York: Hill and Wang, 1967. Beckett, Samuel. Endgame. A Play in one Act, followed by Act Without Words: A Mime for one Player. Translated by the author. London: Faber and Faber 1964. Benjamin, Walter. Illuminations. Essays and Reflections. Translated by Harry Zohn. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1968. Cavell, Stanley. Must We Mean What We Say? Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Febvre, Lucien. Le problème de l’incroyance au XVIe siècle. La religion de Rabelais. Paris: Albin Michel, 1947. Nagel, Alexander and Wood, Christopher S., Anachronic Renaissance, New York: Zone Books, 2010. Mallarmé, Stéphane. Œuvres complètes. Edited by Bertrand Marchal. Bibliothèque de la Pléiade 65. Paris: Gallimard, 1945. Mallarmé, Stéphane. Selected Poetry and Prose. Translated by Mary Ann Caws. New York: New Direction Books, 1982. Meillassoux, Quentin. The Number and the Siren: A Decipherment of Mallarmé’s Coup de Dés. Translated by Robin Mackay. New York: Urba nomic/Sequence Press, 2011. Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology, and Religious Belief. Edited by Cyril Barrett. Oxford: Blackwell, 1966. Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Philosophical Investigations. Edited by G.E.M. Anscombe and R. Rhees. Translated by G.E.M. Anscombe. Oxford: Blackwell, 1953. Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Translated by D.F. Pears and B.F. McGuinness. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1961.



The Two Bodies of the Virgin On the Festival of Cirio de Nazaré* Jean-Claude Schmitt Abstract This chapter offers two perspectives on the Cirio, the great procession in honour of the Virgin that takes place each year in Belém, on the mouth of the Amazon in Brazil: first, a set of ethnographic observations recorded on the Cirio of 13 October 2013; second, a history of the feast, reaching back to the ‘invention’ of the statue of the Virgin at the heart of the ritual, by a peasant in 1700, and beyond that into a more remote past. The interaction of the ethnographic and the historical suggest different possible meanings of ‘degree zero’: Is the degree zero of the Cirio the inventio? Or is it the Virgin’s miraculous rescue of a knight in Portugal in 1182? Or is it something more supple – the belief built up around the relation, since 1966, between two statues of the Virgin, an original and a copy? Or perhaps even the multiple simulacra of the Virgin trafficked by the immense crowd, all of them gathering to confirm the one body of the Virgin? As the birth of this feast becomes harder to identify, the immediacy of its coming into being grows more tangible. Keywords: procession; pilgrimage; holy; image; replica; invention

While travelling for research purposes in the Nordeste region of Brazil in October of 2013, I was able to observe the impressive unfolding of the Cirio of Nazaré, the great procession that takes place on the second Sunday of October each year in Belém, the city on the mouth of the Amazon.1 That year, on Sunday * Translated from the French by Peter Cramer. 1 I would like to express my gratitude to the Bastos family and to my colleague, the historian Rafael Chambouleyron, Professor of the University of Para, for the initiation they gave me into the

Hellemans, Babette & Alissa Jones Nelson (eds.), Images, Improvisations, Sound, and Silence from 1000 to 1800: Degree Zero. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2018 doi: 10.5117/9789462980051/CH01


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13 October 2013, more than two million came together in the streets of Belém, the capital of the state of Para, to take part in this extraordinary event. Cirio takes its name from the wax of the candles and ex votos that accompany the procession. The word is commonly used in Portuguese for any big procession that follows the statue of the Virgin of Nazaré (in Estremadura), such as this procession at Belém. Nazaré (Nazareth) is the name of the sanctuary built at the location in Brazil where the ‘invention’ of the statue, by a peasant named Placido, is said to have taken place in 1700. In what follows, I will give my attention chiefly to the content of the ‘degree zero’ of religious rituals like this one. These ritual actions have their beginnings, or so runs the received aetiology, in a founding miracle, but they have roots in imported traditions that go back further. Such is the case of the Cirio in Belém. The deeper roots push down too far to be visible, and in this sense, they have no beginning.

Observing the Ritual Before conjuring up the buried history of the ritual, I would like simply to describe what I saw in Belém in October 2013. The historian knows the object of his study only through the (sometimes) rare fragments that survive in the documents. Further documents might come to light in the course of research, but it will never be possible to produce them, as can the ethnologist, by returning to the field. The ethnologist, on the face of it, has the better deal. Each time he returns, the object renews itself beneath his gaze. Yet her view will always be incomplete. In an extensive ritual like the Cirio, the observer cannot see all of it at once. He can only be in one place at a time and can only see a part of the whole. One would have to return several times in order to observe a ritual satisfactorily, but the ritual one sees is never the same twice running. It presents variants on each occasion. The ethnologist comes back year after year, accumulating experience, positioning himself at different points, attending carefully to those elements of the ritual that have been neglected or are less understood, and which, seen with due detachment, turn out to be important. This method involves finding more informants and so getting a greater variety of perceptions of, say, a festival. Not everyone takes part in the same way; not everyone has the same expectations. Points of view differ with social position and with varying relations to the social and religious drama played out. festival of the Cirio, and to thank Mme Marion Aubrée, an anthropologist at the École pratique des hautes études (EPHE) who specializes in Brazil, for sharing her learning with me.

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I was present at the Cirio in Figure 1 The Queen of the Amazons; Belém only once. Not only that, Cirio de Nazaré, Belém, 13 October 2013. but much of the ritual was lost on me – and was bound to be. The long preparation for the festival in the local houses and apartments over the days and weeks before the procession, when families pass a replica of the statue of the Virgin from one home to the next, paying her the respects of a domestic cult – all of this I missed. It is a thread I will pick up again in what follows, this facility the statue of the Virgin has to multiply herself in numberless variants, in replicas of different size exchanged between one neighbour and another, or displayed in shop windows with street frontage, decked with flowers and offered to the view of the passing procession. Here, though, is what I did see – what I witnessed myself. On Friday evening, 11 October 2013, I was in the old centre of Belém, in the quarter of the Church of the Carmo, as the first night procession got underway. It seemed to have as much to do with the masquerade of Carnival as with a medieval sacra rappresentazione. The name of this street performance, Auto do Cirio, alludes to the actio of ancient or medieval theatre. In the dense crowd, unable to move forward for some while, and then progressing, little by little, amidst a deafening din to which a full-blown orchestra contributes from the back of a lorry, a statue of the Virgin – who, with her long white mantle, resembles the Virgin of Nazaré – is carried down the narrow streets, surrounded by a company of richly costumed figures: angels, demons, Amazonian savages making as if to shoot their bows, even the Queen of the Amazons herself (Figure 1). A man – half-naked, crowned with thorns, and smeared with blood – represents Christ. The devil, mounted on a carriage, yells and makes wild gestures. He is attempting to block the forward movement of the Virgin. He is pushed back and eventually gives up the struggle. The next morning, Saturday 12 October, I take part in the Romaria fluvial (Figure 2): an armada of no less than 500 boats of every shape and size sets off downriver from the port of Belém. It is sailing towards Icoarazi, another port


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Figure 2 The Romaria fluvial; Belém, 12 October 2013.

about twenty kilometres away. There the flotilla will fetch the statue of the Virgin and bring it back to Belém. The night before, the statue – or in fact, a copy of it, the peregrina, as she is called – is carried by the taxi drivers from the Colégio Gentil Bettencourt, near the sanctuary of Nazaré, where she has spent the year since the last Cirio. The taxi drivers collect her and drive her to the nearby town of Anandineua. After a night of vigil and prayer, she has been carried by the cyclists to Icoarazi. Here the boats, draped in garlands, come to fetch her. The whole morning is devoted to the company of boats on the river. Anyone can join in; you just buy a ticket in advance. The ticket secures you a place on a big boat and a coloured T-shirt, stamped with the effigy of the Virgin of Nazaré, its colour (e.g., green, yellow) corresponding to the boat you are on. The journey downriver is a festive affair, with dancing, chanting, and music, all of it non-religious. On arrival in the port of Icoarazi, there is a change of mood, a greater focus. The boats line up opposite the port, and then from the stillness singing breaks out, in particular the hymn Vos Sois o Lirio Mimoso, composed for the Virgin of Nazaré herself and sung in her honour as she appears in the flower-decked berlinda on the prow of a white naval boat. This is the boat that heads the flotilla as it makes its way back to Belém. On the banks of the river, fireworks explode. The crowd, massed together, greets the Virgin. In the port, the Archbishop bids the statue welcome, presents her to the people, and entrusts her to tens of thousands of motorcyclists. The motorcyclists set out with her on the Motoromaria, taking the Virgin to the Colégio Gentil, whence she had departed the day before.

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Figure 3 Map of the Town of Belém.

On Saturday evening, after mass, comes the trasladaçao (from the liturgical Latin translatio) of the statue from the Colégio Gentil to the Cathedral of Belém, the Cathedral da Sé, a distance of roughly 3.5 kilometres (see Figure 3,map of the town of Belém). The procession prefigures the Cirio of the next day: the route is the same, step for step, but the trasladaçao does the Cirio backwards. In both processions, a mass of young people follow the Virgin, pulling at her with a long rope. The crowd, as thick as ever, seesaws one way and another, opening only to let in the stretcher-bearers, who carry off those who have fainted, hoisting them on outstretched arms over the heads of the crowd. The rope more or less disappears from view among the press of sweat-rilled bodies. Finally comes Sunday, with the solemn mass – the Missa do Cirio – in the cathedral at dawn. Then begins the Cirio proper, the great procession, which reverses the path taken the day before – now it moves from the cathedral to the Basilica of Nazaré, the Basilica Santuario. In 2013, more than two million people took part. The crowd is dense but more varied, less purely youthful, and less serried than the evening before, heaping itself up behind and in front of the berlinda in which the statue is to be seen, under the glass panes that protect it (Figure 4). Apart from the ambulant body of the crowd are the many who take their places along the length of the statue’s journey, some of them in paying galleries whence they can see the procession from above the hurly-burly. From other galleries, choirs sing Marian hymns. In the advancing throng, many of the faithful carry ex votos or promessas at arm’s length or on their heads – sometimes these are wax replicas of body parts (a leg, for example); or little model houses made of wood, expressing a wish to


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Figure 4 The Virgin in the berlinda; Cirio de Nazaré, Belém, 13 October 2013.

Figure 5 Ex voto of a house, expressing a wish for a roof to live under; Cirio de Nazaré, Belém, 13 October 2013.

find a roof to live under (Figure 5); or school desks accompanied by chairs, or piles of books, giving form to hopes of success in university entrance exams. Others carry on their heads a replica of the statue of the Virgin. One woman, taking the business of identification even further, has made up her face in the likeness of the crowned Virgin. There are children decked out in angel wings. Before the berlinda walk men enclosed in heavy metal trellises, which they raise above their heads at regular intervals. The berlinda, pulled along

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by the rope, is in the middle of a space protected by the official personnel of the committee of the Cirio: in this defined space march the Archbishop, in white vestments, and his coadjutor, in black, the two of them surrounded by the clergy and ringed by soldiers. The clergy – who have their privileged place in the procession, immediately in front of the berlinda – form a small minority. They merge with the crowd as it pours forth the whole morning long; thus the Cirio presents itself as a civic more than an ecclesiastical event, something we will return to below. Meanwhile, the heat is intense. The people walking in the procession dowse themselves with bottles of water squeezed over their heads. Palettes full of plastic bottles litter the path of the procession, offerings from individual donors, banks, and other groups. At the end of her journey, the peregrina, instead of entering the Basilica of Nazaré, is set down in the open square in front of it, in a modern building made entirely of glass – the Conjunto Arquitetonico de Nazaré, known by the bureaucrats as the ‘CAN’. There she stays, offering herself to the view and to the devotion of the faithful until the second Sunday after the Cirio, which is when the Recirio takes place – the return of the peregrina to the Colégio Gentil, where she is hidden from view for the next year. Before the Recirio, on the first Sunday after the Cirio (in 2013, it fell on 20 October), is the Romaria das Crianças, the pilgrimage of the children.

History As stated above, the Cirio – which comes after the Auto do Cirio on the Friday evening and after the more official events of the Saturday, including the Romaria fluvial, the Motoromaria, and the Trasladaçao – happens every year on the second Sunday of October. However, the festival has evolved over time, in ways that make a difference to the understanding of the ritual in its present form. Firstly, the birthplace of the cult of Nossa Senhora de Nazaré was not in Brazil. It was brought to Para in colonial times under the auspices of the cult of the same name in Portugal, attested in the Late Middle Ages in the town of Nazaré in Estremadura, 135 kilometres north of Lisbon.2 The centre of the cult is the Sitio, a cliff rising from the beach. This is the site, or so runs the oft-quoted tradition, of the originating miracle. On the day of the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, 14 September 1182, the knight Dom Fuas Roupinho was saved from death. He was hunting deer when the animal he was after leapt over the cliff and into the sea. Seeing the danger, but too late to hold 2 Cuelho, Uma Crônaca do Maravilhoso.


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his horse back, Dom Fuas called on the Virgin. The horse’s shoes at once turned to stone, and the horse stopped in its tracks. Tradition also has it that a hermitage has existed on the same clifftop since the eighth century, and in this hermitage stood a statue of the Virgin, which had come from the East. The sanctuary grew over the years with the attention it received from Portuguese maritime expeditions down the African coast and towards the New World. In 1597, the Cistercian Frei Bernardo de Brito, a monk from Alcobaça who was the author of a Monarchia Lusitana, retold the story of the miracle on the cliff. Dom Fuas Roupinho was portrayed as the companion of King Alfonso Henriques, conqistador of the Moors and founder of the Kingdom of Lusitania, and the story also gave Dom Fuas Roupinho a role as a benefactor of the monastery of Alcobaça. In 1628 and again in 1637, the legends associated with the place were further enriched by two works written by Padre Manuel de Brito Alao, who added to the miracles of the Virgin of Nazaré. The pilgrimage, the Cirio, was modest at this stage. The pilgrims’ task on 8 September each year, the Feast of the Birth of the Virgin, was to translate (trasladaçon) the statue of the Virgin from the Memoria – a chapel built on the edge of the cliff on the site of the first miracle – to the church standing nearby. During the pilgrimage, the square in front of the church, the arraial, became the stage for all sorts of non-sacred festive activities, and in the eighteenth century, the church authorities made efforts to take the pilgrimage in hand. The glass casing around the Virgin in the berlinda is one example of their attentions. The ritual also attracted the interest of the monarchy, and in the years from 1782 to 1789, Queen Maria I performed the pilgrimage from Lisbon with appropriate pomp. Among her retinue was Dom Francisco de Sousa Coutinho, who was appointed governor of Para in 1790. Secondly, beginning in the eighteenth century, Portuguese fishermen and sailors established the cult of Nossa Senhora de Nazaré in Vigia, 90 kilometres downriver from Belém.3 But the growth of the capital of the state of Para drew the cult towards Belém. This relocation was explained by another miracle: the statue – or so runs the story – appeared in 1700 to a simple caboclo, 4 Placido, who took it home with him. The authorities claimed it back and placed it in a church, but the statue kept returning to Placido’s hovel. So the powers that be thought it best to build a hermitage 3 Viana, A Festas populares do Porto. Alves, ‘A festiva devoçao no Cirio de Nossa Senhora de Nazaré’, 315–32. The inclusion of the Cirio in UNESCO’s List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity stimulated a number of further studies in the years following 2000; see Círio de Nazaré; Henrique, ‘Do Ponto de vista de Perquisador’, 324–46. 4 Caboclo in Portuguese refers to a person of mixed European and African or mixed European and indigenous ancestry.

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over the humble dwelling, which in turn became a basilica. In 1773 and again in 1840, the statue was taken to Portugal for restoration work. It was the statue’s return by river in July 1774 that gave the cult its processional character and connected it with the river. The first Cirio of Belém took place on 8 September 1793 and was ordered by the governor, Dom Francisco de Sousa Coutinho, who had been present at the great pilgrimage of Nazaré in Portugal. His reasons were not only religious; he hoped to raise the profile of the pilgrimage by creating a fair on the arraial, which would attract merchants and stimulate the economy of the colony. Lest there be any mistake over who was the patron of the pilgrimage, Dom Francisco had the statue transferred from the hermitage to the chapel in the governor’s palace. That same year, the Confraria de Nossa Senhora (Confraternity of Our Lady) of Nazaré was founded; its mission was to organize an annual Cirio. The increasing control of the authorities – the governor and the bishop, Dom Bartolmeu do Pilar, and his successors – followed much the same lines as it did in Portugal during the same period. The same question was raised regarding the relations between civil and church powers, whose rivalry broke into open conflict in 1879–1880. In 1880, two Cirios were organized – one a Cirio Civis, the other under church patronage. The Archbishop did what he could to limit any undesirable or obviously profane elements of popular expressionism, such as fireworks. Clerical or episcopal interventions of this kind continued steadily through the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. The bishops had another worry as well – the excessive hold, as they saw it, of the Confraternity over the cult. In 1877, they unmasked the masonic presence beneath the Confraternity. These tensions had an effect on the forms the ritual took, notably on the course of the procession through the town. In 1846, the Virgin was credited with a miracle. The crew of the wrecked ship Sao Joao Batista was rescued by her intervention. Both the wrecked ship and the Virgin’s rescue of the crew appear in prints and engravings, side by side with the miracle of Dom Fuas Roupinho (Figure 6): while the deer tumbles into the sea below and the horse rears to a merciful stop on the cliff above, the ship is broken by the waves, but its crew remains happily unscathed. Today, the sea miracle is remembered in the sale of countless little wooden boats (see Figure 7) from stalls in the Praça do Carmo (the Square of the Carmelites; see Figure 8). During the same period, many of the features we see in the procession today were added. A new, statelier berlinda was introduced in 1855. The use of the corda, the great rope that pulls and steers the berlinda, became an official part of things in 1868. The ends of the rope are attached to the carriage in two places, so that it has


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Figure 6 Shipwreck of the Frigate Sao Joao Batista, off the coast of Pará. Lithograph, 32 x 23 cm, signed by H. Jannim, Paris, first half of the nineteenth century.

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Figure 7 Wooden boat, commemorating the Virgin’s rescue of sailors at sea, sold from stalls in the Praça do Carmo; Cirio de Nazaré, Belém, 13 October 2013.

Figure 8 Praça do Carmo (Square of the Carmelites); Cirio de Nazaré, Belém, 13 October 2013.

Figure 9 Image of the corda, the rope that pulls and steers the berlinda, as a central symbol of the procession; Cirio de Nazaré, Belém, 13 October 2013.


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the effect of framing the functionaries walking in front of the Virgin. In the twentieth century, the length of the rope was shortened, and only 40 or 50 people could hold it – although in 1983, it was still 300 metres long. The privilege of holding the rope and pulling the berlinda is bitterly disputed. One can see why – the rope is a physical link between the pilgrim and the Virgin as well as a central symbol of the procession (Figure 9). In 1901, the date of the Cirio was fixed once and for all on the second Sunday of October. In 1909 came the official hymn, Vos Sois o Lirio Mimosa, which is chanted repeatedly by the processing crowd. Around 1928, the Church made attempts to introduce reforms. They tried to limit the tide of promessas, to ban the custom of dressing up as angels and saints in the church, and to ban games of chance and the sale of alcoholic drinks on the arraial, the square in front of the sanctuary. These efforts met with mixed success. The compromise solution was to move all of these open-air profanities to the side of the basilica and build the new ‘CAN’ in the now-empty arraial. It was in 1966 that the original, the first statue, was replaced for the purposes of the pilgrimage with a copy, the peregrina, who was kept throughout the year in the Colégio Gentil Bettencourt, about 200 metres beyond the basilica. This doubling of the statue is usually explained by the need to protect the Virgin from the increasingly large crowd. No doubt this is an accurate account of what happened, but it nevertheless leaves unresolved the matter of its ritual repercussions. Yet there has been no study of the effects of the statue’s twinning: the creation ex nihilo of a copy that has itself come to be taken as an original, its authenticity and its miracle-working efficacy, now a matter of tradition. It is worth saying that the peregrina is not the only innovation in the way the pilgrimage is made. In October 1968, two years after the copy was made, it was decided that the original should be brought down from the top of the high altar and displayed for two weeks below the altar, where it would be closer to the congregation. In 1982, as already mentioned, the ‘CAN’ was constructed, purpose-built to house the peregrina in the two weeks between the Cirio and her return to the Colégio Gentil. The Cirio has continued to develop in more recent years. In 1986, the Romaria fluvial began; in 1988, the path of the trasladaçao – as mentioned above, the same route as the Cirio, but in the opposite direction – was finally fixed. The next year, the Romaria rodoviaria was initiated; in 1990, both the Rodomaria dos motoqueiros (or Motoromaria) and the Cirio dos Crianças were introduced. 1993 saw the first Auto do Cirio on the evening of the Friday before the Cirio. Since 1978, the Festa de Chiquita has been organized on the margins of the Cirio by the gay community, and a polemic has grown up around the participation of the Filhas da Chiquita.

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The neo-Catholics have also created their own Almoço do Cirio. Meanwhile, the investigations that prepared the ground for the inclusion of the Cirio in UNESCO’s List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity have provoked the following questions: What is the authentic core of the Cirio, and what are the extraneous additions? Nevertheless, the ethnologist and the historian find the appeal of the Cirio in the suppleness of the ritual, in its openness to endless renewal and enrichment. Whatever is said under the spell of a tradition that plausibly reaches back to 1700 (or even beyond), these recent changes to the Cirio are now integral to it. These changes – transformations, even – have contributed to the growth of the crowd, a crowd brought together by diverse enthusiasms. Devotion to Mary – which is intense and energetically carried over into outward forms – is still the strongest motivation, but there are other ingredients in the brew. Many – and they would feel no fear of contradiction – are drawn by the profane elements of the festival; the non-sacred exuberance of the festival is, after all, not a new invention. Others come with a tourist’s curiosity about the gargantuan street spectacle they have heard of.5 A few figures will be helpful to chart the rapid rise of the Cirio: it has grown from 25,000 participants in 1902 to 200,000 in 1937, 400,000 in 1967, 500,000 in 1976, 700,000 in 1979, 800,000 in the years after that, and then 1 million in 1991, 2 million in 1992 (the second centenary of the festival), and 2.1 million in 2013 – according to estimates given by the press. Since 2013, there has been no sign of an ebb in the number of participants.

The Two Bodies of the Virgin The 2013 Cirio was presented by the organizing body as the 211th anniversary of the procession. The substantial changes made to the pilgrimage since it was first attested in Belém in 1793, especially the changes of recent years, make this claim of continuity a partial fiction. The doubling of the statue of the Virgin in 1966 is, to my mind, a turning point from a traditional religious and civic procession to a new kind of feast-cum-celebration. The old identity is still there, but it has been adapted to a society that is more open to the outside world, a society increasingly on the move (particularly through air travel) and in a better position to take advantage of the opportunities offered by tourism. The tourists bring in profit, and they traffic abroad the image of the Cirio – they spread the word. The 1966 shift is a shift in sense: 5

Aubrée, ‘La religiosité’, 144–5.


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what had mattered before was the authenticity of the statue, which tradition tells us appeared to the poor peasant Placido in 1700; now, this stress on the authenticity of a single statue and its history tends to be replaced by the act of ‘monstrance’, of a public showing forth, which privileges the peregrina copy over the original in the eyes of the crowd. The doubling of the statue means there is now nothing to prevent the unfurling of the procession in both topographical and social space. Hence the invention of the Romaria fluvial and the fixing of the Trasladação, the inversion of the Cirio, and hence the adoption of the peregrina by diverse elements of the population, one after the other: taxi drivers, cyclists, sailors, motorcyclists, gay men, and others. This new – or partly new, and certainly more organized – way of doing things is one of the reasons for the asymptotic growth in the number of those taking part – from Belém, Para, and sometimes much further away in Brazil. One remarkable thing is that – beginning in 1968, only two years after the peregrina made her first appearance – the original, confined to the basilica and no longer called upon to lead the pilgrimage (for this function now fell to the peregrina), came down from the main altar and showed herself on the altar steps throughout the two weeks of the festival. This revision in the use of ritual space, the descent (Descida da Imagem), takes place on the Saturday at 12:30pm, at the very moment when the peregrina, newly arrived from the port district of Belém, begins her return to the Colégio Gentil. For a time, the two statues are very close, a couple of hundred yards apart, though each is in her own building. That evening, the peregrina leaves the Colégio Gentil for the cathedral – this is the Trasladação. On Sunday, the next day, the two statues come even closer when the peregrina is brought from the cathedral to the arraial in front of the Basilica of San Nazaré (Figure 10). The two statues will never be closer than this. Thus they remain for two weeks, until the second Sunday following, when the original returns to her place at the height of the main altar – the Subida da Imagem or ascent of the image. The peregrina goes back to the Colégio Gentil behind the basilica. During these two weeks, the statues are not only at their closest, but they are turned to face one another. In the basilica, the original ‘looks’ towards the door of the church, to the west, while outside the peregrina ‘looks’ eastward, towards the façade. We can speak of them looking at one another, but they do not see one another, because the façade of the basilica stands between them. They are near but divided. To speak in this way, saying that the figures look at one another or that they do not see one another, is to allow a fiction to breach the language of the historian and the anthropologist. Yet the gestural language of the pilgrims themselves gives reality to such usages. The faithful are impatient to get near

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the statues, and, unable to get so Figure 10 The peregrina on the arraial in front of the Basilica of close to the original, they attempt San Nazaré; Cirio de Nazaré, to place a hand on the window Belém, 13 October 2013. that protects the copy, crowding around with written supplications, promessas, and coloured ribbons (Figure 11). Mobile phones mean they can take photos of themselves, alone or in groups, near the statue or even standing right in front of it, while the sacred figure looms behind. The ‘self ie’ thus widens the efficacy of the statue as visionary or as apparition, in the religious sense of these words. Modern technology becomes part of a religious phenomenon, while paying its respects, no doubt, to the lingering narcissism of the ‘selfie’. Narcissism, after all, makes its own contribution to religious experience, which uses anything it can lay its hands on (whether ‘selfies’, ex votos, or votive ribbons) to get a grip on the supernatural, to the point of arranging for oneself – by way of the digital image – a place at the Virgin’s side (Figure 12). All of this makes itself felt in the presence of the two statues of Belém, but it is a striking thing that the crowd is thicker around the peregrina, outside the basilica, than before the original inside. Two explanations for this fact come to mind. Inside, the statue of the Virgin, clothed in white, is firmly under the control of the clergy. Seated at the top of the steps to the high altar, she is within easy view of the faithful but is nonetheless separated from them by a space of several metres, to which entry is forbidden. There she presides over the celebration of mass and the sermon. The peregrina is a different matter. She is clothed in pink, covered in flowers, and sits in front of the basilica in the new construction built in the same square which served as the arraial in the past. The original is therefore only a short distance away from what has more recently become the main sacred space for the external events of the festival. The three-day peregrination of the copy statue – through the town and on the river – has endowed her with a new charge of sacred power that the original, who has


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Figure 11 Crowds placing written supplications, promessas, and coloured ribbons around the peregrina on the arraial in front of the Basilica of San Nazaré; Cirio de Nazaré, Belém, 13 October 2013.

Figure 12 Crowds taking digital photos of the original in the Basilica of San Nazaré; Cirio de Nazaré, Belém, 13 October 2013.

stood immobile on the altar steps since 1966, lacks. The pilgrims are not fooled. Once the Cirio has begun, it is the peregrina they (mostly) come to for the face-to-face contact they want. Outside of the time of the Cirio, during the rest of the year, they see nothing but the original – lofty and remote, but nonetheless there for the seeing, on the high altar. The peregrina remains

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shut up in the Colégio Gentil, out of sight. The emotion stirred by this single showing each year is all the greater for its rarity. During the Cirio, the crowd jostles around the peregrina. When she makes her way back to the Conjunto Architetônico de Nazaré, as already mentioned, the pilgrims press against the windows and surround her with ribbons of coloured cloth, on which are written their petitions. They take photos of themselves, on their own or with others, in the company of the Virgin. So it is that the Cirio annually stages the original apparition of the statue of the Virgin to Placido. The drama of the apparition and the intensification of ritual time over these few days give the little figure of the Virgin – she is a copy, of course, but there is not a whisper of this – power over the imaginations of the faithful, who find themselves intimately bound to her, seeing and touching her, a bond which is strengthened by the wonders of technology. This is the paradox: it is not the statue from which everything began that takes centre stage. True, this original has come down to the foot of the high altar and is nearer than ever to the congregation, but it is the copy – the peregrina – who prevails, because she moves with the procession, draws the faithful behind her, and is carried by them. She is triumphant in everything but one small, vital detail: she is not permitted to enter the basilica. If she did this, she would meet head-on the gaze of the model she came from. She would make all too obvious what everyone knows but pretends not to see – that there are two statues of the Virgin, not one. How would this forbidden duality be faced up to? How would it be explained? The simultaneity of the two images would be there for all to see; their rivalry would be unavoidable, and no doubt the copy, her sacredness elevated to a pitch by the pilgrimage on which she has walked and driven and sailed, would displace her own model. The substitution of 1966 was therefore a new beginning, a second degree zero of the ritual. The doubling of the statue not only changed the way the procession was carried out. It also created a new and different internal logic of the ritual. Two statues circle one another in a two-way game of hide-and-seek. It is as if they were dispelling the difference between them, and yet the difference reasserts itself, for the peregrina is never mistaken for the original. Her pink dress is not the dress of the original, and she never sets foot in the sacred space reserved for the original inside the basilica. The foregrounding of the peregrina – she alone makes the pilgrimage – means the original statue risks dethronement. It is a risk that is, to some extent, conjured away by the temporary descent of the original to the foot of the high altar, where she is closer to the faithful, though still keeping a certain distance from them. Certainly the difference between the two statues is


Jean- Cl aude Schmit t

therefore maintained, and each Figure 13 The wagon on which the statue of Shiva is carried can be venerated as if she were around the perimeter of the unique: as if she alone, as the festitemple; Madurai, Tamil Nadu. val unfolds, were the embodiment of her prototype, Nossa Senhora de Nazaré, whose presence in the form of two statues – at once at odds and complicit – might make the pilgrims forget that her real place is in the heavens, beyond their seeing eyes. There is never a word – and this is the remarkable thing – acknowledging that there are two statues. The fiction that the two of them are one – that the miraculous statue of Nossa Senhora de Nazaré, the incarnation of the Virgin in heaven, is one – is kept alive by the impossibility of seeing more than one version of her at a time. They are never together, and the fiction is not questioned. The doubling of a holy statue is not limited to the case of the Cirio of Nazaré.6 It is common in Marian sanctuaries, which combine static veneration of a statue in a given place with processions that extend into outlying areas, which are considered to belong to her. Thus there is a certain anthropological constant. A similar doubling occurs in southern India, for example, in Madurai in Tamil Nadu, where the stone statue of the god Shiva stays put in the temple – it is too big to move – while every ten years a great pilgrimage takes place, in which a lighter and more mobile statue of the god is carried around the perimeter of the temple on the back of a giant wagon (Figure 13). To speak of the ‘two bodies’ of the Virgin is a nod in the direction of Ernst Kantorowicz’s famous book, The King’s Two Bodies.7 The reference might seem less than apt. For theorists of English monarchy at the beginning of 6 One comparison would be with the Macarena of Seville; see Albert-Llorca, Les Vierges miraculeuses; Christian, Local Religion in Sixteenth-Century Spain; Christian, Apparitions in Late Medieval and Renaissance Spain; Rubin, Mother of God. 7 Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies.

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the modern period, the two bodies of the king – the physical, unique body of each king and the political body that transcends it – are distinct. If the two statues of the Virgin are the material, local medium of her supernatural existence, they themselves are of one nature, differing only as they constitute an original and a copy. Yet the comparison with the notion of the ‘two bodies’ has its justification: as the power of the king resides in the dialectic between the two bodies, so the vying of the statues of the Virgin, who almost rub shoulders but never meet, affirms the omnipresence of the Virgin herself – the Virgin who is always identical with herself, for all of her diverse physical transfigurations. The Virgin’s twoness invites the crowd to multiple gestures of devotion, to prayers and selfies with the Virgin, in the hope of being heard and – perhaps still more – of being seen by her.

Works Cited Albert-Llorca, Marlène. Les Vierges miraculeuses. Légendes et rituels. Paris: Gallimard, 2002. Alves, Isidoro. ‘A festiva devoçao no Cirio de Nossa Senhora de Nazaré’. Estudos Avançados 19, no. 54 (2005): 315–32. Aubrée, Marion. ‘La religiosité: confluent de la mémoire individuelle et de la mémoire collective’. In Usages sociaux de la mémoire et de l’imaginaire au Brésil et en France, edited by J.B Martin, F. Laplantine, and I. Pordeus, 139–48. Lyon: CREA/Presses Universitaires de Lyon, 2001. Christian, William A. Apparitions in Late Medieval and Renaissance Spain. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1981. Christian, William A. Local Religion in Sixteenth-Century Spain. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1981. Círio de Nazaré, Dossiê IPHAN (Instituto do Patrimônio Histórico e Artístico Nacional). Rio de Janeiro: IPHAN, 2006. Cuelho, Geraldo Martires. Uma Crônaca do Maravilhoso. Legenda, tempo e memoria no culto da Virgem de Nazaré. Belém: Imprensa Oficial do Estado, 1998. Henrique, Marco Couto. ‘Do Ponto de vista de Perquisador: O Processo de registro do Cirio de Nazaré come Patrimonio Cultural Brasiliero’. Amazônica 3, no. 2 (2011): 324–46. Kantorowicz, Ernst. The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1957. Rubin, Miri. Mother of God. A History of the Virgin Mary. New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 2009. Viana, Artur. A Festas populares do Porto. Belém, 1904.


The Three Ages of Man and the Materialization of an Allegory Inquiries on an Object at the Threshold of Modernity Andrea von Hülsen-Esch

Abstract This chapter focuses on a three-sided triciput (Venice, c. 1575) depicting three male heads of different ages. It contextualizes the triciput and seeks to show that this depiction of the ages of man materializes the division of life into the active phases of active men; the political role played by the ages-of-man models in the context of classical discourses on aging appears to have been adapted by the humanist circles in Northern Italy. Later, the depiction of the three ages of man served as a reflection upon time. Perhaps this object was a crown, originating from the helmet decoration of the Venetian Trevisan-Cappello family, which laid claim to the attribute of wisdom through its depiction of the ages of man in a humanist context. Keywords: ages of man, humanism, Venice, time, triad, sculpture

The subject of this chapter is a triciput, a three-sided male head, which is located in the Bavarian National Museum in Munich (see Figure 1). This sculpture depicts three male heads, the backs and napes of which are turned towards each other, causing the three faces to look in different directions.1 The 1 Inv. no. 73/1. A short catalogue entry can be found in Kriss-Rettenberg, Bayerisches Nationalmuseum. Bildführer 1, 20. This object has been occupying my mind for several years now, and I would like to sincerely thank all of those who discussed particular aspects with me or offered me the occasion to present my ideas. I would particularly like to thank the directors of the Max Planck Institutes for Art History in Italy, Elisabeth Kieven and Gerhard Wolf, for the opportunity to put the various stages of my research up for discussion at their institutes, and I have received many valuable suggestions from Sibylle Ebert-Schifferer, Volker Krahn, Hiltrud Westermann-Angerhausen, and Ruth Wolf.

Hellemans, Babette & Alissa Jones Nelson (eds.), Images, Improvisations, Sound, and Silence from 1000 to 1800: Degree Zero. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2018 doi: 10.5117/9789462980051/CH02


Andrea von Hülsen-Esch

Figure 1 Triciput of the Ages of Man, Inv. no. 73/1, Bavarian National Museum, Munich.

heads are connected at their crowns by a large biretta – at that time, a cap worn by scholars – which culminates in a small, spherical knob at the peak; at the bottom of the sculpture, the necks transition into a round, richly ornamented plate, which from below looks like a flower with twelve evenly spaced petals. It is a fire-gilded sculpture, hollow on the inside, 14.9 centimetres in height and 10.3 centimetres in diameter. The faces can easily be distinguished according to age: an oval, even face with smooth, flawless skin; a neatly trimmed moustache, running in a straight line up to the middle of the cheek; and opulent tresses characterize the youngest man. The middle-aged man is very different: his eyes are set in deep sockets; his cheekbones and the frontal eminence of his forehead jut out noticeably; and his face is framed by a thick beard, which barely extends beyond his chin and causes his face to look elongated. Finally, the third and oldest man is characterized by a distinctive, wrinkled face: the wrinkles appear clearly on the bridge of his nose and forehead; there are

The Three Ages of Man and the Materialization of an Allegory


visible bags under his eyes; his cheekbones are high; and his sunken cheeks are concealed by a beard. In profile, the age of this third man is marked – in comparison to the middle-aged man – particularly by the eyes, which are set deep in their sockets, and by the pronounced nasal ridge. There are two more, almost identically shaped versions of this object: one in the depot of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London,2 and one in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.3 Each of these objects is attached to a mount, suggesting that they were all once set on top of a pole. The two versions in London and Cambridge each show six even, almond-shaped slits in the peaks of the cap, which were added to the sculptures at a later date. Elsewhere, I have shown that – based on stylistic and iconographic features – the sculpture can be traced back to Venice, most likely to the second half of the sixteenth century.4 But what was its purpose? And in which context should it be placed? On the outer wall of the Cà Trevisan-Cappello near San Zaccaria in Venice are two reliefs that depict the archangel Michael, with a shield bearing a coat of arms in his left hand and a staff in his right hand, crowned by a helmet decorated with a depiction of the ages of man.5 Because of this triciput featuring male heads, the relief has been connected to the Trevisan family, identified as a canting arms;6 indeed, a late fourteenth-century coat of arms of the Trevisan family with a comparable helmet decoration can be found in another Italian city – in Florence, where Zaccaria Trevisan da Venezia (1370–1414), a doctor of both canon and civil law, served as Podestà in 1398 after a brief period of teaching at the University of Bologna.7 The coat of arms is engraved on the 2 Inv. no. A.3-1976; the pedestal and the sphere, which crowns the headgear, are later additions. At this point, I would like to express my deep appreciation to Paul Williamson and Peta Motture, who not only put the file of this object at my disposal, but also allowed me to access the object in the archive. 3 Inv. no. M 31-1917. Avery, Renaissance and Baroque Bronzes, 116–21, cat. no. 12. 4 Von Hülsen-Esch, ‘Das Alter fest im Griff’, 86–93. 5 Francesco Sansovino already praises the magnificent marble incrustations of the palazzo when describing the palaces of Venice: ‘Nel rio di Palazzo, quello già de i Trivisani, & hora di Bartolomeo Cappello padres della Gran Duchessa di Toscana, tutto incrostato di f inissimi marmi, è magnifico, & bello affatto’; see Sansovino, Venetia città nobilissima et singolare, 385. 6 Although there are many versions of the coat of arms of the Trevisan family, none of them depicts a head; usually heraldic elements or – in the case of figurative elements – animals are shown. Cf. Orsini de Marzo, Stemmarietto Veneziano Orsini De Marzo, 184f. and 307–09; cf. also Casimiro Freschot, La nobiltà veneta, 422–25; for the coat of arms of the Trevisan family, see 424. 7 Fumi and Gado, Stemmi nel Museo Nazionale del Bargello, 24f., cat. no. 28. I owe the reference to this coat of arms to Dr. Ruth Wolff of Florence, who provided me with this link with the Trevisan familiy, which I had long sought. For Zaccaria Trevisan, cf. the detailed description by Gothein, Zaccaria Trevisan il Vecchio, 7–26, regarding his adolescence and his position as Podestà in Florence. After leaving the Roman Senate, he frequently worked as a diplomat for the


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Loggia del Bargello and is dated to around 1420.8 Zaccaria Trevisan, a respected and educated man, was friends with Coluccio Salutati, Leonardi Bruni, and Francesco Barbaro.9 He was a member of the first circle of the Venetian humanists, essentially part of the founding generation, and was characterized by his contemporaries as distinguished by natura, dignitate, prudentia, sapientia, gloria praestantissimus – gifted with the radiance of eloquence and wisdom, and also as someone whose glory outshone that of his contemporaries.10 But is this unusual sculpture really a canting arms? Which connotations were associated with the three ages of man in Northern Italy at that time? And what purpose did the knob serve? Could this indicate an improvisation on the theme of the ages of man through an unexpected use of the object? Its presumed position atop a cane or a staff raises the possibility that it might have been used as a cane handle – and it is labeled as such in the inventory of the Bavarian National Museum. However, the sculpture is simply too large to be a cane handle intended to sit on the top of a walking stick; besides, cane handles from this and later eras that depicted the ages of man also contained a continuation in the form of a fourth head – a skull – and were used only as memento mori objects, usually kept in a cabinet of wonder. This might be the first visible, fully materialized improvisation on this theme. It is more likely to be the top of a staff or of a throne-like armchair, the iconographic significance of which, however, remains as mysterious as the specific meaning of the rhythm of the ages of man represented here. In order to address the questions outlined above, we first turn to the possible function of the object. Canes and staffs have been decorated Republic of Venice. For the political career of Zaccaria Trevisan, cf. Girgensohn, Kirche, Politik und adelige Regierung, 983–97. 8 Fumi and Gado, Stemmi nel Museo Nazionale del Bargello, xxiv; it is associated with the workshop of Donatello, a comparison which is not immediately obvious to me, particularly as there is no reason why it should haven been affixed 20–30 years after his tenure – and even after his death in 1414. The inscription below the coat of arms reads: ZACHARIE TRIVISANI MILITIS / ET IURISCONSULTI CLARISSIMI / VENETIAE… INTEGERRIMI / PRETORIS INSIGNA… MAGISTRAT/ UM INI(TIAV)IT XXV FE/BRUARII 1397/ QUEM REFIRMATUS FINI(VI)T XXV FEBRUARII 1398. 9 Gothein, Trevisan, 24f.; for the humanist circles in which he operated as well as his importance as one of the first humanists of Venice, cf. King, Venetian Humanism, 29f., 206f., and 436–39; for his skill and scholarly eloquence as an ambassador of Venice, see Girgensohn, Kirche Politik und adelige Regierung, 1:247–60. The Trevisan family was also influential within the Roman Curia; in the middle of the fifteenth century, Ludovico Trevisan became Cardinal, and with his cardinal portrait (painted around 1460), he is in the vanguard of the renovation of the official portrait. Cf. Märtl, Zwischen Habitus und Repräsentation, 291–94. 10 He was so characterized by his Venetian friend, Francesco Barbaro, in a letter after his death; at the election for provisor in Šibenik; and by his friend Francesco Zabarella on the occasion of his death; see Girgensohn, Kirche Politik und adelige Regierung, 992n69, 993, and 995.

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with different crowns since antiquity.11 Medieval staffs served as means of representation in ceremonies, and their crowns could take many forms.12 Such staffs were carried in front of a procession – just like banners – and announced the person or group walking behind them. In Genoa, for example, there is evidence that the city’s powerful families would have their coat of arms or insignias carried in front of them at ceremonial events, particularly in the presence of the Doge; however, there is no similar evidence for Venice, where the number of processions soared in the sixteenth century.13 In addition, such a triciput could have served as the crown of a canopy used for ceremonial processions and entrances, particularly since such baldachins appear to have been decorated at the upper edge with coats of arms for major events, such as the entrances of regents.14 However, most of the crowns of 11 Cf. Focke, ‘Szepter und Krummstab’, 337–87, here 354: ‘At least in the case of Babylon, Herodot I.19(5) reports that, in addition to a personal seal, “everyone” possesses an elaborately crafted sceptre, at the top of which there is a sign, “an apple, a rose, a lily, an eagle or something else”. For to bear a staff without a sign is not customary among them’ (‘Von Babylonien wenigstens berichtet Herodot I,19[5], dass dort außer einem persönlichen Siegel “jeder” ein kunstvoll gefertigtes Skeptron besitze, an dessen Spitze irgendein Kennzeichen angebracht sei, “ein Apfel, eine Rose, eine Lilie, ein Adler oder sonst etwas”. Denn einen Stab ohne ein Zeichen zu tragen, sei bei ihnen nicht Brauch’). All translations from the German in this chapter are by Alissa Jones Nelson, unless otherwise noted. 12 For fundamental details on staffs in the context of power, cf. the dissertation by Töbelmann, ‘Stäbe der Macht’, on the staff as a symbol in secular-legal relations (134–207) and on the emphasis on fair or lawful power (151–57). It is Homer who hands down ‘that the judges “held the sceptre of the heralds in their hands” when they rose to speak justice’ (‘dass die Richter “die Szepter der Herolde in Händen hielten”, wenn sie sich erhoben, um Recht zu sprechen’); see Focke, ‘Szepter und Krummstab’, 343; on the development of the royal sceptre, Focke, ‘Szepter und Krummstab’, 253–61. 13 Muir, Civic Ritual in Renaissance Venice, 204n40; on the symbols that were carried in front of processions, see Muir, Civic Ritual in Renaissance Venice, 212–50. In the engravings by Marcantonio Raimondi, the maces of the Roman generals are shown with elaborate crowning, which means as attachments composed of several spheres, cylinders, knobs, or even animal heads on spheres (Scipio Africanus); these representations certainly speak for the diversity of such attachments at the time of Raimondi (1480–1534). On these representations, cf. Oberhuber, The Works of Marcantonio Raimondi, 184 fig. 188-I (154): Titus and Vespasian, and 185 fig. 189-I (155): Scipio Africanus; in a different form (with a much higher attachment, not comparable to the knob), see the representation of a Roman legion as a symbol carried in front of a procession, adopted from the Trajan column, 199 fig. 202 (165). 14 An example of such a staff carried in front of a procession can be found in Vittore Carpaccio’s painting, which is part of the Ursula cycle: The Return of the Ambassadors to England, Venice, Galleria dell’Accademia (around 1495/96); the magistrate sitting on the left side wears a red cape and a chain of office and places a long, red staff with a golden cup-shaped attachment, crowned by a sphere, on the floor. Nepi Scirè, Carpaccio, 92 and 96; Sgarbi, Carpaccio, 88–91; Zorzi, Carpaccio, 49–73, esp. 50 and 52, identifies the person as a Master of Ceremonies, whose golden chain and mace leave no doubt as to his social rank (Scalco); on the Ursula cycle in terms of aspects of navigation, see Neuner, ‘Malerei und Navigation’, 137–97.


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the baldachins that have been documented are, on the whole, rather sphereshaped, sometimes with a cross affixed to the top.15 Finally, the triciput knob might also be the crown of a standard or a ceremonial parasol, or even – as in the case of the pomelo ducale in Venice – the upper end of a flagpole. In fact, the pomelo ducale took on such great significance that the knobs on top of the flagpole, which were usually made from bronze and gilded, were explicitly mentioned in the blessing of the flag, were sometimes placed inside the graves of the Doges, and were also used in sepulchral culture.16 At the same time, the assumption that this object is a cane handle for ceremonial use – with the motto-like helmet decoration of the Trevisans – or the top of a throne-like armchair 17 does not shed any light on the content of the triciput knob: if it was simply a form of canting arms, it would have been 15 See the detailed analysis of the function and design of canopies on the occasion of the arrival of the emperor in Tuscany and Southern France, based on the example of the canopy in Simone Martinis Maestà, in Norman, ‘Sotto uno baldachino trionfale’, 147–60; regarding Northern Italy and with rich resource material – especially for Genova, Milan, and Venice – see the article by Pistoresi, ‘Tra festa e liturgia’, 547–609. See also Timofiewitsch, ‘Quellen und Forschungen’, 45. Da Mosto (I dogi di Venezia, xlv) writes that these attachments were mistakenly interpreted as an armillary sphere. In pictorial representations of the sixteenth century, a sphere with a cross can often be seen; cf. the portrait of investiture of Doge Antonio Grimani (1521–1523) by Benedetto Bordon in the British Museum, London; the votive picture of Doge Giovanni Mocenigo (1478–1485) in the National Gallery, London; or the painting by Andrea Vicentino in the Sala del Maggio Consiglio in the Doge’s Palace (Alexander III Grants the Ring to the Doge Ziani); for images, see Wolters, Der Bilderschmuck des Dogenpalastes, 89 fig. 63, 93 fig. 67, and 178 fig. 174. The painting Encounter of the Doge Ziani with Pope Alexander III, by Francesco and Leandro Bassano in the Sala del Consiglio dei Dieci (painted around 1602), shows a different form of crowning on eight standards (Wolters, Der Bilderschmuck des Dogenpalastes, 255 fig. 264). On the crowning of a ceremonial parasol, cf. the painting by Girolamo Gambarato in the Sala des Maggior Consiglio, which shows the handover of such a parasol to the Doge in Ancona; cf. Wolters, Der Bilderschmuck des Dogenpalastes, 180 with fig. 179; see also the painting by an anonymous artist in the Museo Civico in Asolo, showing Doge Agostino Barbarigo welcoming the Cypriot Queen Caterina Corner under the parasol; Pistoresi, ‘Tra festa e liturgia’, 584 fig. 5. 16 Simane, Grabmonumente der Dogen, 119f.; Sinding-Larsen, Christ in the Council Hall, 160n4 and 164–66. On the material (gilded bronze), cf. the order for such a knob to the bronze caster Cesare Groppo and the bill of the gilder; Timofiewitsch, ‘Quellen und Forschungen’, 33–54 and 45f. At times, the doges ordered the standards to be kept at their tombs. See Simane, Grabmonumente der Dogen, 96 and 120; Goffen, Piety and Patronage, 135. 17 Gilded, hollow-casted attachments are also found on the crownings of bedposts from the sixteenth century, as well as the crownings of canopies above beds. Cf. Pedrini, Il mobilio, 144 f ig. 370 and 146 f ig. 374. See also the magnif icent armchair from Ulm with four female herms (Nürnberg, Germanisches Nationalmuseum, mid-seventeenth century), which recreates armchairs of the Italian late baroque; Mesiter, Das schöne Möbel, cat. no. 262. See also the folding chair with four putto heads as crownings at the corners (seventeenth century), illustration in Hoffmann, Sitzmöbel, 28 no. 53. As this is apparently a piece of private property, no location is specified.

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sufficient to create a triciput head with the same male face on each side. But the design of this triciput – with the three different ages of man – raises the question of the specific meaning and contextualization of this circularly arranged, three-step depiction of the ages of man. Even in antiquity, there already existed a three-step division of the ages of man;18 contemporaneously, there were additional models – for example, with four or seven steps – that were then adopted in the Middle Ages and further refined with smaller, incremental divisions.19 Models depicting the stages of life took on a primarily political role in the context of classical discourses on age; the contemplation of the stages of life always occurs with reference to the life stories of men.20 At the same time, this transmits an obligatory system of values that ensures the unity of the political class. Poets also enter into this discourse; their ideas of the ages of man develop and stabilize that which we would call stereotypes today, but which also constitute a rhythm that offers stability. The continuity of ages-of-man models in the Middle Ages, together with the arbitrariness of their combination with explanatory models of the rhythm of life or Christian exegesis, should not belie the fact that the respective combinations were accompanied by a concept of life that correlated with these stages and with a certain definition of time. Moreover, the triciput sculpture emphasizes the head and the connotations that went along with the depiction of a male head at that time in a special way. One aspect of received knowledge in antiquity – and particularly the reception of Aristotle’s De partibus animalium and Xenophon’s Memorabilia – was the emphasis on the head as the center of mind, prudence, and wisdom; in the thirteenth century, these texts had been translated into Latin and were widely read.21 In the Aristotelian tradition, the head was seen as the 18 Among the numerous contributions on the representations of the ages of man, the following must be emphasized: Sears, The Ages of Man; Burrow, The Ages of Man; the short summary by Paravicini Bagliani, ‘Ages de la vie’, 1:7–19; and Wirag, ‘Cursus Aetatis’. On the representation of the ages of man in classical literature, the fundamental work is still Boll, Die Lebensalter, 8–13 on the triad; more recently, see Parkin, Old Age in the Roman World, 76–79. 19 On the particular models of classification of age in antiquity, cf. the article by Gerhard Saiko, ‘Lebensalter’, 20 The Roman stage models revolve around the ‘contrast between youthful lack of control and the self-control or strictness of the adult citizen. In Roman thinking, youth is characterized by a lack of self-control and rigor, whereas manhood is characterized by their perfection’ (‘Gegensatz zwischen jugendlicher Unbeherrschtheit und Selbstbeherrschung bzw. Strenge des erwachsenen Bürgers. Die Jugend zeichnet sich im Denken der Römer durch einen Mangel, das Mannesalter hingegen durch eine Vervollkommnung von Selbstbeherrschung und Strenge aus’); see Beate Wagner-Hasel, ‘Altersbilder in der Antike’, 31. 21 Maranini, ‘“Col senno e con la mano”’, 124–28; for the translation by Willem van Moerbecke, see the article by Aris, ‘Willem van Moerbecke’, vol. 9 col. 175f.


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location of the faculties which were thought to particularly characterize men; based on the fact that humans walk upright, Aristotle located the faculties of reason and judgment in the head – and thus also the origin of thought, of prudence, and of wisdom.22 Thus the connection between the head and the male gender is grounded on this assumption, as is the connection between wisdom and the old man, which is heavily emphasized in sixteenth-century Italian literature – and not just by Baldassare Castiglione.23 The particular design of a three-sided male head using the medium of sculpture cannot be ascribed to medieval tradition specifically – depictions of the Janus head flourished in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and during the Late Middle Ages, depictions of the ‘ages of life’ in seven or ten stages were far more prevalent. A shift can only be identified around 1500: whether it is Giorgione’s Concert from 1508,24 the famous Three Philosophers from 1510,25 or the Allegory of Prudence from 1550–1565,26 this is where we find the depiction of the ages of man in the same triad that we also find in the small bronze sculpture mentioned above. But Titian’s Allegory of Prudence – which is of Venetian origin and, in its depiction of three heads, is closer to the bronze object than any other depiction – leads us back to the reflection on the ages of man in antiquity and the rereading of this theme during the Renaissance.27 In classical literature, the three-part division of life – into youth, manhood, and old age – is connected to the movement of the sun over the course 22 Maranini, ‘“Col senno e con la mano”’, 124f. 23 Campbell, ‘Old Age and the Politics of Judgment’, 263, with quotations from the works of Castiglione, Giovan Battista Gelli (1498–1563, a philosopher at the Academy in Florence and at the court of Cosimo I) and Stefano Guazzo (1530–1593, at the court of the Gonzaga) in notes 17–19. 24 Cf. dal Pozzolo, Giorgione, 215–23; dal Pozzolo draws attention to a very similar work – painted in Giorgione’s circle – by Giovanni Agostino da Lodi in Venice, Galleria dell’ Accademia; see Giorgione, 215 with fig. 185. In addition, see Eller, Giorgione, 44–46, cat. no. 13, here dated 1503. On interpretation, see the more recent work of Saviello, ‘Die drei Lebensalter’, 31–43. 25 On this topic, recently published with a new, conclusive interpretation, see Häfele, Giorgiones Himmel. 26 London, National Gallery, inv. no. NG 6376. See Penny, The Sixteenth Century Italian Paintings, 236–47. This catalogue entry includes the new dating by Cohen (‘Titian’s London Allegory’, 47–69), who assumes that the painting took 20 years to finish, based on reflectoradiographic investigations and interprets it on this basis; on the rejection of the dating (linked to the interpretation) with convincing arguments, see Campbell, ‘Old Age and the Politics of Judgment’. 27 Froning, ‘Tizians Gemälde’, 177–90; the new dating is discussed by Saviello, ‘Die drei Lebensalter’, 31–43; cf. Borggrefe, ‘Titian’s Three Ages of Man’, 9–19, where he argues on the basis of further compositions by Dosso Dossi and van Dyck that Titian’s paintings could indeed have been intended as a representation of the ages of man, which reflects the contemporary dialogue on Lucretius’s De rerum natura.

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of the day and thus predetermined by nature itself. It is consequently – for example in Plutarch and Lycurgus – paralleled with the three basic stances: ‘expectation’, ‘completion’, and ‘recollection’. Aristotle interprets the triad of the stages of life not just in terms of time or cosmology; instead, this triad also plays an important role in political action, with middle age – when a man is between 30 and 49 – characterized as the most balanced time in a man’s life and hence the time when he should take up political action.28 The reception of Aristotle’s ideas in Venice is not only reflected in painting, but also in printing: during the first half of the sixteenth century, Venice was the number-two place of publication for Aristotle editions.29 The political role played by the ages-of-man models in the context of classical discourses on aging appears to have been adapted by humanist circles in Northern Italy (particularly in Venice).30 For example, the Venetian humanist Domenico Morosini – in his treatise De bene instituta re publica, which he began in 1497 – connected the three most important groups of government to the three different ages of man, describing them as follows: Since a city could only attain greatness in accordance with the greatness of its rulers, these rulers had to be wise, benevolent, and erudite, since knowledge was more important for a city than wealth. Knowledge and experience, however, came with age; while young men could be intelligent, learned, and eloquent, only old men could be wise, and even among the old, there were few truly wise men.31 The young men of the ruling class were to be admitted to the Great Council; the authority of administration was to be given to those middle-aged men in the senate (or the Council of Ten) who cared only for the common good and who guarded the freedom of the republic; and old men were to be considered for election as Doge.32 This reinterpretation and redeployment of Aristotle is a first step in adapting this rhythm to the specific Venetian situation, but there is more.

28 Cf. Ehmer and Höffe, Bilder des Alterns im Wandel, 14; Wagner-Hasel, ‘Altersbilder in der Antike’, 30; the decisive passage from Aristotle’s Rhetoric is recently quoted from translations by Rentsch and Vollmann, Gutes Leben im Alter, 21–25. 29 Thiele, Lebensalterdarstellung, 11n36, with respect to Cranz, A Bibliography of Aristotle Editions, xiv. On the importance of the Aristotelian texts for Venetian humanism, cf. King, Venetian Humanism, 182–85. 30 Wagner-Hasel, ‘Altersbilder in der Antike’, 28f. On the incorporation of the three stages of age into the literature of the sixteenth century in general, see Wirag, ‘Cursus Aetatis’, 27–30, with clear reference to the Aristotelian tradition. 31 King, Venetian Humanism, 143, with reference to Morosini, De bene instituta re publica, 80f. and 128f. 32 King, Venetian Humanism, 119 and 134f. on young men, and 93, 105, and 124 on senators.


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Let us return to painting. The reception of Aristotle is important for both Giorgione’s Concert and the Three Philosophers. In the case of Titian’s Allegory of Prudence, Erwin Panofsky was the first to go beyond the concrete identification of the depicted persons as Titian, his son Orazio, and his adopted son Marco; to connect the three-sided male head (Wendekopf) with the allegory of prudence; and to interpret the animals that serve as the base for the three heads as a symbol of time.33 Edgar Wind then stated that, while the three interconnected animal heads still stood for the three phases of time in the sixteenth century, they also referred to a specific virtue found in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics (6.9:1142b), which has been translated as consilium, meaning ‘good council’ or ‘deliberation’ – an indication that prudence was also connected to wisdom.34 Thus we see that, all of a sudden, there was an improvisation on wisdom, prudence, and time connected with the triciput. There are also known triciputs featuring female faces as allegories of prudence – for example, in the floor mosaic of the Siena Cathedral and in a relief from the fifteenth century.35 The motif of the triciput or the tricephalos was carried over from antiquity, and during the fourteenth century, it was also used as a symbol for the Holy Trinity; in such cases, these triciputs included the intrinsic concept of endlessness.36 33 Panofsky, Herkules am Scheidewege, 1–35. He refers to Macrobius’s description of the threeheaded animal, which is identif ied with the god Serapis, the symbolism of which is further explained by Macrobius: The dog is associated with the future and the young age; the lion represents the present, the middle age; and the wolf relates to old age, as it devours the memories of the things of the past (see 5–7). 34 Wind, Heidnische Mysterien, 298f., here 299: ‘It consists of a healthy, practical instinct regarding the course of events, an almost indef inable feeling that anticipates the future by remembering the past and thus correctly judging the present. Since this ability is acquired only in old age (Nestor is always cited as its prototype), it differs from wisdom, which is rarely practised by young people, but is not necessarily beyond their means’ (‘Es besteht in einem gesunden praktischen Instinkt für den Gang der Ereignisse, einem beinahe undefinierbaren Gespür, das durch Erinnerung an die Vergangenheit die Zukunft antizipiert und somit die Gegenwart richtig beurteilt. Da man diese Fähigkeit erst im Alter erlangt (Nestor wird stets als ihr Prototyp angeführt), unterscheidet sie sich von Klugheit, die zwar von der Jugend selten geübt wird, doch nicht notwendig jenseits ihrer Möglichkeiten liegt’). 35 The relief showing the allegory of wisdom in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, inv. no. 3004-1856, is situated in the workshop of Desiderio da Settignano and dated around 1460; it shows three male heads, connected to one another at the rear. Only the one in the middle is bearded, while the other two – shown in profile – do not differ from each other regarding their age. Cf. Pope-Hennessy, Catalogue of Italian Sculpture, 1:145 and 3 pl. 105 fig. 140. 36 Braunfels, Lexikon der christlichen Ikonographie, vol. 1, col. 528 and 537–39; a very nice example of the triceput as trinity can be seen in its representation as a central f igure in the Cappella di Eleonora by Bronzino in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence (around 1541–1545); on the programmatic shift – to the trinity head instead of the coat of arms of the Medici – and Eleonora

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In Northern Italy, it appeared not only in the form of the relief mentioned above (which is currently located in London), but was also present in various other forms – such as Pisanello’s emblem for a medal of Leonello d’Este, from around 1440 –1444, or of Alfonso V of Aragon, in which the epaulet motif of the ruler on the medal may also be interpreted as an allegory of prudence.37 At this point, we have to return once more to Titian. In his interpretation of the animals in Titian’s painting, Panofsky refers to Pierio Valeriano’s Hierogplyphica from 1556, which he sees as the source of Titian’s image, since Pierio also connects the three-headed animal as a symbol of time with the concept of prudence.38 But a three-headed hybrid creature, depicted with the legs of a ram and with wings, had already appeared as a symbol of time in 1551, in a book of emblems published by Guillaume de la Perriere in Venice. What is interesting here is the accompanying dedication to the author, which connects the symbol of time with the fame of the author: the past owes him fame, although it has already provided him with a halo of glory; he is so admired at that time that in the future, he should be rewarded with the crown of a scholar.39 Erin Campbell has shown that, at the time da Toledos’s affinity with Ignatius of Loyola, cf. Smyth, ‘An Instance of Feminine Patronage’, 89–96. I owe the hint concerning this figure to Hanna Baro at Düsseldorf. Augustine himself defined ‘a triad of human minds connected with the three phases of time [as] a “trace of the Trinity”’ (‘eine solche mit den drei Phasen der Zeit verbundene Triade menschlicher Köpfe [als] eine “Spur der Trinität”’); see Wind, Heidnische Mysterien, 300, for the German text; see also 300–02 on the reception of Augustine during the Renaissance. 37 Degenhart and Schmitt, Corpus der italienischen Zeichnungen, 452–56, with fig. 352–54 and pl. 68. Degenhart and Schmitt, Corpus der italienischen Zeichnungen, 452–56. The authors quote another interpretation of the triceput as the muse Calliope, but do not discuss this further. In the context of this chapter, pursuing its interest in male faces, this interpretation is not for me to pursue here; see 456n861. 38 Panofsky, ‘Tizians Allegorie der Klugheit’, 177–80. See Valeriano, Hieroglyphica sive de scacris Aegyptiorum, 229 lib. xxxii (Tricipitium est ex tribus animalibus, quorum in medio est leonis caput …quid vero sibi velit serpens, ut Deus sit, ut temporis autor, alio commentario satis explicatum est: alibique ostendimus huiusmodi tricipitium prudentiae convenire.). 39 Panofsky (Herkules am Scheidewege, 28n1) himself argues with the ‘strange allegory of time in the Morosophie’ (‘merkwürdige Zeitallegorie in der Morosophie’), which, however, apparently in the 1553 edition has been turned into a Geryon again, which is not recognized by Panofsky (see note 32). See De la Perrière, Le théatre des bons engins, f irst emblem of ‘Die Zeit’ with a male triceput, printed in Venice in 1551: Bernardus Podius Lucensis: Ad doctissimum virum Gulielmum Perrierium Tolosantem huius operis authorem / Aetas mirartur praesens, que debuit olim / Iam tibi posteritas, laureaserta parat. / A LUY MESME / Le temps passé t’est d’honneur redevable, / Iacoyt qu’il t’a de gloire environné: Mais au present tu es tant admirable, / Que du future faut que soys coronné. Thiele (Lebensalterdarstellung, 71) refers only to the drawing as a symbol of the age of man; the illustration is found in Chew (The Pilgrimage of Life, fig. 31), who also does not quote the dedication poem, but cites two other European sources for the period


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of the painting’s creation, the virtue of prudence was connected to old age, as the inscription on Titian’s painting also suggests: Ex praeterito praesens prudenter agit ni futurum actionem deturpet (‘From the experience of the past, the present acts prudently, lest it spoil future actions’).40 In addition, the connection between prudence and age is further accentuated by the formal design of the image – the tonal value of the colours, the exaggerated marks of age on Titian’s face, the brush strokes and the thickness of the coat of paint, which are different for each portrait. The connection between portrait and inscription thus becomes Titian’s impresa – through the experience of age, he also preserves the continuity of his workshop. 41 Prudence was associated with wisdom, which, like prudence, draws on experience; but the diminishing of the senses was assumed to carry with it an increase in the faculty of judgment from a physiological perspective, as well. 42 The wisdom that is based on experience, the diminishing of physiological strength, and the inscription itself are all connected to a dimension that Daniel Arasse has highlighted in the interpretation of the painting: time. Whether one chooses to follow his interpretation of the three male faces as phases in Titian’s life or not, for the first time in this discussion, Arasse points towards two three-headed gods of antiquity: Hermes and Hecate, two representatives of time who are closely connected with its terminus in human life – that is, death. 43 The goddess Hecate is also depicted in small bronze sculptures – in two objects produced in Padua, dating to the first half of the sixteenth century.44 as a three-headed creature (22f.). – In Valeriano’s Hieroglyphica sive de scacris Aegyptiorum, 228 lib. xxxii, a man with three heads is referred to as Geryon from Eutheia (the grandson of Medusa), following Hesiod’s narration, and is listed as an emblem for Spain, divided into three parts. 40 The inscription is quoted in Arasse, Il soggetto nel quadro, 192; Campbell, ‘Old Age and the Politics of Judgment’, 261–70. 41 Campbell, ‘Old Age and the Politics of Judgment’, 263–67; I would doubt whether one can in fact (and out of the postulated wisdom of aesthetic judgment) deduce an art-theoretical discourse directed against Vasari and the assumption of the teleological decay of artistic abilities in old age. For the idea of the continuity of the workshop with another emphasis, read as the rhythmic workshop anniversary (25, 50, and 75 years), see Arasse, Il soggetto nel quadro, 189–214, 195–197, and 206. 42 Campbell, ‘Old Age and the Politics of Judgment’, 263; on the combination of wisdom and ‘a wise, happy life’ (‘einem weisen, glücklichen Leben’) according to Aristotle, see Panofsky, Herkules am Scheidewege, 30. 43 Arasse, Il soggetto nel quadro, 189. 198–206. 44 Staatliche Museen Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Skulpturensammlung, inv. no. 1942, h. 27 cm. Krahn, ‘Anonimo padovano’, 202f. cat. no. 49; and Krahn, Bronzetti veneziani, 128–31. The second statuette, shown not in a striding but in a standing pose, is found in Venice, Galleria G.

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In the Venetian mythographic literature of the time, Hecate was discussed as a trinity from antiquity, the combination of three goddesses: Luna, Diana, and Proserpine. 45 According to Sibylle Ebert-Schifferer, Hecate – as depicted in the round, in movement – tells the tale with three actresses and depicts the three ages of life – maiden, mother, and widow – which appears to have been a socially relevant topic debated in Venetian literature from the first half of the sixteenth century. 46 Thus the Hecate sculpture, as a ‘link’ between the triciput and the depiction of the ages of man around 1500, indicates the extent to which classical literature was read and taken up artistically. Such a connection in the princely courts of Northern Italy or in scholarly humanist circles is certainly conceivable; as a matter of fact, in the sixteenth century, one of these depictions of Hecate was apparently owned by the Venetian humanist Marcantonio Michiel. Such a context would be fitting for a depiction of the ages of man that in no way thematizes decay or frailty, but rather materializes the division of life into active phases of active men and contemplates not only the qualities associated with this rhythm of life, but also later serves as a reflection upon time. Perhaps it is a crown, originating from the helmet decoration of the Venetian Trevisan-Cappello family, which, through this depiction of the ages of man in a humanist context, laid claim to the attribute of wisdom. The content is thus a reception of classical texts, the form of the biretta is a play on the attire of the scholar, and the whole – perched atop an armchair or lifted up during a ceremony – makes visible one point: that the carrier (or his family) always keeps the passage of time – as materialized in this triciput – in mind. In the spirit of ‘degree zero’, this reception is an improvisation. In our distance from the object, we are also improvising on the improvisation. The materialization of this improvisation on the themes of time, wisdom, and the ages of man is thus one degree zero, and our theory about the meaning of the object is – at the same time – a return and a new beginning. Franchetti alla Ca’ d’Oro, inv. no. BZ 153, h. 26 cm; cf. Lo statuario pubblico della Serenissima, 295, cat. no. 355. It has not been studied in research thus far, just as the small-scale sculptures of the Ca’d’Oro still have not been published in a catalogue; according to the figure that has been published, showing only one view, there are three faces of a young woman, not a representation of the ages of man. 45 Ebert-Schifferer, ‘Der eilige Lebens-Lauf’, 122–26. On the derivation of the trinitarian Hecate in antiquity, see Iles Johnston, ‘Hekate’, der-neue-pauly/hekate-e505900. 46 Ebert-Schifferer, ‘Der eilige Lebens-Lauf’, 128f.


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und der Neuzeit. Festschrift für Herbert Beck, edited by Städelschen MuseumsVerein, Peter C. Bol, 121–38. Petersberg: DuMont, 2006. Ehmer, Josef, and Ottfried Höffe, eds. Bilder des Alterns im Wandel. Historische, interkulturelle, theoretische und aktuelle Perspektiven. Stuttgart: Wissenschaftliche Verlagsgesellschaft, 2009. Eller, Wolfgang L. Giorgione. Werkverzeichnis. Rätsel und Lösung. Regensburg: Imhof, 2007. Focke, Friedrich. ‘Szepter und Krummstab. Eine symbolgeschichtliche Untersuchung’. In Festgabe für Alois Fuchs zum 70. Geburtstag, edited by Wilhelm Tack, 337–387. Paderborn: Verlag Ferdinand Schöningh, 1950. Froning, H. ‘Tizians Gemälde Die drei Lebensalter. Überlegungen zur Überliefe­ rungsgeschichte und zur Interpretation’. Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 68 (2005): 177–90. Fumi, Francesca, and Gambi Gado, eds. Stemmi nel Museo Nazionale del Bargello. Florence: SPES, 1993. Girgensohn, Dieter. Kirche, Politik und adelige Regierung in der Republik Venedig zu Beginn des 15. Jahrhunderts. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1996. Goffen, Rona. Piety and Patronage in Renaissance Venice. Bellini, Titian and the Franciscans. New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 1986. Gothein, Percy. Zaccaria Trevisan il Vecchio. La vita e l’ambiente. Reale Deputazione di Storia Patria per le Venezie. Miscellanea di studi e memorie 4. Venice: La Reale Deputazione Editrice, 1942. Häfele, Arnulf. Giorgiones Himmel: das Gemälde mit den drei Philosophen als Grenzerfahrung der Ikonographie. Hildesheim: Olms, 2013. Hoffmann, Herbert, ed. Sitzmöbel aus sechs Jahrhunderten. Stuttgart: J. Hoffmann, 1938. Iles Johnston, Sarah. ‘Hekate’. In The New Pauly, edited by Hubert Cancik, Helmuth Schneider, and Manfred Landfester. Leiden: Brill Online, 2014. King, Margaret L. Venetian Humanism in an Age of Patrician Dominance Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986. Krahn, Volker. ‘Anonimo padovano’. In Donatello e il suo tempo. Il bronzetto a Padova nel Quattro e nel Cinquecento. Milano: Skira, 2001. Krahn, Volker. Bronzetti veneziani. Die venezianischen Kleinbronzen der Renaissance aus dem Bode-Museum. Exhibition Catalogue. Berlin: DuMont, 2003. Kriss-Rettenberg, Lenz, ed. Bildführer 1: Bronzeplastik. Erwerbungen von 1956–1973. Hans R. Weihrauch zum 65. Geburtstag. Munich: Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, 1974. Maranini, Anna. ‘“Col senno e con la mano”: Eyes, Reason and Hand in Symbolic Transmission’. In The Italian Emblem: A Collection of Essays, edited by Donato Mansueto with Elena Laura Calogero, 115–56. Glasgow: Librairie Droz, 2007.


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Märtl, Claudia. ‘Zwischen Habitus und Repräsentation. Der kardinalizische Ornat am Ende des Mittelalters’. In Die Kardinäle des Mittelalters und der frühen Renaissance, edited by Jürgen Dendorfer and Ralf Lützelschwab, 265–300. Florence: SISMEL, 2013. Meister, Peter W., and Hermann Jedding, eds. Das schöne Möbel im Lauf der Jahrhunderte. Heidelberg: Keyser, 1958. Morosini, Domenico. De bene instituta re publica. Edited by Claudio Finzi. Milan: Giuffré, 1969. Muir, Edward. Civic Ritual in Renaissance Venice. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1981. Nepi Scirè, Giovanna. Carpaccio. Storie di Sant’Orsola. Milan: Mondadori, 2000. Neuner, Stefan. ‘Malerei und Navigation. Kleines Logbuch zu Carpaccios UrsulaZyklus’. Wallraf-Richartz-Jahrbuch 72 (2011): 137–97. Norman, Diana. ‘“Sotto uno baldachino trionfale”: The Ritual Significance of the Painted Canopy in Simone Martini’s Maestà’. Renaissance Studies 20 (2006): 147–60. Oberhuber, Konrad, ed. The Works of Marcantonio Raimondi and of His School. Vol. 26 (formerly volume 14.1) of The Illustrated Bartsch. New York: Abaris Books, 1978. Orsini de Marzo, Niccolò, ed. Stemmarietto Veneziano Orsini De Marzo. Milano: ODM, 2007. Panofsky, Erwin. ‘Tizians Allegorie der Klugheit. Ein Nachwort’. In Sinn und Deutung in der bildenden Kunst, 167–91. Cologne: DuMont, 1978. Panofsky, Erwin. Herkules am Scheidewege und andere Bildstoffe in der neueren Kunst. Mit einem Nachwort zur Neuauflage von Dieter Wuttke. Berlin: Mann, 1997. First published 1930. Paravicini Bagliani, Agostino. ‘Ages de la vie’. In Dictionnaire raisonné de l’Occident médiéval, edited by Jacques Le Goff and Jean-Claude Schmitt, 1:7–19. Paris: Fayard, 1999. Parkin, Tim. Old Age in the Roman World: A Cultural and Social History. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003. Pedrini, Augusto. Il mobilio. Gli ambienti e le decorazioni del Rinascimento in Italia, secoli XV e XVI. Florence: Azienda, 1948. Penny, Nicholas. National Gallery Catalogues. The Sixteenth Century Italian Paintings. Vol. 2, Venice 1540–1600. London: National Gallery, 2008. Pistoresi, Marco. ‘Tra festa e liturgia. Il baldacchino negli ingressi pubblici del Tardo Medio Evo: Genova, Milano, Venezia e il possibile cerimoniale europeo’. Atti dell’Istituto veneto di scienze, lettere ed arti. Classe di scienze morali, lettere ed arti 162 (2003–2004): 547–609. Pope-Hennessy, John. Catalogue of Italian Sculpture in the Victoria and Albert Museum. London, 1964.

The Three Ages of Man and the Materialization of an Allegory


Rentsch, Thomas, and Morris Vollmann, eds. Gutes Leben im Alter. Die philosophi­ schen Grundlagen. Stuttgart: Reclam, 2012. Sansovino, Francesco. Venetia città nobilissima et singolare. Descritta in XIII Libri. Venedig, 1663. Saviello, Alberto. ‘Die drei Lebensalter der Galleria Palatina als Bild des Paragone’. In Das Portrait, edited by Martin Steinbrück, Judith Ostermann, Alexandra Fingas, et al., 31–43. Munich: Deutscher Kunstverlag, 2007. Sears, Elizabeth. The Ages of Man: Medieval Interpretations of the Life Cycle. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986 Sgarbi, Vittorio. Carpaccio. Milan: Liana Levi, 1994. Simane, Jan. Grabmonumente der Dogen. Venezianische Sepulkralkunst im Cinquecento. Sigmaringen: Thorbecke, 1993. Sinding-Larsen, Staale. Christ in the Council Hall. Studies in the Religious Iconography of the Venetian Republic. Acta ad archeologiam et artium historiam pertinentia 5. Rome: L’erma di Bretschneider, 1974. Smyth, Carolyn. ‘An Instance of Feminine Patronage in the Medici Court of Sixteenth-Century Florence: The Chapel of Eleonora da’ Toledo in the Palazzo Vecchio’. In Women and Art in Early Modern Europe: Patrons, Collectors, and Connoisseurs, edited by Cynthia Lawrence, 72–98. University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 1997. Thiele, Meike-Marie. Lebensalterdarstellung in der Renaissance. Ein neuer Bildtypus in der Malerei. Saarbrücken: AV Akademikerverlag, 2007. Timofiewitsch, Wladimir. ‘Quellen und Forschungen zum Prunkgrab des Dogen Marino Grimani in S. Giuseppe di Castello zu Venedig’. Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Instituts in Florenz 11, no. 1 (1963): 33–54. Töbelmann, Paul. ‘Stäbe der Macht. Stabsymbolik in Ritualen des Mittelalters’. Ph.D. diss., Husum, 2011. Valeriano, Giovanni Pierio. Hieroglyphica sive de scacris Aegyptiorum literis commentarii. Reprint of the Basel edition, 1556, with an epilogue by Dietmar Peil. Hildesheim, 2005. Von Hülsen-Esch, Andrea. ‘Das Alter fest im Griff. Jugend – Virilität – Weisheit. Männerträume vom Altwerden’. In Altersphantasien, edited by Jürgen Wiener, 84–134. Düsseldorf: düsseldorf university press, 2015. Wagner-Hasel, Beate. ‘Altersbilder in der Antike’. In Bilder des Alterns im Wandel. Historische, interkulturelle, theoretische und aktuelle Perspektiven, edited by Josef Ehmer and Ottfried Höffe, 25–48. Stuttgart: Wissenschaftliche Verlagsgesellschaft, 2009. Wind, Edgar. Heidnische Mysterien in der Renaissance. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1981. Wirag, Klaus T. ‘Cursus Aetatis – Lebensalterdarstellungen vom 16. bis zum 18. Jahrhundert’. PhD diss., Technische Universität Darmstadt, 1994.


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Wolters, Wolfgang. Der Bilderschmuck des Dogenpalastes. Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner, 1983. Zorzi, Ludovico. Carpaccio e la rappresentazione di Sant’ Orsola. Ricerche sulla visualità dello spettacolo nel Quattrocento. Turin: Einaudi, 1988.


Lapsus figurae Remarks on Iconographic Error* Pierre-Olivier Dittmar Abstract How can an image be considered false? In the medieval context, marked as it is by the absence of formal norms, this question may seem absurd. Yet since the nineteenth century, two opposing traditions have attempted to account for images whose presence is incongruous. On the one hand, there is a philological conception of art that traces the mistakes of the past in order to better denounce them and unconsciously aims to normalize the historical production of images. In this context, there can be no iconographic innovation. On the other hand, historians inspired by iconology refuse the possibility of error and consider all discrepancies as voluntary – as so many facts to be interpreted by the historian. In this chapter, I propose a third way, which seeks to determine the conditions under which a creative error may occur. Keywords: iconography; new philology; normativity; psychoanalysis; manuscript; history of art

Anyone who has had much to do with images made in the Middle Ages will have come across images that are strange, some of them the result of error. Yet the analysis of these oddities has rarely been systematic. They still tend to be regarded as nothing more than curiosities – the sort of thing that appeals to the medievalist, perhaps, but would never be thought a proper field of study.1 * Translated from the French by Peter Cramer. 1 Unfortunately, and this is already something to reflect on, iconographic errors are not systematically listed in any of the indices of medieval art. This makes research diff icult. To begin filling the gap, I asked those around me, and I would like to thank the colleagues who

Hellemans, Babette & Alissa Jones Nelson (eds.), Images, Improvisations, Sound, and Silence from 1000 to 1800: Degree Zero. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2018 doi: 10.5117/9789462980051/CH03


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The concept of ‘error’ in the study of medieval iconography has been used chiefly in two ways.2 The first, which seems to have philological roots, tends to see the hand of the scribe and that of the illuminator as engaged in a single piece of work. The work they do is mechanical, the result of training in a craft, with all that this suggests of definite standards, norms, and models. Against this background, a mistake is naturally caused by distraction or by failure to understand an instruction. Aberrations like this are seldom scrutinized for themselves, but they are often brought into play in scholarship, because they can give crucial help in working out where a manuscript should be placed in a genealogy. This usage of ‘error’, which had its heyday in the scholarship of the nineteenth century, has largely given way in recent years to a quite different approach, where the burden of error lies not with the medieval author of the image, but with the interpretive myopia of the historian. Error is not in the iconography, but in the iconographer. This approach, for all its prudent refusal to condescend to the past, makes assumptions that can lead historians into awkward corners. It rests on a conception of medieval society – at least in its handling of images – in which everything functions satisfactorily, and in which every work emerges from the happy consonance of patron and artist. The shortcomings intrinsic to both traditions open a new path to the question of the iconographic error: How might its history be written?

Truths and Errors in the Image The first problem is that the notion of error presupposes the existence of a model or a norm. A mistaken image can only come about when there is already a correct image that precedes it. The difficulty arises immediately: What is the relationship between image and truth? brought to my attention possible cases of error they had come across in their own researches: Gerardo Botto, Perinne Mane, Stavros Lazaris, Nathalie Le Luel, Remy Cordonnier, Jean-Baptiste Camps, Astrée Questiaux, Welleda Muller, Julia Drobinsky, Anne-Marie Barbier, and Jérôme Baschet. It would take too much space to give the details of their offerings, all of which inform what I have written. I would also like to thank Jean Wirth, who first suggested the idea of this article, of which an earlier version was published in French: Dittmar, ‘Lapsus figurae’, 319–35. 2 The following writings are devoted specifically to iconographic errors: Peterson, ‘The Textual Basis for Visual Errors’, 177–203; Peterson, ‘Accidents and Adaptations in Transmission’, 375–84. See also Garnier, Le langage de l’image au Moyen Âge; and Gadebush Bondio and ParaviciniBagliani, eds., Errors and Mistakes.

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This was the question Roger Boulnois addressed in his important book Au-delà de l’image, in which he found a Middle Ages still steeped in the Platonic and therefore suspicious of images.3 For Plato (here I will give an all-too-brief summary), the degree of truth in an image is determined by its quality of resemblance. As no resemblance can be a perfect resemblance of its original, every image – because it is an image – falls short or is an error. Or, to put it more biblically, the image cannot reach the degree of truth of the revealed Word and therefore remains secondary to the words of the text. The work of Jérôme Baschet and Jean-Claude Schmitt has confirmed how the low status of the image, lower still after the publication of the Libri Carolini in c. 790, had the effect of making the image theoretically a secondstring medium of expression. One result of this was that image-making in the West was free from the normative control that its importance made it subject to in Byzantium. Makers of images in the West had vastly greater freedom of invention. 4 Certainly, there existed in the culture of the West a metaphysical discourse on the image (‘Is the Son the image of the Father?’ would be an example of this) but little in the way of normative discourse on images – on the question of whether a given iconography is correct or incorrect. Now and again a critical stand is made, as when Antoninus of Florence (1389–1459, an Italian Dominican friar and Archbishop of Florence) denounces the three-headed depiction of the Trinity, a device he considers a misprision with monstrous effect; but his reaction is a personal one and carries no ecclesiastical authority. François Boespflug has shown that it was not until the eighteenth century, with Pope Benedict XIV, that the Church began an attempt to impose iconographic norms. Even then, the policy failed. The first thing to lay hold of in this story is that – besides a handful of special cases, such as the acheiropoïetes images5 – every image is in essence false, but no particular image is false. What consequences are to be drawn from this? Bereft of any rules indigenous to the period, the historian has no choice but to make judgments of the rightness or wrongness of an image by discerning – or attempting to discern – what can be no more than implicit rules followed by these image-makers. The danger is that historians, misled by the complexity of the interpretation of norms, find that they have invented the norms and not discovered them. 3 Boulnois, Au-delà de l’image. 4 Baschet, ‘Inventivité et et sérialité des images médiévales’, 93–133. 5 The images known as ‘acheiropoïetes’ are considered not to have been made by a human hand, but are rather the result of a miraculous intervention.


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Worse, a victim of their own inventions, they will complain – when the invented norms are not obeyed – that a mistake has been made.6

The Positivist Error Once the difficulty of identifying authentic criteria is pointed out, it is evident that an iconographic error is quite likely to say more about the sensibility of the historian than about the image; and the more the historian tends towards a normative perception of medieval art, the more deviations from the norm will appear. Samuel Berger, for example, writes in his interesting article on manuals for the illustration of Psalters: ‘The bookseller’s idea of inserting prefaces, whose purpose is to introduce the Bible as a whole, into a bible moralisée is an infelicity. But this is a minor error compared with the howler of copying the manuscript on its own, without images. What is the meaning of a bible moralisée without images?’7 I am not at this stage concerned with the soundness (or otherwise) of Berger’s argument, but rather with the striking vocabulary of error running across his language and the attribution of norms to medieval literature: such-and-such a preface goes with such-and-such a Bible or type of Bible; a bible moralisée must have images; and so on. This way of looking at the material requires a canon, an ideal iconography. But a canon of this kind is as much a fabrication as the ideal cathedral of Viollet-le-Duc. The historians have put on their professorial mantles, their gowns of condescension, and set off to correct medieval manuscripts with the same offhand flick of the pen with which they mark the scripts of their students.8 The same can be said of the work of François Garnier, L’âne à la lyre: sottisier d’iconographie médiévale (The Donkey and the Lyre: A Handbook of Iconographic Howlers in the Middle Ages), published in 1988.9 In an earlier book, Garnier had provided a grammar and a language of the image, 6 This article extends the collective reflection on the (voluntary) transgression of the iconographic norms begun in Bartholeyns, Dittmar, Jolivet, Image et transgression. 7 Berger, Les manuels pour l’illustration du Psautier. He begins (p. 3): ‘The art of the Middle Ages was above all an industrial art. The artists who made the most beautiful works of the period were workers who worked in art, taking the necessary instructions and commissions from entrepreneurs’. 8 Berger, Les manuels pour l’illustration du Psautier, 4: ‘A modest exercise of the intelligence would have spared the craftsman this basic and laughable error, but the copyists of the 14th century have accustomed us to suffering no surprise at their antics’. It is clear that the handling of the image here is a sub-plot of an intellectual approach emerging from classical philology. On this subject, see Cerquiglini, Eloge de la variante. 9 Garnier, L’âne à la lyre. Garnier’s earlier book is Le langage de l’image au Moyen Age.

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and in L’âne à la lyre he sets out to spot mistakes in orthography. The book is especially problematic because the author, not content with reproaching errors, offers ‘corrections’ or ‘remedies’ (in his words). The denunciation of errors in the making of images, giving historians the satisfaction of being on the side of the normative angels, leads them naturally to the habit of suggesting one correct interpretation – and only one. The effect is absurd, because the medieval image is intrinsically polysemous and complex. Besides, such corrections rob the artist of any intentional or creative variants on the canon.10 All the same, Garnier’s handbook makes a number of important observations. The author points to what he takes to be a confusion of the prophets Joel and Amos in a Bible from the city of Le Mans.11 The type and the context of the error is symptomatic of the phenomenon for which Samuel Berger was also on the lookout. The Le Mans artist seems to have switched the figures of the two prophets Joel and Amos. The Book of Joel and the Book of Amos both begin with a ‘V’ (one with Verbum, the other with Verba), and the illuminator has evidently been misled by the similarity into swapping one author for the other. One can easily see how, in the course of making a series of images numbering in the hundreds, the illuminator muddled these two images of figures whose attributes were part of a well-known list of attributes, and who were not in the highest rank among prophets. Another example is richer in its methodological implications (Figure 1). According to Garnier, the painting over of the genitals of the figure of the fool, the Insipiens, in this illumination ‘contradicts the representation of the fool in the Middle Ages, who is distinguished from the sane […] in particular by his nakedness’.12 This way of thinking takes it for granted that there is one sound interpretation of this figure of the fool, answering to the intentions of the patron – or if not of the patron, then of the period in question. The figure as he appears here is therefore a modification, a transformation over time, and an alteration of an original that supplied the perfect image from which the later one diverges. The painting over is not considered in itself, for its own detail; it is interesting only as a departure. And yet it can be read as a telling sign of a shift in the years after the Council of Trent, when the representation of sexual organs became problematic – a development which might help date this repainting. So far, so good; but more can be said. We notice that the painter of the cloth places it between the fool’s legs and has the fool hold it by its two ends. It would have been 10 Bonne, ‘Entre ambiguité et ambivalence’, 1992 11 Garnier, L’âne à la lyre, figures 78 and 79. 12 Garnier, L’âne à la lyre, 175.


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Figure 1 L’Insensé. Illustration no. 81 in Garnier, L’âne à la lyre, sottisier d’iconographie médiévale (Paris: Léopard d’or, 1988); negative by PierreOlivier Dittmar.

less effort to place it in front of his legs, or simply to dab some paint on the offending region, or to scratch it out – a common solution at that time. The between-the-legs solution is significant, even original. We could go further: it may be an expression of sense of humour, possibly a subversive one, which would conform to the taste for scatological wit in the Late Middle Ages. Whatever the intention behind this retouching, its designation as an ‘error’ rests on a perception of creation in which any departure from the norm is an involuntary lapse. Humour or transgression does not enter into it.

From Error to Variant This position, long prevalent, has had its day. The increasingly fine-grained understanding of the texts accompanying images, which has been the work of Panofsky’s spiritual children; the new awareness of the importance of devotional and intellectual practices associated with the image (thanks to the work of Jeffrey F. Hamburger and Jean Wirth); the attention to serial analysis of images; and the contribution made by the anthropology of the image (see the work of Jérôme Baschet and Jean-Claude Schmitt) have radically altered the terms of the question. In an intellectual climate in which the artist is left

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with the full tilt of his intelligence, the image is (largely) unshackled from the text and regains almost complete independence. The variant is now read as an exercise in visual exegesis, with free rein to make its own interpretation of a text or of an iconographic convention. This change in approach brings with it a number of effects: the image-maker enjoys a new self-determination and lives no longer with the danger of transgressing a moral boundary represented by ‘error’. Error is replaced by ‘variant’, so that, in more recent years, it is the solecisms of the positivist iconologist – not of the medieval painter – that have more often come under attack. The majority of what were, in the old dispensation, held up as typical errors have been found to have their own good sense. One of the most notorious cases is that of the ‘horns of Moses’. The fortunes of this text are well known. The wording of Exodus 34:29 runs: ‘When he came down from the mountain, he, Moses, did not know that the skin of his face had started to shine when he spoke with the Lord’. But the Hebrew qaran (‘shining’) was translated wrongly in the Vulgate as ‘horned’.13 The error became canonical, was repeated down the centuries, and then was recognized for what it was by Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century.14 But the whole account fell apart when, in 2009, Thomas Römer pointed out that the biblical Hebrew meant both ‘shining’ and ‘horned’.15 It looks now as if St. Jerome and Michelangelo were in the right, and the horns on Moses’ head were more a sign of knowledge of Hebrew than of ignorance and error among the copyists. Since the image was unable to do justice to both meanings – and here is the difference between the two languages of image and word – it had to plump either for rays or for horns. The miniaturists preferred the horns. Why? No doubt because they made possible a visual echo between two scenes that unfolded at the same time: the election of Moses and the worship of the golden calf. The image opposes the two events: the blameworthy worship of an idol in the form of an animal (horned) and the designation of God’s representative bearing the marks (horns) placed on him by his vision (Figure 2). Thus the horns of Moses can no longer be thought of as a mistake. We can see them now as a singular interpretive gesture of the figurative intelligence and its language. In a quite different artistic tradition, Stavros Lazaris has recently shed new light on the sense of erroneous images in his study of an image in a Byzantine text relating to equine medicine. The image depicts an operation, the procedure of which differs from the one described in the text. 13 Mellinkoff, The Horned Moses in Medieval Art and Thought. 14 Aquinas, Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians. 15 Römer, Les cornes de Moïse.


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Figure 2 Moses receiving the tablets of the law and the adoration of the golden calf, Psalter of Blanche of Castile, early thirteenth century; Paris BnF, Arsenal, ms. 1186, f. 14, negative Bibliothèque nationale de France.

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Lazaris convincingly shows that this medical handbook was illuminated by a trained veterinarian, and that the details of the drawing correspond better to the pathology than does the wording of the text. That an image should correct the text it accompanies means a shake-up in historiographical presuppositions – not least the belief in a hierarchy, borrowed from Plato, which attributed less truth to the image than to the word. There is no need here to give a full list of the images nineteenth-century historians mocked as errors of iconography, for which subsequent erudition has found plausible explanations and which, on occasion, have been restored to their places as examples of iconographic conventions that had become obscure.

The Possibility of an ‘Error’ We have seen that a discourse about images which claims to arise from a standard of truth will always depend on the assumption of norms, and that such a claim will be problematic. Furthermore, we have seen the opposite approach, which sees in what appears to be error a mistaken interpretation by the historian and a gap in our understanding. The virtue of this more generous view of the past, demanding as it is on the historian, is not now open to question. Nevertheless, we should be wary of the excesses to which it can lead. The desperate iconologist, led down blind alleys by an earnest desire to explain an image with a text or texts, can end up with a travesty. We should listen to what Claude Lévi-Strauss has to say in his Structural Anthropology: ‘To say that a society functions is a truism. To say that everything in a society functions is an absurdity’.16 To repudiate the possibility of error, to seek rational explanation at any price, is to suppose a past without any life of the unconscious – a mythical world where everything makes sense. Medieval society, whatever the picture it might have wished to present of itself as a fixed and changeless order, was a society under the stress of transformation – a crucible of social redefinition, a stage for the play of new values and practices and the distemper and generational strains, and an example of the incomprehension that results from the new. Thus the historian is taken by transgression, subversion, and crisis into the plasma from which his matter draws energy, the anatomy of transformation and becoming. Or to say it another way: it is best to keep an eye out for the creative error which is the symptom of the shifting unconscious. Between the stupidity or 16 Lévi-Strauss, Anthropologie structurale, 17.


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negligence of an artisan and the subjective genius of the artist-intellectual (it would hardly be fair to attribute all errors to one or other of these) lies a rare place of pulled threads and solecisms, which it would be wrong to consign to the index, and which – seen in the right light – are like geological treasures, pointing us to the fault-lines, the small displacements, and the cracks in the social rock face that eventually become its transformations. The sources of enquiry into such moments are still lacking, not to mention the methods. However, let me offer a few examples, with a view to provoking reflection. Medieval psalters offer an especially well-documented example of ‘iconographic errors’. They have been studied at length by Elizabeth A. Peterson, who has written one of the rare articles on the subject.17 Take the so-called Psalter of Marote du Hamel (BnF, Lat. 10435) from the last years of the thirteenth century.18 This ‘full’ (i.e., fully illustrated) psalter, with its hundred or so images, is one of a series of seven known psalters of this kind around the world. It is interesting for the originality of the iconography accompanying certain ordinary psalms and for the textual inscriptions belonging to the illuminations. In one of the images in this manuscript, a man identifiable as a Jew is shown crouching over the ground. From the earth beneath him rise what seem to be tongues of flame (Figure 3). Stranger still, the text beside it contains the description: ‘Uns juif regarde la tere qui pleure’ (A Jew looks on the weeping earth). There are two ways of interpreting this image. Angelica Gross seeks a plausible explanation among possible textual sources. Her search takes her to Peter Lombard’s commentary on Psalm 52 (which is closely related to Psalm 13, the psalm illustrated here), and from this reference, she surmises that the image represents the Amalekites, ‘a people that licks the earth’.19 It is an analysis that makes the illuminator a subtle exegete, but fails to take into account the true sense of both image and text, thus risking over-interpretation in an effort to save the image from error. The comparison of this image with others from the same series of manuscripts tells us that the rubric belonging to it is: ‘Quidam judeus respiciens terram flet’ (A Jew weeps as he looks at the earth). Has the artist misread the instruction? Was his Latin shaky? Was he missing an m at the end of terra? The exact origin of the mistake matters less than the fact that it came about and that it produced a new image – a highly original one. It shows, plainly enough, the earth shedding tears. A troubling image, yet one that came to be socially accepted. It must have been drawn by 17 Peterson, ‘The textual basis for visual errors in French Gothic Psalter illustration’, 177–203. 18 Wirth, L’image à l’époque gothique. 19 Gross, ‘L’idée de la folie en texte et en image’, 84. Cf. Petri Lombardi, ‘Commentarium in psalmos, psal. LII’, Patrologia Latina, t. 191, col. 499.

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Figure 3 ‘A Jew looks on the weeping earth’, Psalter of Marote de Hamel; Paris, BnF. Lat. 10435, f. 11v., end of the thirteenth century, negative Bibliothèque nationale de France.

a draughtsman, coloured by a colourist, identified by a third person, recopied by the author of (for example) the Cambridge manuscript in this group, and so on. Thence it has come down to us without the least sign of correction or scratching out by any of the readers through whose hands it must have passed. By its very existence, this picture is rich in implications regarding the complex relation an image may have with a text. It seems that the unusual historiated initial (an initial containing a figurative scene) has no relation to the psalms it accompanies, and this has not troubled those who conceived it or those who used the book. From this, one might assume a loose association of text and image. Then again, we should take seriously the idea that what Elizabeth Peterson calls ‘visual errors’ are signs of a strong connection with the word. What lie behind these remarkable images are, after all, misreadings. Seen from this angle, the illuminator shows himself to be impressively faithful to what he believes to be the written word of the Bible – the authority of which is in no way reduced by its power to provoke improbable representations. Nor is it odd that such misprision occurs in illuminating the psalter, the language of which is unusually poetic and elliptic, and which is still more likely to sow error when, as in this group of manuscripts, the context is bilingual.


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Conclusions: Lapsus figurae From this time spent in the museum of iconographic horror stories, I would like to take away the discovery of a third way between a positivist paternalism, which sees error wherever it looks, and a habit of over-interpretation, which reappropriates to the norm by seeing error nowhere. The rough direction of the argument is already visible in the critique of Panofsky-inspired iconology made by Jean Wirth and Daniel Arasse in the early 1990s. These two authors played an important role in the history of the variant (écart) through their dismantling of Panofsky’s by-then canonical analysis of a strange painting by Francesco Maffei (1605–1660), which shows a woman equipped with a sword and carrying a head on a plate. Did the painting represent Judith holding the head of Holofernes, or Salome holding John the Baptist’s head? The presence of both sword and plate, the respective attributes of the two women, appeared to be a contradiction. Panofsky found his way out of this interpretive embarrassment – which, no doubt, the nineteenth century would have put down to a mere iconographic muddle – by deciding for Judith, on the strength of comparison with other works in which the figures are more reliably identified. However, Jean Wirth takes this solution apart in the preface to his Image médiévale, demonstrating an exacting scorn for the submission to iconographic convention which Panofsky’s answer would require of the artist.20 What we see in this Judith-cum-Salome is not submission, but a will to transgress the norms working hand in hand with an ability to invent complex images. Maffei, far from being muddled, has produced a figure of generic female violence. Taking up the case a few years later, Daniel Arasse works the same vein of dissent and has more to say: ‘Identifying a variant is a question of identifying the deformation made by a work in its use of the variant. Interpreting this variant is a matter of seeing how the work of transformation gets done, drawing out a clear sense of what is at stake in the shift’.21 ‘Work’ here means what it means in psychoanalysis. Deliberate or unwitting – it makes little difference – the shift is a trace, whether conscious or unconscious, of the subjectivity of the artist, and the artist as subject is what Arasse is analysing in Le sujet dans le tableau. The medievalist must likewise be ready to see the variant (at least sometimes) as coming from a place outside the conscious will, much as he or she should be willing to let chance have its way in the make-up of history. That historians might struggle to accept these two versions of the unwilled, and 20 Wirth, L’image á l’époque gothique. 21 Arasse, Le sujet dans le tableau. 19.

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to practise their craft in the light of them, is to be expected: they are having to do without the assumptions and the consolations of a heroic perception of history, the transformations of which are either a chain of necessary cause and effect or are brought into being by exceptional individuals. There are a few criteria to be borne in mind when it comes to recognizing the unintended variant reasonably securely, and to say something about them will perhaps help anyone wishing to do history in the space between the bland certitudes of cause and effect and of the idea of the great man. Firstly, in the Middle Ages, the unintended variant is rare. The cost of producing an image, the length and complexity of the chain that ends in the parchment and the pigments for colour, mean that the majority of illuminations are highly refined objects, the result of long reflection and the input of a number of specialists. All of this limits the chances of error. These circumstances change at the end of the Middle Ages, however, when the image becomes more widespread. Secondly, an error can only be recognized where it is placed in relation to a sufficiently assertive norm. Marginal doodles and grotesques, for example, are not involuntary errors or misprisions because they have no such relation. They are conceived as departures; their eccentricity is part of what is meant to happen.22 Likewise, works intended as formal inventions – one-offs, such as the drawings of Opicinus of Canistris or many of the pages of the Rothschild Canticles – cannot be included in the category of involuntary error. These astonishing imaginings belong to no series and therefore cannot be seen as departures. Thirdly, the involuntary error depends on and shows itself against the background of a defined iconographic language, a recognizable series. It is a moment of originality emerging from a series, and its inventive force will always remain tied to its relation with the series it comes from.23 Elizabeth Peterson’s examples show that iconographic error is often linked to the misreading of texts. For this reason, studies of illuminated manuscripts are an especially rich field for the study of stray images. However, not every iconographic subject lends itself with equal readiness to inventive distortion. It is one thing to switch Amos and Joel; it would be quite another to put the Virgin on a cross. The reshapings tend to occur in cases where the subject matter is less well known. Lastly, error thrives on transfer between cultures, on bilingual contexts, on changes in the medium. It is rare indeed to find image errors in a Bible from the eleventh or twelfth century. The manuscripts of these Bibles were 22 Wirth, L’Image à l’époque gothique. 23 Baschet, ‘Inventivité et sérialité des images médiévales’, 93–133.


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made in scriptoria, where the monks’ daily bread was the biblical text. Misreading is not likely. It becomes more likely in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, when Bibles were turned out at a much greater rate, and the images accompanying them were made by professional workshops capable of mass production. Gone were the textually focused happy few standing guard over text and illumination. This new social cohort of image-makers living at a greater remove from the text, from the Latin language, and from ecclesiastical authority is in a stronger position to produce inventive variants, which were themselves symptoms of cultural variants.24 And what goes for production goes for reception: the wider diffusion of illuminated books and the taking over by the laity of images that had formerly been in the hands of clerical authority came at the expense of a new relation with the image. Less certain of accuracy to the text, it is more given to innovation. In The Psychology of Everyday Life, published in 1904, Freud distinguishes between two types of lapsus: the lapsus linguae made in speaking and the lapsus calami made in writing. Though the image plays an important role in the formation of a lapsus, chiefly through the medium of the dream, Freud never mentions the lapsus that occurs in the material image. It would surely yield precious insights into art and society in the Middle Ages to think on the phenomenon of the lapsus figurae – to give it a name – and to think with due prudence. Perhaps this is what François Garnier is already doing in L’Âne à la Lyre. In the Pamplona Bible (so runs Garnier’s example, here Figure 4), the illuminator, following an error by the copyist, has put the skin of water not on Hagar’s shoulders – as she goes out with her son into the desert, exiled by her husband Abraham – but on Abraham’s (see Genesis 21:14). The artist has stuck to the text and its misreading and thus come up with a new image. But there is more to be said about this particular image. In the lower of the two scenes in the image (Figure 4), Hagar wanders in the desert and abandons her son, unable to watch the boy die of thirst by her side. An angel descends to reassure her. The image follows the text, but a careful look tells us that the artist had first thought of depicting a dialogue between the angel and the boy and has had second thoughts. This rare instance of pentimento – an alteration which is seen to overlay the first 24 Another example of a cultural shift and a rich terrain for image error is the illumination of figures from antiquity, which tend to be less familiar to the Middle Ages. Mistaken identities abound in the decorations accompanying Christine de Pizan’s Epistre Othea, for example (in Ms. Cologny-Genève, fondation Bodmer, codex 49), where Jupiter appears as a female figure on fol. 19. I would like to thank Anne-Marie Barbier for pointing out this material to me.

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Figure 4 ‘Abraham repudiates his wife and son in the desert’, Bible of Pamplona; Amiens, Bibliothèque Municipale, ms. 108, f. 11. circa 1197.

attempt – in a medieval manuscript deserves its own analysis. Was the artist troubled by the cruelty of the story, which is striking even by biblical standards? Or was it the effect of the textual error he had translated in the scene above which pained him? If Abraham had the skin of water, the boy’s mother had no means of slaking her son’s thirst. Whatever the artist’s sentiments, his first sketch of this lower scene would have changed the sense of the story, rescuing it from its cruelty by showing that the mother gave her son to the angel. We will never know why (or whether) the image of a child’s abandonment inspired this (aborted) deviation from the biblical story in the twelfth-century artist, but there is enough evidence for us to say that here is a case of lapsus – which also warns us, when we look at these figurative likenesses, not to ignore the affective world of the craftsmen who made them. Hidden in these scrutinized images of error, these corrected images, these fallings-away, these lapsus figurae – in the image of the weeping earth or of the abandoned child – are some of the frailest and most beautiful traces of the unconscious that the Middle Ages have left us.

Works Cited Aquinas, Thomas. Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians. Translated by Fabian Larcher. Arasse, Daniel. Le sujet dans le tableau. Essais d’iconographie analytique. Paris: Flammarion, 1997.


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Bartholeyns, Gil, Dittmar, Pierre-Olivier, and Jolivet, Vincent. Image et transgression au Moyen Age. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2008. Baschet, Jérôme. ‘Inventivité et sérialité des images médiévales. Pour une approche iconographique élargie’. Annales HSS 51, no. 1 (January–February 1996): 93–133. Berger, Samuel. Les manuels pour l’illustration du Psautier. Paris, 1898. Bonne, Jean-Claude. ‘Entre ambiguïté et ambivalence. Problématique de la sculpture romane’. La part de l’œil, 8 (1992): 147–64. 
 Boulnois, Roger. Au-delà de l’image. Une archéologie visuelle de Moyen Age. Paris: Seuil, 2008. Cerquiglini, Bernard. Eloge de la variante. Histoire critique de la philologie. Paris: Seuil, 1989. Creighton, Gilbert. ‘Saint Antonin de Florence et l’art. Théologie pastorale, administrative et la commande d’oeuvres’. Revue de l’art 90 (1990): 9–20. Dittmar, Pierre-Olivier. ‘Lapsus figurae. Notes sur l’erreur iconographique’. In Quand l’image relit le texte. regards croisés sur les manuscrits médiévaux, edited by Sandrine Hériché-Pradeau and Maud Perez-Simon, 319–35. Paris: Presses de la Sorbonne Nouvelle, 2014. Gadebush Bondio, Mariacarla, and Paravicini-Bagliani, Agostino, eds. Errors and Mistakes: A Cultural History of Fallibility. Florence: Micrologus Library, 2012. Garnier, François. L’âne à la lyre: sottisier d’iconographie médiévale. Paris: Le Léopard d’Or, 1988. Garnier, François. Le langage de l’image au Moyen Age. Signification et symbolique. Paris: Le Léopard d’Or, 1982. Gross, Angelika. ‘L’idée de la folie en texte et en image: Sébastien Brandt et l’insipiens’. Médiévales 25 (1993): 71–91. Lévi-Strauss, Claude. Anthropologie structurale. Paris: Plon, 1958. Mellinkoff, Ruth. The Horned Moses in Medieval Art and Thought. Berkeley/Los Angeles/London: University of California Press, 1970. Peterson, Elizabeth A. ‘Accidents and Adaptations in Transmission among Fully-Illustrated French Psalters in the Thirteenth Century’, Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 50, no. 3 (1987): 375–84. Peterson, Elizabeth A. ‘The Textual Basis for Visual Errors in French Gothic Psalter Illustration’. In The Early Medieval Bible: Its Production, Decoration and Use, edited by Richard Gameson, 177–203. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Petrus Lombardus. ‘Commentarium in psalmos, psal. LII.’ Patrologia Latina, t. 191. Col. 499–504. Römer, Thomas. Les cornes de Moïse. Faire entrer la Bible dans l’histoire. Paris, Collège de France: Fayard, 2009. Wirth, Jean. L’image à l’époque gothique (1140–1280). Paris : Cerf, 2008.



Drawing a Line and Questioning Art Nicola Suthor Abstract This chapter connects the long-standing literary record of a controversial artistic performance, first demonstrated in ancient Greece and consisting of drawing a form or figure by means of a single continuous line, with an exemplary group of drawings attributed to Agostino Carracci. From the beginning, this legendary feat has been understood as a virtuous demonstration of manual dexterity and artifice and has elicited a number of critical reactions, which in turn have led to alternative versions of the same drawing act. The in-depth analysis presented here of three sheets of studies by Carracci traces the circling path of the line used to contour heads in profile and scrutinizes the specific quality of improvisation exposed through this highly extraordinary but nevertheless frequently used method of drawing. Keywords: drawing performance; continuous line; virtuosity; calligraphy

Improvisation per definition does not stem from an explicitly preconceived idea – that which is improvised is not directed towards achieving a specific performative goal and therefore cannot be measured or understood in this way. However, the ad hoc accomplishment of that which is unplanned, or literally ‘unforeseen’ (from the Latin improviso), is not without certain prerequisites, as ‘ad hoc’ would seem to imply. Improvisation necessarily depends on the skill of the artist, who possesses the required means and potential to operate intuitively. Because improvisation is only expressed in its performance, it is through the improvisational that the artist as a genuine creator visibly emerges. The more the artist clearly displays the performance’s disconnection from any type of previously thought-out concept, the more his artistic brilliance shines forth. Yet in order to appreciate this achievement, the beholder must be in a position to fully comprehend improvisation as a creative process. Improvisation must therefore reveal the artist’s command of communicative competence.

Hellemans, Babette & Alissa Jones Nelson (eds.), Images, Improvisations, Sound, and Silence from 1000 to 1800: Degree Zero. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2018 doi: 10.5117/9789462980051/CH04


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Within the field of fine arts, it is the visual forms whose final outcomes are left in some way indeterminate that provide space for intuition and allow the beholder to experience the processual aspect of improvisation. In the practice of sketching, as well as in alla prima painting, where the work often intentionally appears to be unfinished in order to introduce the viewer to the stages involved in its production, it is first and foremost the sureness of the stroke that seemingly guarantees its spontaneous execution. The characteristic flow of such a stroke, which the beholder’s gaze can easily follow, forms an unmistakable and distinctive identifier of the artist. In its simplest form, the stroke functions as nothing less than a signature, but this assertion should not hide the fact that artistic improvisation is a complex act, the unfolding of which constantly reacts and adapts to the resistivity of materialization and to the successive accretion of steps in the development of a pictorial idea. In the end, this complexity creates an opacity in which the gaze of the beholder is submersed, thus no longer able to follow the improvisation. Indeed, the improvisation is upended at the very moment when the beholder, instead of gaining insight into technique, is struck by the illusion of the created image that suddenly appears before their eyes. Early modern art literature is full of such miraculous accounts. In this chapter, I will concentrate on improvisation in its simplest form by examining the execution of a single line – one that permits no secondary marks that would correct or complete it. Over the centuries, several illustrious European artists have performed the feat of drawing a figure from one continuous line as a statement of their artistic ability. One would assume the line each of them traced was identical, but the more one teases out the story of this simple line, the more it becomes entangled. Even as written accounts of the line began to emerge, there is confusion as to when it first appeared. The literary tradition of these legendary performances links two preeminent figures in the conception of Renaissance art – the fabled ancient painter Apelles (370–306 BCE) and the thirteenth- to fourteenth-century master Giotto (1266–1337), whose innovative ideas and technique brought the medieval praxis of painting into the modern era. More than two centuries after Giotto’s death, the story of his creation of a drawing that became known as ‘Giotto’s O’ was passed down to us by Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574), a painter who also collected and published the biographies of artists in two editions, dated 1550 and 1568. In the Vita di Giotto, Vasari reported the following: one of Pope Benedict IX’s legates was sent out to search for the best painter to decorate the old Basilica of St. Peter. His itinerary included a visit to Giotto, who, when requested to submit a

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sample of his work, quickly dashed down a perfect freehand circle. The papal emissary was expecting an elaborate drawing that would demonstrate the artist’s ability to paint large historic scenes, so he naturally had reservations about the painted circle. In response to his disapproval, Giotto confidently replied, ‘Send it along with the others and you will see whether or not it will be understood’. And indeed, as Vasari recounts, when the pope and his court saw Giotto’s work and heard how the artist had painted the circle without a compass and without moving his arm, everyone realized his excellence exceeded that of all the artists of his time.1 Giotto’s virtuoso demonstration, initially rejected by the pope’s legate due to his ignorance and the apparent worthlessness of the drawing itself (the ‘O’ as a literal nullity), was later recognized by the pope because of the same legate’s eyewitness account of its production. The architect and art theorist Filarete (1400–1469) tells a similar story, nearly a century before Vasari, of a legendary freehand drawing performance, but with different participants and at a significantly earlier period. Here, too, the context of the drawing’s creation is an artistic competition, yet in this case, two of the leading painters of antiquity challenged and acknowledged each other with mutual admiration; they were not driven by an external commission. Filarete mentions the generally held opinion that drawing a perfect circle (uno tondo perfetto) is ‘a very difficult thing’2 and reports that Apelles ‘once swung a perfect circle without a compass’. His competitor, Zeuxis, ‘then placed the point in the middle as if it were made by [the spike of] the compass’.3 Interestingly, Filarete considers the latter’s feat unachievable through practice, but rather a gift of nature, if not a product of pure chance. 4 This critical remark makes it evident that Filarete was not yet able to consider the possibility of an inherent ‘compass within the eyes’, as later postulated by Michelangelo. He thus relates technique to the hand and the instruments it uses, and does not consider optics as an internalized part of the artist’s mind that processes visual sensations.5 1 Vasari, The Lives of the Artists, 22. 2 ‘E dicono molti che uno tondo perfetto è difficilissima cosa a poterlo fare, e così una superficie piana’; Filarete, Trattato di Architettura, 646. 3 ‘O vero, come che dice quegli ancora, l’uno girò uno tondo perfetto sanza sesto, e l’altro al primo posto punto nel mezzo misse, el sesto l’avesse proprio fatto’; Filarete, Trattato di Architettura, 642f. 4 ‘Se così fu, grazie date dalla natura, e non per pratica, anzi per accidente fare se potrebbe, si già a ventura o caso non venisse fatto’; Filarete, Trattato di Architettura, 643. 5 Giovan Ambrogio Figino: ‘Vero è, che benespesso è necessario al Pittore operante, havere (come diceva Michel Angelo) il compasso dentro gli occhi: non potendosi così di leggieri osservare la misura col compasso nel far gli scorti’; Comanini, Il Figino, 231).


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This performance is mentioned by Filarete as a brief remark following his version of an even more famous drawing demonstration, which had been recounted with great veneration since the time of Pliny the Elder. In Filarete’s concise summary of the story: ‘Zeuxis drew his straight lines with a brush exactly as if he had done it with a ruler. Moreover, the former [Apelles] drew another line over the very fine line that he had already made. It was much thinner, but he [Zeuxis] drew another in one sweep through the middle of it’. Filarete expresses his scepticism about these drawing performances by peppering his accounts with the phrase come dice (‘as it is said’), but he nevertheless recommends practising such exercises, because they help the artist develop the tremendous potential to draw whatever he wants.6 Pliny, who told the anecdote in more detail, states in conclusion that these three abstract lines on a canvas, traces of an artistic competition, were considered both in their time and afterward as an absolutum opus and were ‘more esteemed than any masterpiece’.7 That these three lines had – at the very outset of their creation – the potential for such acclamation is revealed by Pliny at the beginning of the story. When Apelles visited the atelier of his competitor and found the artist absent, he drew a line on a blank canvas as a signature to be deciphered. When the absent artist later returned, he in turn responded by applying an even thinner line on top of the first one, thus making the first line a backdrop for his own artistic statement. Ultimately, a third line by Apelles reinforced his claim, which had been challenged by the second line. Over the subsequent centuries, some artists and art theorists have raised their voices in protest against the claim made by these lines. It is surprising not only that mere simple lines were able to instigate such a quarrel, but also that the account of their creation has endured over the centuries – the iterations of this tale were tracked by the art historians Johann Dominicus Fiorillo (1748–1821) and later by Henri van de Waal (1910–1972). Roger de Piles (1635–1709), one of the leading art theorists of the French Academy, in his Abregé de la vie des peintres, published in Paris in 1699, contends that the legend of the successively divided straight lines is ‘contrary to common sense [bon sens] and shocking to everyone who knows even a little about painting, for these [abstract lines] offer no trace either of capacity or of intelligence in 6 ‘Si che per volere avere i primi principii del disegno e fare per uso di mano questi tali disegni, e’ quali danno grandissimo aiuto a tutte l’altre cose che disegnare si vuole, el primo modo, come dinanzi hai potuto intendere, si è a fare una linea retta, o più, equidistante l’una dall’altra’; Filarete, Trattato di Architettura, 643. Here, Filarete describes a variation of the three lines on top of each other, namely the exercise of drawing parallel lines. 7 Pliny, Natural History, 320, 323.

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the art [of painting]’.8 De Piles contradicted the tradition of the legend by reinterpreting the lines’ subtlety (delicatesse) as a clear indication that the lines must be categorized as three contour lines – one laid over the other in order to slightly but significantly correct the first draft. De Piles was not the first or the only writer to permute abstraction into concretion. In a letter to Vasari from an unidentif ied author, a certain incident concerning Michelangelo is recounted: annoyed after hearing this same anecdote of the three lines, Michelangelo replied that someone who is not in any way a painter, but only trained as a draughtsman, could also perform the same feat. He then took a pen and, without lifting it from the paper, drew half of the contour of a man, beginning with the toe. He finished by saying, ‘If someone came along now and managed to do the other half of the figure, I would consider him a greater master [than either Apelles or Zeuxis]’.9 The factor that would permit this imaginary artist to surpass the two legendary figures is his possession of the symbolon, which enables him to draw a lion from its claw: ‘ex ungue leonem’. This means that, in addition to possessing the manual ability to draw a continuous outline, he is able to recognize in this fragmented outline the underlying figural concept only half executed by Michelangelo. A similar performance is attributed to Salvator Rosa, who was active in Naples and Rome during the second half of the seventeenth century. Also vexed at hearing legends of the masters of antiquity which he considered ridiculous and dubious, Rosa drew a figure in a single deft motion after proclaiming, ‘I, who do not expect to be admitted into the circle of illustrious artists, will show you how I draw the outline of a figure with one stroke 8 ‘C‘est à peu près de cette sorte qu’il faut entendre cet endroit de Pline: car de l’entendre d’une simple ligne partagée tout le long de son étenduë, cela est contraire au bon sens, & choque tous ceux qui savent un peu ce que c’est que Peinture; n’y ayant en cela aucune marque de capacité, ni d’intelligence dans cet Art’; de Piles, Abregé de la vie des peintres, 121. 9 ‘Io scrivo questi pochi ricordi, come da V.S. mi fu ordinato […] Ritrovandomi un giorno a ragionar seco delle pitture antiche e dicendo di quella tavola di Protogene, dove furono fatte quelle linee così mirabili da lui et da Apelle, lui [Michelangelo] mi rispose, che non gli pareva gran cosa; et la ragione era, che l‘arrebbe potuto fare uno che non fosse stato pittore, ma solamente esercitato in tirar linee. Et preso in mano un lapis, cominciò sopra un fogglio da un dito di un piede; et andando al‘insù senza levar mai il lapis di su la carta, fece un dintorno di una meza figura et disse: “Se adesso venisse uno che facesse l’altro mezo che stesse bene, io giudicarei che fosse megglio maestro di quelli,” et quel mezo dintorno che lui fece, io non ne dirrò altro se non che era di sua mano, che giudico debbia bastare per testimonianza della sua bellezza’; letter from the year 1564 to Giorgio Vasari by an unknown author, in Frey, Der literarische Nachlass Giorgio Vasaris, 64. See also a similar anecdote, in which Michelangelo demonstrates that a single line cannot be sufficient proof of mastery, in Carducho, Diálogos de la Pintura, 243f. See also van de Waal, ‘The Linea summae tenuitatis of Apelles’, 14f.


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without interruption, beginning with the foot’. After he accomplished this, he added a further pungent remark: ‘and if I did not know how to do anything beyond this, I would cry out, “Poor Salvatore, poor Rosa!” I would not boast about this kind of brilliant feat!’10 Neither of the drawings documenting the performances of Michelangelo and Salvator Rosa have come down to us. Their similar description and context causes one to wonder whether the repetition that takes place here is not so much in the act itself as in the annals of art literature. This impression is reinforced by the fact that art-historical literature has repeated this legend and its re-enactments by narratively stringing together the various records of the legendary feat, beginning with Fiorillo’s 1803 landmark essay on the passage in Pliny and continuing until the present day, the most recent version being the summary I have given above.11 The exercise of drawing a figure in one uninterrupted line is a skill that was, however, diligently practised. Two sheets of drawings from the Stockholm Museum, attributed to the Bolognese painter and engraver Agostino Carracci (1557–1602), contain head studies executed in such a manner.12 Each sheet features two heads in profile: one sheet has the addition of four ear studies, likewise drawn with one continuous line (Figure 1); the other has a third head in profile, elaborated in the usual method of sketching, with numerous short strokes and parallel hatching darkening its face (Figure 2). Their arrangement on both sheets indicates that Agostino was learning how to develop different physiognomies by means of this one virtuoso technique. He pairs a beardless and a bearded face, as if probing a specific constellation of the two figures. 10 ‘“Ed io che non pretendo d’entrar nel numero de’professori più sublimi vi farò vedere signor Albati di cominciare dal piede d’una f igura, e ricorrere senza staccar mai la mano per tutti i contorni del corpo;” e preso il matitotojo gliele delineò di botto in sua presenza: “E se io,” soggiunse, “non sapessi far altro, povero Salvatore, esclamar vorrei, povero Rosa! Di questa razza di bravure, non mi pregio, e non mi vanto!”’ In response to the poet Antonio Abati’s hymn to the painters of antiquity, the painter Salvator Rosa exclaims: ‘Nè voi, nè io dolcissimo signore Abati vedute abbiam queste linee, nè sò, come veder le potessero i Greci, che non avevano l’uso de’microscopi, se ell’erano così sottili, e minute’ (‘Neither you, most gentle Signore Abati, nor I have ever seen these lines. I also do not know how the Greeks could have seen these subtle and minute things without using a microscope’); Pascoli, Vite de’ pittori, 74f. 11 Fiorillo, ‘Über eine Stelle des Plinius Hist. Natur. XXXV.10’, 229–42; van de Waal, ‘The Linea summae tenuitatis of Apelles’, 5–32. 12 For a comparable example, see the drawing study in the Windsor Collection which depicts at the centre of the sheet a sandaled foot, rendered in this virtuoso manner, surrounded by three classical heads in profile. The undulation of the line helps to visualize the dense bone structure pertaining to the ankle and the extension of the instep. However, this interpretation would mean giving a loose line a lot of credibility. See Wittkower, The Drawings of the Carracci, catalogue no. 152, figure 20, p. 120.

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Figure 1 Agostino Carracci, Studies of ears and profile heads; pen and brown ink, 15.1 x 10.8 cm, The Nationalmuseum Stockholm.


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Figure 2 Agostino Carracci, Studies of three profile heads; pen and brown ink, 15 x 10.3 cm, The Nationalmuseum Stockholm.

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It seems that Agostino began all four of these heads by marking the ridge of the nose. On the sheet with three heads, the line continues more or less smoothly to the next passage by turning inward at the tip of the nose and describing the nasal wing with a loop (in the sketch on the left side, the line thickens appropriately at the area of the nasal opening), while on the sheet with the ear studies, the artist complicates the flow of the line with an indentation that clearly describes the nostril. Whereas in all four cases we can easily trace how the line flows to the delineation of the mouth – and from there to the lower part of the face – as the line continues, it becomes much more diff icult to follow; this is especially true in the case of the bearded men, where the line takes many more twists and turns. By closely comparing all four delineations, we can see that – after the chin – the draughtsman worked out different options for directing the line’s path. In the case of the two beardless heads, the line describes the neckline, draws upward and turns to the left in order to circumscribe the back of the head, and then pulls downward to depict the high forehead. At this point, we notice differences between the two beardless profiles. On the sheet with ear studies, the line switches from outlining the forehead to describing the eyebrow. At the end of the forehead, the line turns sharply and thereby bridges the gap between the depiction of the eyebrow and the drooping eyelid. But this connecting line also carries a mimetic implication by suggesting the shadowy area below the protruding forehead. It is astounding how the line that has so rigorously marked the drooping eyelid thins and diminishes in order to emphasize the eyelid’s sagging skin, and then regains its intensity to sharply mark the shadow, and with it the eye socket that frames the heavy lid. The contouring of the eyelid’s edge is drawn so straight that it conveys a piercing gaze. From here, it becomes much more difficult to follow the line in its depiction of the complex eye area. The intricate interplay of lines creates a coherent outline of this central facial region only through superimposition, forming a net that slows down the beholder’s gaze in its attempt to re-enact the linear flow. The gaze is ensnared by the mimetic thickness of the loose lines. The beardless profile on the sheet with three heads is not as firmly drawn. Here, the looseness of the line is transmitted to its contouring, making the flow and its mimetic flaws all the more obvious. As the line rises from the nape of the neck, it is clearly too steep to encompass the round form of the back of the head or, alternatively, to delineate the hairline, as may be indicated by its slight waviness. Instead of contouring the whole forehead, as on the other sheet, here this segment ends abruptly and turns into a wavy line that slopes downward, echoing the rising line. The line relaxes into a


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curl that seems to serve as an anchor for the contouring of the ear. The curve of the earlobe arcs into the contouring of the cheek, a construction which evidently failed, because the line runs out – or does its strange turn indicate, albeit unsuccessfully, the muscle strain of a facial feature, perhaps a smile? This loosening happens at the same height as the ornamental curl, vaguely indicating the concha of the outer ear. The strange parallel positioning of the cheek curl alongside the loop that signals the curve of the nasal wing, without any evident representational intent, appears awkward; here, the all-encompassing gesture of the one line becomes perceptibly precarious, and a second line is woven through the first at the point where it falters. The end of this second line is also corrected by the addition of a third line that conclusively designates the extent of the back of the head. It is difficult to decide whether the second line was initiated at this end and drawn toward the forehead – describing the eyebrow, the eye, and the folds under the eye, then ending in the contour of the cheek – or if it was executed by the draughtsman in separate but not logically connected steps. The thickening of the line in several places reveals where Agostino had to refill his pen to create the impression of uninterrupted flow. This unavoidable pause in the act of drawing opens up the possibility of ‘cheating’, of drawing segments of the line from the opposite direction, which would belie a single, seemingly continuous performative gesture. The unsteadiness of this second beardless head’s linear configuration adds to a general impression of mimetic weakness in the contouring. The drawing does not evoke the image of a coherent physiognomy that is so impressively present in the first head study described above. There, the elderly aspect of the man’s physiognomy is clearly evidenced by the slightly wavy line contouring the neck area below the chin; as the line continues below and runs parallel to the contour of the lower jaw, a subtle change in its rendition and placement seems to indicate the border of a collar. The small indentation in the cheek line animates it by triggering the perception of a muscular tension, consistent with the expression that has inscribed itself on the face and seems to resist the skin’s sagging weight. It is remarkable how the line encompasses the flesh and bone structure of the jaw without becoming undefined, whereas the contouring of this area in the case of the second head falls apart – the distance between the ear and the corner of the mouth seems too short, and the line connecting these parts cuts across the face instead of helping to envision its bone structure. The bearded heads on the right sides of the two sheets are created by a similar movement of the line that begins at the ridge of the nose and continues to the mouth and the chin area, which – in these profiles – consists

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of a long beard. It is intriguing to discover how the two heads diverge in their lineaments, despite their resemblance. On the sheet with the ear studies, the line’s path after leaving the beard proceeds to contour the ear and then bridges the gap between the temple and the eyebrow. The fact that this line is at first mimetically unmotivated does not make the drawing seem uncertain, because at a later point, it will be caught up and visually fused with the contour of the hat. This occurs after the line descends from its description of the eyebrow and meanders through the eye area, by dint of four horizontal loops that succinctly evoke the eyelid, the eyeball, and the folds of skin under the eye, eventually dropping down the cheek and turning to the right, with undulations to depict the upper margin of the beard. In the lineament of the bearded profile on the sheet with three heads, instead of connecting the contour of the beard to that of the ear, the line makes a detour and runs first – the sequence here is conjectural, because there are several points of bifurcation, which make it difficult to trace – along the contour of the throat, and from there to the back of the head and the forehead, and then most likely to the eye area. The line continues on to contour the cheek; two indentations in the line suggest the upper extension of the beard. A loop interrupts the indication of the jaw and seems to form the earlobe. The delineation of the ear and the hairline follows. At its conjunction with the forehead, the line garlands the head with an implication of leaf-like forms. At its end, the line joins the contours of the ear, and from there interweaves with the depiction of the beard, giving it more fullness. The line seems to finally finish by tapering off with a sweep of the pen. Both of the heads on this sheet show a stronger looseness – if not slackness – of line. Their slightly open lips and staring eyes produce an impression of routine practice rather than a speaking likeness; the lines seem to describe facial features less succinctly than on the other sheet, where the line’s meandering movement creates a far more consistent image. The mimetic density of the drawings on the sheet with the ear studies consists in a more precise definition of the contour lines together with greater spatial plausibility in their configuration. The quality that differentiates the two sheets is illuminated by a passage from Pliny the Elder (23–79), who states in his Natural History: ‘For the contour ought to round itself off and so terminate as to suggest the presence of other parts behind it also, and disclose even what it hides’.13 This quality can be further defined if we consider a statement made by the painter Henri Matisse (1869–1954), writing in 1939: ‘With a drawing, even if it is done with 13 Pliny, Natural History, 311.


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only one line, an infinite number of nuances can be given to each part that the line encloses. Proportion plays a fundamental role’.14 In the drawings by Agostino Carracci examined above, those demonstrating a higher degree of workmanship are on the same sheet as the four ear studies; this is no coincidence, for the ears likewise reveal the virtuosity involved in drawing a figure from a single line. These ear studies may in fact be understood as a pars pro toto exercise. Agostino Carracci’s biographer, Carlo Cesare Malvasia (1616–1693), reports that Agostino made a plaster model of an ear as a device to learn about its physical structure. Malvasia explains this focused study of a rather meaningless detail of the face as follows: ‘for the ear is considered, and rightly so, to be one of the most difficult parts of the human body to draw, which is why it is usual, in determining whether a head has been painted by a good artist, to take a look at the ears to see if they are well drawn and shown in a proper angle and place – things that no one, however great a master he might be, has ever rendered better, or understood and placed better than the Carracci’.15 That the detailed study of singular elements of the face was common practice in the Carracci workshop is demonstrated in a drawing manual, the title of which, Scuola Perfetta per Imparare a Disegnare tutto il corpo Humano. Cavata dallo studio, e disegni de Carracci, leaves open the question of which of the three Carraccis provided the drawings for reproduction. The manual’s suggested fragmentation of the face into separate parts resonates with the idea of a ‘draughtsman’s alphabet’, as developed by Alessandro Allori and Federico Zuccari around the same time. For the curriculum of the Academia del Disegno, Zuccari requests that the master begin the instruction of his pupils with the ‘A, B, C, eyes, noses, mouths, ears, heads, hands, feet, arms, legs, etc.’ – a list of elements that is likewise followed in the Scuola Perfetta.16 The first lesson page features the ear as its centerpiece, positioned between a fragmented eye area in profile above and the lower part of a face below (Figure 3). Another page shows a single ear foreshortened from many different points of view. 14 Matisse, ‘The Role and Modalities of Color’, 155. 15 Summerscale, Malvasia’s Life of the Carracci, 295. A sheet in the Windsor Castle Collection shows the ear studies from different angles. 16 ’Il Sig. Principe donarà alcuna cosa di sua mano; e le prime cose saranno, per cominciare dall’Alfabeto del Dissegno (per dir così) A, B, C, Occhi, Nasi, Bocche, Orecchie, Teste, Mani, Piedi, Braccia, Gambe, Corpi, Schiene, & altri simili parti, sì del corpo humano, come d’ogni altra sorte d’animali, e figure, parimente di cose di Architettura, & opere di rilievi in cera, creta, & simili essercitii’; Alberti and Zuccaro, Origine e progresso dell’accademia, 5, in Scritti d’arte di Federico Zuccaro, 17; see also Allori, Il Primo Libro de’ Ragionamenti, 1941–81.

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Figure 3 Attributed to Luca Ciamberlano, after Agostino Carracci, Scuola Perfetta: Studies of two eyes, two ears and two lower portions of the face, in pairs, one in outline; engraving, 167 x 116 mm, ca. 1600–1630, The British Museum.


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It may seem obvious to explain the difference in quality between the two sheets by attributing one to the hand of the master and the other to his pupil, but we should resist jumping to a premature conclusion; many artists who practised this type of improvised drawing exercise produced results that varied significantly in their mimetic integrity. Perhaps the sheet with three heads was Agostino’s first attempt, and realizing he could do better, he strove to gain more sureness of hand by then drawing each of the four ears with a continuous line. The verso of the study of the three heads features an additional sketch, which also appears to be outlined by means of only one uninterrupted line, showing two men standing in front of a landscape (Figure 4). This work seems to be contingent upon the detailed and assiduous studies of the ear on the other sheet, their enhanced mimetic expressiveness of line enabling the artist’s subsequent display of mastery on a grand scale. His virtuoso technique is used to full effect in the description of the two male figures, whose rendition is complicated by their spatial positioning relative to each other – with one shown from the side, his head in lost profile, and the other in three-quarter view. The f igures’ facial features are so well placed that only on second glance does one realize the draughtsman’s artistry in weaving all the parts – eyes, nose, and chin – together with one line. The more we become involved in retracing the line, the more we are captivated by it. Looking at the figure on the right, for example, one marvels at how the line bridging the gap between the left eye and the region of the left ear (also executed in the drawing of the head of the bearded man, but there absorbed into the outline of his hat and thus made unobtrusive) by necessity crosses the usually insignificant temple area, doing so in such a compelling way that the temple becomes a main feature of the man’s facial expression. The more the flow of the line is considered remarkable in and of itself, the more the depicted figure is in danger of unraveling, the contour becoming ornamental as its various parts are flattened to the same level of the line’s materiality. Although the drawing at first resembles a quick, loose sketch, its technique has a calligraphic quality – a connection even more obvious on the recto side, with the head studies bearing witness to the detailed preparation that went into creating the seemingly simple drawing. It is still an open question whether these drawings should be attributed to Agostino or to his more famous brother, Annibale (1560–1609). An attribution to the former seems more probable because of his training in the print medium, where the expertise required to incise lines precisely on a copper plate may have facilitated his familiarity with the art of calligraphy.

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Figure 4 Agostino Carracci, Two men in a landscape; pen and brown ink, 15 x 10.3 cm, The Nationalmuseum Stockholm.


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One of the most frequently copied models of a perfect freehand circle (like the circle associated with the name of Giotto in the legend referred to above) in European art history is to be found in Jan van de Velde the Elder’s Spieghel der Schrijfkonste (1605), a calligraphy copybook. This geometric design, consisting of a perfect circle framed by two ovals, is the basis for a varied array of calligraphic showpieces, demonstrated on subsequent pages of van de Velde’s book, each of which exceeds the simplicity of the first exercise by incorporating into it more complex designs – human bodies, animals, ships, and the like – fashioned out of spirals and loops. This hybrid embellishment of text with sinuous figures, originating from medieval manuscript traditions, became a widespread practice in displays of masterful penmanship that celebrate a surplus of lineal fluidity and exuberant beauty. The fusion of the figural and the written line in these works demonstrates the connection often made between these two disciplines in early modern art theory, which claimed that writing exercises foster manual dexterity in drawing.17 The Stockholm drawings exhibit visual elements that stem from calligraphy, such as loops creating nostrils or the gesture of finishing the drawing with a sweep of the pen. But Agostino animates the exuberant figures of calligraphy, curvaceous in their lavish number of loops, by intertwining the overall movement of the line with the individual twists and turns of the outline. By integrating calligraphic excess with mimetic purpose, the line becomes ‘disciplined’ and, in contrast to writing, shows the artifice of the art of drawing. The biographical descriptions of Agostino Carracci all agree that not only was he well educated in the sciences and literature, but that he also liked to boast about this fact.18 There are many anecdotes about his keen intellect, and it is therefore possible that he performed these drawings while keeping in mind the legendary aspect of such a gesture. It is important to remember that Michelangelo trivialized the famous anecdote from antiquity by drawing half a figure in one stroke, and Salvator 17 According to Giovanni Battista Armenini, who considered it necessary for the artist to be literate, the ability to form beautiful letters provided an ideal foundation for draughtsmanship. The better the letters, the more promising the draughtsman: ‘E prima è da avertire colui che si pone al disegno, che inanzi egli sappia leggere e scrivere bene, perciò che a chi pulitamente si è avezzo di far bel carattere si giudica che, come quasi ciò sia un non so che di buon proncipio, che qua nto ciò faccia meglio, tanto maggiormente si prometta di lui nel disegno’; Armenini, De’ veri precetti della pittura, 67. See Suthor, ‘Guercino’s “wet” drawing’, 80–92. 18 ‘Through reading or conversing with knowledgeable men he delighted in learning causes, order, and motion of those things that the eternal artificer made for the benefit of man, and attending now to theory, now to practice (ora speculando, ora operando) he put every possible effort into his studies in order to make himself worthy of esteem and attain preeminence among men’; Summerscale, Malvasia’s Life of the Carracci, 200.

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Rosa considered such an act to be a poor performance. What makes these brilliant feats controversial is the driving purpose behind them: they are, above all, demonstrations of manual dexterity and are thus exercises in showing off. The previously mentioned criticism voiced against the abstraction of these legendary lines was intended to distance art from the ostentation of a practice that foregrounds the line itself. If the line stands out, it becomes self-referential and lacks meaning. Vladimir Jankélévitch concisely describes this problematic tendency of virtuosity as follows: ‘Virtuosity does not seek out penumbra in order to hide therein, but on the contrary, it caprioles in the limelight of center stage’.19 Jankélévitch categorizes improvisation as being situated between reflexive reaction, which for him is ‘non-inventive’ because it is ‘uniform’, and the ‘logos’ that requires distance and time for reflection. He defines improvisation as ‘the return of the mediate to the immediate. Immediate meditation or discursive immediacy, improvisation is a type of instantaneous preparation’.20 Jankélévitch’s def inition of improvisation as ‘the beginning of the beginning’,21 and thus the ‘degree zero’ point of creation, can best be applied in the realm of the visual arts to works that expose the activity involved in their preparation. The Stockholm drawings show Agostino Carracci’s meditations on the mediation of different heads. The continuous line he uses invites us to follow the ways in which the artist combines the elements of the face to form coherent profiles that differ quasi-discursively from one another in regard to the act of drawing them. Agostino’s concise linkage of the facial elements produces a deliberately artificial pathway (of the ‘rerum ipsa serie’22) that eliminates the impression of these being mere scribbles made by chance. Despite their playful appearance, the variations among the heads reveal that it is not chance, but rather the logos of method that is the principle behind these drawing performances. In his essay, Jankélévitch refers to Quintilian’s explanation of extempore technique as found in the Institutionis oratoriae. According to Quintilian 19 ‘La virtuosité ne cherche pas la pénombre pour s’y cacher, mais au contraire elle fait ses cabrioles sous les feux de la rampe et des projecteurs’; Jankélévitch, Liszt et la Rhapsodie, 9. 20 ‘Il y a une conduit générale d’improvisation qui se situe à mi-chemin du réflexe, reaction instantanée, mais uniforme et non inventive, et du “logos,” conduit quaesitive par laquelle l’homme prend ses distances, sursoit, se donne le temps. L’improvisation est le retour du médiat à l’immédiat. Meditation immediate ou immédiateté discursive, l’improvisation est une sorte de preparation instantanée’; Jankélévitch, Rhapsodie et Improvisation, 108. 21 Jankélévitch, Rhapsodie et Improvisation, 113. 22 Quintilian, Institutionis Oratoriae, book 10, chap. 7, line 6; cited by Jankélévitch, Rhapsodie et Improvisation, 124.


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(35–100), an extempore performance requires intensive study and long preparation;23 the routine developed by constant training creates facility and agility.24 It is worth noting that Malvasia praised the Carracci for always having a pencil in hand in order to constantly practise drawing: ‘Whether they were eating, drinking, resting, and going out, every operation, every motion, every act, every gesture would compel them to take charcoal-holder in hand to record the experience, thus interrupting, with almost excessive gusto, the normal duties of conversation no less than the ones necessary to the conservation of health. While eating they would draw, with bread in one hand and chalk or charcoal in the other’.25 The well-trained performer, Quintilian notes, does not have to be concerned about the steps they will follow, because they act almost automatically, without thinking. Yet what proceeds this ‘unthinking’ state is based, first and foremost, on thought processes as its precondition.26 Both Quintilian and Jankélévitch associate the ability to improvise with socially dubious professions (the former with jongleurs and conjurors, the latter with acrobats), thereby emphasizing the aspect of spectacle connected with extemporization, which seems to be void of any deeper motivation. It is these performers’ fluidity of movement, a fluidity that makes time (in the literal sense of ex tempore) visually perceptible, that grips the spectators and draws them in. But what causes amazement is the precariousness of the steps, the thin line of the tightrope walker.27 For Jankélévitch, improvisation that demonstrates aptitude should combine vigilance with acrobatic suppleness; the attitude displayed should be one of resoluteness and abandon.28 Accordingly, Agostino’s spectacular exposure of the line opens up a peculiar dual quality of the contour as having distinct interior and exterior aspects – related to production and result, respectively – that ordinarily cannot be perceived by the beholder at the same time. And it is this characteristic in particular that differentiates single-line drawings from sketches or studies. The latter are focused on the image they are elaborating, 23 Quintilian, Institutionis Oratoriae, 10, 7, 1. 24 Quintilian, Institutionis Oratoriae, 10, 7, 8. 25 Summerscale, Malvasia’s Life of the Carracci, 266. 26 Quintilian, Institutionis Oratoriae, 10, 7, 12. 27 ‘L’improvisation, c’est l’approximation professée; l’hésitation elle-même engender chez l’auditeur une sympathie reconnaissante pour cette demarche imparfaite, errante, approximative et toute jalonnée d’échecs qui est censée être celle de la vie’; Jankélévitch, Rhapsodie et Improvisation, 119. 28 ‘Il y faut un mélange de vigilance et de souplesse acrobatique, de la decision mais aussi un certain abandon’; Jankélévitch, Rhapsodie et Improvisation, 110.

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not on the physical aspect of the line doing the work. Hence, the line per se is conceived of as marginal, a hem (orlo) encircling that which its enclosure suggests. The line’s potential to evoke a representational intent, an image, by means of its bends and turns (con-torno), instead of drawing attention to itself, is guaranteed only when its materiality is overlooked.29 Interestingly, there are two lines extolled by Pliny, each representing the best quality of one of these aspects. Pliny celebrates the subtlety of Apelles’ line, a feature that is essential to the line’s discreetness and thus inconspicuousness. In contrast to Apelles’ straight line, Parrhasius’s line reveals its excellence by being bent. The length and width of the stroke is not mentioned, and evidently this does not affect the contour line’s mimetic potential, which resides solely in the representational appropriateness of the line’s course. In the moment when this ‘course’ reveals its mimetic intent, when the line ‘discloses even what it hides’, the line’s movement freezes, and the plasticity of the drawing emerges. We may say that the drawing performance itself – executed anecdotally by Michelangelo and Rosa and in reality by Agostino Carracci – paradoxically brings both aspects of interiority and exteriority together on the same perceptual plane, fully into the ‘limelight’ (as Jankélévitch says), and creates a dazzling presentation of the draughtsman’s skill. Agostino’s drawings are not especially noteworthy as images and consequently have always been categorized as simple doodles, without giving due appreciation to the skill they display. This may coincide with Agostino’s own perception of them as pure exercises, with no other value than to bring suppleness to the hand and the eye. Malvasia reports that the Carracci did not see any value in ‘those scraps of drawings. […] At the time when I lived in Rome, there was a pen drawing, also by Agostino, on the back of which was written, “I, Giovanni Andrea Donducci (this being Mastelletta) snatched this drawing out of the hand of Signor Agostino Carracci, who wanted to rub the frying pan and light the fire with it”’.30 There are precious few sheets demonstrating the artistic feat of the continuous line that have come down to us, but this does not necessarily mean that the act of drawing a figure from a single line was not practised. Instead, the rarity of this exercise documents its ephemeral dimension, consisting primarily in its performance, as the legend around ‘Giotto’s O’ clarifies.31 29 See Elkins, ‘Marks, Traces, “Traits,” Contours, “Orli,” and “Splendores”’, 822–60. 30 Summerscale, Malvasia’s Life of the Carracci, 265. 31 It is worth noting that this particular feat of drawing mastery experienced a great renaissance – as measured by the amount of extant examples – in the twentieth century. The Bauhaus teachers Johannes Itten, Paul Klee and Josef Albers taught the technique to their students; the


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The fusion of both undulating and contouring line into – apparently – one stroke is channelled by the line’s flow. This lineal flow incorporates and thus unites these two divergent aspects, because they alternately unfold in the course of the line’s movement. It is significant that in the legendary account, the figural drawings executed with one line are associated with the abstract circle, and thus a mathematic form. The figural drawings are in fact an artistic rebuke, in which the artist uses the same method but ironically turns it into something else that can better fulfil their claim to mastery, thereby debasing the original exemplary feat. The perfectly enclosing but infinite line of the circle exemplifies unity in a universal way. The drawings discussed here provide concrete counterexamples with the added complexity of mimesis and thus significantly distort the perfect circle. Nevertheless, in this case, the claim of perfect unity is reformulated on a secondary level, which may be explained with reference to some remarks on continuity and oneness made by Aristotle in his Metaphysics: Of things that are called one in virtue of their own nature some (a) are so called because they are continuous, e.g. a bundle is made one by a band, and pieces of wood are made one by glue; and a line, even if it is bent, is called one if it is continuous, as each part of the body is, e.g. the leg or the arm. Of these themselves, the continuous by nature are more one than the continuous by art. […] This is why the circle is of all lines most truly one, because it is whole and complete. […] That which is a whole and has a certain shape and form is one in a still higher degree; and especially if a thing is of this sort by nature, and not by force like the things which are unified by glue or nails or by being tied together, i.e. if it has in itself the cause of its continuity. A thing is of this sort because its movement is one and indivisible in place and time. […] And in one sense matter is said to be of the nature of substratum, in another, shape, and in a third, the compound of these (by the matter I mean, for instance, the bronze, by the shape the pattern of its form, and by the compound of these the statue, the concrete whole).32

We may conclude that Agostino Carracci’s single line drawings surpass, in a most virtuous manner, the artificial gluing together of the various facial aspects, as methodologically suggested in the Scuola Perfetta (see expressionist painters Ludwig Kirchner and Lucio Fontana practiced it; and last but not least, Pablo Picasso excelled in it. See Suthor, ‘Picassos Kakographien’, 165–84. 32 Aristotle, Metaphysics, 5 ch. 6; 7 ch. 3; 10, ch. 1.

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Figure 3 above), because the movement of the line’s flow – in the fiction of the technique – is one. The line brings the depicted facial features, the physical stroke itself, and the shape of the drawn form onto the same level of perception. It becomes ‘the matter’ (in Aristotle’s sense) that unites these three different aspects by creating a concrete whole.

Works Cited Alberti, Romano, and Federico Zuccaro. Origine e progresso dell’accademia del disegno di Roma (Pavia, 1604). In Scritti d’arte di Federico Zuccaro, ed. Detlef Heikamp. Florence: Leo S. Olschki, 1961. Allori, Alessandro. Il Primo Libro de’ Ragionamenti delle Regole del Disegno d’Alessandro Allori con M. Agnolo Bronzino. In Scritti d’Arte del Cinquecento, vol. 2, ed. Paola Barocchi, 1941–1981. Milano/Napoli: Riccardo Riccardi Editorie, 1973. Aristotle. Metaphysics. Trans. W.D. Ross. Available at: Aristotle/metaphysics.7.vii.html. Armenini, Giovanni Battista. De’ veri precetti della pittura (1586). Edited by Marina Gorreri. Turin: Einaudi, 1988. Bjurström, Per. Drawings from the age of the Carracci: Seventeenth century Bolognese drawings from the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm. Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2002. Carducho, Vicente. Diálogos de la Pintura: su defensa, origin, esencia, definición, modos y diferencias. Edited by Francisco Calvo Serraller. Madrid: Ediciones Turner, 1979. Comanini, Gregorio. Il Figino, overo, Del fine della pittura. Mantova: Francesco Osanna, 1591. Elkins, James. ‘Marks, Traces, “Traits,” Contours, “Orli,” and “Splendores”: Nonsemiotic Elements in Pictures’. Critical Inquiry 21, no. 4 (Summer 1995): 822–60. Filarete, Antonio Averlino detto Il. Trattato di Architettura. Edited by Anna Maria Finoli and Liliana Grassi. 2 vols. Milan: Edizioni il Polifilo, 1972. Fiorillo, Johann Domenicus. ‘Über eine Stelle des Plinius Hist. Natur. XXXV.10’. In Kleine Schriften artistischen Inhalts. Göttingen: Heinrich Dietrich, 1803. Frey, Karl. Der literarische Nachlass Giorgio Vasaris. 3 vols. Munich: Müller, 1930. Jankélévitch, Vladimir. Liszt et la Rhapsodie: Essai sur la virtuosité. Paris: Plon, 1979. Jankélévitch, Vladimir. Rhapsodie et Improvisation. Edited by Francoise Schwab. Paris: Flammarion 1998. Matisse, Henri. ‘The Role and Modalities of Color’. In Matisse on Art, edited by Jack Flam, 154–56. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995. Pascoli, Lione. Vite de’ pittori, scultori ed architetti moderni. Rome, 1736.


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Piles, Roger de. Abregé de la vie des peintres. Paris, 1699. Pliny. Natural History, Volume 9: Books 33–35. Translated by H. Rackham. Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1952. Quintilian. Institutionis Oratoriae Liber X. Introduction and notes by William Peterson. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1903. Summerscale, Anne. Malvasia’s Life of the Carracci, Commentary and Translation. University Park: Penn State University Press, 2000. Suthor, Nicola. ‘Picassos Kakographien’. In Prekäre Exzellenz, edited by Gabriele Brandstetter et al., 165–84. Fink: Munich, 2012. Suthor, Nicola. ‘Guercino’s “wet” drawing’. RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics 63/64, (Spring/Autumn 2013): 80–92. Van de Waal, Henri. ‘The Linea summae tenuitatis of Apelles: Pliny’s Phrase and Its Interpreters’. Zeitschrift für Ästhetik und allgemeine Kunstwissenschaft 12, no. 1 (1967): 5–32. Vasari, Giorgio. The Lives of the Artists. Translated by Julia Conaway Bondanella and Peter Bondanella. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. Wittkower, Rudolph. The Drawings of the Carracci in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen at Windsor Castle. London: Phaidon, 1952.


Fall and Rise Again Irit Ruth Kleiman Abstract Calling itself a ‘choreographed improvisation’, this chapter connects a series of tactile scenes from canonical texts in medieval literature, including works associated with Chrétien de Troyes, Robert de Clari, Guilhem IX, Jaufré Rudel, and Jean de Joinville. Its main axis follows the thematic interrogation of authorial and readerly contact through the evocation of sensual experience. Keywords: medieval lyric; touch; breath; embodiment; memory; history of the senses; sensuality in literature; subjectivity

A medieval French proverb says, ‘Fortune est chauve darriere et devant chevelue’ (‘Fortune has a hairy face but is bald from behind’).1 The meaning is that one can only grab hold of a moment – of potential and opportunity – as it approaches. Hindsight may be twenty-twenty (as the English proverb goes), but the acuity of retrospective vision brings with it no agency. When we talk about improvisation we talk about temporality, structure, and movement. We reference a moment in time when possibility can still be seized fully – when the potential for renewal, presence, and movement must be reached out for and grasped, lest it recede inexorably towards a vanishing point somewhere along the horizon of the past. This is to say that to speak of improvisation is to speak of the potential for agency; to improvise is to reach with fingertips extended towards Fortune’s hairy face. When we talk about improvisation in art and literature, we often think first of the twentieth century and its particular explorations of modernity – surrealism, jazz, or action painting, for instance. In the aesthetics that characterize each of these lineages, the work of art enacts its own 1

The line comes from Troyes, Le Conte du Graal, v. 4577–78.

Hellemans, Babette & Alissa Jones Nelson (eds.), Images, Improvisations, Sound, and Silence from 1000 to 1800: Degree Zero. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2018 doi: 10.5117/9789462980051/CH05


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foray into becoming. Improvisation becomes both method and subject of artistic production. What happens, then, if we ask about improvisation in medieval literature? On the one hand, nothing could be more central than the mouvance of performance, variation, and adaptation that characterizes the emergence of medieval literary texts in their material forms.2 So much of the poetic canon of the Middle Ages makes manifest the capture of orality and improvisation in the net of literacy. This observation about literary history is particularly intriguing when it comes to our understanding of troubadour lyrics, such as those that will occupy us in a moment. However, it is not this question that occupies us in this chapter. Beyond the historical questions inherent to explanations of how a written, vernacular literature assumed gradual ascendancy over the poetics of performative orality, how might we address the question of improvisation as it relates to medieval literature in its representational facets? The issue is an elusive one, but also one of great importance. The approach we take to it reflects the ways that we conceive of the medieval canon in relation to the modern. Do we allow medieval literature the same porosity – the same rich polyvalence, ambiguity, and ambivalence – as that which we require of modern works as a condition of entry into the aesthetic canon, as that which makes possible our recognition of them as works of art? Or do we condemn medieval texts, directly or otherwise, to the status of sealed objects seen from afar? Fortune is hairy in front and bald behind. The line appears in Chrétien de Troyes’ Grail romance, Le Conte du Graal (c. 1180–1190), where it is enacted quite literally: Chrétien’s would-be hero, Perceval, embodies a kind of pervasive unknowing, overwhelming in its absoluteness. A messenger rides up – gets right in his face – utters these words of insult and condemnation, then rides on. Chrétien dramatizes failure and loss, the never-finished reckoning with a fragmented past of foreclosed possibility. The rest of his unresolved romance follows after on horseback, by foot, and by boat, all in a losing gambit to grab hold of the past before it becomes a future that has already arrived. Improvisation depends on an element of surprise. Pattern must be anticipated, gratification promised. But that is also the path to boredom, to complacency. Instead, the artist (composer, author, narrator) must frighten us, remind us that we do not know. Like drowsing people jerked into wakefulness by the sensation of falling, we must feel ourselves radically unmoored 2 For the concept of mouvance, see in particular Zumthor, Essai de poétique médiévale, followed by Cerquiglini, Eloge de la variante.

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over and over again. This is the condition of unknowing that makes art possible, that gives improvisation life beyond a moment. Even when we know how it ends, it must be not only possible, but even inescapable to feel fear each time – to wonder, as artists or spectators, if we will land on our feet again, whether order can be restored. How will it end? It is facile but no less true to observe that narration is itself an act of improvisation. One phrase unfurls from the next, etching lines of remembrance or possibility, tracing the arc of chance or consequence, and cleaving to the contours of unspoken rules. Emboldened by the improvisational nature of the degree zero project, with its amalgam of encounters with the unfamiliar and its deliberate investigation of the conditions of creation and creativity, I have tried here to loose myself from academic habits of argument per se; instead, I have set out a kind of choreographed improvisation through some of the touchstones in my readings of medieval French literature around the theme of touch. My aim is, as this purpose would suggest, to allow play to occur, such that through the movement of association, a potential concealed in deep structure can be set into motion and, perhaps, made fleetingly visible on the surface. Several years ago I was leading a seminar on the medieval lyric and became troubled by a detail in the thirteenth-century vida of the troubadour Jaufré Rudel (c. 1130–1148). Here is this jewel of a narrative in its entirety: Jaufres Rudels de Blaia si fo mout gentils hom, princes de Blaia. Et enamoret se de la comtessa de Tripol, ses vezer, per lo ben qu’el n’auzi dire als pelerins que venguen d’Antiocha. E fez de leis mains vers ab bons sons, ab paubres motz. E per voluntat de leis vezer, el se croset e se mes en mar, e pres lo malautia en la nau, e fo condug a Tripol, en un alberc, per mort. E fo fait saber a la comtessa et ella venc ad el, al son leit e pres lo antre sos bratz. E saup qu’ella era la comtessa e mantenent recobret l’auzir e.l flairar, et lauzet Dieu, que l’avia la vida sostenguda tro qu’el l’agues vista; et enaissi el mori entre sos bratz. Et ella lo fez a gran honor sepellir en la maison del Temple; e pois, en aquel dia, ella se rendet morga, per la dolor qu’ella n’ac de la mort de lui. (Jaufré Rudel of Blaye was a very noble man, prince of Blaye. He fell in love with the countess of Tripoli sight unseen, because of the good that he had heard tell of her by the pilgrims who were coming back from Antioch. And he made about her many songs, with good melodies but with poor words. Out of desire to see her, he took the cross and set to sea; and sickness took him on the ship, and he was brought to Tripoli to an inn and taken for


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dead. This was made known to the countess, and she came to him, to his bed, and took him in her arms. And he realized that she was the countess and at once he recovered the power of hearing and smell, and he praised God, who had sustained his life until he had seen her, and thus he died in her arms. And she had him buried with great honour in the house of the Templars, and then on the same day she became a nun, for the grief that she felt over his death.)3

In this tiny life, we read of a crusader’s sea crossing, a lover’s pilgrimage, and – in exemplary terms – a transformative poetic journey from sung performance to written commemoration, across dialects, genres, and centuries. The detail that troubled me, however, concerned the role granted to the senses in the edifice of memory. The poet goes in search of an unseen beloved, but when he finds her, the embrace between them is at once an act of passionate re-finding and re-cognition. Let us read together: at the beginning of his adventure, the poet-hero falls sick at sea, and his companions carry him ashore. They touch him, move him, and manipulate him, but as one touches, moves, or manipulates an inert object; indeed, he is ‘lifeless’ to the fullest extent that figurative speech allows. Then the Countess of Tripoli comes to him, and she takes him in her arms. Here again is touch, but it has different qualities. If we accept the consequences and duties of our readers’ pact – that is, our obligation to believe in the narrative’s truth-claims – then the Countess’s touch calls form into being and being into form. She brings satisfaction to both desire and lament. In the Countess’s embrace, the almost-lifeless poet hears and smells (Is it her voice he hears? The sweetness of her perfume that he smells?). Embraced and gazed upon by the one he desires to see and embrace, the poet-hero’s desire returns to him in a complete, transformative circuit. Notice how we have drawn here a compass of senses: touch, sight, hearing, smell. Sensual awakening presents an allegory of knowledge and an ambiguous archaeology of subjectivity. In my reading, this is a tale about losing something you have sought and found, or not finding something that you seek, or about ways of holding onto what cannot be possessed. For one brief moment, touch has summoned the poet’s soul back from the edge of death. It is touch that leads to the soul’s awakening, to a fleeting moment of plenitude. Eros gives

3 Rosenberg et al., Songs of the Troubadours, 54, following Boutière and Schutz, eds., Biographies des troubadours, 16–17. The translation is mine, adapted from Rosenberg et al., Songs of the Troubadours, and from Paden, An Introduction to Old Occitan.

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mass to the pendulum’s swing outwards towards pleasure, then back again towards renunciation and sublimation. Readers familiar with medieval French literature may remember that this vida offers a kind of improvised solution to Jaufré’s enigmatic song, ‘Lanquan li jorn,’ whose first strophe declares: Lanquand li jorn son lonc en mai M’es bels douz chans d’auzels de loing, E qand me suis partitz de lai Remembra.m d’un’amor de loing; Vauc de talan enbroncs e clis, Si que chans ni flors d’albespsis No.m platz plus que l’inverns gelatz. (When the days are long in May I like the sweet song of birds from afar, And when I have gone away from there, I remember a love from afar. I go bent and bowed with desire, So that neither song nor hawthorn flower Pleases me more than icy winter.)4

The poem’s seven stanzas cycle through a shifting sequence of images related to the vision of a faraway land and a faraway love.5 Most importantly, the poem’s verbal structure might be described as helix turning on the pivot formed by the alternate joining-up and facing-off of the words amor (love) and loing (faraway). The words embrace one another even as they speak of their own uncrossable distance. Tonally, the melody – which survives – turns repeatedly away from its own harmonic resolution. The tension between hawthorn bloom and frozen winter, paradigmatic images in early troubadour lyrics, seems to answer or echo Guilhem IX’s iconic poem ‘Ab la dolchor’. As one of the eleven surviving song-poems attributed to the Duke of Aquitaine (1071–1126), ‘Ab la dolchor’ has something in common with satellite photos of the milliseconds that immediately followed the Big Bang with regard to its importance for our understanding of the birth of vernacular lyric.6 4 Rosenberg et al., Songs of the Troubadours, 56. 5 The complete poem contains seven stanzas plus a three-line tornada. 6 For an incisive introduction to Guilhem, his poetry, and the problem of lyric origins, see Bond, ‘Origins’, 237–54.


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Once more, we begin with an image of desire’s pleasure in the anticipation of gratification: Ab la dolchor del temps novel Foillo li bosc, e li aucel Chanton, chascus en lor lati, Segon lo vers del novel chan; Adonc esta ben c’om s’aisi D’acho don hom a plus talan. (In the sweetness of the new season The woods leaf out, and the birds Sing, each one in its language Following the measure of the new song: Then it is well for a man to enjoy What he most desires.)7

This image quickly pivots towards memory, antithesis, and a kind of fatalistic sensual exaltation: La nostr’amor vai enaissi Com la branca de l’albespi, Qu’esta sobre l’abre tremblan La nuoit, a la ploia ez al gel, Tro l’endeman, que.l sols s’espan Per la fueilla vert el ramel. (Our love goes just like The hawthorn branch Which clings trembling on the tree At night, in the rain and ice Until the next morning, when the sun spreads Through the green leaves and the branches.)8

7 Rosenberg et al., Songs of the Troubadours, 36; translation adapted from Paden, An Introduction to Old Occitan, 522, edited for capitalization and punctuation. 8 Rosenberg et al., Songs of the Troubadours, 37; my translation, adapted from Rosenberg et al. and from Paden, An Introduction to Old Occitan.

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Spring blossoms not with the satisfaction of the senses, but with the promise of a pleasure all the more intense for existing only in the movement between memory and anticipation. Branch and flower cling to one another, though lashed by winter’s storms. Their trembling externalizes poetic submission to the violence of impossible desire. The image is both stylized and chaste, and yet also stunningly sensual. Not only is the tenacity of sexual embrace elevated to the purity of the blossom’s white, but the confirmation it receives combines an evocation of pleasurable gratification (the sun’s warmth), fertility, and blessing (in the green leaves and branches), and perhaps also a promise of survival. Then again, last summer’s blossom, even though it might cling to the branch through an icy storm, does not bloom again. The poem then sets aside this imagery in favour of directly spoken allusions to a more specific moment of tactile erotic encounter: Enquer me menbra d’un mati Que nos fezem de guerra fi, E que.m donet un don tan gran: Sa drudari’e son anel; Enquer me lais Dieus viure tan C’aia mas mans soz so mantel! (I still remember one morning When we made an end to war, And she gave me so great a gift: Her love and her ring. May God let me live until I can again place my hands beneath her cloak!)9

In this couplet, the poet frames what may be the question at the heart of his song: ‘Enquer me lais Dieus viure tan / C’aia mas mans soz so mantel’ (Will I ever touch you again?). The poet’s ardor is perhaps not to touch his beloved in the future, but rather for memory’s consecration of the physical senses and their elevation to a spiritual realm. Erotic uncertainty keeps the split temporality of the poet’s dalliance with sensual remembrance alive and also keeps the poem from closure.

9 Rosenberg et al., Songs of the Troubadours, 37; my translation, adapted from Rosenberg et al. and from Paden, An Introduction to Old Occitan.


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The awakening of and through touch takes an even more explicit form in Chrétien de Troyes’s Arthurian romance, Yvain, ou le Chevalier au Lion (1177). Chrétien’s fourth and most philosophical romance tells the story of a man who goes mad and loses all memory after breaking a promise he made to his wife. The pivotal scenes where Yvain regains his memory begin with a cameo appearance by Lady Noreason. As Lady Noreason rides through the forest, one of her (unnamed) ladies-in-waiting spots a naked madman asleep on the forest floor. The girl expresses neither fear nor disgust nor pity. She does not recoil or show any of the reactions familiar to anyone who comes into contact with the homeless and mentally ill who inhabit the interstices of our cities today. Instead, she alone of her company rushes to the man and studies his face intently. In doing this, she realizes that she knows this abandoned creature. She recognizes a particular scar the man wears on his face: Au reconnoistre mout tarda; Et nepourquant bien l’esgarda, Quë en la fin li fu avis, D’une plaie qu’il ot el vis, C’une tel plaie el vis avoit Mesire Yvains; bien le savoit, Qu’ele l’avoit souvent veüe. Par la plaie s’est percheüe Que chë est il, de riens n’en doute. (It took a long time for her to recognize him; nonetheless she looked at him attentively, so that at last she thought about a scar that he had on his face, realizing that Sir Yvain had a scar like that on his face; she knew it well for having often seen it. By the scar she perceived that it is he, she has no doubts about it.)10

Recognizing Yvain, the girl begins to weep, and she convinces her mistress to share a magic ointment. Lady Noreason’s instructions are strict: ‘Don’t waste any! A little on the temples and forehead is all that’s needed’. But the girl does not listen. Returning with fine clothes and a spare horse, she anoints Yvain’s whole body from head to toe. When he wakes, Yvain is bewildered and distressed to find himself naked and so weak that he can barely walk. Only then does the brave girl reveal herself, pretending as if she had just 10 Troyes, Le Chevalier au Lion, vv. 2901–09, translations mine.

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happened to be riding by with an extra horse, then leading Yvain to her home to rest and recover fully. This prolonged scene realizes an ethical reading practice based on empathy. The girl’s careful reading of Yvain’s face both instills and reflects the courage needed to heal him. She is unafraid of touching this wild, dirty, naked, and potentially dangerous figure of anonymous exclusion and alienation, seeing instead an individual person. Touch will confirm the singularity of both healer and patient, making possible the ointment’s transformative effect: Et fait mout tres grant hardement, Que del forsené tant s’aproche Quë ele le manoie et touche. Et prent l’onguement, si l’en oint Tant comme en la boiste en a point, Car sa garison tant couvoite Que de l’oindre par tout s’esploite; Si le met trestout en despense. (She does a very bold and daring act when she gets so close to the madman that she handles and touches him. And she takes the ointment, and anoints him with it until there is none in the box, because she so wants him to be healed that she works hard to put it everywhere on him, she uses up every bit of it.)11

It is, I am arguing, empathic touch that makes it possible for Yvain to face his own shame and thus to return to sanity and to the company of human beings, and ultimately to become himself. Not until well after Chrétien’s time do the faces in medieval illuminations or sculptures begin to resemble the idiosyncratic features of specific individuals. A scar, however, epitomizes the singular: a scar, in fact, is a kind of embodied biography, a narrative experience inscribed directly on our bodies. A scar says, ‘Look, one day this painful thing happened to me, and it left this mark; so you see, afterwards, I am not the same’. In even more direct terms, a scar is a touch raised beyond ephemerality. Scars, as readable signs, offer the promise of legible touch, of touch open to the hermeneutic quest. I would even go further: scars, it seems to me, may be visible, but they are best known through the fingertips, through the haptic encounter with 11 Troyes, Le Chevalier au Lion, vv. 2988–95.


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texture, resistance, or the revealed damage to nerves that results in pain or numbness. To speak in this way about a fictional scene may strike some as indulgent, but I would argue that it is not so. I would instead assert that the apprehension of a scar allows erotic touch to bear witness to embodied narrative, whether naïvely biographical or freighted with the weight of war, exile, or the accidents of lived History, with a capital H. In this sense, the scene portrayed by Chrétien brings imagined realization to the encounter between individual and collective witness, dramatizing the articulation that conjoins private experience and historical agency within empathic touch as a paradigm of the ethical. I need a hand to steady my leap to the crusader narrative of Jean de Joinville (1224–1317), and I find that of Robert de Clari (c. 1170–1216). Clari, like Joinville’s ancestor by marriage Geoffrey de Villehardouin, wrote a first-person account of the Fourth Crusade, called the Conqueste de Constantinople. A poor knight, Clari heaps blame on the crusade’s aristocratic decision-makers, and fills his account with colourful, often folkloric explanations of Byzantine politics. In Clari’s narrative, also, the memory of touch provides a tethering moment in the quest for individual historical consciousness. Robert de Clari mentions ‘Aleaumes de Clari en Aminois, li clers, qui molt y fu preus et molt y fist de hardement et de proesches’ (‘Aleaumes from Clari near Amiens, the clerk, who was very brave there and carried out many acts of daring and courage’), only three times, but it would not be unfounded to say that this younger brother plays the starring role in his tale.12 Says Robert, Si i avoit un clerc, Aliaume de Clari avoit a non, qui si estoit preus en tous besoins que ch’estoit li premiers a tous les assaus ou il estoit, et a le tor de Galatha prendre fit chil clers plus de proeches par sen cors, un pour un, que tout chil de l’ost, for seigneur Pierron de Braiechoel. (There was a clerk, Aliaume de Clari was his name, who was so brave at every hour that he was the first one in every charge where he was found, and when the Tower of Galata was taken, that clerk performed more feats with his body than any other man in the whole army, excepting Lord Pierre de Bracheux.)13

12 Clari, La Conquête de Constantinople, § 1, translations mine. 13 Clari, Conquête de Constantinople, § 75.

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Right as Robert’s brother is about to go charging into this deadly situation, the author-narrator grabs hold of him by the foot, desperate to keep him safe and nearby: Quant Aliaumes li clers vit que nus n’i osoit entrer, si sali avant et dist qu’il y enterroit. Si avoit illuec un chevalier, un sien frere, Robers de Clari avoit a non, qui li desfendi et qui dist qu’il n’i enterroit mie; et li clers dist que si feroit, si se met ens a piés et a mains; et quant ses freres vit chou, si le prent par le pié, si commenche a sakier a lui, et tant que maugré sen frere, vausist ou ne dengnast, que li clers y entra. (When Aliaumes the clerk saw that none dared to enter, he went forward and said that he would go in. There was present a knight, a brother of his, Robert de Clari was his name, who forbade him to do this, and said he would absolutely not go in; and the clerk said yes, he would, and got down on his hands and knees; and when his brother saw this, he grabbed him by the foot to pull him back, but the clerk began to shake his leg so much that whether his brother liked it or not, he went into the tower.)14

Once inside, countless Greeks rush at him, while others heave giant rocks at him from atop the wall. But Aliaumes ‘sake le coutel, si leur keurt sus, si les faisoit aussi fuir devant lui bomme bestes’ (‘pulled out his knife and ran toward them, he made them flee before him like foolish animals’).15 Here is a tiny wrestling match and a nearly perfect act of commemoration. Clari’s younger brother clearly possessed more aptitude for soldiering than did the first-born chronicler. Transposed into a dutifully official third-person voice, we read Robert’s wonderment and pride at his brother’s prowess and, more implicitly, his own protectiveness towards that younger brother, brought into terrible focus by the fear that Aliaumes could dive into that tower and not return. Robert’s grip and his brother’s squirming say all that and more. Robert’s sentences contain the whole of a relationship and the revelation of its complex obligations. The question that opens here is the extent to which this moment of contact – this strange, paradigmatic brotherly embrace – might be seen as a metonymic gesture that brings into focus Clari’s whole historical project: ‘Let me tell you about this screwed-up crusade and this mind-blowing city of Constantinople, and let me also tell you about my brother, whom I could not hold back from glory’. 14 Clari, Conquête de Constantinople, § 76. 15 Clari, Conquête de Constantinople, § 76.


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We arrive at last at Jean de Joinville’s account of Louis IX’s disastrous Seventh Crusade. Joinville’s text is usually called the Vie de Saint Louis, but its status as hagiography is not simple – I prefer to follow those who recognize it as a memoir. Under either label, the narrative bears witness to a kind of embodied knowledge in which we might glimpse the awakening of a proto-modern historical conscience. In this final progression within my chapter, we will trace the ways in which breath, voice, and touch weave through the author’s writing. We join Joinville just as he is about to set sail for the East. The month is August, the year is 1248, and the place is Marseille. Can you hear the cacophonous screech of gulls squabbling? Feel the intensity of the sun’s light? Now try to inhale the stickiness of briny sea-spray. Summon the brush of wind against your arms. Hear – no, better, feel – the slosh of the sea breaking against the boat’s hull. Now add the resinous, piney odor of pitch and the snorting, stomping, and whinnying of horses. I evoke these physical sensations in such detail because they prime Joinville for a moment in his narration that, with no flicker of self-consciousness or any deadening didacticism, draws the physical, human body together with the natural, elemental earthly world and the ecstatic, mystical presence of the divine. If, however fleetingly, you can feel, smell, taste, or hear these sensations, or simply see them in your mind’s eye, then you may be certain that Joinville, too, remembered them, as he stood or sat, reminiscing to his scribe, remembered them bodily. There is a vividness to Joinville’s recollection from which the physical, historical sense of ‘being there’ cannot be separated. A celle journee que nous entrames en nos nez fist l’en ouvrir la porte de la nef et mist l’en touz nos chevaus ens que nous devions mener outre mer, et puis reclost l’en la porte et l’enboucha l’en bien aussi comme l’en naye un tonnel, pour ce que quant la nef est en la grant mer toute la porte est en l’yaue. [§ ] Quant les chevaus furent ens, nostre mestre notonnier escria a ses notonniers qui estoient ou bec de la nef et leur dit: ‘Est aree vostre besoigne?’ El ilz repondirent: ‘Oÿ, sire, vieingnent avant les clers et les proveres’. Maintenant que il furent venus, il leur escria: ‘Chantez de par Dieu’. Et ils s’escrierent tous a une voiz: Veni Creator Spiritus. Et il s’escria a ses notonniers: ‘Faites voille de par Dieu!’, et il si firent. [§ ] Et en brief tens le vent se feri ou voille et nous ot tolu la veue de la terre, que nous veismes que ciel et yaue, et chascun jour nous esloigna le vent des païs ou nous avions esté nez. Et ces choses vous moustré je, que celi est bien fol hardi qui se ose mettre en tel peril atout autre chatel ou en

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pechié mortel, car l’en se dort le soir la ou en ne scent se l’en se trouverra ou fonds de la mer au matin. (On the day we went aboard, they opened the door of the ship, and all the horses that we were to take overseas with us were put inside, and they closed the door up again, and sealed it up well, like when you seal a barrel, because when the ship is at sea the whole of the door is under water. When the horses were inside, our master mariner shouted to his sailors who were in the prow of the ship, ‘Is all ready? Then, Sir, let the clergy and the priests come forward!’ And when they had gathered he cried, ‘Sing, in God’s name!’ And they sang all together in one voice, Veni Creator Spiritus. And he shouted to his sailors: ‘Set sail, in God’s name!’ and so they did. And in no time, the wind had filled the sails, and carried us away from the sight of land, so that we saw only sky and water and sky; and each day, the wind carried us further away from the land where we were born. And I tell you these things because he who dares to put himself in such peril while in a state of debt or mortal sin is a hardy fool; because one falls asleep at night without knowing whether one will awake at the bottom of the sea.)16

The narrative sequence that carries Joinville’s ship out to sea has three steps. In each one, another kind of breath joins into a swelling chorus. The layering of this scene depends on the layering between the human voice, the invocation of God’s spirit, and the wind. (As we read in Genesis 1:2: ‘And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters’; or in Genesis 2:7: ‘And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul’.17) When the horses are sealed in and all the ropes are ready, the priests and clerks raise the breath of their human voices. Joinville’s boat pulls away from the harbour propelled by the elemental winds, by God’s own spirit, and by the clear, ringing tones of men’s prayer. It is a joyful moment of complete presence, and if we are lucky, we feel, alongside Joinville, the miracle of incarnation and the way that the whole ship and all those aboard it are filled and moved with the Spiritus Domini. And yet, despite the promise of this blessed setting sail, there is a reckoning with history in Joinville’s account. A crusade may be a holy war, but war is hell. What might we gain from allowing the pieties that surround 16 Joinville, Vie de Saint Louis, § 125–7, my translations. 17 Cited from the King James Version.


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Joinville’s status in relation to Louis IX to fade into the background, and by reading Joinville as war literature? Louis’s forces landed in Egypt and, in relatively short order, found themselves routed, trapped, and grossly afflicted by epidemics. Louis’s habit, in France, of washing the feet of lepers and the poor surely offers one of the most canonical images of his kingship. Once, when Joinville admits to him his feelings of disgust at the idea of touching lepers’ feet, the king scolds him, saying that mortal sin is uglier than any bodily disease.18 Indeed, Louis reveled in the exercise of humility involved in overcoming revulsion. In Egypt, war capsizes the balance between humility, disgust, and humiliation. Joinville and Louis IX alike seem to suffer, simultaneously, from dysentery, malaria, and advanced scurvy. The king is so sick that the seat of his pants must be cut out, and he walks only with the help of his men. Joinville calls scurvy ‘the army sickness’ and gives quite an accurate description of its now-forgotten symptoms when he writes: ‘la char de nos jambes sechoit toute, et le cuir de nos jambes devenoient tavelés de noir et de terre aussi comme une vielz heuse; et a nous, qui avions tele maladie, venoit char pourrie es gencives, ne nulz ne eschapoit de celle maladie que mourir ne l’en couvenist’ (‘the flesh of our limbs all shriveled up, and the skin of our legs became blotched with black, mouldy patches, like an old boot, and protrusions of flesh came upon the gums of those of us who had the sickness, and none escaped except through death’).19 Joinville discretely silences any mention of the reality of the malady’s foul stench: the gums grow amok, but the new flesh immediately rots and fills the mouth (and the breath) with gangrene. When the epidemic spreads through the camp: Il venoit tant de char morte es gencives a nostre gent que il couvenoit que barbiers ostassent la char morte, pour ce que il peussent la viande mascher et avaler aval. Grant pitié estoit d’oïr brere les gens parmi l’ost aus quiex l’on coupoit la char morte, car il breoient aussi comme femmes qui traveillent d’enfant. (So much dead flesh came upon the gums of our people, that the barbers were obliged to remove it, to enable them to chew their food and to swallow. It was a piteous thing to hear throughout the camp the screams of those from whom they were cutting the dead flesh, for they screamed like women labouring in childbirth.)20 18 Joinville, Vie de Saint Louis, § 27. 19 Joinville, Vie de Saint Louis, § 291. 20 Joinville, Vie de Saint Louis, § 303.

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But in this description, sound replaces smell. Joinville chooses the verb braire, to bray – the voice of animal suffering emerges in a symmetrical inversion of the prayerful song that summoned God’s spirit and filled the sails of Joinville’s ship. Eventually, Joinville himself must take to bed, and he calls his priest, who is also sick, to perform mass for him at the foot of his bed: Dont il avint ainsi que mon prestre me chantoit la messe devant mon lit en mon paveillon, et avoit la maladie que j’avoie. [§ ] Or avint ainsi que en son sacrement il se pasma. Quant je vi que il vouloit cheoir, je, qui avoie ma cote vestue, sailli de mon lit tout deschaus et l’embraçai et li deis que il feist tout a tret et tout belement son sacrement, que je ne le leroie tant que il l’avroit tout fait. Il revint a soi et fist son sacrement et parchanta sa messe toute entierement, ne onque puis ne chanta. (Now it so chanced, that my priest was singing mass by my bedside in my tent, and he had the same malady that I had. And it came to pass, that in the middle of performing the sacrament he fainted. When I saw him beginning to fall, I leapt from my bed, with my tunic on but with no stockings, and clasped him in my arms, and told him to finish his sacrament fully and completely; that I would not let go of him until he had finished. He came to again and performed the sacrament, and sang his mass all the way through, then sang no more.)21

There is a surprising physicality in the alacrity of Joinville’s response. Two directions of movement cross one another: the priest falls; Joinville leaps up. The penitent delivers pastoral care to the priest. Joinville literally clutches at the life that remains in the man. Here then is a pietà between comrades at arms. This gesture repeats itself at key moments. When, shortly afterwards, Joinville, too sick to walk or stand, is taken prisoner in the prolongation of the same battle in which the king himself is captured, he is saved from slaughter in the arms of a Sarasin who literally carries him to safety.22 One of Joinville’s men has had the tendons of his legs sliced through in battle: in prison, an old Sarasin shipmate carries him to the latrines.23 This gesture is so transcendent in its ethical truth that it has little regard for hierarchies or alterities. The priest falls and Joinville rises; Joinville 21 Joinville, Vie de Saint Louis, § 299–300. 22 Joinville, Vie de Saint Louis, § 321–22. 23 Joinville, Vie de Saint Louis, § 325.


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falls, and an unknown man catches him. Those who cannot walk will be carried. These acts of touch establish their own absolutes, nearly indifferent to the crusading ideology of violent conversion. And then there is the most iconic of these homosocial pietàs: years later in Paris, a pitifully weak Louis allows himself to be carried in Joinville’s arms all the way from the Count of Auxerre’s hotel to the abbey of the Franciscans.24 The prayerful voice echoes on Joinville’s pages: he recalls prayers spoken or sung by others, prayers he uttered, and prayers whose melody reached his ears. He nearly always names the liturgy sung. To some extent, his narrative bears witness to the efficacy of prayer, as in this key passage describing the narrator’s convalescence at Acre: Or avint ainsi que une contenue me prist, […] je n’atendoie que la mort, par un signe qui m’estoit delez l’oreille. Car il n’estoit nul jour que l’en n’aportast bien .xx. mors ou plus au moustier, et de mon lit, toutes les foiz que on les aportoit, je ouaie chanter Libera me Domine. Lors je plorai et rendi graces a Dieu, et li dis ainsi: ‘Sire, aouré soies tu de ceste soufraite que tu me fez, car mains bobans ai eulz a moy couchier et a moy lever; et te pri, Sire, que tu m’aides et me delivre de ceste maladie’, et aussi fist il et tous mes gens. (Now it happened that a continuous fever laid hold of me […] and I awaited only death, because of a sign which was near my ear. Because there was not a single day when they did not bring twenty dead men or more into the church, and from my bed, each time they were brought in, I heard them singing Libera me Domine. Then I would weep, and give thanks to God, and speak to him thus: ‘Lord, I worship you for this suffering that you have sent me: for there has been much vanity in the way I have lain down at night and risen in the mornings. I pray you, Lord, to deliver me from this sickness’. And so the Lord did, both me and my people.)25

Written narrative bears witness to the sounds of a deeply felt spiritual crisis, its enunciation in prayer (heard or uttered, but in either case deeply felt) and the strength of God’s mercy. The tension that gives energy to Joinville’s retelling comes from the speed with which he navigates between the sacred and the horrific. Breath is always God’s divine spirit and also the stench of gangrene. Voice is always 24 Joinville, Vie de Saint Louis, § 737. 25 Joinville, Vie de Saint Louis, § 416.

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the braying screams of agonistic suffering and also the pure pitch of voices raised in communal prayer. Touch connects even those whom history divides. When we talk about the shape and signification Joinville gives to his physical, material experiences of war, we have a snapshot of what it meant to feel, smell, or hear at a pivotal moment in the emergence of a body-centred theology. By refocusing our readings of this canonical medieval text on its representation of kinetic, sensing, historical bodies, we shift the depth of field at which we see medieval textuality and its relation to evolving, spiritual claims about embodiment; shifts in historical consciousness; or, indeed, invention itself. These microreadings reveal the cadences of a dynamic, human rhythm running through the writings of Joinville and others: a veritable jazz of sensation, gesture, voice, and breath, in which metonymy and synecdoche seek – chase after – an ever-elusive form through which to capture sensual and spiritual experiences of the historical world, of loss, and of remembrance. The result is equal parts thematic sketch and evocation of an aesthetic principle giving rise to a voiced, cyclical passage from nothingness to being and from absence to presence.

Works Cited Bond, Gerald. ‘Origins’. In A Handbook of the Troubadours, edited by F.R.P. Akehurst and Judith M. Davis, 237–54. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995. Boutière, Jean, and Alexander Herman Schutz, eds. Biographies des troubadours. Paris: Nizet, 1964. Cerquiglini, Bernard. Eloge de la variante: histoire critique de la philologie. Paris: Seuil, 1989. Clari, Robert de. La Conquête de Constantinople. Edited and translated by Jean Dufournet. Paris: Champion Classiques, 2004. Joinville, Jean de. Vie de Saint Louis. Edited by J. Monfrin. Paris: Librairie Générale Française, 2002. Paden, William. An Introduction to Old Occitan. New York: Modern Language Association, 1998. Rosenberg, Samuel, Margaret Switten, and Gérard Le Vot. Songs of the Troubadours and Trouvères: An Anthology of Poems and Melodies. New York: Garland, 1998. Troyes, Chrétien de. Le Chevalier au Lion, ou le roman d’Yvain. Edited and translated by David F. Hult. Paris: Librairie Générale Française, 1994. Troyes, Chrétien de. Le Conte du Graal, ou le roman de Perceval. Edited and translated by Charles Méla. Paris: Librairie Générale Française, 1990. Zumthor, Paul. Essai de poétique médiévale. Paris: Seuil, 1972.


Improvisation as a Chief Pillar of the Poetic Artin Persian Literary Tradition Asghar Seyed-Gohrab

Abstract Improvisation is regarded in Persian literary tradition as a talent and a skill. There are several terms for literary improvisation, which are used both in medieval literary sources and in a modern context, where stories from classical epic poetry are performed. Different types of improvisations are distinguished. Sometimes the poet does not prepare the poem he is supposed to present to his (courtly) audience in advance; he has to rely on his talent and poetic skills to improvise a poem on a specific subject. In another form of improvisation, the poet has a few moments of thought and preparation before reciting his poem. There are many examples of how poets have improvised poems at official ceremonies or private gatherings, such as weddings, military conquests, national and religious festivals, and birth and death ceremonies. The capacity for improvisation is one of the skills a poet must possess so that he can demonstrate his talent and successfully communicate with his audience. When a poet tells the same story to different audiences, he changes elements of his story by adding long episodes, emphasizing certain passages, and removing others to suit his audience. In this chapter, I will treat the various uses of improvisation in Persian literary tradition. Examples of improvisations in Persian culture are related to the origin of invention – creating something unexpected in order to generate new moods and emotions. In addition, examples of improvisation usually evince a departure from a structure or a practice to a new situation, which might be defined as an enlivening aberration. Keywords: Persian Poetry, Islam, courtly tradition, orality, storytelling performance (naqqâli)

Hellemans, Babette & Alissa Jones Nelson (eds.), Images, Improvisations, Sound, and Silence from 1000 to 1800: Degree Zero. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2018 doi: 10.5117/9789462980051/CH06


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Improvisation is one of the prominent features of Persian literary tradition, conf irming a poet’s genius, talent, and poetic skills. There are several terms for literary improvisation, such as badih(e), badihe-sarâ’i, and ertejâl.1 Different types of improvisation can be distinguished on the basis of these terms: while the term ertejâl indicates that the poet does not prepare his poem in advance, the term badihe describes a situation in which the poet is given a few moments of thought before reciting his poem. There are many examples of poets improvising poems at official ceremonies or private gatherings – such as weddings and birth and death ceremonies – during the medieval period. On these occasions, poets extemporised poems, usually based on classical examples. In modern times, this tradition has been continued by many Iranians. Moshâ’are or ‘poetic contests’ are a good example: the contestants improvise poetry – either extempore or from the Persian canon, but always recited by heart – to outwit their opponents by appealing to an audience, receiving acclamation and respect. In this type of improvisation, poems vary in length from a single line to startlingly long epics. In the medieval period, improvisation provided the poet with immediate recognition, exhibiting his genius to meet the expectations of his audience – who were usually literary connoisseurs themselves. Through improvisation, the poet demonstrated his erudition and consequently established his authority, not only with regard to the poetic tastes of his time, but also in courtly social contexts. Nezâmi ʿAruzi, a poet and an excellent improviser, wrote in his Four Discourses (Chahâr maqâla, completed c. 1155) that he considered improvisation to be the pinacle of poetic skill.2 It was one of the essential requirements a poet had to possess. In order to test his talent, a poet was expected to extemporise a poem on a given occasion. For the sake of convenience, I cite Nezâmi ad verbum: Now you must know that improvisation is the chief pillar of the Poetic Art; and it is incumbent on the poet to train his talents to such a point as to be able to improvise on any subject, for thus can money be extracted from the treasury, and thus can the statement of any matter be adapted to the king’s mood. All this is necessary to please the heart of one’s master and the humour of one’s patron; and whatever poets have earned in the 1 Bagley, ‘Badīha-sarā’ī’; see also Browne, A Literary History of Persia, 2:37–39, 336, and 339–40. 2 ʿAruzi, Chahâr maqâla. At several points in the book, Nezâmi refers to his own power of improvisation. See, for instance, 58–59; for an English translation, see Browne, Revised Translation of the Chahár Maqála, 60–61; Yūsofī ‘Čahār Maqāla’.

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way of great rewards has been earned by improvisations adapted to the occasion.3

There are several examples of poets who forged excellent careers as court poets by displaying their talent for improvisation. A fine example is the poet Ferdowsi (c. 935–1025). When he wanted to enter the court of the mighty Ghaznavid ruler Soltân Mahmud, he was tested by three court poets – Onsori, Asjadi, and Farrokhi. They extemporised three lines and teasingly asked Ferdowsi to compose the fourth and final line in the same metre, theme, and rhyme in order to create a quatrain. They hoped that Ferdowsi would fail, but he composed a beautiful line which astonished them all and earned him entrance to the court as a poet: Onsori: Farrokhi: Asjadi: Ferdowsi:

As your cheeks be not as illuminated as the moon, no colour like yours could be found in Paradise; your eyelashes would pierce the coat of mail, like the lance of Giv in the battle of Pashan. 4

Persian literary tradition contains many such examples in which a poet’s talent for improvisation is tested before he is permitted to enter the court. To my knowledge, except for short entries in encylopaedias and general references, the various types of improvisation in Persian literary tradition – or in other Middle Eastern literary cultures – have not been studied.5 The improvisation demanded in Ferdowsi’s case was not simply a means of testing the poet’s talents, but also of gauging how a neophyte poet would respond in a new situation. As a test of the poet’s skill and talent, he was expected to compose poems in difficult poetic forms, rhyme schemes, and metres. Nezâmi Aruzi gives examples from the work of several poets – such as Onsori, Moʿezzi, and Azraqi – who composed quatrains to demonstrate their powers of improvisation. The poet Mo’ezzi (d. 1120), a ‘prince of poets’ at the Saljuq court, had fallen into disfavour, was receiving no salary, and was barred from entering the court for one year.6 When he complained to Amir-Ali ebn Farâmarz, the Amir advised him to accompany the King when he observed the new moon marking the end of Ramadan. In this courtly setting, the King was, 3 ʿAruzi, Chahâr maqâla, 41; Browne, Revised Translation of the Chahár Maqála, 38. 4 Mowlânâ, Bahârestân, 85–86. 5 For cases of improvisation in Arabic, see Nicholson, A Literary History of the Arabs, 75, 418, and 436; on improvisation in Arabic literary culture, see Bonebakker, ‘Irtid̲ j̲ āl’. 6 Aruzi, Chahâr maqâle, 40–43.


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of course, the first to see the crescent of the new moon. At that moment, Amir-Ali asked Mo’ezzi to recite a poem for the occasion. He responded: ey mâh chu abrovân-e yâri gu’i yâ ni chu kamân-e shahriyâri gu’i ta’lâ zade az zarr-e ayyâri gu‘i dar gush-e sepehr gushvâri gu’i O moon! You are like the beloved’s eyebrow. Or rather, you’re like the King’s bow. You’re a horseshoe made of pure gold. You’re a ring in the ear of the sky.7

Each line of this poem alludes to courtly elements. While the poet is describing the actual event of seeing the new moon, he seizes the opportunity to praise the King. Every aspect of the moon is connected to the King. The first reference is to the physical relationship between the poet and the King. In Persian poetry, kings are usually compared to the sun or the moon – which offer light and are symbols of generosity and eternity – but here the poet also refers to the emotional aspect of their relationship when he introduces the theme of love. The moon’s crescent is like the beloved’s eyebrow. Poets usually expressed their relationships with their kings in loving terms. The crescent is also compared to the military aspect of the King – namely, his bow. Another reference to the military and the sportive aspects of court life comes in line three, in which the crescent is compared to a horseshoe made of gold. A final courtly reference is the ring, referring to the administrative power of the King. Now we see why improvising a poem which includes all of these elements could alter the course of a poet’s career and why there is so much emphasis in Persian literary tradition on the art of improvisation. Instances in which poets were challenged continue to form part of the millennium-old Persian literary tradition. An example of this type of improvisation in modern times is the Poet Laureate Mohammad-Taqi Bahâr (1884–1951), who was asked to extemporise a quatrain containing the words ‘rosary’, ‘lamp’, ‘salt’, and ‘plane tree’ in order to be accepted as a court poet: bâ kherqe-o tasbih marâ did chu yâr goftâ ze cherâgh-e zohd nâyad anvâr kas shahd nadida-st dar kân-e namak 7

Amir Mo’ezzi, Divân, 9.

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kas miveh nachidast az shâkh-e chenâr When my beloved saw me with a Sufi cloak and a rosary s/he said: ‘the lamp of asceticism does not illuminate; no one has seen nectar in the salt-mine; no one has picked fruit from the branches of a plane tree’.8

While improvisation in the examples above is used to display the poet’s literary virtuosity, another type of improvisation is intended to arouse excitement. Such improvisation is not a test of poetic talent per se, but rather tests the power and the effect of the poetry on the audience. How the poet composes a poem – in terms of rhyme, metre, and metaphor – is secondary to the effects the poem generates. An example of this type of improvisation is Rudaki’s short poem on Bukhara. After emphasising the effects of improvisation, Nezâmi Aruzi tells the story of Rudaki and Amir Nasr ebn Ahmad (who ruled from 914–43) of the Samanid Dynasty (819–999). Nezâmi says, ‘Now in the service of kings naught is better than improvisation, for thereby the king’s mood is cheered, his receptions are made brilliant, and the poet himself attains his object. Such favours as Rudaki obtained from the House of Saman by his improvisations and readiness in verse, none other hath experienced’.9 The thrust of the story is that Amir Nasr ebn Ahmad used to spend the summers in another town with a more agreeable climate, far from the capital Bukhara, which is in present-day Uzbekistan. Once, he spent a long time in the city of Herat and did not show any sign of wishing to return to Bukhara. The army officers and noblemen in his retinue desperately tried to persuade him, but without success. They approached the court poet Rudaki urgently, saying, ‘We will present thee with five thousand dinars if thou wilt contrive some artifice whereby the Amir may be induced to depart hence, for our hearts are craving for our wives and children, and our souls are like to leave us for longing after Bukhara’.10 Rudaki accepts this request. One morning, when the Amir is drinking his morning wine, Rudaki takes up the harp and sings the following emotive and pictureque song, referring to the scent of the rivers, the touch of their soft sands, and to other cherished memories of Bukhara: bu-ye ju-ye Muliyân âyad hami yâd-e yâr-e mehrabân âyad hami 8 Bahâr, Divân, 1:26. 9 ʿAruzi, Chahâr Maqâla, 32. 10 Browne, Revised Translation of the Chahár Maqála, 34–35.


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rig-e Âmu-yo doroshtihâ-ye u zir-e pâ chun parniyân âyad hami ey Bokhârâ shâd bâsh-o dir zi mir zi tu shâdmân âyad hami âb-e Jeyhun az neshât-e ru-ye dust khenge mâ-râ tâ miyân âyad hami mir mâh ast-o Bokhârâ âsemân mâh su-ye âsemân âyad hami mir sarv ast-o Bokhârâ busetân sarv su-ye busetân âyad hami The scent of the river Muliyan comes to us, The memory of the friend dear comes to us. The sands of the Āmū, toilsome though they be, Beneath my feet are soft as silk to me. On seeing the friendly face, the waters of the Jeyhun Shall leap up to our horses’ girth. O Bukhara, rejoice and hasten! Joyful towards thee hasteth our Amīr! The Amīr is the moon and Bukhara the heaven; The moon shall brighten up the heaven! The Amīr is a cypress and Bukhara the garden; The cypress shall rise in the garden.11

At this verse, the Amir is so affected that he descends from his throne, runs to his horse, and sets off for Bukhara so promptly that the courtiers have to carry his riding boots after him for two farsangs. After improvising this successful poem, Rudaki received double the sum of money the officers had initially promised. The poem is simple, but it has a striking effect in Persian due to its nostalgic tone, its simple rhyme, and especially its use of sensory metaphors – such as smelling, touching, hearing, and seeing. The 11 The translation is by Justine Landau. For an excellent analysis of this poem, see Justine Landau, ‘Naṣīr al-Dīn Ṭūsī and Poetic Imagination in the Arabic and Persian Philosophical Tradition’, 15–79; another translation of the poem can be found in Arberry, Classical Persian Literature, 32–33. There are small variations in the Persian text in different editions. Another form of improvisation concerns musical performances in which classical poems are set to music. The Persian musical system allows singers to freely improvise the lyrics to meet the expectations of their audience. In several cases, poems were extemporised on the basis of the topics of the day. See, for instance, ‘Âref Qazvini’s use of his own poetry, which he composed to be sung at certain political events at the turn of the twentieth century in Iran. See my discussion in ‘Poetry as Awakening: Singing Modernity’, 105–110.

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poem is popular among Persian-speaking peoples even today; it has been imitated by poets throughout the centuries, and several famous musicians have also performed it. What is interesting in this passage is the emphasis on music and the effects of improvising poetry and music. The author emphasizes the fact that Rudaki first ‘felt the Amir’s pulse’, and after understanding his ‘temperament, he perceived that prose would not affect him, and so had recourse to verse’. So before starting a composition, he assesses the Amir’s temperament at that specific moment. What is also interesting is how he sets the poem in a specific musical mode. He plays the first couplet in the ‘Mode of Lovers’ (parde-ye ‘oshshâq), and from the second couplet onwards, he descends by one musical tone to attain the maximal effect. Another famous example of the effects of improvisation that Nezâmi relates concerns the intense love of Soltân Mahmud for his slave boy, Ayâz. One night, love stirs in him at seeing the beautiful long locks of Ayâz, which are described as ‘ambergris rolling over the face of the moon, hyacinths twisted about the visage of the sun, ringlet upon ringlet like a coat of mail; link upon link like a chain; in every ringlet a thousand hearts and under every lock a hundred thousand souls’. As love plucks ‘the reins of self-restraint from the hands of his endurance, and lover-like he [draws] him to himself’, the Soltân fears transgressing the law. He asks Ayâz to cut his long hair. Ayâz instantly cuts his hair to fulfil the Soltân’s wish, which only intensifies the Soltân’s love. The next morning, when the Soltân sees the clipped tresses, he is so full of regret that ‘the army of remorse invaded his heart, and he rises up and sits down, not knowing what to do’. All the courtiers are afraid to approach him or to say anything, until the Chief Chamberlain asks the Poet Laureate ‘Onsori to go to the Soltân and restore his temper. Upon seeing the poet, the Soltân asks him to say something. The poet extemporises the following quatrain: key ‘eyb-e sar-e zolf-e bot az kâstan ast che jâ-ye be-gham neshastan-o khâstan ast jâ-ye tarab-o neshât-o mey khâstan ast k-ârâstan-e sarv ze pirâstan ast Why deem it shame a fair one’s curls to shear, Why rise in wrath or sit in sorrow here? Rather rejoice, make merry, call for wine; When clipped the Cypress doth most trim appear.12 12 Browne, Revised Translation of the Chahár Maqála, 38.


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The Soltân was so pleased that his melancholic temper changed. Such stories are usually told in Persian literary tradition to emphasize the effects of improvisation and to show why improvisation was a prerequisite skill for any professional poet, who was the boon companion of the King. Another form of improvisation in a cultural and literary context appears in the Persian naqqâli tradition. Naqqâli refers to recounting stories for the public, which range in theme from heroic to religious, from romantic to didactic epics.13 The naqqāls were professional storytellers whose names are firmly connected to the retelling of the episodes of the Persian national epic, the Shāh-nāme (The Epic of Kings, completed in 1010) by Ferdowsi. These storytellers do not simply tell a story; they try to depict the scenes in as lively a manner as possible, using their voices and gestures for emphasis. They run around the stage and assume the attitude of an archer, a sword fighter, or a horseback rider when they tell these stories. They usually speak directly to the audience. They openly show that they like certain characters in a story and dislike others, and they even identify themselves with the characters. It is essential for these storytellers to know for whom they are telling the story, so they can adapt the plot to meet their audience’s expectations. One of the favourite stories from the Shâhnâmeh, to which storytellers have applied improvisation, is that of Rostam and Sohrâb. This is one of the tragic episodes in Ferdowsi’s Shâhnâmeh, which is still performed in Persian-speaking countries. The plot is simple, but it has a moving climax. Rostam, the Hercules of Persia, is patrolling with his horse Rakhsh along the borders between Persia and its enemy, Turân. After a time, he rests and falls asleep, and meanwhile his horse is stolen by the enemy. He wakes up and goes in search of his horse. While looking for the horse, he arrives at a town in enemy territory. The King of the town receives him generously and invites him to stay so that they can search for his horse. Rostam stays. At nightfall, when he goes to his chamber to sleep, a beautiful princess, Tahmineh, enters his room and declares her love for him. They make love, and the next day, Rostam finds his horse and returns to Persia. Tahmineh becomes pregnant with a boy, whom she names Sohrâb. When he grows older, he wants to see his father. He assembles an army and heads towards Persia. The Persian King is afraid of what would happen if the father (Rostam) and the son should meet. Fearing that he would be dethroned, the King ensures that father and son do not know each other’s identities. Thus father and son fight each other several times. The first two times, the young Sohrâb throws 13 Yamamoto, The Oral Background of Persian Epics; Page, ‘Professional Storytelling in Iran’, 195–215.

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Rostam down on his back, but a feeling overcomes him, and he cannot kill him. In the final dual, Rostam brings Sohrâb down and instantly thrusts his sword into his heart. The dying Sohrâb assures his murderer that his father, Rostam, will certainly avenge him. On hearing this, Rostam is totally devastated. Storytellers improvise on each of the scenes in this story depending on their public, the time at which they tell the story, and their personal mood. While the plot remains the same, certain aspects of each scene are altered through improvisation. I have analysed various aspects of this story elsewhere.14 Here, I will refer to improvisation in only one of the scenes – the nighttime tryst between Tahmineh and Rostam. At the outset, it is necessary to distinguish between interpolation and improvisation: on the one hand, an interpolation of several couplets is inserted in different manuscripts of the story, with considerable attention to making the scene morally and religiously acceptable; on the other hand, in naqqâli settings, the storyteller adds or removes elements extemporaneously, depending on his audience.15 In the same way that good poets in the classical period were expected to have improvisational talents, it was also expected that a good storyteller would be able to improvise, depending on the background of his audience. The public usually knows the plot of the story already, but they want to see how the naqqâl performs it – what he adds, what he removes, and how he places the story in a contemporary setting that appeals to all the people. In this type of oral narrative, the public interacts with the performer, and their role is complementary to the storyteller’s performance. As Beeman rightly says, ‘the performer’s skill, however great, cannot suffice in vacuo to create an effective performance that achieves the artistic and rhetorical aims’.16 Before analysing this scene, I will quote the passage. In Ferdowsi’s original story, the poet makes no moral or religious judgment: bejostam hami ketf-o yâl-o barat be-din shahr kard izad âbeshkhorad torâyam konun gar bekhâhi marâ nabinad joz in morgh-o mâhi marâ yeki ânk bar to chunin gashte-am 14 See Seyed-Gohrab, ‘Corrections and Elaborations’, 443–61. 15 For a typology of interpolations, see Davis, ‘Interpolations to the Text of the Shāhnāmeh’, 35-49. 16 On various techniques used by performers and the interactions between the audience and the performers, see Beeman, ‘Why Do They Laugh?’, 506–26.


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kherad râ ze bahr-e havâ koshte-am vo-digar ke-az to magar kerdegâr neshânad yeki puram andar kenâr magar chun to bâshad ze mardi-o zur sepehrash dahad bahr-e keyvân-o hur se-digar ke aspat be jây âvaram samangân hame zir-e pây âvaram chu Rostam be-dinsân pari-chehre did ze har dâneshi nazd-e u bahre did vo-digar ke az rakhsh dâd âgahi nadid ich farjâm joz farrahi be khoshnudi-yo rây-o farmân-e uy be khubi biyârâst peymân-e uy chu anbâz-e u gasht penhân be râz bebud ân shab tireh-o dir-bâz ‘I have always been in search of your shoulders and chest. God has brought you to this land. I am yours if you want me; no one will see me except the birds and the fish. Firstly, I am so involved with you that I have killed reason for the sake of passion. Secondly, may God place a son from you in my womb, So that he would resemble you in strength and manliness. May heaven allot the character of Saturn and the Sun to him. Thirdly, I will find your horse, I will search the whole of Samangân’. When Rostam observed such a fairy-faced one, who had a portion of every art, And when she spoke to him of his horse, he drew no other conclusion than honour. With delight, reason, and judgment, he accepted her covenant. When she had become his companion secretly, they spent that long, dark night together.17 17 Ferdowsi, Shâhnâmeh, 2:123–24, lines 73–82; for an English translation, see Shâhnâmeh: The Persian Book of Kings; for a verse translation of Rostam and Sohrâb, see Clinton, The Tragedy of Sohrab and Rostam.

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I have already discussed how different scribes have interpolated verses into this passage to make it morally acceptable, and how storytellers interpolate their own additions to suit their audience’s expectations. What the story­ tellers do is not a measured interpolation, such as we see in the manuscript tradition, but it is usually an instant extemporisation in an effort to make this erotic scene Islamic and acceptable to the societal norms of their time. In one case, the storyteller says that, on seeing Tahmineh, Rostam fell head over heels in love with her, but he did not touch her. Instead, he sent someone to her father to ask his permission. Afterwards, a notary was brought to arrange their marriage on the spot. And ‘that very night, Rostam and Tahmineh were united and Sohrâb was conceived’.18 Here, the storyteller apparently improvises a new text to suit his audience’s religious and pious ethics. He actually reverses the original story, blaming women who approach men and become pregnant, when he says, ‘unfortunately, during my time, the bride is often pregnant before the wedding night. This means that she has become pregnant by the bridegroom before marriage, yet she wants to give birth to a pure soul, and to offer the child to the family of the bridegroom!19 Such improvisations ensure the viability and popularity of ancient stories. In the same way as poets used poetry and music to stir the emotions of their courtly audience – especially the kings – in a classical courtly gathering, in a modern setting the storytellers use the same technique of improvisation on their audience. One could say that improvisation is the means of unexpectedly changing the subject, altering the mood of a situation, and demonstrating the talent of the poet or the storyteller. Based on these examples, we can draw several conclusions about the use of improvisation in Persian literary tradition. Improvisation refers to the poet’s talent and his ability to produce peerless verses extempore, commenting on any given situation. This improvisational talent is economically rewarding, as the poet is aware that such talent will secure his position, bringing material comfort. We can also deduce that poetic improvisations, ideally accompanied by musical instruments, were used to change a person’s mood, stirring excitement, love and longing, sorrow and anger, and admiration. Furthermore, improvisation was used to adjust to changing cultural and religious norms and values. In the case of the naqqâls, improvisation was an essential literary device in adapting their stories to suit their audiences. 18 What is interesting is that changing the story so that it contains more acceptable social values also happens in folktales. See Soroudi, ‘The Islamization of the Iranian National Hero Rostam’, 134–54. 19 Zariri, Dâstân-e Rostam-o Sohrâb, 10. See also Afshâri and Madâyeni, eds., Haft lashgar.


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Most of the examples of improvisation we find in Persian culture relate to the court. Instances of suddenness, resourcefulness, and excitement are shared elements in many cases of improvisation. What is also striking is the element of the unexpected. In the examples discussed above, it is not a matter of controlling the unexpected, but rather of provoking an unexpected situation to such an extent that improvisation becomes necessary. This unexpectedness appears, for instance, in Soltān Mahmud’s homoerotic love for Ayāz. Aroused in his love for Ayāz and afraid to transgress the law, he orders Ayāz to cut his locks, making him less attractive. This event corresponds to the awakening of unexpected sorrow and anger, which in turn leads to the sudden upwelling of love. The poet’s improvisation, intended to appease Soltān Mahmud’s bad temper, creates a witty and even humorous situation, as the tension dissolves into laughter. Thus a ‘bad sudden’ is turned into a ‘good sudden’. In the retelling of Rostam’s one-night stand with Tahmineh in Rostam and Sohrāb, the audience, who knows the plot of the story already, desires the experience of excitement – seeing how the storyteller develops the tale for a particular occasion. The improvisation is closely related to repetition – a repetition which creates excitement. The audience is excited to hear the story again and knows that something is going to be different and unexpected. This unexpectedness invites the audience to engage with the story, convincing them that this retelling is different. The audience wants to experience the original vividness, suddenness, and illicitness of the one-night stand and discover how the storyteller adapts this to modern Islamic mores. The excitement of experiencing how individual storytellers apply their own strategies for different audiences in telling this particular scene certainly creates tension, enthusiasm, provocation, and enjoyment. Such adaptations in oral performances make the classical literary heritage a living tradition. There are as many ways of telling the story as there are storytellers, and all of these retellings exist side by side, sometimes in tension with one another. Tahmineh and Rostam’s behaviour – having sex without being married – is an affront to Islam, and modern storytellers try to reconcile this scene with Islamic values. The storyteller’s challenge is finding an improvisatory response to his audience, a response to Islam, while simultaneously taking flight from the constraints of Islamic norms and values.

Works Cited Afshâri, Mehrân, and Mehdi Madâyeni, eds. Haft lashgar: Tumâr-e jâmeʽ-ye naqqâlân: az Keyumars tâ Bahman (The Seven Legions: The Tumār of the

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Story-tellers , from Keyumarth to Bahman). Tehran: Pazhuheshgâh-e ‘Olum-e Ensâni va Motâleʽât-e Farhangi, 1988. Amir Mo’ezzi. Divân. Edited by N. Hayyeri. Tehran: Marzbân, 1983. Arberry, Arthur J. Classical Persian Literature. Richmond: Curzon, 1958. Reprint, 1994. Beeman, William O. ‘Why Do They Laugh? An Interactional Approach to Humor in Traditional Iranian Improvisatory Theater: Performance and its Effects’. The Journal of American Folklore, 94, no. 347 (1981): 506–26. Bagley, F.R.C. ‘Badīha-sarā’ī’. In Encyclopaedia Iranica, edited by Ehsan Yarshanter. New York: Columbia University. Bahâr, Mohammad-Taqi. Divân. Vol. 1. Tehran: Tus, 2001. Bonebakker, S.A. ‘Irtid̲ j̲ āl’. In Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, edited by P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, and W.P. Heinrichs. Leiden: BrillOnline. encyclopaedia-of-islam-2. Browne, Edward G. A Literary History of Persia. Vol. 2. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1902–24. Browne, Edward G.. Revised Translation of the Chahár Maqála (Four Discourses) of Niẓámí-i ʿArúḍí of Samarqand,Ffollowed by an Abridged Translation of Mírzá Muḥammad’s Notes to the Persian Text. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1921. Clinton, Jerome W. The Tragedy of Sohrab and Rostam. Seattle/London: University of Washington Press, 1987. Davis, Dick. ‘Interpolations to the Text of the Shāhnāmeh: An Introductory Typology’. Persica 17 (2001): 35–49. Ferdowsi, Abu al-Qâsem. Shâhnâmeh. Edited by Dj. Khaleghi-Motlagh. 8 vols. New York: Bibliotheca Persica, 1987–2008. Ferdowsi, Abu al-Qâsem. Shâhnâmeh: The Persian Book of Kings. Translated by Dick Davis. New York: Viking, 2006; New York: Penguin Classics, 2007. Jâmi, Mowlânâ ‘Abd al-Rahmân. Bahârestân. Tehran: Ketâb-khâne-ye Markazi,1969. Landau, Justine. ‘Naṣīr al-Dīn Ṭūsī and Poetic Imagination in the Arabic and Persian Philosophical Tradition’. In Metaphor and Imagery in Persian Poetry, edited by A. Asghar Seyed-Gohrab, 15–79. Leiden: Brill, 2012. Nezâmi ʿAruzi. Chahâr maqâla. Edited by M. Qazvini. London: Luzac & Co, 1927. Nicholson, Reynold A.. A Literary History of the Arabs. London: T.F. Unwin, 1907. Reprint, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1930 and 1953. Page, Mary Ellen. ‘Professional Storytelling in Iran: Transmission and Practice’. Iranian Studies 12, no. 3–4 (1979): 195–215. Seyed-Gohrab, A. Asghar. ‘Corrections and Elaborations: A One-Night Stand in Narrations of Ferdowsi’s Rostam and Sohrāb’. Iranian Studies 48, no. 3 (2015): 443–61.


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Seyed-Gohrab, A. Asghar. ‘Poetry as Awakening: Singing Modernity’. In Literature of the Early Twentieth Century: From the Constitutional Period to Reza Shah, 30–132. London: I.B. Tauris, 2015. Soroudi, Sorour. ‘The Islamization of the Iranian National Hero Rostam as Reflected in Persian Folktales’. In Persian Literature and Judeo-Persian Culture: Collected Writings of Sorour S. Soroudi, edited by H.E. Chehabi, 134–54. Boston: Ilex Foundation, 2010. Yamamoto, Kumiko. The Oral Background of Persian Epics: Storytelling and Poetry. Leiden: Brill, 2003. Yūsofī, Ḡolām-Ḥosayn. ‘Čahār Maqāla’. In Encyclopaedia Iranica, edited by Ehsan Yarshanter. New York: Columbia University. Zariri, Morshed ʽAbbâs. Dâstân-e Rostam-o Sohrâb (revâyat-e naqqâlân). Edited by Jalil Dustkhâh. Tehran: Tus, 1990.



Intending the Listener Rokus de Groot Abstract Among the many ways of opening a musical performance – either a composition or an improvisation – this chapter discusses two widely used possibilities, which are designated as ex nihilo and in mediis rebus. In the former, the performance is built up gradually – at first presenting elementary musical forms, such as scales and single melodic gestures, and then introducing beat, metre, melodic phrasing, and more complex musical shapes. In the latter, the performance starts right in the middle of a fully shaped pattern, which is then presented in its complete form and repeated. These beginnings are described as ways of ‘intending the listener’: meeting the challenge of creatively responding to being composed by musical processes. As a case study, Johann Sebastian Bach’s Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C, BWV 564 has been selected because of the composer’s didactic compassion. This chapter approaches intention in musical composition as a joint adventure of the composer and the listener. Keywords: intention, music, composition, perception, beginning, improvisation

A musical ordering of time could be viewed as an intention composed in music – in other words, as a musical embodiment of intention. The definition of ‘intention’ in the Oxford English Dictionary1 is ‘the act or fact of intending’, where ‘to intend’ means ‘to have (a course of action) as one’s purpose’. The use of ‘intention’ in this chapter includes the exploration of the word’s root. It is derived from the Latin intentio, which has a variety of meanings, including: 1) ‘tension’; 2) ‘attention’, as in the attention of an audience to a play on the stage (intentio lusûs); and 3) ‘will’ or ‘purpose’. This 1 ‘Intention’, Oxford English Dictionary.

Hellemans, Babette & Alissa Jones Nelson (eds.), Images, Improvisations, Sound, and Silence from 1000 to 1800: Degree Zero. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2018 doi: 10.5117/9789462980051/CH07


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noun also relates to the Latin verb intendere, which can be translated as: 1) ‘to stretch’ (like the string of an archer’s bow) or, in post-classical Latin, ‘to strum’ (i.e., the strings of an instrument); moreover, one of the meanings of tendere is ‘to tune’, and intendere is metaphorically understood as ‘to have as one’s purpose’; 2) the verb can also mean ‘to extend’, ‘to aim’, ‘to address’, or ‘to direct (someone’s) attention (to something)’; connected with this meaning, as a response to being addressed, is ‘to pay attention to’, which, after the second century CE, develops into ‘to listen to’.2 This array of meanings offers a rich starting point for thinking about intention in music. Sharing the basic element of tension, there is the aspect of stretching the strings of musical instruments and of tuning them; the aspect of planning in a musical composition, of a purpose in the unfolding of music; the aspect of music addressing listeners through its planning; the aspect of the music directing the listener’s attention; and, as a response, the aspect of the listener’s attention to all of these other aspects. As a neologism, subsuming the various meanings discussed thus far, this chapter will employ a transitive form of ‘to intend’ – that is, ‘intending the listener’. This form combines the concept of a musical composition as an embodied intention and the concept of the listener being intended by that intention: thus, to listen is to be ‘composed’ by the music. Intention is always taken as an activity – ‘the act or fact of intending’. Furthermore, when we discuss music in this chapter, it is in relation to the practice of an (ideally) undivided attention to it on the part of the listener. It is not about background music, for example. In order to sound the process of intending, we begin by exploring how a piece of music may be begun.

Beginning a Composition How does one begin a musical composition? Both performers-cumimprovisers and composers have to deal with the task of conducting the listeners – as well as themselves – from non-musical time into time ordered by music. Among the many ways to begin a piece of music, two opposite approaches stand out: ex nihilo and in mediis rebus. The latter is widely employed in European classical music of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Such introductions in mediis rebus typically start right in the middle of a pattern, more precisely with the thesis part of 2

According to Kramers’ Latijns Woordenboek.

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Figure 1 W.A. Mozart, Symphony 29 in A major, K. 201, beginning of the first movement. The + denotes sound and the – absence of sound; > stands for the main accent; / refers to the bar line. The complete pattern extends between the two *. thesis  arsis     thesis  >    *                >       * |+  +  – + + +|+ + + + + + + +|+  +  etc.

an arsis-thesis pattern, and continue by presenting the complete version of that same pattern (see Figure 1). With this kind of introduction, one is thrown into musical time ‘unawares’. In fact, since one finds oneself in mediis rebus, one may feel inclined to assume that the music has been going on for some time, and only now sounds and becomes audible; or, reasoned from the listener’s perspective, only now does one become aware of something that was already present. The daily order of time is suddenly transformed into a musical one. In retrospect, the pre-musical order of time may actually be experienced as musically ordered: there has been an earlier, ‘unheard music’, to which the thesis of the pattern – which now sounds – builds a conclusion. This is how the music’s ‘intending the listener’ could be understood here: as providing a powerful moment of arousing, attracting, directing, and transforming attention, with the music composed as an embodied intention of completion; part of the pattern is followed by its full form. This manner of opening is also known in plays and in storytelling. Such creations may well start right in the middle of an event. The resultant surprise and curiosity of the listener is a strong incentive to mobilize attention. A quite different approach to beginning a composition is to do so ex nihilo. We should add that this nihil is relative – it is a playful one. Listeners are accustomed to pretending to themselves that they are open to what comes, while in fact quite a lot of previous knowledge is required to enter into this process of opening. A favourable listener’s attitude should be composed of previous knowledge and the willingness to be surprised. While the in mediis rebus entry is abrupt, the ex nihilo variety is gradual and gentle. A striking example of an ex nihilo opening is the performance of a classical Hindustani râga. Each râga is based on a specific musical scale, with a unique set of melodic formulas and its own connotations of time, season, nature, and the imagery of the Hindu pantheon. A râga performance starts with an introductory part called the âlâpa. This is a kind of musical genesis,


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a process of creation from elementary forms towards increasing degrees of ordered-ness. First of all, the basic pitch is presented, which is one and the same for all râgas and fundamental to them all. Often a special instrument is used for this – the tânpûrâ. Apart from the basic pitch, the tânpûrâ usually sounds a secondary important tone, more specific to the râga being played. In a spiritual sense, one might say that the fundamental pitch symbolizes the ‘I’-function, which precedes the creation and perception of the world.3 The next step is the exploration of the pitches and pitch relationships of the râga itself by the vocal or instrumental soloist in a piecemeal, quasi-fragmentary way, through the various vocal or instrumental registers (octaves), opening up the pitch space. Initially, there are moments of silence in the activity of the soloist: the silence preceding the music, from which the sound is born, still exerts its influence on the first step of musical ordering. This step is a pure pitch and a melodic affair. The beat or metre (a recurrent grouping of beats) is not yet presented. In Indian music, this is a very important stage of the performance: the musician ‘tunes’ the atmosphere of the performance setting and seeks to harmonize the music with the time of day or night and with other entities associated with the râga, and vice versa. The musician also ‘tunes’ him- or herself – and the audience, accordingly. Languages such as German and Dutch have words that express this well – the verbs stimmen and stemmen and the substantives Stimmung and stemming – referring to the ‘tuning’ of an instrument, of the atmosphere, of the musician, and of the audience. The âlâpa is an especially striking case of this, in which ‘intention’ and ‘intending’ involve closely interlinked processes of musical improvisation and composition, of performance and listening. Thus the intention – in the sense of musical planning – of the âlâpa ‘intends’ both the performer and the listener. The following two phases of the introduction, the jhôr and the jhâla, add pulsation to the music: a beat is presented, slowly at first, then faster. The whole tripartite introduction may last up to an hour. Together with a relatively low degree of musical fixedness and considerable openness of form, improvisation plays a large role in the âlâpa. This initial exploration involves the (partly intended) unforeseen. Only after all of this preparation does the musician play the composition – in the sense of a more or less fixed form – with definite orderings of the beat in the shape of metre and large rhythmic cycles (tâla). Here the percussionist joins the soloist, playing the tablâ or the pakhâvaj. 3 One finds this symbolic meaning in, for example, The Collected Works of Ramana Maharshi, xi.

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They alternately present the (precomposed) composition and improvise variations on it. Thus we see that musical creation in the Indian âlâpa proceeds cumulatively – from the general basic pitch, to specif ic pitch relationships, to beat, to metre, to the eventual composition, and to the variations that combine all of these features. The perceived degree of the audience’s intensity of involvement, expressed in Indian classical music practice through acoustic and visual signs, determines the depth and length of the musician’s improvisation. Improvising and being improvised are one and the same process. Introductory phases intending the musicians and the audience, furthering a process of getting in tune and the unfolding of a ‘creation’, are also found in classical Arab, Turkish, and Persian musical traditions (e.g., in the introduction to the prevailing maqâm/makam/dastgâh during taqsim/ taksim/darâmad and âvâz) as well as in Indonesian gamelan court music (patetan). Representative examples have also been composed in the European classical music tradition. One example among many are the preludes non-mesurés to the ordres (suites) of the well-measured dances by Louis Couperin (1626–1661), the French Baroque composer. As in the Indian âlâpa, the metric ordering of time in Couperin’s dances is only introduced as a later phase in the evolving musical creation. Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750), like his predecessors and contemporaries, fully enjoyed the seemingly ex nihilo introduction. The larger instrumental works of this period are characteristically composed of exploratory preludes, toccatas, or fantasias followed by fugues, which are more ‘learned’ and exacting in terms of polyphonic artistry. Preludes (as well as toccatas and fantasias) are devised to prepare the listener – as well as the performer – for the imminent musical experience, while also fully participating in the preparation itself. They usually offer a certain freedom – a sense of liberty, the joy of capriciousness, a spirit of exploration – in handling basic musical elements and motifs. They often are unconventional and display an open form. A prelude usually sets out to make the listener flexible as a response to the plasticity of the unfolding music. This ‘being composed’ at the beginning of a performance may be considered as a kind of courtesy to the listener. As in the âlâpa, he or she is ‘tuned’ to the scales and other musical elements and patterns, as well as to the overall musical compass to be employed. In the cases mentioned above, including Bach’s music, these courteous introductions may have cosmological and spiritual implications as well. The ex nihilo openings in particular stimulate questions such as: ‘Where does sound come from?’ and ‘What is its pre-order provenance?’


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A Case Study One extraordinary example of a large-scale work in this case is Bach’s Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C major, BWV 564. 4 The piece is written for the organ, and its performance involves both the hands and the feet. The Toccata first offers – over the course of its 31 opening bars – a single melodic line (though partly with the implication of chords): 12 for the hands, alternating left and right, and 19 for the feet in the pedal solo. The preparatory, exploratory, ‘tuning’ character of this phase is expressed by the fact that it employs mainly elementary musical forms: scales and broken (arpeggiato) chords (‘broken’ means that the pitches composing a chord are projected in time; they are presented one after the other instead of simultaneously). At first, the opening line is interrupted several times by rests, through which the silence – giving birth to the music – still transpires, though it is ‘musicalized’ by the nascent musical ordering. The pedal throws in short, majestic, low instances of the key note C, only the last time out of three in harmony with the implied basic C-chord in the melodic line. These first bars open up the musical space: the single line moves through all the pitch compasses, sonorously sensitizing them – as well as the listener – in a constant enlargement of the range. This single line is ‘intending’ the performer, in the sense that it activates his or her hands and feet, makes them supple (the music is quite fast and requires virtuosity) – after all, s/he is also an ‘instrument’ – and prepares them for challenging tasks ahead. The audience may share in this being intended through sympathy with the experience of the organist – vicariously playing along. The single melodic line is built up, partly out of simple (scalar or broken chord) patterns that are transposed scalewise in their turn (this is called ‘sequencing’), which easily allows the listener to predict their course, and partly out of capricious pitch formations and sequences, which do not permit such prediction. Thus the listener is tossed back and forth between chaos and simple order. The ensuing passage for the pedal solo excels in plasticity: its core is a pattern built out of a broken chord, which is constantly extended and compressed in its phrasing, as well as transposed in pitch. The character of the music, though meticulously notated, is improvisatory, which is in line with the exploratory phase of the work. Being so well-planned and written down, it could be called a simulation of improvisation; in fact, however, the effect upon the listener is not different from that of a ‘real’ improvisation. 4 For an example of the performance of this piece, see Ton Koopman’s interpretation, available online at:

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In Bach’s historical context, it is clear that, at this point, the single-line composition still has a long way to go before arriving at the most prestigious musical texture of the time – polyphony. The second part of the Toccata combines the melodic elements of the first part – a simple, ornamented rising line and broken chords, appearing consecutively in different registers – with chord structures, while moving from the texture of monody towards that of homophony. Both the hands and the feet of the organist are now employed simultaneously. This entails a step towards greater musical complexity and sophistication, though it is still removed from polyphony.5 This second part of the Toccata is largely composed of two-bar units, its simple metric structure contrasting with the capricious first part. It is thus, at the same time, a step in a process of increasing orderliness. The following Adagio forms a further step in the process of musical ordering. It is a self-contained composition. This piece continues the homophonic setting of the second part of the Toccata, presenting an aria-like melody in the highest register, with bass and chord accompaniment. In a sense, it is still connected with the preparatory stage of the Toccata, in that it contains chains of scalewise transposition of complete configurations (five times in measures 9 through 13 – first by seconds, then by thirds). Furthermore, the Adagio cannot yet be considered a fully developed musical form, in the sense that it is largely built out of a configuration of only one bar. This movement can even be experienced as a teasing passage: one comes to realize that what one hears here cannot be considered the final outcome of all the time-consuming preparations that have already taken place. (As if the music ‘senses’ this, the Adagio ends in a long, falling, single line, leading to an extremely dissonant harmonic passage. It is true that some change was ‘in the air’, but who could have expected something outrageous like this?) Then the Fugue arrives. This is a fully developed, self-contained composition, containing by far the longest melodic pattern up to this point (the theme of the Fugue is nine bars long), extolling the highest art of its time – polyphony, which treats all voices (in this case, melodic lines in at least four compass positions), as well as the hands and feet of the performer, equally. It has the highest degree of well-orderedness – for example, in terms of a fixed relationship between the Fugue’s theme and its counterpoint. It may seem that the adventure of 5 Monophony is a musical texture of one or more voices (simultaneously) presenting a single melodic line. Homophony is a musical texture of more than one voice, each presenting the same rhythm simultaneously, but differing in pitch. Polyphony is a musical texture of more than one voice, differing simultaneously in both rhythm and pitch. In homophony and polyphony, the rules of harmony regulate the relationships between the simultaneous voices. These rules differ between musical practices.


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Figure 2 Johann Sebastian Bach, Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C major, BWV 564, Fugue m. 78–83 and 87–92, upper voice.

playing and listening is lessened by this. However, the capriciousness of the first part of the Toccata is balanced by the complexity of the polyphony in the Fugue. Moreover, there is capriciousness in the Fugue as well: from measures 78 through 92, there is a flow of one-bar patterns with narrow pitch range, which differ slightly from each other so as to defy comprehension, potentially throwing the listener into a kind of drunkenness (see Figure 2). The Fugue ends by reverting to the character of the f irst part of the Toccata, turning back to the womb from which it emerged – concentrating on a single line, partly with chord accompaniment, as well as on its alternation of scalewise transposition of elementary melodic forms and melodic capriciousness. In a similar way, a North-Indian classical music performance returns to the initial sphere of the âlâpa, with the basic pitch being the last one to sound and then to ebb away into silence.

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The Compassion of Didactics Many of Bach’s works combine three intentions: praising God, delectation of the mind (primarily of the performer, but also of the listener), and a didactic perspective. For example, the prefaces of his Inventions and Clavierübung III speak to the latter two intentions, while the first is often written down in the scores of his other works: S(oli) D(eo) G(loria). His works endeavour to create a gusto for composing and performing in a cantabile way. We may add that they are an invitation to the listener to ‘be composed’, which may be regarded as Bach’s didactic compassion. When I refer to ‘intending the listener’ in this chapter, I am pointing to a reflection of musical processes in the listener’s experience. These musical processes were described as a course of action with a plan and a purpose, a musically ‘embodied intention’. This plan and purpose consist – in the cases of Indian classical music and Bach’s Toccata, Adagio and Fugue – in a large-scale unfolding of ordering and ordered-ness, from very elementary forms to highly sophisticated configurations, opening up the space of sound, moving from relative chaos to more defined shapes and from improvisation to more fixed forms of composition, showing the plasticity of forms through the constant variation and transformation of the more fixed forms as well, even at times offering the ‘unexpected’ unexpected (as in the case of the unsettling surprise at the end of Bach’s Adagio, analysed above) and, in Bach’s composition, the evolution from monophony through homophony to polyphony. In both cases, this process continues to the very end. It is important to keep in mind, however, that the terms ‘plan’ and ‘purpose’ do not mean that the listener has a conceptual grip on all of this. On the contrary, the effect may well be that the listener gives up on such ‘controlled’ listening. Unlike language, music does not describe such processes, but rather shows them – embodies them in sound. Here lies music’s very address to the listener – its call for attention and its directing of that attention. Moreover, this didactics is offered in a magnificently joyful way. In accordance with this, the listener is challenged to adapt continuously to new musical situations. While integrating this new information, he or she is flooded simultaneously by further experiences of novelty. ‘Being composed’ thus requires an open mind and a taste for sonorous adventure. In fact, this whole musical play is not an external affair; it is not a spectacle to be visualized at a distance. It is highly internalized. The music plays within us, so to speak. It is an inner theatre. Therefore, it is difficult to speak of boundaries. To be engaged as a listener in music means that one actually goes through the processes that have been described above. That is why I


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use the expression ‘music intends the listener’ in this chapter. Something within us, as listeners, may contract and expand, may be limited and extend itself, may be ordered and confused, may become polyphonic and then fall into monophony (and vice versa), may tense up and then be released. Connected with this is the fact that it is hard to identify fact and fiction in music: the fiction of sound becomes a factual psychological process, and acoustic facts turn into emotional and spiritual experiences. The introductory and the f inal phases of a musical performance, in particular – as in a Hindustani râga and in Bach’s Toccata, Adagio and Fugue – may ignite in us the joy of giving up attachment to fixed forms, allowing the plasticity of forms to unfold, letting go of the tendency to settle (after all, even the most ‘fixed’ forms of music are also evanescent sound), welcoming processes of constant renewal, and as a playful result, continuously renewing ourselves. In all of these senses, music may compose us as listeners. This is not at all a passive affair. Allowing oneself to be composed is an active, creative endeavour, requiring acute attention and constant schooling. ‘Being composed’ is also, at the same time, a way of ‘composing’. We should be deeply grateful to those who have the compassion to intend us as listeners and profoundly thankful for our double ability to intend and to be intended.

Works Cited Kramers’ Latijns Woordenboek. Edited by J.W. Fuchs. 4th ed. The Hague: Van Goor, 1965. Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017. http://www. Ramana Maharshi. The Collected Works of Ramana Maharshi. Tiruvannamalai: Sri Ramanasramam, 1996.


The Sovereign Ear Handel’s Water Music and Aural Historiography Sander van Maas Abstract Recent definitions of listening have come to include an account of the history of this cultural practice. Roland Barthes, writing in the mid-1970s, suggested a mode of aural historiography informed by the metahistorical trope of the spiral. In this chapter, aural historiography is confronted with the concept of sovereignty, which Italo Calvino, responding to Barthes, foregrounded in a f ictional story about a king listening. Juxtaposing Calvino’s fiction with the historical King George I, the story of Handel’s Water Music is taken as a point of departure for a study of historicalepistemic shifts in the history of listening. As sovereignty plays a central role in this history, it is argued that aural-historical discourse should heed the turns (spirals, dorsalities) underlying this concept. Keywords: listening; sovereignty; dorsality; Barthes; Water Music; Handel

How can one write a history of an organ so enmeshed with the idea of sovereignty as the ear? The role of the ear as a producer of phantasms of ipseity has been commented upon by a variety of contemporary theorists. For example, in a seminal essay on the organology of the ear, published in the early 1970s, which runs alongside a long quotation from the literary work of Michel Leiris, Jacques Derrida commented on the ear’s tendency towards self-erasure: [T]he ear, the distinct, differentiated, articulated organ that produces the effect of proximity, of absolute properness, the idealizing erasure of organic difference. It is an organ whose structure (and the suture that holds it to the throat) produces the pacifying lure of organic indifference.

Hellemans, Babette & Alissa Jones Nelson (eds.), Images, Improvisations, Sound, and Silence from 1000 to 1800: Degree Zero. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2018 doi: 10.5117/9789462980051/CH08


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To forget it – and in so doing to take shelter in the most familial of dwellings – is to cry out for the end of organs, of others.1

The function of the ear seems related – perhaps in a privileged way – to the metaphysics of presence and its tensions with the historical and the political. In Leiris’s text, the ear is analyzed in terms of the cavernous and the subterraneous, as a space to be penetrated – much in the manner in which Persephone pierced the earth to reach inside her dark kingdom, or in the way of the ear worm that, Leiris reminds us, is said to spiral through the tympan and the ear’s inner structures towards ‘the totally naked cavity of our mental space’.2 To write a history of the ear, then, would require a discourse capable of listening in on the ‘indifference’ that dwells in its deepest recesses. The ear would only be approachable through its relation to experiences of nearness, properness, and absoluteness that defy its unfolding as an organ of history, as an organ that itself needs to be heard as thoroughly historical, and even as an agent of historical change. This resistance might be thought of as constituting a major aspect of its history – in particular, the centuries of its absence from historical representation, buried in general and other histories, only recently finding itself thematized and exposed to daylight in aural-historical studies. The turning away of the ear from the dark, the cavern, the fear (of pain, loss, secrecy) towards the plains of historiography seems to have begun only in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when scholars began to remark on its absence, on its being deeply implied, and when the first accounts of hearing and listening as cultural phenomena in their own right emerged.3 It was at this point in aural historiography that Roland Barthes found himself representing the thing called ‘listening’ for the 1977 Enciclopedia Einaudi, a general encyclopedia edited by Ruggerio Romano. 4 Barthes set up the article as a didactic exposition on the difference between hearing and listening, and – as we shall see below – on what he perceived as the key internal differences within the concept of listening. His account echoes Leiris’s obsession with the figure of the spiral, transformed into a metahistorical figure encompassing the historical unfolding of the ear. Barthes’ 1 Derrida, ‘Tympan’, xvii. 2 Derrida, ‘Tympan’, xix. 3 For a brief overview of twentieth-century aural historiography, see van Maas Thresholds of Listening, 1–6. 4 Barthes, ‘Ascolto’, 982–91; the original French text was reprinted as Barthes, ‘Écoute’, in L’obvie et l’obtus, 211–24; there is also an English translation titled ‘Listening’ in The Responsibility of Forms, 245–60.

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swirling account, spanning the entire period from prehistory to the time of his writing, may be regarded as an attempt to represent the history of listening as a historical phenomenon and a political force, while retaining a link to the ear’s quasi-spontaneous production of ipseity, as noted by Derrida and Leiris. In keeping with Nietzsche, who dubbed the ear ‘the organ of fear’ and saw a close connection between the art of music and the dark of night,5 Barthes’ representation of listening insists on the experience of insecurity and on acts of vigilance as points of gravitation that pull listening back, as if they were the dark matter of the ear.6 The history of listening would appear to resonate with the idea of sovereignty and its others (e.g., surveillance, control), including the experiences of threat and violence.7 Inspired in part by Barthes’ encyclopedic representation of hearing and listening, the Italian writer Italo Calvino’s posthumous Under the Jaguar Sun (1986) suggests how histories of listening may begin by reimagining the aural experience of sovereignty historically and politically, as well as – to some extent – experimenting with literary modes of historiography.8 Written over the course of twelve years, this collection gathers a number of stories about the senses. The earliest one is about the sense of smell and features a certain Monsieur de Saint-Caliste, a man of the world who is in search of an unknown scent, as well as another character, a rock musician. The story about taste revolves around a couple who travel through Mexico and discover exotic foods and cuisine. The story about listening, ‘Un re in ascolto’ (‘A King Listens’), is about the figure of a king who, after robbing 5 See Nietzsche, Daybreak, § 250. 6 Szendy aptly refers to Barthes’ ontology as a ‘spiral of fear’; see Szendy, Sur écoute, 49. 7 Szendy, Sur écoute, 52. 8 Calvino, Under the Jaguar Sun. At one point in ‘Listening’, Barthes, discussing Kafka (see below), parenthetically reaffirms his faith in literature as a source of knowledge: ‘(is not literature an incomparable storehouse of knowledge?)’; see 246–47. As is well known from his writings on Michelet and his theorization in ‘The Discourse of History’, Barthes subscribed to the notion of history writing as a form of literature: ‘By its very structure and without there being any need to appeal to the substance of the content, historical discourse is essentially an ideological elaboration or, to be more specific, an imaginary elaboration, if it is true that the image-repertoire is the language by which the speaker (or “writer”) of a discourse (a purely linguistic entity) “fills” the subject of the speech-act (a psychological or ideological entity)’; see Barthes, ‘The Discourse of History’, in The Rustle of Language, 138. In ‘Listening’, Barthes, in his own terms, collects signifiers of listening and organizes them using an array of devices from his image repertoire – particularly the images of the spiral and the threefold, as well as historical-dynamical oppositions, such as those between institutional-hermeneutic and releasing-signifying modes of listening. In similar terms, the present chapter may be regarded as an attempt – through the literary work of Calvino and the Water Music case study – to (re)connect the level of signifiers with the level of the image repertoire.


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his predecessor of his power and incarcerating him deep in the palace, is sitting immobilized on his throne, listening anxiously to the sounds he hears from the interior of the building: ‘Sunk on your throne, you raise your hand to your ear, you shift the draperies of the baldaquin so that they will not muffle the slightest murmur, the faintest echo. For you the days are a succession of sounds […] Alert, intent, you intercept them and decipher them’.9 Why, one may ask, did Calvino chose a king as the protagonist for his story about listening? And why did this king need to be a fictitious one – even an abstract persona (‘you’), a purely formal addressee – rather than a historically grounded character? How could such a story’s allegorical account of aural sovereignty inform the historiography of listening?10 My aim in this chapter is to suggest that answers to these questions may begin to appear if we confront the metahistorical and narrative accounts of listening in Barthes and Calvino with historical case studies. If the (structural) considerations above allow us to hypothesize that no history of listening can be conceived without an account of aural sovereignty, the challenge would then be to follow aural sovereignty as it moves through historical transformations, without losing sight of it. The case I will discuss below concerns the first performance of George Friedrich Handel’s Water Music, which was commissioned by King George I and took place on the River Thames in 1717. As my brief introduction of Barthes’ article aims to make clear, in addition to the ‘ages’ of listening Barthes defines, the case of Water Music suggests that the very historicity of the aural presupposes the idea of change, which may or may not lead to epistemic shifts. Barthes’ account of listening attempts to define stable periods according to a logic dictated by a synchronic, structural division of listening into three types. Organized by the metahistorical trope of the spiral, these types or ‘ages’ appear connected, but nothing motivates movement along the spiral. By following the ear of a sovereign (King George I), the case of Water Music provides a glimpse of what motivates change in the history of our ears. But to start with: What did Barthes write when he wrote an account of listening – as he claims, the first encyclopedia article in history on this subject?

9 Calvino, ‘Un re in ascolto’, in Under the Jaguar Sun, 37–38. 10 See Weiss, Understanding Italo Calvino, 194.

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Barthes and the Encyclopedia of Listening In his account of listening, Barthes sets out to align his analysis with his general ambition around the time of writing (in the mid-1970s) to define anti-institutional strategies of reading and speaking.11 Proposing a tripartite typology for listening, Barthes – who began by making a distinction between hearing as a physiological phenomenon and listening as ‘a psychological act’ – suggests that the first type of listening is a general type, found all across the animal kingdom. He describes how the ear is oriented towards ‘certain indices; on this level, nothing distinguishes animal from man: the wolf listens for a (possible) noise of its prey, the hare for a (possible) noise of its hunter, the child and the lover for the approaching footsteps which might be the mother’s or the beloved’s. This first listening might be called an alert’.12 As he goes on to explain, the first type of listening is oriented towards the signified and is historically related to matters of spatio-temporal territory and security. Barthes hints that, in human phylogenetic development, this ‘initial listening’ belongs to an originary formation that is threatened by modern noise pollution.13 The second type of listening Barthes distinguishes appears to be more historical. ‘When [the listener] stops directly supervising the appearance of the index and begins miming its regular return himself, he is making the awaited index into a sign: he shifts to the second stage of listening which is meaning’.14 According to this second type, listening is oriented towards the rhythms of presence and absence in indexical sounds and silences, which it gathers in the process of encoding and decoding their patterns. Such listening, Barthes speculates, is already implied by the cave drawings of the earliest human beings, even though ‘we know nothing about the birth of phonic rhythm’.15 This second, hermeneutic type of listening is oriented towards the sacred and the secret – in particular, towards deciphering the future (e.g., the Greeks listening to the Oracle of Delphi or to the oaks of Dodona) and the communication of moral transgression, as in the 11 Redefining the role of the reader as a champion of writing (in opposition to the author’s authority over the text), was a central concern in Barthes’ ‘The Death of the Author’. A spectral double of the ‘Listening’ article, anticipating its French publication in 1982, ‘The Death of the Author’ occupies the same position in its own collection – both immediately preceding ‘Musica Practica’. See Barthes, ‘The Death of the Author’, in Image-Music-Text, 148. 12 Barthes, ‘Listening’, 245. 13 Barthes, ‘Listening’, 248. 14 Barthes, ‘Listening’, 249. 15 Barthes, ‘Listening’, 248.


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confessional practice of the Christian tradition. This type of listening is closely related to the idea of the private and to inner spaces, including the secluded space of the confessional booth, which facilitated person-to-person communication away from the surveillance of the social group. Barthes finds the ultimate manifestation of hermeneutic listening, which already opens towards both the first and the third types, in the modern telephone conversation, which allows for both the most intimate exchange of bodily voices with an urgency that makes ‘listening speak’ and, at the same time, the experience of the irreducible possibility of being eavesdropped on via the very system of the device. The emergence of Barthes’ third type of listening is clearly localized in time: it is a psychoanalytic invention, dating from the late nineteenth century. According to this third type, listening is oriented towards the signifier rather than towards the sign – or, more precisely, towards the very shimmering of signifiers to which the psychoanalyst is exposed when listening in on the unconscious, vocal-bodily productions of his or her patient. ‘The psychoanalyst, attempting to grasp the signifiers, learns to “speak” the language which is his patient’s unconscious. […] Listening is this means of trapping signifiers by which the infans becomes a speaking being’, meaning that the patient’s unconscious will come to speak from the position of the analyst’s ear.16 Not unlike the analyst, one who listens to modernist music is exposed to a similar shimmering when one listens to compositions that are no longer based on expressive signs of inner feeling that need to be deciphered (as in past classical, hermeneutic styles of music). ‘Modern listening’, as Barthes ultimately dubs his third type, is this being exposed to the risk of nonsense and (therapeutic) failure, which no theoretical premediation could ever protect the ear against without destroying the aural process altogether. This experience ties in with the experience of a ‘third’ or ‘obtuse’ meaning or signifying, as elaborated throughout L’Obvie et l’obtus, the collection of essays that contains the French translation of the original Italian encyclopedia entry.17 In sum, Barthes, firmly locating the third type of listening in the culture of the twentieth century, affirms three of its traits: first, the task of releasing rather than containing; second, the roles of the listener and the speaker losing their fixity, being taken up in circulation instead; and third, the productive force of listening in creating new signifiers through (non-hermeneutic, non-mimetic) signifying. 16 Barthes, ‘Listening’, 256. 17 On the conceptual development of ‘third meaning’ in Barthes, see Oxman, ‘Sensing the Image’, 71–90.

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Barthes’ theory of the ages of listening oscillates between a synchronic typology for the analysis of aurality and a diachronic sketch of the grand design of the historical development of aurality. The elements of this typology do not seem to be fixed in number – to some extent, both the second and the third types would seem to collapse into the first – or even (logical or chronological) position.18 Barthes admits his hesitation regarding the three stages, which he parenthetically refers to as ‘either historical or structural’, while indicating that they may be thought of as fitting onto a metastructure in the shape of a spiral. For example, Barthes writes, ‘At another loop of the historical spiral’,19 we may discover that modern listening resembles the ancient Greek écoute panique, which cuts through the identification of Greek listening as already belonging to the age of hermeneutic listening. The figure of the spiral – which I shall return to in the coda – would appear to elevate Barthes’ contention that any stage of listening will contain traces of the previous stage on a metahistorical level, while resonating tropologically with such aural structures as the cochlea (cf. Derrida and Leiris). As Lauri Siisiäinen has argued in his study of Foucault’s politics of hearing, his protean history of listening identifies two stable periods (epistemes or ‘ages’) – namely, the classical and the modern, with the latter representing the aural coming into its own. ‘The modern ear perceives an immanent nexus of relations between sounds (“actions”), instead of attempting to relate these to the outside world of visible objects and images, as the “Classical ear” did’.20 Barthes implicitly refers to Foucault’s disciplinary societies in his critique of the second type of listening, but he seems to have overlooked Foucault’s thesis on the ages of the ear. In short, this discourse on listening bears some resemblance to a pamphlet or manifesto. Rather than neatly representing its studium with scholarly rigour and comprehensiveness, it provides the reader with a shorthand proposition on the speculative course of listening through (pre)history as well as an activist sense of the importance of listening as an instrument in the (post-1968) political debate.

18 See Szendy, Sur écoute, 49 and 59. 19 Barthes, ‘Listening’, 258. 20 Siisiäinen, Foucault and the Politics of Hearing, 52.


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Calvino: Hearing the Fall It is this sense of urgency that Calvino carries forward in his story about a listening sovereign. As Umberto Eco remarked in an interview with the composer Luciano Berio, who worked with Calvino on his homonymous opera of the same year (the story was published the week the opera premiered), ‘Calvino’s original idea for Un re in ascolto was a king listening to other characters through an “ear of Dionysius”. But that’s not how it ended up. There was something of Kafka, or Buzzatti, or Borges, or indeed Calvino in the original story’.21 In addition, there was something of Barthes’ listening article in the story, as well. The ‘something of Kafka’ refers to a short note from Kafka’s diary in 1911, in which the author, who would have been in his late twenties, describes himself as sitting behind his desk in a room in the family house, listening anxiously to all the sounds that distract him from his work: I want to write, with a constant trembling on my forehead. I sit in my room in the very headquarters of the uproar of the entire house. I hear all the doors close, because of their noise only the footsteps of those running between them are spared me, I hear even the slamming of the oven door in the kitchen […] The house door is unlatched and screeches as though from a catarrhal throat, then opens wider with the brief singing of a woman’s voice and closes with a dull manly jerk that sounds most inconsiderate. My father is gone, now begins the more delicate, more distracted, more hopeless noise led by the voices of the two canaries. I had already thought of it before, but with the canaries it comes back to me again, that I might open the door a narrow crack, crawl into the next room like a snake and in that way, on the floor, beg my sisters and their governess for quiet.22

Calvino reworked the material provided by these sources, as well as some autobiographical elements, and created a king, sitting on a throne, listening anxiously – with ears pricked – to all the sounds he hears, attempting to

21 The ear of Dionysius is a cave-like structure in the shape of an ear located near Syracuse that the tyrant Dionysius I is said to have used for the surveillance of his captives. See Eco, ‘Eco in Ascolto’. On the collaboration between Calvino and Berio for the opera Un re in ascolto (1984), see Schwartz, ‘Prospero’s Isle’, 84. 22 Kafka, The Diaries, 104. Barthes also refers to this note in ‘Listening’, 246–47.

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determine whether his sovereign rule is in jeopardy.23 The story is shaped by an undefined voice addressesing an undefined ‘you’ – the king – telling him to pay attention and not to let go of the regal paraphernalia, such as the sceptre in his hand and the crown on his head. As Kathryn Hume notes, this narrative device, while anchoring the story’s strong focus on the present, creates a great sense of uncertainty for the reader, in particular with regard to the identity – and even the very being or non-being – of the king. ‘The addressee shimmers unstably between king and reader and the speaker may be an unknown authorial commentator, a figment of the king’s imagination, or the king himself’.24 While tying in with Barthes’ Nietzschean reading of the ear as the organ of fear, this ontological uncertainty also exposes the phantasmatic element in the idea of sovereignty. If sovereignty is there when there is no one to embody it, does it really exist? Might the realm of action in which the fictitious king finds himself necessarily be imaginary, hallucinated, psychotic, nightmarish? In Calvino, aural sovereignty is defined, as Nietzsche would have it, as the kingdom’s ‘total world of hearing’ (volkommene Hörwelt).25 From his position on the throne, the king’s ear (arguably a singular ear, monaural) hears, overhears, and listens to every sound within his sovereign auralterritorial domain.26 ‘The head must be held immobile; always remember that the crown is balanced on your pate, you cannot pull it over your ears like a cap on a windy day’.27 In order to pick up the smallest sounds, his ear is amplified by an elaborate system of spies – which, according to the story’s narrating voice, ‘are stationed behind every drapery, curtain, [and] arras’ and are aided by electronic machines. The palace is the king’s ear, a body politic incarnating a sovereign (and a sovereign’s) aurality. ‘The palace is all whorls, lobes: it is a great ear, whose anatomy and architecture trade names and functions: pavilions, ducts, shells, labyrinths. You are crouched

23 As Frédéric Lefebvre argues, in addition to cross-references to his other writings, Calvino’s aural experiences from his childhood in San Remo also play into the story. See Lefebvre, ‘Un oeuil à l’écoute’, 62. 24 Hume, ‘Sensuality and the Senses’, 168. 25 Nietzsche, ‘Richard Wagner in Bayreuth’, 30. 26 Regarding the sovereign ear, the question of numbers (monaurality, binaurality, and so on) will always be settled by the singular logic of sovereignty, which Derrida describes as follows: ‘The sovereign One is a One that can no longer be counted; it is more than one [plus d’un] in the sense of being more than a one [plus qu’un], beyond the more than one of calculable multiplicity’. Derrida, Rogues, 168n47. 27 Calvino, ‘Un re in ascolto’, in Under the Jaguar Sun, 34.


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at the bottom, in the innermost zone of the palace-ear, of your own ear; the palace is the ear of the king’.28 The sovereign ear is all-powerful, yet it remains extremely sensitive to (real or imagined) disturbances. As the organ of absolute political power, the sovereign ear is the arbiter of what will become audible in the kingdom and what will not. It defines the sovereign aurally. As the narrating voice says, ‘not even a fly buzzes here if you do not wish it’:29 Stop raving. Everything heard moving in the palace corresponds precisely to the rules you have laid down: the army obeys your orders like a prompt machine; the ritual of the palace does not allow the slightest variation in setting and clearing the table, in drawing the curtains or unrolling the ceremonial carpets according to the instructions received; the radio programs are those you decreed once and for all. The situation is in your grip; nothing eludes your will or your control. Even the frog that croaks in the basin, even the uproar of the children playing blind-man’s-bluff, even the old chamberlain’s sprawl downstairs: everything corresponds to your plan, everything has been thought out by you, decided, pondered, before it became audible to your ear.30

Defining the border between the audible and the inaudible, the sovereign ear is in absolute control of the kingdom’s sound and totally exposed to what lies beyond or outside it. Calvino’s king exemplifies Barthes’ first type of listening. He embodies a short circuit between the real (individual) sounds and the imaginary events that might occur. His mode of listening is one of terror – both in the active sense, as the exertion of absolute power, and in the passive sense, as being totally exposed to the effects of such power (one’s own as well as the other’s). Furthermore, the king is driven towards the symbolic dimension of the sounds he hears, creating a transition from the focus on the presence and absence of sounds themselves – and raising the question of whether these sounds constitute signals or whether they are inconsequential noises – towards an assessment of the narratives that may exist between the sounds, silences, and noises. ‘Does some story link one sound to another? You cannot help looking for a meaning, concealed perhaps not in single, isolated noises but between them, in the pauses that 28 Calvino, ‘Un re in ascolto’, 38. 29 This point is reiterated by King Prospero, who – in Berio’s Un re in ascolto – sings, ‘My kingdom cannot be seen or touched’. Schwartz, ‘Prospero’s Isle’, 79. 30 Calvino, ‘Un re in ascolto’, 45, emphasis added.

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separate them. And if there is a story, does that story concern you? Will some series of consequences involve you finally? Or is it simply another indifferent episode among the many that make up the daily life in the palace?’31 Hence, as the king shifts from indexical to hermeneutic modes of listening, he is made to move along Barthes’ spiral of listening types (or ages). Listening to meanings rather than to sounds, the king disconnects himself from his immediate surroundings and starts exploring possible accounts of his situation by entering the world of narrative. Alarming sounds, silences, and noises retain their alarming qualities, but their relation to affect and action become mediated – that is, exposed to deferral and spacing. Compared to his exploration of the other two stages, this hermeneutic, dialogic type of listening remains much less elaborated.32 Caught as he is in the game of absolute power, the king remains alone in his world – even when, later in the story, he is irresistibly drawn towards the sound of singing voices. Afraid that protocol would obstruct personal encounters anyway, he concludes that no one would allow the regal ear to reverse the formal hierarchy and lend an ear to them.33 Calvino’s portrayal of the act of listening remains deeply solipsistic. Listening remains enclosed in the labyrinth of the individual’s perceptual and mental system and hardly finds an object, let alone a subject, outside of its own domain with which to share this faculty. As Daniela Cascella observes, ‘the sense of precariousness is resolved by Calvino by shaping the listening experience of a singular you in a story that reaches out to many I’s, she’s and he’s. But this is not to say that they reply’.34 Thus, reading historically, we can observe that Calvino’s absolute monarch is sourced from fairytale images as much as from twentieth-century culture. Equipped with video cameras and other modern technologies (such as electronic printers and computers), the palace is described as having ‘high, vaulted ceilings’ and other attributes that appear to disengage the story from historical time. In the following case study, my aim is to cross the fine line that separates Calvino’s fictional narrative about aural sovereignty from the discourse of aural historiography.35 Calvino mobilizes powerful literary 31 Calvino, ‘Un re in ascolto’, 43. 32 One might object here with a Kittlerian argument, saying that the Calvino’s aurality is mediated by his narrative account – in other words, that Barthes’ second type of listening envelopes the entire project. 33 Calvino, ‘Un re in ascolto’, 54 and 58. 34 Cascella, L’Abîme, 79. 35 This crossing takes the form of a question, an hypothesis to be tested here: Is it possible at all to study sovereignty outside of the fictitious? Discussing the fable, Derrida suggests their


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devices to create an image of aural sovereignty as an all-or-nothing game. The king is either high up on his throne, in full power, or he descends from the throne – as the final section of the story relates – only to find himself wandering in a nocturnal world of subterranean cellars, tunnels, and bucolic fields, where nothing and nobody he seems to hear can ever be confirmed as real.36 The very first lines of the story prepare the reader for the king’s ultimate fall; indeed, the story reads as if the abyss has already opened, as if the sovereign’s rule and status have already become little more than a dream image.37 Keeping this notion of sovereignty as a phantasm in mind, and crossing the above-mentioned fine line, our case study of Handel’s Water Music will follow the figure of the aural sovereign as it is translated on the surface of the earth, precisely at the time when absolute monarchies found themselves challenged by the rise of parliamentary democracy. Improvising Sovereignty: George I and Water Music In contrast to Calvino’s figure of a fictitious, anonymous king, the sovereign who listens to Handel’s music has a name: King George I, Elector of Hanover, who ruled Britain from 1714 until his death in 1727. According to his biographer, Ragnhild Hatton, George I emerged as a patron of the arts, particularly in the peaceful period after 1721, but his taste for painting, architecture, and – most of all – music and singing were already evident before his accession. Hatton observes George’s role as a commissioner of family portraits and historical paintings, notably on walls and ceilings, by the painter James Thornhill, whom he knighted – ‘the first English-born painter to be so honoured’.38 Upon meeting the composer George Friedrich Handel in Hanover in 1703, George was much impressed, and he made him Kapellmeister in 1710. Handel followed his patron to London in 1714, where he had worked previously with the Italian opera company at the Haymarket on his first opera, Rinaldo, in 1711. In 1719, George’s support made possible the foundation of the Royal Academy of Music, whose main purpose was to revive the Haymarket Opera after it had been forced to close down in

inextricability: ‘In the fable, within a narrative that is itself fabulous, power is shown to be an effect of the fable, of fiction and fictive language, of the simulacrum’. Fiction, it would seem, is the stuff majesties are made of. See Derrida, Sovereignties in Question, 109. 36 Calvino, Under the Jaguar Sun, 58–64. For a contextualization of the sonic landscape Calvino evokes in this story, see Lefèbvre, ‘Un oeuil à l’écoute’. 37 Lefèbvre, ‘Un oeuil à l’écoute’, 69. 38 Hatton, George I, 261.

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1717.39 Reportedly, the King had long been a loyal attendee of the opera, and research suggests that he sometimes went to see the same opera dozens of times in a relatively short period, with Handel’s Admeto being one example (the King attended nineteen times in eleven weeks). ‘The King turned out to fully half the opera performances given in London during his reign – a level of support that must have given a powerful impetus to the continuation of an economically submarginal entertainment’. 40 George may be regarded as an historical example of a king who accomplished what Calvino’s half-imaginary king could only dream of: his listening was listened to (‘you would like your listening to be heard by her’, as Calvino writes of his king). 41 In 1717, George’s advisers convinced him to throw a water party on the River Thames, with music composed for the occasion. As Burrows and Hume report, in the years since the beginning of his reign, George had given several such water parties, with or without music – starting with the Hanover’s first summer residence in London in 1715 – but had given none after 1717. 42 Since there were problems with attendance by subscription, it was the King’s brother-in-law, the diplomat Johann Adolf Freiherr von Kielmansegg, who masterminded and paid for the undertaking. The King would board his open barge around eight o’clock in the evening, accompanied by small group of aristocratic ladies, all members of the court. The rising tide would carry the barge inland from Whitehall, where the parties would board, to Chelsea, where the festivities would continue on land, without any need for rowers. Later that night – according to reports, at about two o’clock in the morning, when the tide reversed – the return journey would be made in the opposite direction. Alongside the royal barge would be a larger one accommodating the music ensemble – according to contemporary reports, ‘about 50 in number’. These were musicians from the opera ensemble that had been disbanded a few weeks previously, due to the demise of the fledgling opera company. They probably formed an ensemble consisting of the same instruments used for the opera performances, comprising an ample number of wind instruments (including two trumpets, two horns, and – exceptionally – two cors de chasse) with an additional complement of stringed instruments added to the opera orchestra’s standard number of strings. 43 The ensemble played 39 Burrows and Hume, ‘George I’, 328. 40 Burrows and Hume, ‘George I’, 334. 41 Calvino, ‘Un re in ascolto’, 54. 42 Burrows and Hume, ‘George I’, 333–35. 43 The ensemble did not include (kettle) drums or tympani, as some later performances of the work have done.


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while the music barge and the royal barge floated in tandem with the tide, accompanied by ‘countless’ other boats and watched by listeners and onlookers from the banks of the river (since the bridge at Whitehall was the only one spanning the Thames). 44 George Friedrich Handel was an international composer at that time, who frequently worked with the London opera and who had been associated with the court during the reign of Queen Anne. Handel had also been in favour with the Hanover court, despite a brief dismissal in 1713 – possibly caused by his contribution to the celebration of the Treaty of Utrecht, which was against the interests of the Hanovers, and possibly also due to espionage, particularly regarding passing on information about the ill health of the Queen. Handel’s ear, then, would have been a leaky one from the perspective of the new monarch. Nevertheless, King George apparently felt safe listening to the sounds of Handel’s music, since he requested that Handel compose the music for his quintessential public relations event. 45 In fact, Handel would be present aboard the music barge – whether conducting his music or playing the violin, we do not know – thereby bringing his ear close to that of the sovereign. The music Handel composed was not exactly ‘specially’ for the event, as the local newspaper the Daily Courant reported, but was to some extent pieced together. Rather than presenting the King with a unified and singular piece of music, he would expose the King’s ear to a Water Music that contained elements borrowed or ‘stolen’ from other musical pieces, including his own. For Handel, this was part of his usual method, and even by the standards of the time, the intensity of his borrowing was unrivalled and disconcerting in the view of some of his contemporaries. 46 One explanation for Handel’s behaviour might lie in his original training as a Lutheran organist, which entailed the standard practice of improvising on extant musical material of various origins. Handel seems to have retained this focus on (re)arranging, combining, expanding, and elaborating on existing material, which was inherent in the practice of organists, rather than focusing on crafting original material. His music may be seen as inviting the listener to engage more in the ‘how’ of his musicking than in the ‘what’ or the ‘whence’ of the material. As Hogwood writes, ‘Handel begins his Water Music suite – by most standards a very “original” creation – with a

44 Hogwood, Water Music, 10. 45 Kielmansegg, who organized the water party, had been an important trait d’union by bringing Handel into contact with Hanover in 1709. See Hogwood, Water Music, 9–19. 46 Hogwood, Water Music, 48–59.

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borrowed style “Overture” and ends with an “influenced” Minuet’.47 Water Music has challenged generations of musicologists who have attempted to organize its loose collection of movements into a logically ordered form. 48 ‘Our problems start with the fact that no autograph score of Water Music survives. This is unusual with Handel; the majority of his works exist in authoritative scores in his own hand’. In addition to other evidence in the individual parts of the piece, this suggests that Handel’s music for the King may have been a last-minute patchwork creation, a half-open form whose shards would resound across the water. 49 The King loved what he heard, and despite its length – a full hour – he had Water Music played three times while he and his entourage floated down the river; according to reports, it was played twice before and once after dinner. The sovereign ear – commanding a repetition, followed by another repetition – determined and sealed the sound of his kingdom for as long as he was able to do so. In contrast to Calvino’s king, however, King George I was not a sovereign whose power was absolute, and his musical water party was not a showcase for such power. George’s political interest in the party was to be better heard by his supporters – notably the Whigs, who won a major victory in the elections of 1715 – and to silence opposition from the Tories and the Jacobites (who had been in power under Queen Anne), including his own son, George Augustus, the Prince of Wales. The latter parties were in favour of their alternative candidate for the monarchy – Anne’s Catholic half-brother, James Francis Edward Stuart. In the year in which the water party took place, George was attempting to consolidate his power by allying Britain with France and the Dutch Republic in the Triple Alliance, against the dominance of Spain. As compared to his reign in Hanover, where his power as a Kurfürst was classically sovereign, his power in Britain was divided. Parliament was a strong presence in the spectrum of power, as was the position of the Whig leader Robert Walpole, who in 1721 would become the first ever Prime Minister of Great Britain. Moving between these very different political contexts, George I is credited with contributing to the emergence of the modern parliamentary monarchy by renegotiating his (diminishing) power as a monarch. The water party tells the story of how this transition was made in the aural field. Whereas in Hanover (where he still spent some time, even during his reign in Britain) George’s ear would have 47 Hogwood, Water Music, 48. 48 One problem for Handel was the extraordinary duration of Water Music as a non-vocal piece, for which – at the time – no fixed musical form existed. 49 Hogwood, Water Music, 20–21.


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been the classical sanctioning instrument for any sound and the absolute threshold for listening, in the sense that being heard by the King was the via regia to being heard across the kingdom (and even to being tout court), in Britain the King’s listening itself would become the object of listening. Herein lies the true sense of the historical transition that George reenacted while floating down the river on his barge. The immediate message of being invited to listen along with a king listening to music – played for and presumably to him from a barge – is to feel aligned with his ears and to create a common sense of aural engagement. A king who allows others to enter the singular position of his aural sovereignty is a king sharing his aural point of view with others. This is a king who realizes that his survival as a king depends on reframing his listening in the context of parliamentary power. From then on, the borderline of the kingdom’s sound would be decided in a process of political deliberation – that is, in an exchange of hearings and listenings. The new arena for such listening would no longer resemble the throne room of Calvino, but would reflect a new distribution of the audible. Rooms and chambers, such the Chamber of the House of Lords, would replace vaulted palaces.50 As a result, we no longer witness kings as they are immersed in the act of listening, but become part of their listening as it reverberates on the surface of the water. Listening thus becomes exposed, exhibited, represented, projected, and presented.51 From our boat, floating along the water, or from the banks of the river, we now hear a king whose listening invites us to ‘listen to him listening’ (a quintessential aspect of Barthes’ second type of listening). What do we hear if we care to listen to the ear of this sovereign, which is at once absolute (in Hanover) and broken (in Britain)? It is an ear improvising its way. It is George I in the act of exposing his listening to George Handel, and George Handel exposing his listening to melodies and rhythms that he knows will have been heard previously by the listener (George himself, but also – and particularly – his political supporters) his music addresses. George’s listening will be a listening to music that certainly comes his way, as music for a king ought to, but not in any stable sense. It will be a music half blown away across the water and into the wind, which will force his ear to fill in the gaps, to improvise the ear of Handel improvising his way through

50 Opened in 1852, the lower House of Commons suffered from poor acoustics which interfered with the experience of the aural-political. See building/palace/architecture/palace-s-interiors/commons-chamber/. 51 Van Maas, ed., Thresholds of Listening, 3.

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a musical form the composer has never quite conceived or heard before, whenever the sound from the music barge fails to reach George’s royal ears. Here, the modern ear is heard entering a new phase as it performs a transition from the terror of pure sovereignty (Calvino) to the aural realm of early modern democracy, which has caused the concept of sovereignty to shift.52 In Foucauldian terms, listening would move towards disciplinary forms, creating new environments in which it can be practiced and transferred from performer to listener and from one generation to the next. Examples of this include the classical sites of disciplinary culture, such as institutional religious as well as educational and health practices, exemplified by the confessional booth (extensively discussed by Barthes), the listening regime of the classroom, and the invention of medical auscultation, which has come to play a key role in recent historical research on aurality. In the decades after George’s reign, the practice of musical performance would develop the concept of the concert hall as a semi-public environment for the performance of, amongst other things, novel instrumental or ‘absolute’ music. As James Johnson and others have shown, in the decades around 1800, these concert environments would come to embody new aural and musical ideals geared towards the disciplining of listening, in support of the aesthetic and inward experience of music as well as of its codified sharing among members of the audience – which, over the course of these decades, would discover an unprecedented sense of sovereignty as a social-cultural body. This cluster of disciplinary ideals survived well into the twentieth century.

Coda Recent definitions of listening have come to include an account of the history of this cultural practice. Roland Barthes, writing in the mid-1970s, approached the matter in a manner that reflected the relative newness of the subject. Listening, he submits in the introduction to his article, cannot be defined only by its object, because throughout human history, the object has varied. Looking for a way to describe listening apart from its object, Barthes underplays the historical dimension and introduces a typology based on semiotic categories. Even though listening’s historicity appears 52 Returning to the question of numbers at this point, counting the ears (monaurality, binaurality, and so on), it should be noted that political sovereignty, often backed by notions of religious sovereignty, will displace rather than break into multiplicity – let alone disappear – in the transition from (absolute) monarchies to democracies.


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to have remained elusive to him, Barthes did in fact acknowledge that, as a concept, listening had lost its unity – both through time and in terms of its typological consistency. For studies of listening, this double disruption would appear as a shift in the dominant concepts of listening and in the emergence of ages of listening. One historical period would listen differently from others, and different periods would hear each other better or worse. The concept of listening would develop according to a certain notion of deafness – a loss of hearing or listening. And while listening would shift from one of its ages (or types or epistemes) to the next, it would find itself scrambling to hear the new listening emerging; it would need to improvise its way out of the aural status quo, which declines and drifts into the past.53 Therefore, this movement is restrained and curved, as Barthes seems correct in observing. He developed his predilection for the figure (or gesture) of the spiral in relation to other historical fields, particularly to Michelet’s rendering of Giambattista Vico’s theory of history. ‘For all that he owes him, Michelet retains nothing of Vico’s schema of a spiral history, progressing by turns and returns’, he writes, and he corrects Michelet on this issue, using the ‘schema’ in his own work.54 ‘The symbolism of the spiral is the opposite of that of the circle; the circle is religious, theological; the spiral, a kind of circle distended to infinity, is dialectical: on the spiral, things recur but at another level: there is a return in difference, not repetition in identity’.55 As the sources discussed in this chapter suggest, the spiral is particularly important as a trope in the aural field. Beyond its structural role in the anatomy of the ear, as Derrida and Leiris have pointed out, the historical development of listening appears to curve – that is, to be in search of a centre that is no longer (or perhaps never has been) single or fixed. The history of Calvino’s king illustrates this point. Listening’s return to itself, to or into the phantasm of its sovereign ipseity, might suggest the fatal attraction of the ‘theological’ circle of the absolute, which has indeed impacted listening culture historically.56 The curvatures in the ear’s turns and 53 At this point, a close connection emerges between Barthes’ aural thinking from the mid1970s and the burden placed on the reader and critic in his analysis of writing ‘degree zero’. The critic – as Susan Sontag argues in her preface to Barthes’ seminal book from 1953 – would seem to be exposed to similar instabilities as the ‘modern’ listener, as evoked in the essay on listening, and his act of reading would likewise appear as a release rather than as an applied strategy or technique. See Barthes, Writing Degree Zero, xviii. 54 Barthes, Michelet, 149. 55 Barthes, ‘Réquichot and His Body’, 218–19. As Derrida submits (in Rogues, 13): ‘Sovereignty is round; it is a rounding off’. 56 In his introduction to his groundbreaking study of historical aurality, Jonathan Sterne takes a stance against what he regards as the ‘theology of listening’, arguing for an ‘externalist

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returns (corsi e ricorsi, as Vico writes), however, suggest that the resilience of the sovereign is rather due to this very curvature – to the dorsality, as David Wills argues – of listening as it turns towards and away from its objects, indices, signifiers, and so on. ‘In tending one’s ear’, Wills writes, ‘one performs the originary bodily torsion that constitutes dorsality, akin to turning off center as one walks, correcting and upsetting one’s center of gravity with each step’.57 Accordingly, the historiography of listening would appear as the history of the ear’s turns towards and away from, as well as its spiralings back and forth, its falls and defaults – a discourse that, as Barthes was right to emphasize in his encyclopedic writing on listening, never stops inventing tropes (figures and fictions) that enable it to listen in, to hear, and to follow.

Works Cited Barthes, Roland. ‘Ascolto’. In Enciclopedia Einaudi, 982–91. Vol. 1. Written in collaboration with Roland Havas. Turin: Einaudi, 1977. Barthes, Roland. ‘Écoute’. In L’obvie et l’obtus: Essays critiques III, 211–24. Paris: Seuil, 1992. First published 1982. Barthes, Roland. ‘Listening’. In The Responsibility of Forms: Critical Essays on Music, Art, and Representation, 245–60. Translated by Richard Howard. New York: Hill and Wang, 1985. Barthes, Roland. ‘Réquichot and His Body’. In The Responsibility of Forms: Critical Essays on Music, Art, and Representation, 218–19. Translated by Richard Howard. New York: Hill and Wang, 1985. Barthes, Roland. ‘The Death of the Author’. In Image-Music-Text, 142–48. Selected and translated by Stephen Heath. London: Fontana, 1977. Barthes, Roland. ‘The Discourse of History’. In The Rustle of Language, 127–40. Translated by Richard Howard. New York: Hill and Wang, 1986. Barthes, Roland. Michelet. Translated by Richard Howard. Berkeley/Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1987. Barthes, Roland. Writing Degree Zero. New York: Hill and Wang, 1999. Burrows, Donald, and Robert D. Hume. ‘George I, the Haymarket Opera Company and Handel’s Water Music’. Early Music 19, no. 3 (August, 1991): 323–41. and contextualist’ approach. Although largely in support of Sterne’s programmatic endeavour, I have argued above that such a wholesale turning away from (religious or political) forms of sovereignty undermines aural discourse’s sensitivity to sovereignty’s unforeseen turns and returns. See Sterne, Audible Past, 13–14. 57 Wills, ‘Positive Feedback’, 83.


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Calvino, Italo. Under the Jaguar Sun. Translated by William Weaver. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace, 1988. Cascella, Daniela. L’Abîme: Listening, Reading, Writing: An Archival Fiction. Winchester/Washington: Zero Books, 2012. Derrida, Jacques. ‘Tympan’ [1972]. In Margins of Philosophy, ix–xxiv. Translated by Alan Bass. Brighton: The Harvester Press, 1982. Derrida, Jacques. Rogues: Two Essays on Reason. Translated by Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005. Derrida, Jacques. Sovereignties in Question: The Poetics of Paul Celan. Edited by Thomas Dutoit and Outi Pasanen. New York: Fordham University Press, 2005. Eco, Umberto. ‘Eco in Ascolto: Luciano Berio interviewed by Umberto Eco’. Translated by David Osmond-Smith. Contemporary Music Review 5, no. 3 (1989): 1–8. Hatton, Ragnhild. George I: Elector and King. London: Thames and Hudson, 1978. Hogwood, Christopher. Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. Hume, Kathryn. ‘Sensuality and the Senses in Calvino’s Fiction’. MLN 107, no. 1 (January 1992): 160–77. Kafka, Franz. The Diaries: 1910–1923. Edited by Max Brod. New York: Schocken Books, 1976. Lefebvre, Frédéric. ‘Un oeuil à l’écoute: L’Univers sonore d’Italo Calvino’. Littérature 116 (1999): 59–82. Nietzsche, Friedrich. ‘Richard Wagner in Bayreuth’. In Richard Wagner in Bayreuth/ Der Fall Wagner/Nietzsche contra Wagner, 3–83. Stuttgart: Reclam, 1986. Nietzsche, Friedrich. Daybreak: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality. Translated by R.J. Hollingdale. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Oxman, Elena. ‘Sensing the Image: Roland Barthes and the Affect of the Visual’. SubStance 39, no. 2 (2010): 71–90. Schwartz, Arman. ‘Prospero’s Isle and the Siren’s Rock’. Cambridge Opera Journal 15, no. 1 (March, 2003): 83–106. Siisiäinen, Lauri. Foucault and the Politics of Hearing. Abingdon: Routledge, 2013. Sterne, Jonathan. Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction. Durham/ London: Duke University Press, 2003. Szendy, Peter. Sur écoute: Esthétique de l’espionnage. Paris: Minuit, 2007. Van Maas, Sander, ed. Thresholds of Listening: Sounds, Technics, Space. New York: Fordham University Press, 2015. Weiss, Beno. Understanding Italo Calvino. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1993. Wills, David. ‘Positive Feedback: Listening behind Hearing’. In Thresholds of Listening: Sound, Technics, Space, edited by Sander van Maas, 70–88. New York: Fordham University Press, 2015.


Where Sound and Meaning Part Language and Performance in Early Hebrew Poetry Irene Zwiep Abstract This chapter addresses the discrepancies between writing, reading, listening, and performing in two Jewish genres: biblical verse and early synagogue poetry. The continuities (scriptural canonicity, diglossia, tensions between constraint and play) are obvious. The poetics, by contrast, differ. If we want to understand this variance, we must examine what happens in the dialogue between the scribe and his empty scroll, between the cantor and his perplexed congregation. How did they juggle the disparate privileges of sound and meaning, of private understanding and communal experience? As we shall see, in the silence that preceded the sound, and in the sound that followed, the poet’s inner and outer speech articulated different poetics – sometimes disrupting, sometimes reinforcing the conventions of the holy Hebrew tongue. Keywords: creation, ex nihilo, Hebrew, piyyut, scribes, inner speech, poetics, analogy

Of Void and Voice Humankind is fascinated by extremes but shies away from their implications. The way we conceive of our own beginnings is a case in point. According to scientists both modern and ancient, the world and all that it contains originated in hoary antiquity but did not come into being ex nihilo, from the daunting depths of nothingness. Instead, we prefer to see ourselves as the product of a gentle transition from being to becoming – from an abstract, perfect ‘that which is’ to a concrete ‘that which has become’, fleeting and fallible. From the perspective of humankind, there never was – and never will be – nothing.

Hellemans, Babette & Alissa Jones Nelson (eds.), Images, Improvisations, Sound, and Silence from 1000 to 1800: Degree Zero. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2018 doi: 10.5117/9789462980051/CH09


Irene Zwiep

In twenty-first-century cosmology, for example, the expanding universe is viewed either as the cyclic continuation of a dynamic precursor or as the extension of a primal subatomic singularity. Plus ça change, one could say: in 350 BCE, Aristotle too believed matter to be eternal. For Plato, by contrast, it was form, not matter, that constituted the realm of pre-existent being – an ideal world that was subject to neither time nor change. Following Mesopotamian models, the Hebrew Bible claimed that the world as we know it came about when a nameless deity divorced an already existing earth from the heavens and gave it to humankind to colonize and rule. In Aristotle’s Physics, the start of that mutable world was sought in the principle of motion; in the Book of Genesis, it was found in the faculty of speech. In ten creative utterances (‘and God said: let there be light’), the mysterious Elohim of the Israelites created the cosmos out of a chaos that had absorbed both space and time. In the priestly preface to the Bible, creation equalled classification – the imposition of a set of divine rules over infinite, godless anarchy. When contemplating arche and eschaton, humankind has trouble accepting the notion of its ultimate non-being. As soon as the idea of creatio ex nihilo made its appearance in Western thought, the primeval void was once again filled with divine speech – that most human of animal traits. In the beginning, the Gospel states, God himself was the productive word – theos en ho logos – and ‘all things were made by him’. Early rabbinic commentary was more elaborate in its recapitulation of the procedure. In Midrash Bereshit Rabba (The Great Commentary on Genesis), it was Greek doctrine that provided the key to reconciling priestly myth with current dogma. When rereading Genesis as natural philosophy, the sages tacitly merged their ancient God with Plato’s demiurge into one divine middleman (tzayyar gadol hu elohekhem – ‘a great artist is your God!’), who had created the world by wedding form to matter. He had done so without the aid of tohu, bohu, and the other elements listed in Genesis 1:2 – which, if the prophets and the psalmists were to be believed, were created only over the course of the process. God’s sole instrument had been the Torah, the text of Scripture as deconstructed by rabbinic exegesis. Its letters, words, and the spaces in-between had been created at the very beginning and served as a Platonic blueprint for all subsequent creation. From the perspective of the Jew, there never was – and never would be – a universe without text. From day one, the world of humankind was saturated with speech. During the first five days, it was God who filled the earth with creative sound. Then man entered the scene and mixed his voice into the cosmic harmony. In search of a mate, he approached each of his fellow animals in the Garden of

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Eden, only to find that he alone possessed the power to speak their names. The Bible is silent about the language in which Adam discovered his unicity as an animal rationale, a creature set apart by the powers of thought and speech. The rabbis, however, were unanimous: the primeval language had been Hebrew, the pre-existent tool of creation. How else would Adam have known to call a lion a lion and a horse a horse – in short, to name each animal according to its essence? It was popular motifs like these that helped elevate Hebrew from the ranks of human beings to the realm of God and convert it from a daily vernacular into the very fabric of the universe. By the fourth century CE, everyday Hebrew (ivrith) was a dialect on the decline, spoken only by a handful of peasants in the Roman province of Judea. Simultaneously, as leshon ha-qodesh (‘the holy tongue’, named for its use in the temple), the language supported a body of literature that spanned centuries and addressed everything from sublime divinity to the basics of human existence. It was this constant back and forth between past and present, between vox humana and heavenly utterance, that gave the language its magic. Suspended between abandonment and survival, the holy tongue became a site of intense experiment. For Jewish authors, there never had been – and never would be – a world without Hebrew. Without any concern for its permanence, they could go in search of its ‘degree zero’ – the moment between silence and sound, between the absence and the presence of meaning, whence inspiration would take their words in unforeseen directions. In this chapter, we will briefly zoom in on two such creative zero-points, each connected with a distinct moment in the history of Hebrew writing – namely, early biblical verse and classical synagogue poetry, together spanning a period of roughly two thousand years. The continuities between the two (e.g., the omnipresence of the biblical intertext, the diasporic diglossia, and the tension between orality and writ) are obvious. Beneath the steady surface, however, the poetics vary. If we want to understand this variance, we must examine what happens in the solitary moment just before the act of poiesis, in the nameless dialogue between the scribe and the scroll and between cantor, God, and audience. How did they juggle the disparate privileges of private imagination and shared aesthetics? As we shall see, in the silence that preceded the sound and in the sound that emerged from the silence, poets sought and found different poeticalities – at times disrupting, at times reinforcing the conventions of the holy tongue, as medium, audience, and occasion required. This playful incongruity between inner and outer speech, between language received and language performed, would prove to be an important factor in the long history of Hebrew’s literary survival.


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Biblical Poetry as an Art of Silence Every creative act feeds on the anticipation of combined failure and success, a prospect perhaps best conveyed by the cruel beauty of the blank page or the virgin canvas. Few traditions have taken this as literally as the scribal conventions that evolved around the Hebrew Bible. The transmission of a text as rich in holy magic as God’s Torah demanded a protocol of scrupulous planning and control. It was no coincidence that Hebrew scribes became known as soferim – as men who counted rather than men who inscribed the letters of Scripture. Their task was to preserve and disseminate the law as revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai, down to the last divine jot and tittle. To underline the weight of their charge, the job was swathed in rule and ritual – from the initial material and mental preparations to the final counting and adding up of the letters, words, and verses in every scroll that left their desks. In the written version of God’s word, only a zero-percent margin of error was acceptable. Imagine a scribe picking up his pen to enter the first verse of the book of Genesis. Imagine him starting to write, only to discover that the second word he copies already contains a slip of the pen. Bereshit bara – while negotiating the space after the second word, the stylus halts as if pointing the scribe towards a classic mistake in the making: a dittography, the accidental repetition of a word – usually associated with, of all things, a lack of concentration. On a private level, the near-mistake is a pertinent comment on the irony of the moment. Everyone who has embarked on a work of art knows that to begin is to spoil it, to dismantle its pristine potential. In the Hebrew lexicon, all the words relating to ‘beginning’ are derived from the root chalal (‘to pierce’), with chillul (‘desecration’) as its dominant connotation. To a greater degree than its Indo-European equivalents, Hebrew terminology thus builds on the thought that human intervention is a form of defilement. Taking this thought to a higher level, the quasi-error also endorses a central theme in Hebrew theology – namely, the idea that although the earth began as the realization of a divine order, it was always intended as an open, unfinished project, laid out for humankind (the rational animal) to experiment, triumph, and fail. When read in the light of the following chapters, Genesis 1 is not about beginnings, let alone that one absolute beginning in time, but about compromise. It is about reconciling the divine plan with its human implementation and about reaffirming personal choice in the face of global providence. ‘All is foreseen yet the free will is given’, Rabbi Akiva later rephrased it (in Avot. III.15), with paradoxical brevity. In the centuries before and after, generations of scribes experienced this principle firsthand when filling their 40-odd yards of empty scroll with human imperfection.

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It was a lone truth, one they could neither articulate nor share – not with the silent reader who studied Torah in private, not with the male collective that attended its weekly recitation in the synagogue, not with the translator who found himself burying it under layers of foreign vocabulary. It was a truth that could only be performed in the privacy of the scribal office, in the combined acts of reading, writing, and counting the words. With the scribes as the text’s privileged addressees, their craftsmanship continued to inspire biblical aesthetics. Early authors developed a poetics that exploited the dual nature of their craft, conflating their role as readers with their task of guarding the integrity of the Hebrew text. By way of illustration, let us briefly look at one of the oldest examples of biblical poetry, the Song of Lamech – two short but deeply poetic lines that interrupt the list of Cain’s descendants at the end of Genesis chapter four. For greater clarity, the Hebrew is included here in transliteration, alongside Robert Alter’s matchless 1996 translation: (23) Adah and Zillah, O hearken my voice, You wives of Lamech, give ear to my speech. For a man I have slain for my wound, a boy for my bruising. (24) For sevenfold Cain is avenged, and Lamech seventy and seven.

(23) ‘Adah veTzillah shema‘an qoli neshei Lemech ha’zennah imrati. Ki ish haragti lefitz‘i veyeled lechabburati. (24) Ki shiv‘atayyim yuqqam Qain veLemech shiv‘im veshiv‘ah.

It takes Scripture a minimum of words to introduce us to this curious scion of the Adamic dynasty. In verses 19–24, we learn about Lamech’s polygamy and the names and professions of his offspring and are made privy to his confession of murder and trust in divine retribution. In the columns of the Torah scroll, the two final verses will not stand out as poetry; following scribal convention, only Exodus 15 (the Song by the Sea) and Deuteronomy 32 (the Song of Moses) are discernible as such. When read out loud, however, their lyrical content is inescapable. The Song of Lamech is a matchless build-up of rhythm and rhyme, laced with poetic tropes that imitate everyday speech: witness, twice, the parallelism with ellipsis of the verb, culminating in the climactic chiasm that dominates the fiercely alliterative closing verse. Full of suggestive sound and cadence, the Song of Lamech is poetry for the ears, made for oral performance and aural appreciation. Still, the threefold appearance of the word ‘seven’ in the closing line invites us to take a second look. Any scribe doing his homework will soon discover that verse 24, echoing with multiples of seven, consists of seven words,


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with fourteen characters per hemistich, twenty-eight in all. The scribe venturing beyond the basic maths will calculate that twenty-eight equals four times seven, which adds one, purely numerical instance to the three occurrences of the lexeme (shiv‘atayyim, shiv‘im, shiv‘ah), thus yielding the treasured ‘3+1 formula’ that governs so much of biblical narrative. Think of the three patriarchs, who between them married four matriarchs; of Noah, who sent out first a raven and then, thrice, a dove to monitor the flood’s withdrawal; of Daniel, whose three companions emerged unscathed from Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace; and, last but not least, of Solomon, who became King of Israel despite being fourth in line to the throne. (3+1) x 7 = 2 x 14 – a more compact poetics is hardly conceivable. And yet, as we have just seen, numbers make up only half of the story. It is time to find out what happens when we put the two – the scribal and the literary virtuosity – together. Here the issue of the text’s (any text’s) multiple addressees becomes important. The accidental listener, of course, will simply relish the charm of the measured, sing-song Hebrew. The experienced reader, tasting and weighing up the words, will enjoy the artistic accomplishment, the clever accumulation of so many different figures of speech. The professional scribe, on the other hand, will be sensitive to both sound and design, but will also be attuned to the algebraic formula behind the poetic façade, to the reassuring numerical pat on the back: no worries, all’s here, no mistakes; twenty-eight is twenty-eight; x equals x! Imagine the intricacy of his inner speech, of the tacit conversation that goes on within his mind while he reads the verse and prepares to copy it. Imagine one part of him registering its resonating beauty, another anticipating the reward that lies in tallying the letters. Imagine the joy of writing – of committing his inner speech, that perfect node of flawless potentialities, to parchment. Imagine the disenchantment upon seeing it in actu, reduced to mere conventional sound and meaning, out in the open for all to read. More than anyone, it is the scribe who knows that both the realization and the ruin of the divine word lie in the moment of his writing down its conventional, human symbol. No doubt his irritation was shared by the biblical authors, for whom the moment of inner recitation – of the tacit recapitulation that came before the writing – must have been the most rewarding performance of all. It was the only time in the history of Jewish verse that the essence of a Hebrew poem could be expressed through an act of silence. After the closing of the biblical canon, which was followed by Hebrew’s retreat from daily speech and the rabbinic shift from writing to orality, a new generation instead turned to sound – not seldom at the cost of meaning – to captivate new audiences. In the following section, we will see how they engaged in new conversations with God and

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humankind, with the learned and with the simple folk, all the while stretching the fabric of the holy tongue in new – at times perplexing – directions.

The Word beyond Language: Sound as Meaning in Early Liturgical Poetry To say that, upon the closing of Scripture, Hebrew poetry moved from the study to the stage (or from the scribal atelier to the synagogue) would be a caricature. The Bible itself contains numerous clues to its poems being performed in the temple, at court, in schools, at weddings, in the library as well as in the streets, and perhaps – who knows? – even in the blistering heat of the desert. What we can say, however, is that once they had been freed from the bonds of traditional transmission and signification, Jewish poets went in search of new, uncharted soundscapes, delving into fresh forms and meanings from the ancient Hebrew lexicon as they went along. This was true especially of the so-called Oriental piyyut – a form of liturgical poetry that emerged with Eleazar Kallir (c. 570–c. 640) in seventh-century Palestine and reached its climax in Abbasid Iraq with the famous polymath Saadia Gaon (882–942). Written in the holy tongue, piyyutim (a term ostensibly derived from Greek poiesis) were meant to embellish the synagogue service, especially on Shabbat and on holidays. Interpolated into an increasingly fixed order of biblical readings and prayers, they lent variation to the liturgical routine and emotional depth to the recitation of the weekly portion of the Torah. In a way, they were the Jewish equivalent of the poor man’s Bible – although, with the second commandment looming large, they tutored the illiterate via the ears rather than the eyes and exploited Hebrew’s gaudy plasticity, whereas the Christian church relied on colourful iconography. In its uncompromising celebration of rhythm and rhyme, the Oriental piyyut was poetry in the hard-core Jakobsonian sense. In the hands of Kallir and his disciples, the Hebrew word became virtually divorced from the reality it had once helped create and was transported into a realm of sound and acoustics. Modern scholarship has always viewed this process through the eyes of its earliest critics – namely, the biblical purists of medieval Spain, who abhorred the apparent freedom with which their colleagues in the East dared to surrender lexical order to morphological experiment. ‘A ferment of exaggerated neologism’ is a verdict we often encounter in modern studies of the genre, when in fact we would do better to falsify the claim. Was so-called ‘paytanic Hebrew’ really an inflated, failed experiment in the eyes of its first beholders? And if so, how can we explain its persistent popularity?


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A key to answering the first question lies in the Arabic concept of fisâcha and its Hebrew equivalent tzachot, both meaning ‘pure speech’. Precisely what constitutes pure speech at a time when a language is no longer spoken, of course, remains a matter of perspective. In the case of Hebrew, we can distinguish a maximalist and a minimalist position – which, upon closer inspection, seem less at odds than their proponents have wanted us to believe. According to both parties, pure speech was not achieved by imitating the language of a single canonical corpus, but through methodical improvisation. For both, leshon ha-qodesh was not a living dialect, as ‘ivrith had been. Instead, it was a theoretical construct, an abstract matrix that had been extrapolated from actual, historical sources and could be expanded with the help of analogy. Yet while Oriental maximalists – such as Kallir and Saadia – believed that pure speech could use every scrap of Hebrew that had ever been produced (including its ‘vulgar’ rabbinic and hybrid paytanic variants), the Iberian minimalists based their usage on the ‘superior’, unadulterated language of Scripture alone. For the record, neither camp strove to write authentic Hebrew, and neither was operating on a frivolous basis. Both parties stuck to the rules of analogy. Their main point of difference was that the Andalusian poets had a mere six thousand lexemes at their disposal, whereas the paytanim could draw upon an ever-growing reservoir, with obvious consequences for the scope and efficacy of their poetry. While biblical poetry had its zero-point in the quiet anticipation of the act of writing, the postbiblical poets found ultimate potentiality in the concept of analogy, which enabled them to create new, meaningful sound. According to critics old and new, the procedure usually ended in horrible gibberish. A stock example of perplexing virtuosity was Eleazar Kallir’s famous qerovah for the Shabbat before Purim, the opening lines of which became synonymous with paytanic aberrance: Atz qotzetz ben qotzetz,qetzutzai leqatzetz bedibbur mefotzetz retzutzai leratzetz Ran the destroyer, son of destroyer, my destroyed to destroy With wrecking speech my crushed to crush.

The sonic exuberance is striking even in the English translation. Yet if this is gibberish, it is (or was at the time) highly effective gibberish. For as always, the proof of the poem was in the performance – and in this case, the performance was a potent mix of text, context, and drama. The liturgical setting, for one, was highly suggestive. The congregation on the whole may not have been

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terribly literate, but those attending the service undoubtedly knew that it was the Shabbat before Purim, the festival that celebrated the Jews’ escape from persecution at the hands of the arch-destroyer Haman. The text – with its endless volleys of emphatic qufs and tzades, mixed with the occasional rolling resh – was a powerful evocation of impending violence. As for the drama, for acoustic effect the ancient synagogue relied on a human loudspeaker, the meturgeman (literally ‘translator’), who was placed strategically in the audience and repeated the cantor’s words to those seated or standing in the rear. If his audience consisted of native speakers of Aramaic, Greek, and Arabic – in short, of any language but Hebrew – the interplay of text, context, sound, and echo nevertheless ensured that they got the message. If Kallir’s sound-and-fury poetry teaches us anything, it is that modern, inward, silent prayer may not be the only convincing devotional strategy. Yet here again the question of the text’s (any text’s) multiple addressees poses itself. For besides those attending the ceremony, there was always that other, transcendent listener to please – he whose command of Hebrew was, literally, infinitely superior to that of even the greatest paytan. What was he to make of the racket? The following excerpt from a poem by Kallir’s precursor Yannai (from the sixth century) suggests that poets were well aware of God’s listening in on the service and took great pains to cater to the divine ear whenever convention required. The passage begins in mediis rebus, then skips a few lines to zoom in on the – at first sight anti-climactic – closing stanza: My toil – where does all my honour get me? The blossom of my root is barren at my source. The gift of my blessing the Accursed will inherit when I die empty and childless. […] Your ears are attuned to all thoughts, may You live, who brings dew on the blowing winds.

po‘oli mah bekhol yeqari tzitz ‘iqari ‘aqari bimqori qinyan birkhati yirash aruri riq ‘im efneh wa‘ariri […] oznekha qeshuvot lekhol machshavot matlil techi beruchot nishavot

These few lines neatly illustrate the piyyut’s role in connecting the various parts of the service – the recitation of the weekly Torah portion, the edifying homily, and the rote of daily prayer. The poem was written to accompany the reading of parashat lekh-lekha (Genesis 12–17), which tells of Abraham’s arrival in the promised land and of his fear of dying, far from his ancestral home, without a son to inherit his wealth. It elaborates on the opening verses of Genesis 15, in which Abraham desperately questions God’s promise


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that one day he will be rewarded for his obedience: ‘My lord Lord, what are you offering me’, he retorts, ‘when my only heir is my steward, Eliezer of Damascus?’ Yannai decided to rewrite Abraham’s riposte as a plaintive monologue, choosing the harshest Hebrew phonemes (emphatic quf, thundering resh, guttural ‘ayin, and piercing /i/) to convey his protagonist’s mounting frustration. Once again sound was meaning, and once again the majority of the audience would have intuited rather than comprehended its import, sensing the tragedy behind the barrage of consonants. How could they escape its impact, not knowing Hebrew but being familiar with the sorrow of childlessness, the shame of impotence and indignation? As always, text and context conspired to enrich the crowd’s understanding. Paradoxically, it was in the very image of the dry, wasted shoot that the key to their consolation lay. For did not God provide solace – he who had quenched Israel’s thirst in the wilderness, who had opened the wombs of the matriarchs, who could make the desert blossom as the rose? And so, in the two final lines, poet and protagonist, cantor and congregation all turned to God – ‘who overhears our innermost thoughts’ – begging him to release the moist, gentle breezes that would reanimate the earth after a spell of scorching heat. Every year, the lekh-lekha portion is read in late summer or early autumn, when both fields and human beings are craving the first rains of the season. The mention of dew carried on the winds suggests that the piyyut was written for the Amidah (the daily ‘standing prayer’) of Shemini Atzeret, which closes the festival of Sukkot and marks the beginning of the rainy season. It is on this Eighth Day of Assembly (7+1!) that the Hebrew prayer book substitutes the daily benediction over dew with a blessing over rain (‘blessed be he who makes the wind blow and brings down the rain’), which is then recited until Passover, the first official day of spring. In an overt allusion to this liturgical transition, Yannai merged the two blessings, just as he had mixed the daily petition for impregnating dew with a plea for human fulfilment. When directed towards God, his language grew quieter, more solemn, still rich in sound but robbed of its explosive zeal, savouring the tenderness of the feminine plural /ot/ instead. When addressing heaven, the paytan was careful not to let poetic noise hamper communication. Divine mercy apparently was best implored with the help of simple, certified semantics. Using conventional Hebrew to please the ears of God and bouncy neologism to stir the hearts of human beings, the poets of Palestine and Babylon created a poor man’s Bible that closed the gap between Torah and prayer, between God’s eternal speech and humankind’s ephemeral ramblings. Whereas their biblical predecessors had privileged the act of writing,

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relegating sound to the private realm of inner speech, the paytanim found their ultimate reward in the noisy performance of public prayer. Whereas the former indulged the professional copyist, the latter sought to satisfy the omniscient God as well as ignorant, oblivious human beings. Whereas for the scribe, writing Hebrew ended in the comfort of mathematical proof, for the paytan, it meant taking the language deep into virgin territory. The two met, however, in the intimate ease with which they handled their instrument. Poised on the brink of what Gershom Scholem, in a letter to Franz Rosenzweig, called ‘dieser Abgrund einer heiligen Sprache’ (‘this abyss of a sacred language’), they processed the language without fearing its revenge, knowing it could never be normalized, secularized, or rejuvenated. It had served God when he created the world and would continue to serve him once the world had come to an end. On the scale of eternity, the Jew was but a passerby. For God, however, there never was – and never would be – a cosmos without Hebrew.

Further Reading Alter, Robert. The Art of Biblical Narrative. New York: Basic Books, 1981. Alter, Robert. The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary. New York: Norton, 2004. Anonymous. Massekhet Soferim. In Masseket Soferim, der Talmudische Traktat der Schreiber. Eine Einleitung in das Studium der Althebräischen Graphik, der Masora, und der Altjüdischen Liturgie, edited by Joël Müller. Vienna: n.p., 1878. Anonymous. Midrash Bereshit Rabba. Edited by Michael Sokolov. Jerusalem: Makor, 1971. Duncombe, Matthew. ‘Thought as Internal Speech in Plato and Aristotle’. Logical Analysis and History of Philosophy 19 (2016): 105–25. Fokkelman, Jan P. Reading Biblical Poetry: An Introductory Guide. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001. Herzog, Annabel. ‘“Monolingualism” or the Language of God: Scholem and Derrida on Hebrew and Politics’. Modern Judaism 29, no. 2 (2009): 226–38. Ibn Ezra, Abraham. Commentary on Ecclesiastes 5:1. Kallir, Elazar. Piyyutim le-rosh ha-shanah. Rabbi El‘azar be-rabbi Kallir. Edited by Shulamit Elizur and Michael Rand. Jerusalem: ha-Iggud ha-‘olami le-madda‘e ha-yahadut, Keren ha-Rav David Moshe ve-Amaliah Rozen, 2014. Lieber, Laura Suzanne. Yannai on Genesis: An Invitation to Piyyut. Monographs of the Hebrew Union College 36. Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 2010.


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Spigel, Chad S. Ancient Synagogue Seating Capacities: Methodology, Analysis and Limits. Texte und Studien zum antiken Judentum 149. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2012. Yahalom, Joseph. Piyyut u-metzi’ut be-shilche ha-zeman he-‘atiq. Tel Aviv: ha-Kibbutz ha-me’uchad/Yad Yitzchaq ben Tzvi, 1999. Yahalom, Joseph. Sefat ha-shir shel piyyut ha-Eretz Yisraeli ha-qadum. Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1985. Zwiep, Irene. ‘What’s in a Name: Conceptions of Hebrew as Reflected by the Titles of Hebrew Grammars’. Zutot: Perspectives on Jewish Culture (2004): 117–24.


10 Writing about Silence and the Secret in the Twelfth Century Monastic Variations on a Biblical Theme* Cédric Giraud

Abstract The aim of this chapter is to present a journey through a group of texts produced in the monastic context in the twelfth century. I intend to demonstrate the ambivalence of silence when one considers it not only as a practice to be described, but as a question to be interpreted. Silence participates in a reflection that gives birth to an orthopraxy, which begins with the writing and copying of new works. It is thus somewhat reductive to oppose the practice of silence to the theory of silence. The monks’ reflections on silence place their works of commentary on a level of literary creativity that must always claim the attention of historians. Keywords: silence; monastic literature; Bible; exegesis

Medieval monks wrote a great deal about silence – for example, in rules, customaries, and treatises. The documentation is vast, and after having captivated those monks, this phenomenon has fascinated historians in recent decades.1 Given the sheer number of documents to be mastered, it has been necessary to differentiate and classify the various forms of silence in order to grasp a reality which, by definition, is difficult to put into words. The most logical method, apparently, is to proceed from concrete life experience to the more abstract. As a priority, historians have thus * Parts of this chapter have been translated from the French by Peter Cramer. 1 See, among many studies, Umiker-Sebeok and Sebeok, Monastic Sign Languages; Gehl, ‘Competens silentium’, 125–60; Bruce, Silence and Sign Language; Pansters, ‘The Secret of Silence’, 57–69; Baudinette, Silence as Praise, esp. 152–72 (for the secondary literature on silence).

Hellemans, Babette & Alissa Jones Nelson (eds.), Images, Improvisations, Sound, and Silence from 1000 to 1800: Degree Zero. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2018 doi: 10.5117/9789462980051/CH10


Cédric Gir aud

been interested primarily in the daily life of monks. Regardless of the rule considered, silence was a daily obligation in the Middle Ages and formed the framework that embraced all communication within religious communities. Silence is a discipline exercised by the absence of speech; silence is also an ideal practice for stripping back to the interior person. The monk practices spiritual exercises such as meditation in order to maintain interior silence.2 At the highest level, he arrives at a silent ecstasy, considered to be the preeminent response to the ineffable divine. It is thus tempting to compare these different silences to a mille-feuille or a pile of nested boxes that lead from the material silence of the tongue to the interior silence of the soul. In this historiographical reconstruction, silence is an orthopraxy – which is to say, the practice of a norm that is lived and imitated – before it becomes an orthodoxy, conforming to a law or a teaching.3 All of this is largely true, but this reconstruction also contains an implicit conception of the real. Ideas about silence should emanate from practices; the ideology should form the superstructure of the reality. It is not certain whether these ancient monks saw their world in this way, and even more importantly, such reconstructions tend to make one forget the manner in which we ourselves have access to these silences of the past. Thus it must be noted that all of these ancient silences are only known through words; for us, they are only words. Therefore, it seems to me methodologically sound to approach these silences according to monastic rules as a written corpus of silences, without hierarchy, and to avoid ascribing to them an origin which, for example, would derive mystical silence unequivocally from ‘regular’ silence. To demonstrate why it is interesting to study silence from the point of view of orthodoxy rather than orthopraxy, I would like to focus on the monk’s source of truth par excellence – the Bible. The Bible was more keenly present than ever in the twelfth century, a time of unusual richness in monastic exegesis and intensity in religious renewal, both inside and outside of monasteries. 4 My aim is to present a journey through a group of texts produced in the monastic context in the twelfth century. I intend to demonstrate the ambivalence of silence when one considers it not only as a practice to be described, but as a question to be interpreted. 2 Giraud, Spiritualité et histoire, 37–96. 3 Gehl, ‘Competens silentium’, 157–60. 4 Constable, The Reformation; Dahan and Noblesse-Rocher, eds., L’exégèse monastique au Moyen Âge; and, on the context, see the recent synthesis by Dinzelbacher, Structures and Origins.

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The Ambiguity of Silence: From Allegory to Interiority In the monastery, silence is not only an obligation prescribed by the rule; it is also a biblical reality that needs to be understood. Silence thus loses its unequivocal nature and constraining character. Like all biblical realities, silence is polysemous.5 It can thus be conceived negatively when it is understood not in its proper sense, but as a metaphor used in the tropological sense. When it is criticized or thought of negatively, silence is not understood as the absence of speech (it would certainly be paradoxical for the monks to endorse chattering!), but as a sign of privation. This is the case in the work of Guibert of Nogent, who identifies silence as a key to the interpretation of the Bible: ‘We use the word silence in Scripture when someone talks to God neither through prayer nor through life, as it is said, “while all things were in the midst of silence”. “This silence is rejected everywhere”, when the spirit that serves God not temporarily, but forever, considers detestable that bad absence of speech’.6 In the figurative sense, silence is thus praying and acting for God, but silently. This relativity of silence is verified in the case of allegorical interpretation, in which certain biblical passages invite the interpretation of silence in a Christian context with relation to the word of God, and especially his Word made flesh – that is, Christ. The clearest example of this is provided by the exegesis of chapter 18, verses 14 and 15 of the book of Wisdom: ‘While all things were in the midst of silence, and that night was in the midst of her swift course, Your Almighty word leaped down from heaven out of your royal throne, as a fierce man of war in the midst of a land of destruction’.7 Because of its use in the liturgy as an antiphony or introit at Christmas, twelfth-century monks always interpreted this passage in the allegorical sense – that it is Christ who breaks the silence and who manifests himself in the night of history. Under these conditions, silence becomes an allegory of humanity and its historical unfolding. This formulation has precedents, as in the case of the reformatory monk Peter Damian. In a sermon for the feast of the apostle St. Bartholomew, the Benedictine defines the medium silentium as a noxious silence, because it is the intermediary period during which the prophets kept quiet, before the apostles had yet begun to speak. 5 Bory, L’interprétation infinie. 6 Guibert of Nogent, Commentarium in Amos, col. 442d–443a: ‘Silentium in Scripturis dicitur quando neque prece neque vita quisquam Deo loquitur. Unde est : dum medium silentium tenerent omnia (Sag. 18:14). Hoc silentium in omni loco projicitur (Amos 8:3), cum ab omni mente quae non horarie sed localiter Deo servit, haec prava taciturnitas exsecrationi habetur’. 7 The translation is mine, based on the Latin text of the Vulgate.


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This is thus the moment of the silent reign of the devil and the pagan Roman Empire.8 This negative conception of silence – as the privation of salvation – ­articulates a more complex theology of history, of which three very influential twelfth-century authors give examples. Hugh of Saint-Victor says: Three silences preceded grace. The first was blind and deaf, the second deaf, and the third mute. The first silence was before the Law, when man could not see death by himself, and could not hear other people, and thus sought no remedy. The second silence was under the Law, when man saw the malady thanks to the Law, but did not listen to the prophets and sought no remedy through grace. The third silence was under the prophets, when man saw the malady and heard, thanks to the prophets, but did not ask for the remedy that he might be pardoned. With grace, the silence disappeared completely.9

In this passage, the author pushes the metaphorical transposition to its extremes, because although one can conceive of silence as being mute, it is more difficult to understand how it can be deaf and blind. In fact, here the word silence designates a state of humanity and a stage in the history of salvation that the incarnation renders obsolete. With the incarnation, there is no longer room for bad silence. In the second example, Bernard of Clairvaux’s Sententiae presents a less optimistic conception, because his aim is not only to explain a salutary event, but to call his listeners to convert.10 The Abbot of Clairvaux articulates 8 Damian, Sermones, sermo 42, 262–3: ‘In adventu quippe Domini, medium silentium omnia continebat, quia jam et prophetae cessaverant et necdum apostoli ad praedicandam novae fidei gratiam veniebant […]. Cum igitur sub tam noxio mundus silentio conticesceret, et haec ad perdendos homines occasio diabolum provocaret, ille non modo medium iter habebat, sed et currebat, quia quicquid nequitae suae mente conceperat, eff icaciter adimplebat. Nam et cuncta jam Romanum occupabat imperium, et necesse erat eos qui legem Dei eotenus saltim utcumque tenuerant, jam subesse legibus paganorum. Sub hoc igitur pereuntis silentio sermo Dei a regalibus sedibus venit, quia de pectoribus apostolicis, quae Regis aeterni veraciter sedes sunt, verbum evangelicae praedicationis erupit’. 9 Hugh of Saint-Victor, De tribus silentiis, col. 845–6: ‘Tria gratiam praecesserunt silentia. Primum fuit caecum et surdum, secundum surdum, tertium mutum. Primum ante legem, quando nec per se homo videbat mortem, nec ab alio audiebat et ideo remedium non quaerebat. Secundum sub lege, quando videbat morbum per legem, nec tamen audiebat per prophetas nec remedium flagitabat per gratiam. Tertium in prophetis, quando et videbat morbum et per prophetas audiebat, sed ad veniam remedium non confitebatur nec postulabat. In gratia omne silentium abiit’. 10 See also Verbaal, ‘Oleum de saxo durissimo’, 319–35.

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the exegesis of a triple silence with a theology of history in which silence, considered as the privation of good, plays a role until the end of time, notably among the monks. For this purpose, he shifts the temporal framework. If the first silence lasts from Adam to Moses, as Hugh of Saint-Victor asserts, then the second silence extends from the prophets to the incarnation, and the third will last until the return of Christ at the Last Judgment.11 During the periods of natural law, of written law, and of grace, silence designates the inertia of humankind, who refuse to accomplish the law of God. Finally, in his very influential De claustro animae, the canon Hugh of Fouilloy again shifts the place of silence, situating it even earlier. Silence has cosmic value in that it concerns even the angels, because the text distinguishes between angelic silence before the fall of the devil, the silence of humankind after the fall, and the silence of heaven, of humankind, and of angels, which will have no end.12 This sociological division of silence (a silence for each category of speaker) is important, because it makes the allegorical interpretation of silence correspond to a hierarchy of silences. The material and human silence of the monk is relative and makes sense only with relation to angelic silence. According to a Benedictine tradition at Cluny, the silence of the monastery has the value of a sacrament. Imitating angelic silence, the transitory silence of the soul anticipates eternal silence.13 Making angelic silence the model of communication par excellence nuances the theology of the Word and the role of human mediators, because it renders all speech imperfect. In heaven, language is unnecessary because, as the author says, ‘When the judge of our works appears at the time of judgment, the words of exhortation will cease, and when we escape the anguishes of the present life and are received into the contemplation of joys, we will no longer need to hear the words of the doctors’.14 The De claustro animae also invites us to turn towards interior silence – which is no less paradoxical than allegorical silence – for the good, simple 11 Bernard of Clairvaux, Sententiae, 6.2:186: ‘Tria sunt silentia. Primum a tempore Adae usque ad Moysen. Secundum post vaticinium prophetarum usque ad adventum Domini. Tertium deinceps usque dum venerit Christus judicare vivos et mortuos et saeculum per ignem’. 12 Hugh of Fouilloy, De claustro animae, col. 1174: ‘Tria sunt silentia : primum silentium fuit angelis in coelis ante diaboli casum; secundum fuit in terra hominibus post primi parentis lapsum; tertium erit in coelo post resurrectionem quod nunquam habebit finem’. 13 See, for example, Vita Odonis, col. 57a: ‘Octava enim Natalis Domini et ejus Resurrectionis summum silentium die noctuque f iebat in illis. Brevissimum quippe istud illud signif icare fatebantur aeternum silentium’ ; see also Verbaal, ‘Oleum de saxo durissimo’, 325–6. 14 Hugh of Fouilloy, De claustro animae, col. 1178: ‘Apparente igitur in judicio retributore operum, jam verba cessabunt exhortationum et nos angustias vitae praesentis evadentes, in illa quoque suscepti contemplatione gaudiorum, jam nullatenus indigebimus audire verba doctorum’.


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reason that it is conceived on the basis of a biblical model, and not merely as putting a rule into practice. As the Benedictine Peter of Celle recalls: Let the silence of the cloister be not mute, but talkative. May it not be mute to the ears of the Lord of the armies, but may he always say, ‘Lend an ear to the words of my mouth’ and ‘I cried to God with my voice’, because although Moses was quiet, it was said to him, ‘Why do you cry unto me?’ Indeed, that voice penetrated the entrails of divine mercy. It is this voice that the whole spirit, which wails from deep inside, sends towards the third heaven like a very powerful dart.15

While the West in the twelfth century was largely ignorant of the negative theology of Pseudo-Dionysius, we find ourselves here in an Augustinian conceptual framework.16 Interior silence is a paradoxical silence because it is a relative silence. It allows the absence of voiced words in order to give birth to interior words. This speech is inscribed in a space that is also paradoxical, because it allows communication between private spheres that were supposed to be separated (God and humankind). According to a typically Augustinian conception, interior speech springs from interiority in order to touch transcendence. It is the image of the Augustinian God and thus reconciles the deepest part of the human being (i.e., interiority) with the most transcendent being (i.e., God), because the two notions (deep and transcendent, or interior/intimus and superior/summus, in Augustine’s words) seem to melt into one another in the spiritual experience.17 Paradoxically, interior silence is not an end in itself because it is a sign of imperfection, linked to our temporal condition. In the medieval system of values, silence functions like other temporal realities, from the more relative (social inequalities, for example) to the most important (the virtues of faith and hope). Silence is the sign of a privation that points towards a perfection situated outside of time. Just as the imperfections of inequalities in the social domain and faith in the domain of knowledge designate higher realities (equality and the vision of heaven), so silence reflects a form of 15 Peter of Celle, De disciplina claustrali, 224: ‘Silentium claustrale non sit mutum, nec loquax. Non mutum sit in auribus Domini Sabaoth, sed semper dicat auribus percipe verba oris mei (Ps. 16:1) et voce mea ad Dominum clamavi (Ps. 141:1), quia tacenti Moysi dictum est : quid clamas ad me? (Ex. 14:15) Illa enim vox penetrat viscera misericordiae Dei nostri quam solus et totus spiritus in imis visceribus ingemiscens jactu validissimo ad tertium emittit coelum’. 16 On Augustine, see Gehl, ‘Competens silentium’, 129–34 ; on the reception of Pseudo-Dionysius, see Poirel, Des symboles et des anges, 271–92. 17 Lagouanère, Intériorité et réflexivité.

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more perfect communication. In order to ascribe to silence this eschatological meaning, Peter of Celle compared this silence to two images that the Christian tradition inevitably associates with the Apocalypse: the seal and the book. The silence of the cloister is a book, and at the same time, it is a seal. It is a book that must stay sealed until the end of time, because only the Lamb can open this book – according to Apocalypse 5:1, a sentence Peter of Celle repeats like a refrain.18 This insistence ought to give us pause: only Christ, by opening the book, can put an end to the silence, which is thus a worst-case scenario, because there exists a desirable future where silence will no longer be in season. When ‘Christ opens the mouths of the mute and breaks the seals in order to proclaim to us the wisdom hidden in the mystery, he makes us say, a propos of Christ, “He worked great wonders, and he made the deaf hear and the mute speak’”.19 The end of history marks the end of silence, because leaving time behind means speaking and declaring one’s recognition of the divinity of Christ. In this anagogical conception of communication, to speak is to see. Considered as a question to be interpreted in a biblical context, silence cannot be unequivocal, but it feeds the discourses that articulate vocality and the absence of speech at different levels. The silence enjoined by the rule, being the fruit of practice, is saying something simple. The silence of the biblical, which comes of reading the Bible, is complex. It thrives on the hermeneutic leap and, leaping upward from ordinary to figurative senses (and back), it finds itself coloured with different levels of meaning.20 Instead of the duet of silence and word we commonly attribute to the monastic writers, we are talking about a quartet: material and spiritual silence and material and spiritual word. Silence is no longer the simple act of putting an orthopraxis of silence into practice. It is more radical and more mobile than that. Silence requires a reader, lively and intent, constantly determining and redetermining the appropriate level of signification as it springs from the text. This understanding of silence has become the production of sense. 18 Peter of Celle, De disciplina claustrali, 226–8: ‘Sigillum autem silentii sub signaculi sui obumbratione nutrit semen bonum et ad proventum facit venire. Inde est quod in Apocalipsi liber qui est in dextera sedentis super thronum scriptus intus et foris septem sigillis signatur (cf. Ap. 5:1). In manu enim Dei sumus et nos sermones nostri clausi septem signaculis quosque aperiat os nostrum agnus qui occisus est et habet clavem quae aperit et nemo claudit’. 19 Peter of Celle, De disciplina claustrali, 230: ‘Ad haec agnus aperit ora mutorum et resolvit signacula ut sapientiam in misterio absconditam loquamur et dicamus de Christo: bene omnia fecit et surdos fecit audire et mutos loqui (Mc. 7:37)’. 20 Dahan, Lire la Bible au Moyen Âge, 18–19.


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Silence as Secret: From the Subject to the Community In a logical progression, the silent intimacy between God and the monk implies a reflection on the secret, which has had a place in the Latin tradition at least since Ambrose of Milan. The interpretation of the Song of Songs becomes a place of reflection on the secret, and the interpreters liken the epithalamia of Solomon to two verses in Isaiah (24:16) and Tobit (12:7) in a combination inherited by the twelfth century: The loved one seems to say, ‘My secret is for me, my secret is for me’ (Is. 24:16). In her ecstasy of love, she had understood some of the hidden mysteries of the faith which she thought she should not reveal to the young ladies of Jerusalem. ‘It is good to hide the mystery of the king’, it is said (Tob. 12:7). For he is sinning against God, the one who thinks he should reveal to unworthy men the mysteries that have been confided to him. Because it is a danger not only to say false things, but also true things, if one confides them to those who are unsuitable.21

This passage is particularly important because it furnishes a doctrinal frame that remains valid for centuries: spiritual life borrows the language of love, and that love supposes a veritable ethic of the word – in other words, a reasoned use of silence when faced with the sins of the tongue. This Ambrosian construction is taken up again in the twelfth century by the Cistercians, who give it a more subjective impact within the framework of their reform of monastic life. The question that arises, then, is what place the subject occupies in relation to the secret of interiority. In the Cistercian milieu, the spiritual secret is a personal secret that separates the souls of the elite from those of other Christians who stay in the secular world, which ends up creating a veritable spiritual aristocracy. Aelred of Rievaulx cogently described how this secret works in his sermon celebrating the presentation of Christ in the temple in Jerusalem, which is a sermon on love in which three moments of marriage are defined: the incarnation, during which the two natures, human and divine, are wed in the person of Christ; the visit of the magi, as the marriage of the Church and Christ; and daily 21 Ambrose of Milan, In Canticum Canticorum, col. 1941-1942: ‘Videtur inter dilecta dilecti dicere: secretum meum mihi, secretum meum mihi (Is. 24:16). Quaedam enim in exstasi amoris sui occulta fidei intellexerat mysteria, quae nec ipsis filiabus Hierusalem propalanda censebat. Mysterium regis, inquit, bonum est abscondere (Tob. 12:7). Peccat enim Deo qui commissa sibi mysteria putaverit indignis esse vulganda. Periculum itaque est non solum falsa dicere, sed etiam vera, si quis ea insinuet quibus non oportet’.

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life as the marriage of the soul and the Word. In this context, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord takes on a tropological sense. Coming into the temple means entering into the holy, interior place, and that encounter must take place in silence: Nothing is wished for more than silence. These are the secrets of the groom and the bride, these are their special delights in which no others participate: my secret is for me, my secret is for me. Where is your secret, oh bride, you alone who experiences its sweetness, when in a spiritual kiss they meet and coalesce, the created spirit and the uncreated spirit, he who sanctifies and he who is sanctified, he who deifies and he who is deified? I would say that you probably express it in a better way and more expressively. This is the language of love; only those who love understand.22

The spiritual life is here thought out according to the model of a particular sociolectal language, the use of which is reserved for the emotional community of the contemplative. In this case, the soul is not entirely alone, because it shares with others a password – namely, the amorous experience, which allows a certain communication because that experience can be expressed in the biblical language of the Song of Songs. But in certain cases, the possession of this secret isolates others (those outside of the self). The religious soul should live in a form of interior solitude, as described in the Speculum virginum, the manual intended to guide nuns on the path to perfection: ‘The soul says my secret is for me, my secret is for me, because the soul that experiences the divine mysteries barely communicates to others what it has accumulated as spiritual gifts for itself by means of its purified intelligence’.23 Here, the spiritual life is no longer thought of as the experiential language of love, but as acquired capital – a treasure not to be spent, but rather kept jealously for oneself. When confronted with these conceptions, whether elitist or material, the secret sometimes appears as a sign of transcendence, because it escapes not 22 Aelred of Rievaulx, Sermones, sermo 51, 47: ‘Nihil optabilius quam silentium. Haec sunt secreta sponsi et sponsae, hae singulares eorum deliciae quibus non communicat alienus. Secretum meum mihi, secretum meum mihi. Ubi est secretum tuum tibi, o sponsae, quae sola cujus sit dulcedinis experiris quando in osculo spirituali sibi obviant sibique miscentur spiritus creatus et increatus […] sicut sanctificans et sanctificatus, sicut deificans et deificatus? Dicam utique quod forte ipsi melius et expressius experimini. Lingua amoris est: non intelligit nisi qui amat’. 23 Seyfarth, ed., Speculum virginum, ch. 2, 47: ‘Dic igitur: secretum meum mihi, secretum meum mihi, quia perceptibilis divinorum sacramentorum anima vix alienis communicat quod purgatiori intelligentia in donis spiritalibus sibi coacervat’.


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only others, but even the subject who is its custodian. The spiritual life makes the self an outsider. Such is the case with the Cistercian Guerric of Igny, who – following Bernard of Clairvaux – treated this theme broadly in his sermon for Advent. There exists a triple advent: two historical advents that correspond to the incarnation and the second coming, and an intermediary and spiritual advent that corresponds to Christ’s visit to the soul. While Aelred asserts that this visit is a secret that should be kept by the soul, for Guerric the visit remains secret because it is hidden due to its paradoxical nature: I call that advent occult, not because it is unknown to him in whom it is produced, but because it arrives in secret.[…] It cannot be seen or retained by the one in whom it arrives, as in the words of Job, who recognizes in his own case, If he comes to me, I will not see him; if he moves on, I will not understand him. This advent is definitely not seen when he comes; he is not understood when he moves on, he whom, when he is present, is only for the soul and for the intelligence a light the makes visible the invisible and makes comprehensible the incomprehensible.24

This paradoxical light is a blinding light, because how can an uncommunicable secret be shared? At the extreme, the spiritual secret moves away not only from others, but also from the self. But must one then consider that the secret and the silence exclude all social bonds, leaving the subject helplessly confronting him- or herself? In other words, do the monastic silence and the secret cause one to renounce action and fall into solipsism? Indeed, these interpretations must be understood in an ecclesial framework, since this is the silence and the secret that structures the Church as a hierarchical community. To describe silence in the twelfth century as a mystery – as a constraining secret – may seem anachronistic because it is linked to conditions that no longer exist in medieval Christianity. This type of silence is that of antiquity, at the time of the persecutions, when the faith had to retain its integrity and hide from its enemies. Silence was then a precondition for both social and doctrinal survival. One had to avoid being singled out as a foreign element 24 Guerric of Igny, In Adventu, in Sermones, 112: ‘Secretum meum mihi […]. Occultus sane dixerim: non quod ignoretur ab eo cui venit, sed quia secretus ei advenit […]. Sed nec ab ipso cui advenit potest ante videri quam teneri, juxta illud beati Job de se confitentis: si venerit ad me, non videbo eum; si abierit, non intelligam eum. Nec veniens quippe videtur, nec recedens intelligitur, qui solummodo dum praesens est lumen est animae et intellectus, quo invisilibis videtur et incogitabilis intelligitur’.

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and to keep the secrets of the Christian cult.25 But in a society like that of the Middle Ages, in which the Church constitutes the embracing structure from birth to death for all of humankind, does there still exist a place in the monastery for this kind of silence? As strange as it may seem, the answer is yes. This type of silence holds its own, and the best proof of this is found in the Collectaneum exemplorum, a Cistercian collection of miracles and visions produced at Clairvaux at the end of the twelfth century for the use of the monks. The collection includes an explanation of the mass, which expounds on the ‘secret’ and justifies the name of the prayer that follows the offertory and announces the canon of the mass: It is a secret mystery and the secret enactment of a secret, because before seeing God bare-faced and with the eye of a purified heart, we cannot fully understand the difference between what is seen and what is produced. […] My secret is for me, says the Lord. It is thus good to hide the secret of the king, because the form of that secret action, which Jesus Christ transmitted to his disciples, is guarded in the Church of God in such a way that the word of God is not revealed to strangers and heretics, because, while the sons of God eat and drink, Satan is found sometimes among them.26

Whether echoing doctrinal controversies (such as Berengar of Tours calling Eucharistic realism into question a century earlier, during his controversy with Lanfranc of Pavia over the doctrine of transubstantiation) or referring to recent troubles (such as the Cathars), for the Cistercian author of the late twelfth century, there is no such thing as a happy Christianity in this world; the secret remains a necessity that separates the priest from the other faithful. On a broader level, the secret enables the definition of an ecclesiology that goes back to the commentary of Gregory the Great on the Song of Songs, in which the Pope outlines an ecclesial topography in which the Church is a house with a door that faith can open, and hope will allow a soul to cross the threshold. There is a dining room where one lives on charity 25 See Flasch, ‘Sagt er niemand’, 87–96. 26 Legendre, ed., Collectaneum exemplorum, 153: ‘Hoc modo misterium secretum est et actio secreti secreta, quia donec revelata facie et mundato oculo cordis Deum videamus, quomodo aliud sit et aliud videatur quod cernitur, quod tractatur ad plenum intelligere non valemus. […] Secretum meum michi, ait Dominus. Secretum ergo regis celare bonum est, ut forma hujus secrete actionis quam Jhesus Christus tradidit discipulis suis in Ecclesia Dei teneatur, ne extraneis et hereticis verbum vite divulgetur quia, comedentibus et bibentibus f iliis Dei, adest inter eos aliquando Sathan’.


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and a bedroom where one learns the secrets. The knowledge of the secret is not the object of a private revelation or of mysticism, but stems from a knowledge modelled on the public revelation of salvation: ‘[The] Holy Church has access to sublime mysteries and penetrates them while still in this life by means of its perfect members, namely the saintly doctors […]. Indeed, it is by the prophets, the apostles, the doctors, those who already in this life penetrated the sublime secrets of the future life, that the Church could enter into the bedchamber of the king’.27 To know the secret of the king under these conditions is to prolong the revelation and to enter into a hierarchy that makes contemplatives the successors of the doctors rather than doctrinal innovators. As a Gregorian age par excellence – since the popes of that time used the figure of Gregory the Great as a major reference point for their own politics of reform – the twelfth century provides many illustrations of the social utility of secrets. A clear example is furnished by the exchange of letters – datable to 1148–1149 – between the master Odo of Soissons and Hildegard of Bingen. In a very studied literary staging that is based on the same passages in the Song of Songs and Isaiah as those used by Gregory, Odo is presented as a master both in name and in profession, whereas Hildegard benefits from divine revelations. In a virtually explicit manner and long before Max Weber, the exchange defines the distinction between the charisma of a role or function and prophetic charisma.28 The possession of the secret even creates a hierarchy of knowing, in which it is the prophetess who teaches the professional, because, as Odo writes to Hildegard: ‘The blessed are those who precede us, we the preachers, to such a point that they scrutinize the celestial mysteries […] and they know among their visions what must be announced or kept silent for the men above them. And thus, thanks to God, who activates their gift through humility, they seal certain things and do not announce what might shake the apostolic and ecclesiastic order’.29 Revelation, which in principle ends with the death 27 Gregory the Great, Expositio in Canticum canticorum, par. 26, 28: ‘Secretum meum mihi […]. Quia ergo sancta Ecclesia in membris suis perfectis, in sanctis doctoribus […] quasi ad sublimia secreta pervenit et adhuc in ista vita posita jam illa penetrat, introduxit me rex in cubiculum suum ait. Per prophetas enim, per apostolos, per doctores, qui in in ista vita positi jam sublimia secreta illius vitae penetrabant, Ecclesia in cubiculum regis illius ingressa fuerat’. 28 On the distinction between charismatic authority and the charisma of an off ice, see Weber, ‘Discipline and Charisma’, 59–72; Weber, ‘Politics as Vocation’, 129–98; and recently Dericquebourg, ‘Max Weber et les charismes spécifiques’, 21–41. 29 Hildegard of Bingen, Epistolarium, 102: ‘Secretum meum mihi, secretum meum mihi […]. Beati illi qui nos peccatores in tantum praecellunt, ut celestia rimantur […] et inferius etiam apud homines de visionibus suis discant que proferant vel que reticeant. Sic namque Deo donum

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of the last of the apostles, appears here as still being open. According to the theologian, prophetic speech thus opens a space of theological possibilities that should be moderated by the discretionary spirit of the visionary. In this sense, the silence of the prophet leads to the construction of a posture of authority and of hidden knowledge. Charisma exceeds all speech and even presupposes a reluctance to speak. It is not beyond reason to think that this letter was considered by its author as a sort of mirror for Hildegard, an invitation to follow a normative model in order to contain possible excesses in prophetic speech. This Gregorian model of the silent doctor finds its pendant in the realm of literary creation, where the call for silence also contributes to legitimizing the act of speaking. The reason, a theme at least since Jerome, consists in the need to protect oneself from jealous and malevolent men. That is what Peter of Blois writes at the beginning of his De amicitia christiana: ‘I have given this work a title sealed with a seal firmly inscribed: My secret is for me, my secret is for me. In truth, it is more secure for me to lock up this little text in my breast, as though under a bushel, than to expose it to the eyes of rivals, and I am happy to clutch this bouquet very secretly to my chest, rather than make it an object of spectacle or derision’.30 The Benedictine Peter of Celle says the same: ‘I do not believe my little works worthy of being seen in public, but my secret is for me, my secret is for me. May simple devotion and not ornate eloquence read my writings, not to applaud, but to weep. Indeed, my dove weeps in her hiding places’.31 It would be reductive to belittle these passages as expressions of simple clichés. When he read these words, the twelfth-century cleric would immediately have placed these works in a precise exegetical context, for the images of the bouquet of myrrh and the dove are borrowed from the Song of Songs, making biblical revelation the model for these literary works. It is the genius of William of Saint-Thierry to have understood this so well that he concludes his own spiritual testament to the Carthusians, his Letter to ipsorum per humilitatem disponente, quedam subsigillant nec ea proferunt que apostolicam et ecclesiasticam institutionem permoveant’. 30 Peter of Blois, De amicitia christiana, col. 871: ‘Praefixi titulum hoc sigillo impressiore signatum: secretum meum mihi, secretum meum mihi. Securius quidem mihi est opusculum praesens in sinu meo quasi sub modio claudere quam exponere palpebris aemulorum, et fasciculum quem inter ubera mea secretius tenere delectat (cf. Cant. 1:12) transferre in theatrum et derisum’. 31 Peter of Celle, De disciplina claustrali, prologus, 112: ‘Non reputo aspectu publico digna mea opuscula, sed secretum meum mihi, secretum meum mihi. Simplex devotio, non falerata eloquentia legat scripta mea, non ad plausum, sed ad planctum. Plangit enim columba mea in foraminibus suis (cf. Cant. 2:14)’.


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the Brothers of Mont-Dieu, by saying that it is the obligation of the spiritual practitioner ‘not to confide his possessions to human speech, but to hide them in his cell and to bury them in his conscience, so as always to carry those words like an inscription, as much on the forehead of his conscience as on the gable over his cell: my secret is for me, my secret is for me!’32 The invocation of the secret – placed not at the beginning, but as the last word of the text – becomes a sort of sign of recognition that the readers have properly understood. To reveal the secret – which is to say, to read and copy the text – is not to betray the author, but implies participating in an ongoing spiritual revelation still at work in the history of humankind. Transmitted in almost 250 Latin manuscripts, the Epistola became one of the most widely read spiritual texts in Western Christendom.

Concluding Remarks By studying these few biblical verses, we have seen how twelfth-century monks conceived of silence and the secret in a rich and ambivalent manner. Silence is not only a practice that produces discourses; it also participates in a reflection that gives birth to an orthopraxy, which begins with the writing and copying of new works. It is thus somewhat reductive to oppose the practice of silence to the theory of silence. The literary works, which I have cited in abundance, were themselves acts that exercised an influence on the monks of the twelfth century. In other words, the monks’ reflections on silence place their works of commentary on a level of literary creativity that is itself recognizably monastic. The monks not only practiced silence, they wrote about it – and their writings provide a sustained witness of the highest value, which must always claim the attention of historians. More broadly speaking, this performativity of the text leads us to redefine the task of the textual historian and the nature of the history of spirituality. It can be conceived not only as Caroline Bynum has defined it, as ‘the study of how basic religious attitudes and values are conditioned by the society within which they occur’,33 but also as the study of how religious values influence and condition the society within which they occur. In that sense, if ‘degree zero’ is a ‘deliberate investigation of the conditions of creation and 32 William of Saint-Thierry, Epistola ad fratres de Monte Dei, 385: ‘bona sua non ponere in ore hominum, sed celare in cella et recondere in conscientia ut hunc quasi titulum et in fronte conscientiae et in fronte cellae semper habeat: secretum meum mihi, secretum meum mihi’. 33 Walker Bynum, Jesus as Mother, 3.

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creativity’,34 this very notion can help us define the nature of twelfth-century monastic literature – that is to say, as a way of writing which is intended to teach and transform its audience. That is why the concept of degree zero can be used by historians as a tool to understand the way monastic writings act; however, degree zero can also be a means to analyze the role played by silence according to medieval monks. Silence as a form of degree zero helped medieval monks to reflect on their own experiences of writing and creating texts. Thus silence played a critical role in literary creation and helped the monks learn what was worthy to be put in words.

Works Cited Aelred of Rievaulx. Sermones. Edited by Gaetano Raciti. Turnhout: Brepols, 2001. Ambrose of Milan. In Canticum Canticorum. Patrologia Latina 15. Available at: Baudinette, Samuel K.C. ‘Silence as Praise: The Rhetoric of Inexpressibility in German Dominican Theology and Practice (1250–1350)’. PhD diss., Monash University, 2015. Bernard of Clairvaux. Sancti Bernardi opera omnia. Vol. 3, Sententiae, edited by Jean Leclercq and Henri Rochais. Rome: Editiones Cistercienses, 1972. Bory, Pier Cesare. L’interprétation infinie: l’herméneutique chrétienne ancienne et ses transformations. Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1991. Bruce, Scott G. Silence and Sign Language in Medieval Monasticism: The Cluniac Tradition c. 900-1200. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Constable, Giles. The Reformation of the Twelfth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Dahan, Gilbert. Lire la Bible au Moyen Âge. Essais d’herméneutique médiévale. Genève: Droz, 2009. Dahan, Gilbert, and Annie Noblesse-Rocher, eds. L’exégèse monastique au Moyen Âge (XIe-XIVe siècle). Paris: Institut d’études augustiniennes, 2014. Damian, Peter. Sermones. Edited by Giovanni Lucchesi. Turnhout: Brepols, 1983. Dericquebourg, Régis. ‘Max Weber et les charismes spécifiques’. Archives de sciences sociales des religions 137 (2007): 21–41. Dinzelbacher, Peter. Structures and Origins of the Twelfth-Century ‘Renaissance’. Stuttgart: Anton Hiersemann, 2017.

34 See chapter **.


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Flasch, Kurt. ‘Sagt er niemand, nur… Stichworte zu philosophisch-theologischen Motivierungen für Schweigegebote’. In Das Öffentliche und Private in der Vormoderne, edited by Gert Melville and Peter von Moos, 87–96. Köln: Böhlau, 1998. Gehl, Paul F. ‘Competens silentium: Varieties of Monastic Silence in the Medieval West’. Viator 18 (1987): 125–60. Giraud, Cédric. Spiritualité et histoire des textes entre Moyen Âge et époque moderne. Genèse et fortune d’un corpus pseudépigraphe de méditations. Paris: Institut d’études augustiniennes, 2016. Gregory the Great. Expositio in Canticum Canticorum. Edited by Patrick Verbraken. Turnhout: Brepols, 1963. Guerric of Igny. Sermones. Edited by Placide Deseille. Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1970. Guibert of Nogent. Commentarium in Amos. Patrologia Latina 156. Available at: Hildegard of Bingen. Epistolarium. Edited by Lieven Van Acker. Turnhout: Brepols, 1991. Hugh of Fouilloy. De claustro animae. Patrologia Latina 176. Available at: http:// Hugh of Saint-Victor. De tribus silentiis. Patrologia Latina 177. Available at: http:// Lagouanère, Jérôme. Intériorité et réflexivité dans la pensée de saint Augustin. Formes et genèse d’une conceptualisation. Paris: Institut d’ études augustiniennes, 2012. Legendre, Olivier, ed. Collectaneum exemplorum et visionum Clarevallense e codice Trecensi 946. Turnhout: Brepols, 2005. Pansters, Krijn. ‘The Secret of Silence: Spiritual Concentrations as Theological Concern’. In The Carthusians in the Low Countries: Studies in Monastic History and Heritage, edited by Krijn Pansters, 57–69. Leuven: Peeters, 2012. Peter of Blois. De amicitia christiana. Patrologia Latina 207. Available at: http:// Peter of Celle. De disciplina claustrali. Edited by Gérard de Martel. Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1977. Poirel, Dominique. Des symboles et des anges. Hugues de Saint-Victor et le réveil dionysien du XIIe siècle. Turnhout: Brepols, 2013. Seyfarth, Jutta, ed. Speculum virginum. Turnhout: Brepols, 1990. Umiker-Sebeok, Jean, and Thomas A. Sebeok, eds. Monastic Sign Languages. Berlin/ New York/Amsterdam: Mouton de Gruyter, 1987. Verbaal, Wim. ‘Oleum de saxo durissimo. Bernard of Clairvaux’s Poetics of Silence’. In Understanting Monastic Practices of Oral Communications, edited by Steven Vanderputten, 319–35. Brepols: Turnhout, 2011. Walker Bynum, Caroline. Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middle Ages. Berkeley/Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1982.

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Weber, Max. ‘Discipline and Charisma’. In Weber’s Rationalism and Modern Society, edited and translated by Tony Waters and Dagmar Waters, 59–72. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2015. Weber, Max. ‘Politics as Vocation’. In Weber’s Rationalism and Modern Society, edited and translated by Tony Waters and Dagmar Waters, 129–98. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2015. William of Saint-Thierry. Epistola ad fratres de Monte Dei. Edited by Jean Déchanet. Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 2004.


An Arrangement of Silence Shaping Monastic Identity in Anselm of Canterbury’s Letter Collections Theo B. Lap Abstract The importance of silence for contemplation in the medieval monastery is well known. This chapter examines an alternative silence – that of withholding information. Like many letter collections of the twelfth century, those ascribed to Anselm of Canterbury (1033–1109) may have presented a selective image of their author. The lacuna in the documentation of Anselm’s first political exile raises the question of the extent to which monastic silence and the act of letter collecting are intertwined. Thus I analyse the arrangements of two such letter collections from the perspective of a ‘macro-text’ – an independent narrative. More specif ically, I argue that these collections render an image of Anselm that idealizes silence as the virtue of an archbishop living in a state of monastic renunciation. Keywords: silence; monasticism; letter collections; Anselm of Canterbury; identity; arrangement

The Intentionality of Silence Communication in medieval monasteries was strictly regulated by norms that exerted their influence on everyday interactions between monks as well as their relations to the outside world.1 The first abbots of Cluny, the tenth-century settlement that would eventually head the so-called Benedictine order of monastic houses, imposed stricter policies of silence 1

Althoff, ‘Communication in the Abbey of St. Gall’, 11–13.

Hellemans, Babette & Alissa Jones Nelson (eds.), Images, Improvisations, Sound, and Silence from 1000 to 1800: Degree Zero. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2018 doi: 10.5117/9789462980051/CH11


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and thereby gradually reduced conversation to a supervised activity.2 This was in line with the far-reaching influence accorded to The Rule of Saint Benedict, which had been institutionalized under Carolingian rule to homogenize the religious landscape. Ideally, every monastery followed (or should follow) the same set of principles. Limits on talk and chatter, which were subsequently replaced with sign language, were intended to prevent sin and to promote humility. Tranquility was also sought by establishing monastic settlements on the fringes of the civilized world. Silence – as that which remains once the audibility of human action has been laid to rest – should thus not be seen as the baseline of monastic existence.3 Instead, it is the result of an active conditioning of absence and presence in geography and human behaviour. Medieval letters can be associated with the same categories of absence and presence. In the so-called golden age of letter writing, the twelfth century, a torrent of letters drew laymen, monks, abbots, bishops, kings, and the papacy together in unprecedented networks of communication. 4 Messengers voiced the letters’ authors in lieu of their physical presence by using the written testimony as part of an oral performance.5 Afterward, the polyphony of voices was silenced again in a process of selection and editing, when the letters of a single author, sometimes including a few letters from correspondents, were inserted into monastic letter collections. By bringing together relatively short texts on various topics, these collections created new narratives of meaning, based as much on what was included as on what was excluded. In this chapter, I will address the question of the extent to which notions of silence embedded in the monastic mindset seeped into the act of compiling letter collections and, by that means, furnished new meaningful narratives. For this purpose, we will take a closer look at the letter collections of Anselm of Canterbury (c. 1033–1109). Anselm was one of the most prominent thinkers and church authorities among a wider range of ecclesiastics whose letters 2 Bruce, Silence and Sign Language, 2–5. 3 Elisabeth van Houts has argued that the ideal of silence was at odds with monastic realities. Her source analysis of talk, gossip, and conversation nuances and questions normative foundations of monasticism, but leaves room for silence as an idealistic end rather than a means to this end. See ‘Conversations Amongst Monks and Nuns’, 268. 4 Ironically, although letters were forbidden in most monastic rules, including the Rule of Saint Benedict (cf. chapter 54: ‘whether a monastic should receive letters or anything else’), most letters were still written by monks and nuns. See Constable, ‘Monastic Letter Writing’, 1–3. The idea of networks of communication can be found in van Engen, ‘Letters, Schools, and Written Culture’. 5 Wenzel, Gespräche – Boten – Briefe, 89–93.

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were brought together during this period.6 In addition to Anselm’s status as a prolific letter writer, as demonstrated in the nine collections resulting from this material, his collections are worth studying because of the ways in which they disseminated monastic thought. As this chapter aims to demonstrate, narratives within the letter collections plead for a return to monastic stability in the midst of a tumultuous highpoint in Anselm’s political career: his first exile (1097–1100).7 To be specific, we will zoom in on the question of how Anselm’s first exile was documented in two of the letter collections produced at Canterbury.8 A distinctively minimal number of letters relate to this period of exile – demonstrating perhaps a reticence in letter-writing during this period, or alternatively stricter selection criteria at the initial stage of compilation.9 This chapter hypothesizes that intentional omissions and subsequent arrangements could have resulted in a structure that tells a story of alienation from both the monastery and the world. Both collections fashion an image of Anselm that justifies his presence in the world in spite of his monastic background: he had lived in the monastery of Bec in Normandy for 34 years – as monk, prior, and abbot – before assuming the archbishopric of Canterbury in 1093.10 Along these lines, I posit an interpretation of the exile letters as a narrative group that develops a desire for monastic silence in its own right. After a brief introduction to Anselm and his letters, my approach to letter collections as works of literary and rhetorical composition will be clarified by discussing Wim Verbaal’s idea of compilation, which he describes with the borrowed term ‘macro-text’ – a constructed text with meanings that transcend the sum of its parts.11 An analysis of the zealous desire for 6 Other examples of collections in this period are those ascribed to Peter the Venerable, Gilbert Foliot, John of Salisbury, Peter Damiani, Arnulf of Lisieux, Peter of Celle, Hildebert of Lavardin, Fulbert of Chartres, Herbert of Losinga, Peter of Blois, Ivo of Chartres, and many more. 7 In the most recent study of the manuscript tradition, Samu Niskanen has labeled these manuscripts as constituents to ‘major collections’. Here lies a fundamental difference in methodology between his work and this chapter, because Niskanen has tried to reconstruct hypothetical archetypes of collections. As will be elaborated more extensively below, this chapter interprets the manuscripts as collections in their own right and thereby leaves the question of authorship unanswered. Cf. The Letter Collections of Anselm of Canterbury, 74–227. 8 These are London, Lambeth Palace 59, siglum L; and Bibliothèque nationale de France lat. 2478, siglum P. More information on them follows below. 9 Niskanen (The Letter Collections of Anselm of Canterbury, 140–41) notes that L seems to be a manuscript aspiring to claim to be a complete collection of Anselm’s oeuvre. This makes omissions even more suspect. 10 Southern, Saint Anselm, 3–18. 11 Verbaal, ‘Epistolary Voices and the Fiction of History’, 11–16. Verbaal was also kind enough to share an in-press version of his forthcoming article, ‘Voicing your Voice’.


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monastic tranquility illustrates how the letters strive for a change in status for Anselm – to that of a pilgrim monk. We will come to see how this brought the letters’ communicative dimensions and integration into monastic thought in line with the monkish parallels found in the biographical accounts of Anselm’s life. Besides setting a behavioural example advocating monastic spirituality, the exile narrative may be considered as a challenge to traditional conceptions of stability (stabilitas loci) through its promotion of the spiritual legitimacy of an archbishop.

Varieties of Silence and the Art of Composition Silence as a unified category is problematic when applied to monastic existence in the medieval period. The invocation of silence is only one step on the path to ascetic absolution. When the regulated buzz of psalmody ebbs away into inaudibility, the silence of the monastic complex allows the inner voices of the monk to run rampant, trying to convince him of the foolishness of his undertaking.12 To make matters worse, God does not raise his voice amidst these assaults on human frailty: ‘I became the sport of my impurities, they wrecked and overwhelmed me; and You kept silent’, Anselm laments in his Prayers and Meditations.13 In fact, God is veiled in darkness and silence, and the monk, pricking up his ears in desperation, ‘does not hear [God’s] harmony’, according to Anselm’s Proslogion.14 Silence as a desirable concept (silentium) and the act of keeping silent (tacere) are continuously clashing with one another, as the monk is left in a state of longing for that which is absent. Anselm wrote his treatises to bridge this dichotomy between monastic silence and the silence of God.15 Similar consolatory devices may have been applied to letters, which vocalized absence and ruptured some silences in the monk’s life. Going one step further, letter collections harboured essential aspects of the interplay between the act of keeping silent and the virtue of silence in their forms and contents. Before proceeding with my analysis of the letter collections ascribed to Anselm, a few words must be devoted to their spiritual author. Anselm was a key intellectual of his period. He was born in 1033 in the Alpine village of Aosta, in Italy, and wandered northward around 1056, after his 12 Verbaal, ‘Oleum de saxo durissimo’, 319–22. 13 I have borrowed and slightly adapted this translation from M.R., St. Anselm’s Book of Meditations and Prayers, 16, 223–24. The Latin text reads: ‘Jactabar, et effundebar, et defluebar per immunditias meas, et tacebas’; see Migne, Patrologia Latina, 158:793. 14 Anselm, Proslogion ch. 17, in Anselm of Canterbury, 97. 15 Verbaal, ‘Bernard of Clairvaux’s Poetics of Silence’, 324–25.

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mother died.16 He was supposedly drawn to the monastery of Bec because of the education Lanfranc of Pavia (c. 1010–1089) offered there. Anselm wrote a wide range of treatises, many of which were theological in nature (well-known titles include Monologion, Proslogion, and Cur Deus Homo), in addition to at least 400 letters, which are preserved in various manuscripts and modern editions. From 1093 onwards, he ended up as Archbishop of Canterbury in England, a promotion that was allegedly against his own will.17 Anselm’s earliest letters date to the 1060s and were written when he was the Prior of Bec. Approximately 147 letters can be related to his priorship and abbacy (1063–1093), known as the monastic period. Another 328 letters were written during his tenure as Archbishop (1093–1109). But these facts tell only half of the story, for the letters have only survived in the form of letter collections. For centuries, scholars have attempted to mitigate the complexity of this transformative process by reconstructing the original letters. Because the medieval remains were viewed as fragments of once-complete archives, the editorial practice of collecting epistolary material – both ancient and medieval – has been guided by a penchant for chronological ordering since the seventeenth century.18 Historical facts and biographical data constituted the primary objectives in research agendas, despite the fact that such practices can be seen as imposing modern frames of reference onto pre-modern mentalities.19 The editions and translations of Anselm’s letters are no exception to this modus operandi.20 Recent developments in historiography provide grounds for believing that the manuscripts of Anselm’s letters can be approached as independent letter collections embedding their own narratives. Early reevaluations of the relationship between individual letters and letter collections have gained more footing in recent times.21 In his study of ancient letter collections, Gibson demonstrates that these documents (e.g., those attributed to Ambrose [d. 397], Paulinus of Nola [d. 431], and Sidonius Apollinaris [d. 489]) are more frequently arranged 16 Southern, Saint Anselm, 3–12. 17 Anselm’s willingness in assuming the archbishopric has featured as the subject of historiographical debate. Southern (Saint Anselm, 186–94) upholds his original hypothesis (postulated in Saint Anselm and his Biographer) that Anselm’s political involvement was involuntary. In response to Southern’s earlier work, Sally Vaughn published a series of articles and a monograph, Anselm of Bec and Robert of Meulan, which contested Southern’s interpretation in favour of a much more politically cunning Anselm. 18 Gibson, ‘On the Nature of Ancient Letter Collections’, 56–78. 19 Verbaal, ‘Voicing your Voice’, 2. 20 The most recent edition of the letters is still the one edited by Schmitt, Epistulae, in Sancti Anselmi Cantuariensis archiepiscopo Opera Omnia, vol. 3–5. An English translation was published by Fröhlich, The Letters of Saint Anselm, vol. 1–3. 21 Leclercq, ‘Le Genre Épistolaire’, 68.


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according to addressee or theme as opposed to chronology.22 Nevertheless, editions and translations have not provided faithful presentations of the ­material – the letters of Ambrose and Arnulf of Lisieux (c. 1104–1184) are among the few notable exceptions.23 Wim Verbaal advocates Gibson’s perspective for the study of the twelfth-century collections of Hildebert of Lavardin (c. 1055–1133), Peter the Venerable (c. 1092–1156), and Bernard of Clairvaux (c. 1090–1153): ‘they have their own meaning, based on their individual constituents but transcending them as a whole’.24 According to Verbaal, cultural preferences for (ancient) rhetorical devices – such as variety (varietas) and interconnected narratives (articulus) – were important tools in the compiler’s toolkit for shaping cohesion.25 In order to refer to the generation of new meaning out of previously independent texts, where these are transcended without the loss of individual autonomy, Verbaal borrows the term macro-text from short-story studies for illustrative purposes. The main point is the idea that letters or the themes therein can form groups, not necessarily sequentially but sometimes separated by intervals, which then establish new narratives or parts of narratives. Because Anselm’s letter collections have not previously been studied as compilations, it could be worthwhile to approach them as comparable composite units. During his lifetime, his letters had already been collected in repositories of knowledge. Most of the surviving manuscripts contain a letter to Warner, a novice at Canterbury.26 This letter refrains from issuing new instructions on the topic of monasticism and instead refers to a letter that must have been written decades earlier. Warner is specifically advised ‘to ask for a letter which I wrote to Dom Lanzo when he was a novice’ for instructions on how to behave as a monastic newcomer.27 This implies that there was a collection of letters at Canterbury, which was available upon request and intended for edification. Whether the specific collection referred to here has survived is questionable. Nonetheless, the survival of nine large collections suggests that letters could serve a function even more timeless and edifying than their initial communicative function. The question then becomes how these collections are compiled, what kind of narratives they expound, and how this reflects notions of silence. 22 Gibson, ‘On the Nature of Ancient Letter Collections’, 57. 23 For the letters of Ambrose, see Faller and Zelzer, Sancti Ambrosii Opera; Fronto’s letters are edited by van den Hout, M. Cornelii Frontonis Epistulae; Arnulf’s letters can be found in Poling Schriber, The Letter Collections of Arnulf of Lisieux. 24 Verbaal, ‘Voicing your Voice’, 4. 25 Verbaal, ‘Voicing your Voice’, 2. 26 The letter is Schmitt, ep. 335 (M203, F67, L269, P268, E253, V240, C296, O26). 27 Anselm, ep. 335, in Fröhlich, The Letters of Saint Anselm, 3:61.

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Keeping Silent in Exile The dynamics of keeping silent and (monastic) silence can be explored by taking a closer look at the narrative contents of two nearly identical collections: London, Lambeth Palace 59, siglum L; and Bibliothèque nationale de France lat. 2478, siglum P.28 Despite their similarities, this chapter privileges the order of the letters as they are found in manuscript P. Whereas manuscript L is classified as an exhaustive manuscript, which collected as many of Anselm’s works as possible, manuscript P brings to the table a noticeably stronger focus on the letters themselves.29 Both collections – containing nearly 400 letters, either sent in Anselm’s name or addressed to him – were set down on parchment and produced in the early decades of the twelfth century at the priory of Canterbury Cathedral, around 1120–1130. Little is known about the authorial origins of either collection.30 Nevertheless, analysis may lead to valuable insights into the habits of a religious culture that evidently placed great emphasis on gathering letters together in letter books.31 Again, a substantial number of abbots, teachers, bishops, and archbishops have left such books to posterity.32 Collections like these tell (versions of) stories based on the material brought together – and that which was excluded – as a means of steering and shaping the text’s interpretive possibilities. 28 Niskanen offers an in-depth analysis of these manuscripts in his The Letter Collections of Anselm of Canterbury, 112–26 (L) and 126–41 (P). 29 Cf. Niskanen, The Letter Collections of Anselm of Canterbury, 140–41. I aim to facilitate as much consistency as possible in the numbering of letters. So on most occasions, the position of letters in L will also be referred to in notes, as well as their position in Schmitt’s edition (S). The foremost differences between mss. L and P are as follows: After P and L 132 (S149), L inserts ep. 133 (S153) from the Duke of Normandy) and ep. 134 (S154) from William, Archbishop of Rouen) in a different hand. Therefore, the numbering of the letters from that moment on takes plus two for L (P133 is L135). At P235 (S331), L presents ep. 390 (to Ernulf, Prior of Canterbury) in a different hand, and the difference in numbering reduces to plus one for L (P236 is L237). 30 Anselm’s letters have garnered considerable historiographical attention pertaining to his involvement in the production of his letter collection in L. This has to do with the debate on Anselm’s political inclinations, as mentioned in note 17. Vaughn, subscribing to the findings of Fröhlich, assumed this collection to be Anselm’s political testimony, affirming her hypothesis of Anselm as a power broker. Niskanen has cautioned against an identification of the surviving material with authorial intentions. His analysis of the manuscript tradition points to three possible missing exemplars, which may or may not have been related to Anselm, from which the surviving manuscripts have descended. 31 I am indebted to Verbaal (‘Voicing your Voice’, 10) for the idea of ‘books in letters’ and ‘letter books’. 32 See note 6 above.


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Conflation between omission and the conceptualization of silence manifests itself in collections L and P within the tripartite division of monastic models, conformation to world renunciation (contemptus mundi), and ecclesiastical leadership.33 A small group of contemptus letters (P151–6) placed between the monastic letters (P1–150) and the letters pertaining to ecclesiastical leadership (P157–388) could be taken as a pivotal narrative turning point. Anselm twice spent a number of years abroad in exile, due to political disagreements with the English court. His first exile took place between 1097 and 1100, when King William II of England (c. 1056–1100) and a number of English bishops allegedly failed to agree with Anselm’s singlehanded recognition of the Roman Pope Urban II (c. 1042–1099) rather than Antipope Clement III (c. 1029–1100). Anselm felt obliged to depart, and he travelled back and forth between present-day Italy and France. Only eight letters, five written in his name and three addressed to him, can be identified in relation to this exile.34 Six of them have found their way into L, of which two are included in a kind of appendix in a different hand and are not copied into P – so P only contains four.35 Three of them are clustered as papal letters: one to Urban (P153); one to his successor, Paschal (P154); and lastly, a letter from Paschal (P155). They are surrounded by letters on the virtues of monasticism, which precede the exile (P150–2), as well as a letter on monastic conversion which Anselm addressed to his sister, Richeza, and her husband (P156). The small number of letters in this exile group is peculiar. While Anselm is not completely silenced, the collections do give the impression of minimal communication. From a practical perspective, the decline in frequency is difficult to account for. As Niskanen has argued, ‘one would expect the opposite, that the exiled Archbishop would have communicated with his subjects more frequently’.36 Following this line of reasoning, he proposes that Anselm did in fact keep writing during his exile, but that he was precluded from inserting his letters into archives and that he did not save copies for preservation. Hindsight, however, is helpful in determining that Anselm did indeed conform to expectations of an increased frequency in letter writing during his second exile, between 1103 and 1107. Judging from the collections, 33 Modern editors have generally supposed a tripartite division on the basis of Anselm’s progression in his career, dividing the letters in Schmitt into ep. 1–87 (Prior), 88–147 (Abbot), and 148–475 (Archbishop). Discrepancies in the organization of L and P suggest that this assessment may have to be revised. 34 Schmitt, eps. 206–13. 35 The letters are P153 (S206), 154 (S210), 155 (S213), 156 (S211). For L, they are L155 (S206), 156 (S210), 157 (S213), 158 (S211), 391 (S212), and 396 (S207). 36 Niskanen, The Letter Collections of Anselm of Canterbury, 207–8.

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Anselm suddenly proved much more prolific, writing about 30 percent of the total number of surviving letters. In the case of some letters dating to this period, we know that they were excluded from the major collections as a means of avoiding threats to Anselm’s reputation based on the portrait sketched by these letters.37 Likewise, what remains of the small exilic group of letters may have helped to fashion Anselm as a kind of role model of exemplary behaviour. In combination, the letters produce a narrative that places Anselm on the divide between living in solitude as a monk and living in the world as Archbishop. Following the broad range of themes in the first part of the letter collections, covering topics such as monastic conversion (2–14), spiritual kinship (14–21), and the monastery as the locus of virtue and intellectual activity (61–77), collections L and P discuss the case of the runaway monk who was filled with regret and wished to return to his monastery and ‘reform his habits’ in P150.38 Opening with an equation of the gravity of monastic flight with original sin, ‘having eaten from the tree of knowledge of good and evil’, the monk in the letter has now learned his lesson and knows through experience ‘the difference between the delights of paradise of the cloister and the exile of secular life’.39 As a result of the opposition between the paradisiacal state of the monastery and the barren reality of man-made things, the threshold for exiting the monastery and entering the outside world – and, for instance, a worldly career – is significantly raised. 40 Furthermore, this narrative threshold between the monastery and the world, not unlike the gate of Eden, is noteworthy because the persona of Anselm is cast as dwelling on the worldly side of the divide. Letter P151 discusses the calamities that had befallen Anselm in the political realm, his sufferings as a result thereof, and include a request for consolation. 41 While remaining vague about these calamities, reference is made to his 37 Fröhlich, ‘The Letters Omitted’, 70–71. The letters are Schmitt, eps. 310, 365, and 366. 38 In L, the letter is ep. 152 (S197). Anselm, ep. 197; in Fröhlich, The Letters of Saint Anselm, 2:197: ‘Repenting and sorrowing, therefore, as his tears testify, he confesses that he has sinned greatly and promises that henceforth he will reform his habits and live obediently according to your direction’. All subsequent translations, unless stated otherwise, are also borrowed from Fröhlich’s text. 39 Anselm, ep. 197; in Fröhlich, The Letters of Saint Anselm, 2:129. Cf. Schmitt, Epistulae, 4:87: ‘Frater iste comedens de ligno “scientiae boni et mali” experimento didicit, quanta sit differentia inter delicias paradisi claustralis et exilium vitae saecularis’. 40 On the significance of this binary opposition in Christian thought, see Howard, ‘Renaissance World-Alienation’, in 48. 41 Anselm, ep. 198; in Fröhlich, The Letters of Saint Anselm, 2:131: ‘I have decided to reveal especially to you the calamities which I am suffering’.


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promotion to the archbishopric by a ‘secret decision of God’ – the plan God kept silent about, as we have seen above.42 Peering back at the bliss of virtues framed by the doorway on the other side of the threshold, Anselm now drowns in the pit of divine secrecy as he pines over the loss of his past life as a monk: ‘the bitterest sorrows overcome me when I remember the fruitful peace I have lost and consider the fruitless danger into which I have fallen’. 43 The reader of the text is made a witness to the convergence of historical temporality – that is to say, Anselm’s struggles – and monastic literary tropes. 44 These tropes emphasize the vanity of the world and the threats posed by a political career, which are counterbalanced by the joys of living in a community of like-minded individuals aspiring to salvation.45 Moreover, languages of monastic loss correspond with changing conceptualizations of monastic stability. Condemning those who wander in religious exile, the Rule stresses the importance of staying put in the house of one’s profession through the notion of stabilitas. 46 However, this proved to be a culturally determined construction. 47 When religious reforms in the tenth and eleventh centuries favoured the ranks of professional monks in filling the abbacy, abbots had to tread a fine line between worldly authority and monastic spirituality. Thus a shift in conceptualization occurred, from stability of place (stabilitas loci) to stability of mind (stabilitas menti), as ecclesiastical leadership had to be considered spiritually sound. 48 By way of a solution, travelling members of the Church embraced a language of desire for the monastic house they left behind. The letter collections discussed here help to demonstrate that this language had indeed risen in importance among travelling and letter-writing prelates of the long twelfth century. Letters facilitated the rather technical process of rejecting the 42 Anselm, ep. 198; in Fröhlich, The Letters of Saint Anselm, 2:131: ‘After the death of Archbishop Lanfranc […] I came by the secret decision of God to England for the benefit of the Church’. 43 Anselm, ep. 198; in Fröhlich, The Letters of Saint Anselm, 2:132. In Latin, the passage reads: ‘invenerunt me amarissimae tribulationes, dum et quietem fructuosam me reminiscor perdidisse et infructuosum periculum me considero incurrisse’, Schmitt, Epistulae, 4:89. 44 ‘Reader’ in this case does not strictly refer to the silent – and private – reading of texts. Following historiographical currents in studies of medieval reading since Stock’s The Implications of Literacy, the term reader also includes those who had access to texts aurally. Taking into account the oral nature of letters, it is not inconceivable that materials from letter collections were also read during certain gatherings. 45 On the widespread sentiment of contempt in monastic literature, see Constable, The Reformation of the Twelfth Century, 162. 46 Dietz, Wandering Monks, Virgins, and Pilgrims, 3. 47 Miquel, ‘De la stabilité’, 313–15. 48 Vanommeslaeghe, ‘Wandering Abbots’, 8–9; Jestice, Wayward Monks.

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world, allowing monastics to mentally leave their houses and wander in written communities, but also permitting those who travelled to return to spiritual communities. 49 As a consequence, these collections assimilate interpretations of events shaped by a monastic mindset, which already views life as an obligatory penance to right the wrongs of our distant ancestors.50 Renunciation of the world entailed an almost physical rejection of the world, but it was ultimately ritualistic in nature and could thus be maintained beyond the monastery.51 How this was achieved in the Canterbury collections constitutes the subject matter for the remainder of this chapter.

Voicing the Monk Estrangement from the world and the desire for peaceful contemplation are significant ideas in the group of exile letters in the Canterbury collections. This is developed in two ways. Firstly, the tranquility of the monastic lifestyle – rather than the monastery itself – is highlighted in letter P153 to Pope Urban II. The pope is established as counselor to those longing for the peace of the heavenly homeland and suffering the weariness of exile in this world.52 Needless to say, the double meaning of exile – identifying the metaphor of the soul’s pilgrimage with Anselm’s physical expulsion – expresses his rootlessness. A narrative circle is completed by allowing Anselm to be identified with the aforementioned runaway monk (P150); both are dislocated from their proper homes. The loss of identity becomes an important trait. Removed from his see, Anselm is neither fully the Archbishop nor fully a monk. He wanders across the continent, yet he is secure in the mental framework of his monastic vows. The ambiguity of this situation, and of Anselm’s identity, is reflected in P152, which is addressed to the community of Bec. Positioned between the letter of calamity and the letter to Urban, it plays with his titles, as the salutation reads: ‘brother Anselm, by choice monk of Bec, by necessity called Archbishop of Canterbury’.53 Anselm is 49 G. R. Evans sees letters as an exit from the monastery; cf. ‘“Minds Wandering” and “Monastic Stability”’, 169–70. 50 Brito-Martins, ‘The Concept of peregrinatio’, 85–88. 51 Pranger, The Artificiality of Christianity, x. 52 Anselm, ep. 206; in Fröhlich, The Letters of Saint Anselm, 2:146: ‘you may give counsel and come to the help of those who, longing for the peace of their heavenly home, are wearied by all sorts of difficulties in the exile of this world’. 53 Anselm, ep. 199; in Fröhlich, The Letters of Saint Anselm, 2:134–35. Schmitt, 4:90: ‘frater ANSELMUS, voluntate Beccensis monachus, necessitate vocatus Cantuariensis a archiepiscopus’.


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a monk at heart and an archbishop in duty. This reinforces the pledge of stability and cultivates an image of piety. In addition, the appeal of monastic tranquility allows Anselm to stand firm in the vow of stability during his elaborate wanderings. The previously discussed letter to Urban (P153) features a complaint that Anselm can no longer meet the requirements of the archbishopric. In addition to blaming personal incompetence, he expresses explicit concern for his personal salvation. This leads to pleading his case, as Anselm begs the pope to release him from his office: ‘That as you desire God for my soul and my soul for God you may absolve my soul from the chain of such slavery […] and give back to it the freedom of serving God in peace lest, as it has already suffered so much, it be swallowed up by excessive sadness [2 Cor. 2:7] and dragged from temporal to eternal anguish’.54 The charade of the archbishopric has to come to an end, because if it does not, Anselm considers himself threatened by eternal misery and the corruption of his soul, instead of merely the temporal anguish of his public duties. Adhering to a broader epistolary motif, the active and contemplative lifestyles are conceptualized as strongly opposing forces which are tearing him apart.55 Peaceful servitude to God is held to be the only suitable antidote to the poison administered by the ecclesiastical office. The chatter of the outside world gnawing away at his conscience has replaced the contemplative struggle against his inner voices.56 Perhaps silence has indeed become the renewed object of longing. The desire for contemplation becomes more tangible as it is externalized in the first person and juxtaposed with the lingering threats lurking in the outside world.

Silencing the Archbishop Secondly, Anselm’s rootlessness is harmonized with the identity of a monkish pilgrim in the sequence of exile letters. Letter P154 to Pope Paschal serves as another recapitulation of events and thus rhetorically narrates why Anselm 54 Anselm, ep. 206; in Fröhlich, The Letters of Saint Anselm, 2:148. Schmitt, 4:100: ‘sicut deum animae meae et animam meam deo desideratis, […] animam meam de vinculo tantae servitutis absolvatis, ei que libertatem serviendi deo in tranquillitate reddatis, “ne abundantiore tristitia”, sicut iam nimis passa est, “absorbeatur”, et de dolore temporali ad aeternum pertrahatur’. 55 On the tension between the vita activa and vita contemplativa in Hildebert of Lavardin, consult von Moos, Hildebert von Lavardin, 130–32. For Peter of Blois, see Higonnet, ‘Spiritual Ideas in the Letters of Peter of Blois’, 221 and 228–36. 56 Verbaal, ‘Bernard of Clairvaux’s Poetics of Silence’, 321.

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is not residing in England.57 What is new, however, is the imagery of him living according to the ideal of apostolic poverty, since he has been cut off from his churchly possessions: ‘I have spent the little which I took with me as well as much which I borrowed and which I still owe. Thus, owing more than I have, being detained at the house of our venerable father, the Archbishop of Lyon, I am supported by his kind generosity and generous kindness’.58 Living off of the charity of others, Anselm aspires to the status of the early ascetics striving to imitate Christ (imitatio Christi).59 Such images of a monkish pilgrim deconstruct his political stature as Archbishop. This transformation of status resonates with similar imagery in the biographical accounts of Anselm’s life. Eadmer (c. 1060–1126), who was brought up as a monk at Canterbury from an early age, assembled two portraits of Anselm as accounts of the daily companionship they had enjoyed since 1093.60 The public account springs forth from Historia novorum in Anglia (History of Recent Events in England), which discusses English history between 1066 and 1122, and notably Anselm’s involvement therein.61 More private aspects of his life, character, and miracles play a starring role in the hagiographical Vita Anselmi (Life of Anselm, completed c. 1124). Both works share a depiction of their protagonist as a reluctant bishop and a kind of homesick monk. Telling the story of Anselm’s first exile, the Vita has Anselm take his scrip (pilgrim’s pouch) and staff and depicts his departure with weeping and lamentation.62 Noticeably less tears are shed in the Historia’s equivalent scene; in contrast, it depicts Anselm exhaling with relief: he ‘was filled with joy and gladness, hoping that by crossing the sea he would escape, as was ever his heart’s 57 Anselm, ep. 210; in Fröhlich, The Letters of Saint Anselm, 2:156: ‘Therefore I shall state my case to you briefly because, when I was staying in Rome I often spoke about it to the lord Pope Urban and to many others, as I expect your Holiness knows’. 58 Anselm, ep. 210; in Fröhlich, The Letters of Saint Anselm, 2:157. Schmitt, 4:106: ‘Pauca quae me cum tuli et multa quae mutuatus sum, quorum adhuc sum debitor, expendi. Sic plus debens quam habens, apud venerabilem patrem nostrum archiepiscopum Lugdunensem detentus, eius benigna largitate et larga benignitate sustentor’. 59 Constable, ‘Renewal and Reform in Religious Life’, 54–56. 60 Southern, Saint Anselm, 404–21. 61 Southern, foreword to Eadmer’s History, x–xi. 62 Eadmer, The Life of St Anselm: ch. 21:97: ‘and in the presence of the monks, clerks and a large concourse of people, he took his scrip and staff like a pilgrim from the altar; then he commended them all to Christ, and, setting forth with much weeping and lamentation, he left them’. The Latin text reads: ‘astante monachorum, clericorum, ac numeros apopulorum multitudine peram et baculum peregrinantium more coram altari suscepit, commendatisque omnibus Christo, ingenti fletu et ejulatu prosecutus egressus est’.


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desire, the troubles and burdens of the world’.63 Aside from their depiction of Anselm’s emotional state, both sources share a prioritization of religious devotion over political engagement.64 Additionally, contemplative practice shapes a comfort zone in Eadmer’s texts, giving a back seat to Anselm’s ecclesiastical rank. For example, the Vita explicitly describes its protagonist’s open-armed embrace of monastic silence whenever an opportunity presents itself. After working miracles on the continent and consulting the pope, Anselm is taken to a small Italian village (called Sclavia) situated on a mountain. The following scene is characteristic of the portrait produced across the letters, the Vita, and the Historia: Thus we took up our abode on the mountain top, as far removed from the thronging crowd as it were in a desert. When Anselm saw this, his spirits rose with the hope of future quiet, and he said: ‘This is my resting-place: here I shall live’. He ordered his life therefore on the lines of his early routine before he became abbot, which he deplored more than ever having had to give up since he became Archbishop: day and night his mind was occupied with acts of holiness, with divine contemplation, and with the unraveling of sacred mysteries.65

This passage is striking in its actualization of the lingering desire to return to the former contemplative lifestyle of silence, away from the world and the crowd, by retreating to a desert-like mountaintop. Anselm is set in the tradition of imitating Christ, which became popular among ascetics who achieved non-communion with the world by retreating to the desert in the fourth century. These men of the desert were considered capable of restoring the glory of Adam’s original state within the perimeter of the silence of a dead landscape.66 We have seen how letters P151 and P153 lamented the loss of such a contemplative way of life. By framing the narrative of Anselm’s first 63 Eadmer, History of Recent Events in England, 67. 64 Staunton (‘Exile in the Lives of Anselm and Thomas Becket’, 172–73) has interpreted this scene as a method of imbuing the exile with the character of a virtuous journey – a pilgrimage instead of a flight from churchly duties. 65 Eadmer, Life of St Anselm, ch. 30:107. The original Latin of the parallel translation reads: ‘Igitur habitatio nostra in montis erat summitate locata, a turbarum tumultu instar solitudinis vacua. Quod Anselmus advertens ex spe futurae quietis exhilaratus, ait, “Haec requies mea, hic habitabo”. Ad primum igitur conversationis ordinem quem antequam abbas esset habebat, quemque se in pontificatu positum, maxime perdidisse deflebat vitam instituit, sanctis operibus, divinae contemplationi, misticarum rerum enodatinoi die noctuque mentem intendens’. 66 Brown, The Body and Society, 220.

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exile in terms of a desire to reclaim this lifestyle, the Canterbury collections may be brought into accord with Eadmer’s dedicated biographies. Moreover, the letters omitted from the collections or placed elsewhere provide indications that the image of Anselm as a kind of homesick monk, reluctant bishop, and desert father was perhaps not the natural by-product of an organic formation of the letter collections. A letter from the Bishop of Waterford attests to the fact that Anselm was communicating more actively than this collection suggests, albeit potentially less abundantly than before his exile, lending credence to the idea of an intentionally slimmeddown compilation.67 Furthermore, whereas letter P154 depicts Anselm as dependent on the charity of others, an omitted letter to Hugh, Archdeacon of Canterbury, gives a different impression. Here, the company is set in good fortune: ‘I have felt no lack of the worldly goods necessary to me ever since I left England […]. For such grace does God in his loving-kindness lavish on me among many bishops, abbots, princes, the rich of this world […] that I am more afraid of offending many by not going to see them than by visiting them’.68 Hardship plays no role in this display of affluence, which testifies to a markedly different tone than the letters which were copied into the Canterbury collections. Although contradictory as such, it is not baffling as to why this letter may have been left out of the major collections. Last but not least, a letter from the new English King, inviting Anselm to return to his office, only features in L’s aforementioned appendix. Its focus may have been too political in nature, stating that the King entrusts himself ‘and the people of the whole kingdom to your counsel’, thus potentially disrupting the delicately crafted silence of the monk in retreat.69 Therefore, readers of epistolary documents like the Canterbury collections may have encountered specific and predetermined representations of Anselm’s intellectual, political, and spiritual legacies for didactic purposes. By voicing particular elements of Anselm’s first exile, they disseminate monastic worldviews of world renunciation, and therewith the desire for tranquility, while externalizing them into the world. In this regard, it is vital that it is not 67 Anselm, ep. 207; in Fröhlich, The Letters of Saint Anselm, 2:150: ‘distance of place and remoteness separate you from us who wish to bear you by the frequency of letters, even if absent in person’. 68 Anselm, ep. 208; in Fröhlich, The Letters of Saint Anselm, 2:151–52. Schmitt, 4:102: ‘Ex quo de Anglia […] exivi […] nullam sensi temporalis rei in his quae necessaria mihi fuerunt indigentiam […]. Tantam enim gratiam sua pietate mihi deus largitur apud multos […] episcopos, abbates, principes et divites huius saeculi et minoris ordinis […] ut plus timeam multos offendere me absentando quam eos frequentando’. 69 Anselm, ep. 212; in Fröhlich, The Letters of Saint Anselm, 2:162.


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specifically the monastery that is circumscribed as the only geographical location where one can achieve solitude. To be sure, the letters are pervaded by a desire for the tranquility that a contemplative lifestyle in itself has to offer, and this seems to be warranted. They push the boundaries of stability beyond the ranks of abbatial leadership and legitimize the spiritual status of an archbishop. Hence, letter P155 from Pope Paschal provides Anselm with his mission in the world, which is to further the advancement of the Church by means of his counsel and help.70 No longer alienated from God, the Archbishop has regained his spiritual duty through realizing the Church’s victory in asserting its dominance politically. Thus readers do not necessarily become acquainted with Anselm’s personal thoughts. If anything, the collections proscribe a behavioural example as well as an idealized portrait of seeking out silence by intentionally compiling their contents.

Conclusion This chapter explored the degree to which the monastic conceptions of keeping silent and silence were matched in the compilation of letter collections. First, the concept of ‘macro-texts’ – as narratives transcending arrangements of separate texts – was introduced as a methodological point of departure. An examination of the letter collections ascribed to Anselm of Canterbury (d. 1109) in Lambeth Palace 59 (L) and Bibliothèque nationale de France lat. 2478 (P) focused on a small group of letters relating to Anselm’s first exile (1097–1100): P150–6 (L153–8). Compared to the rest of the epistolary material, the number of letters is so insignificant that we can speak of an instance of ‘keeping silent’ in their arrangement. Internal traces suggest that more letters were indeed written but not included. Omitted letters as well as letters placed elsewhere similarly indicate that unfavourable remarks were censored in order to fashion a distinct image of Anselm in line with that of the monkish pilgrim in Eadmer’s biographical narratives. To be specific, a narrative is produced that progresses from the pitiable state of being cast out of the monastery to Anselm’s own alienation from this lifestyle and his burning desire to attain anew a more contemplative existence. Anselm’s lament develops from threats to his soul’s salvation to a kind of apostolic wandering. 70 Anselm, ep. 213; in Fröhlich, The Letters of Saint Anselm, 2:165: ‘In all matters that have to be carried out with you, we ask that they be provided with your counsel and aided by your help. Through them may the holy Roman Church more effectively experience the diligence of your devotion and wisdom’.

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Again, this conforms to the image of the desert monk, as developed in the Vita Anselmi and Historia novorum in Anglia. Paschal’s letter ends the exile group on a high note, affirming the noble and virtuous cause of serving the Church in the world. Thus the way in which these letters develop a narrative suggests that the letter collections adhered to principles of arrangement that suited local requirements. Besides fashioning a positive and virtuous image of Anselm, they provided a behavioural example for those balancing between the poles of the monastery and ecclesiastical leadership elsewhere. Emerging from the monastic mindset and the desire for tranquility, these letter collections expounded sentiments of world renunciation through their arrangement, further closing the circle of silence.

Works Cited Althoff, Gerd. ‘Communication in the Abbey of St. Gall’. In Understanding Monastic Practices of Oral Communication: Western Europe, Tenth-Thirteenth Centuries, edited by Steven Vanderputten, 11–22. Turnhout: Brepols, 2011. Anselm of Canterbury. Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works. Edited and translated by G.R. Evans and Brian Davies. Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. Brito-Martins, Manuela. ‘The Concept of peregrinatio in Saint-Augustine and its Influences.’ In Exile in the Middle Ages: Selected Proceedings from the International Medieval Congress, University of Leeds, 8–11 July 2002, edited by Laura Napran and Elisabeth van Houts, 83–94. Turnhout: Brepols, 2004. Brown, Peter. The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity. New York: Columbia University Press, 1988. Bruce, S. Silence and Sign Language in Medieval Monasticism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Constable, Giles. ‘Monastic Letter Writing in the Middle Ages’. Filologia Mediolatina 11 (2004): 1–24. Constable, Giles. ‘Renewal and Reform in Religious Life: Concepts and Realities’. In Renaissance and Renewal in the Twelfth Century, edited by Robert Louis Benson, Giles Constable, and Carol Lanham, 37–67. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985. Constable, Giles. The Reformation of the Twelfth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Dietz, Maribel. Wandering Monks, Virgins, and Pilgrims: Ascetic Travel in the Mediterranean World, A.D. 300–800. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2005. Eadmer. Eadmer’s History of Recent Events in England (Historia novorum). Translated by Geoffrey Bosanquet. London: Cresset Press, 1964.


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Eadmer. The Life of St Anselm: Archbishop of Canterbury by Eadmer. Edited and translated by Richard W. Southern. London: Nelson, 1962. Evans, G. R. ‘“Minds Wandering” and “Monastic Stability” in the Early Monastic Letters of Anselm of Bec’. In Prayer and Thought in Monastic Tradition: Essays in Honour of Benedicta Ward, edited by Santha Bhattacharji, Rowan Williams, and Dominic Mattos, 167–80. London: Bloomsbury, 2014. Faller, O., and M. Zelzer. Sancti Ambrosii Opera. 10, Tom. 1–3, Epistulae et acta. Epistularum libri 1–10. Vienna: Hoelder-Pichler-Tempsky, 1968–1990. Fröhlich, Walter. ‘The Letters Omitted from Anselm’s Collection of Letters’. AngloNorman Studies 6 (1984): 58–71. Fröhlich, Walter. The Letters of Saint Anselm of Canterbury, vol. 1–3. Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1990–1994. Gibson, Roy. ‘On the Nature of Ancient Letter Collections’. The Journal of Roman Studies 102 (2012): 56–78. Higonnet, Ethel. ‘Spiritual Ideas in the Letters of Peter of Blois’. Speculum 50, no. 2 (1975): 218–44. Howard, D. ‘Renaissance World-Alienation’. In The Darker Vision of the Renaissance: Beyond the Fields of Reason, edited by R. Kinsman, 47–76. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974. Jestice, Phyllis. Wayward Monks and The Religious Revolution of the Eleventh Century. Leiden: Brill, 1997. Leclercq, Jean. ‘Le Genre Épistolaire au Moyen Âge’. Revue de Moyen Âge Latin 2 (1946): 63–70. M.R. St. Anselm’s Book of Meditations and Prayers. London: Burns and Oates, 1872. Migne, J.P. Patrologia Latina. Paris: Garnière Fratres, 1853. Miquel, Pierre. ‘De la stabilité’. Collectanea Cisterciensia 36, no. 4 (1974): 313–22. Niskanen, Samu. The Letter Collections of Anselm of Canterbury. Turnhout: Brepols, 2011. Poling Schriber, Carolyn. The Letter Collections of Arnulf of Lisieux. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1997. Pranger, M.B. The Artificiality of Christianity: Essays on the Poetics of Monasticism. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003. Schmitt, F. S., ed. Epistulae in Sancti Anselmi Cantuariensis archiepiscopo Opera Omnia, vol. 3–5. Edinburgh: Nelson, 1946–1951. Southern, Richard W. Foreword to Eadmer’s History of Recent Events in England (Historia novorum). Translated by Geoffrey Bosanquet. London: Cresset Press, 1964. Southern, Richard W. Saint Anselm and his Biographer: A Study of Monastic Life and Thought 1059–c.1130. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1963. Southern, Richard W. Saint Anselm: A Portrait in a Landscape. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

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Staunton, Michael. ‘Exile in the Lives of Anselm and Thomas Becket’. In Exile in the Middle Ages: Selected Proceedings from the International Medieval Congress, University of Leeds, 8–11 July 2002, edited by Laura Napran and Elisabeth van Houts, 159–80. Turnhout: Brepols Publishers, 2004. Stock, Brian. The Implications of Literacy: Written Language and Models of Interpretation in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1983. van den Hout, M. P. J., ed. M. Cornelii Frontonis Epistulae. Leipzig: Teubner, 1988. van Engen, John. ‘Letters, Schools, and Written Culture in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries’. In Dialektik und Rhetorik im früheren und hohen Mittelalter: Rezeption, Überlieferung und gesellschaftliche Wirkung antiker Gelehrsamkeit vornehmlich im 9. und 12. Jahrhundert, edited by Johannes Fried, 97–132. München: Oldenburg, 1997. van Houts, Elisabeth. ‘Conversations Amongst Monks and Nuns, 1000–1200’. In Understanding Monastic Practices of Oral Communication: Western Europe, Tenth-Thirteenth Centuries, edited by Steven Vanderputten, 267–91 Turnhout: Brepols, 2011. Vanommeslaeghe, Helena. ‘Wandering Abbots: Abbatial Mobility and Stabilitas Loci in Eleventh-Century Lotharingia and Flanders’. In Medieval Liège at the Crossroads of Europe: Monastic Society and Culture, 1000–1300, edited by Tjamke Snijders, Jay Diehl, and Steven Vanderputten, 1–27. Turnhout: Brepols, 2017. Vaughn, Sally. Anselm of Bec and Robert of Meulan: The Innocence of the Dove and the Wisdom of the Serpent. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987. Verbaal, Wim. ‘Epistolary Voices and the Fiction of History’. In Medieval Letters: Between Fiction and Document, edited by Christian Høgel and Elisabetta Bartoli, 9–31. Turnhout: Brepols, 2015. Verbaal, Wim. ‘Oleum de saxo durissimo: Bernard of Clairvaux’s Poetics of Silence’. In Understanding Monastic Practices of Oral Communication: Western Europe, Tenth-Thirteenth Centuries, edited by Steven Vanderputten, 319–35. Turnhout: Brepols, 2011. Verbaal, Wim. ‘Voicing your Voice: The Fiction of a Life. Early 12th-Century Letter Collections and the Case of Bernard of Clairvaux’. Interfaces: A Journal of Medieval European Literatures 4 (2017): forthcoming. von Moos, Peter. Hildebert von Lavardin 1056–1133: Humanitas an der Schwelle des höfischen Zeitalters. Stuttgart: Hiersemann, 1965. Wenzel, H., ed. Gespräche – Boten – Briefe: Körpergedächtnis und Schriftgedächtnis im Mittelalter. Berlin: Erich Schmidt.

12 Dimidia Hora Liminal Silence in Bernard of Clairvaux, Anselm of Canterbury, and Barack Obama Burcht Pranger Abstract In this chapter, I deal with the notion of silence in the writings of three rhetorically skilled authors: Anselm of Canterbury, Bernard of Clairvaux, and President Obama. I take silence to mean ‘liminal silence’, borrowing the notion of ‘liminality’ from the anthropologist Victor Turner. For Turner, liminality represents ‘a realm of pure possibility’. With the help of this concept, I trace the meaning of silence between words, between sentences, and between paragraphs, concluding that this particular type of silence contains both silence and vigilance. Here the meaning of liminality comes to the fore. This combination of silence and vigilance expresses gaps and pauses that lend suspense to the discourse while springing from ‘the realm of pure possibility’. Keywords: silence, liminality, reading practice, meditation

Et factum est silentium in caelo quasi dimidia hora And, for about half an hour, there was silence in heaven – Revelation 8:1

In this chapter, I will examine the meaning of silence as it manifests itself, not in the radical guise of absolute silence, but as having a semantic meaning of sorts and, more specifically, as being linked to sound – the idea that sound may precede or follow silence, or underlie it as long as it lasts. In this context, I take ‘silence’ to mean ‘liminal silence’ in order to distinguish it from mystical silence, insofar as the latter traditionally expresses an experience of transcendence. In the history of Christianity, this transcendent notion of

Hellemans, Babette & Alissa Jones Nelson (eds.), Images, Improvisations, Sound, and Silence from 1000 to 1800: Degree Zero. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2018 doi: 10.5117/9789462980051/CH12


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mystical silence has been predominant. Taken to be indicative of proximity to the divine, it has been, if not taken for granted, then rarely problematized, relieved as interpreters seemed at the fact that their author and/or believer had made it to that blessed state. From that point of view, the celebrities of Western mysticism seem to fit this type to perfection. Yet silence being silence does not mean that its every manifestation is utterly deprived of semantic dynamics. For that reason, I turn to a specimen of silence for which I would like to coin the term ‘liminal silence’. This particular silence is semantically operative in a way that differs from the notion of silence as the end of a mystical journey representing the finality of result and rest. The idea of the ‘liminal’ appears first in the field of psychology in 1884,1 and it was next applied in anthropology by Arnold van Gennep, in his Rites de passage of 1909, and thereafter elaborated by Victor Turner (1920–1983). My use of ‘liminal’ derives from Victor Turner’s definition of liminality, rephrased for my own purposes in terms of silence: ‘Liminality may perhaps be regarded as the Nay to all positive structural assertions, but as in some sense the source of them all, and more than that, as a realm of pure possibility whence novel configurations of ideas and relations may arise’.2 I will apply my notion of ‘liminal silence’ as ‘a realm of pure possibility’ to two medieval authors: Anselm of Canterbury (1033–1109) and Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153). Anselm was a Benedictine monk in the monastery of Le Bec in Normandy before he became Archbishop of Canterbury. The reason I focus on him is that, besides being both a thinker and an author of devotional works, he established a reading technique in which he emphasized notions such as slowing down, pauses, and gaps – in short, all the phenomena that, in my view, could be covered by the term ‘liminal silence’. As for Bernard of Clairvaux, he is often considered one of the great medieval mystics. The author of many sermons and treatises, he is most famous for his series of sermons on the Song of Songs (Sermones super Cantica), a work that is also supposed to contain Bernard’s most mystical passages. I will argue that it is precisely Bernard’s use of liminal silence that makes him a more complex and less fully mystical contemplative than his reputation would suggest. In making my point, I take into account that both Anselm and Bernard were accomplished rhetoricians. That very fact justifies the choice of my third practitioner of liminal silence, Barack Obama. Like 1 See the entry ‘Liminality’ in the Oxford English Dictionary, 2 See Turner, ‘The Liminal Period in Rites de Passage’, 97. My particular use of ‘liminal silence’ is further corroborated by the fact that, for Van Gennep, the place of the liminal was in the middle of the rite de passage, between separation and reassimilation.

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Anselm and Bernard, Obama excels in using silence to the utmost rhetorical and emotional effect. In order to get some grip on the complexities of liminal silence, we may benefit from turning to the language of music; meanwhile, we must keep in mind that, precisely at the moment at which the language-like reliability of melody was replaced by the aleatoric organization of sound in modern – that is, early twentieth-century – music, all complacency about the nature of language and, by implication, of silence was undermined on the spot. And if we substitute melody for discourse, we realize what kind of trouble we are in. From the perspective of musicology, Debussy’s music can be seen as the beginning of this renewed grappling with silence, moving de silentio, in silentio, ad silentium. Thus La mer starts out as a ‘sonorous pianissimo’ growing towards midday, Midi. ‘The theme from Midday builds from dawn and rises little by little toward the zenith. It is a silence that is entirely orientated towards the light [lumière, diésée], towards the crescendo, towards the vibrating sonority; this quasi-inaudible murmur already contains the powerful voice of the midday music’.3 Yet, searching for the nature of liminal silence as it manifests itself – like Debussy’s ‘murmur’ – seemingly autonomously and out of nothing, we are left with the problem of consciousness and memory. The question regarding the mind’s capacity to hold on to music and sound is not only addressed in Augustine’s Confesssions.4 It also underlies the concept of liminal silence that we will discuss in the works of Anselm of Canterbury, Bernard of Clairvaux, and, I assume, the rhetoric of Obama. In Book 11 of the Confessions, Augustine presents his famous analysis of the way in which the mind processes a psalm or hymn (Ambrose’s Deus creator omnium) – from the future through the present to the past.5 For Augustine, the mind (or the subject or consciousness) suffers from the hold of present time that seems to elude (discursive) speech, so much so that it may remember the psalm or hymn in its entirety without, however, being able to blend past, present, and future into an ‘organic whole’ – the point being that the ‘whole’ maintains its hold, however invisible, on the measuring and recollecting of time. That very fact does not allow for the leisure of independent stages of the present, the past, and the future. Subject or consciousness, being part and parcel of time itself, cannot transcend ‘the present of the present’, as Augustine calls it. Consequently, since all that is 3 Jankélévitch, La vie et la mort dans la musique de Debussy, 128–29, quoted in Kraut, From Silence to Muteness, 69–70. 4 In Book 10 of the Confessions, Augustine discusses memory, while in Book 11, he extends that discussion to the notion of time. See Pranger, Eternity’s Ennui. 5 Augustine, Confessions, 11.14.17–30, 40; Chadwick, Confessions, 230–44.


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blended does not cease to be ‘present’, the sound experience of the psalm or hymn as such remains both overwhelmingly present and mute. Of course, as we shall see in more detail below, memory is preeminent here – albeit, once more, on the understanding that it can only remember the present of the past rather than the past itself.6 As a matter of course, silence is in play here as, due to its memorial status, it underlies all speech and sound.

Anselm of Canterbury: Silence as a Reading Requirement For a view that honours the presentness of Augustinian memory even in silence, let us turn to Anselm of Canterbury, who, in the Preface to his Orationes sive Meditationes, offered a kind of aleatoric way of reading his work, in which silence is given its due.7 Besides being the first to divide his work up into paragraphs, Anselm also allows – or, rather, demands from – the reader rest (we could call it silence) between the various sections, while also demanding that one read not in succession but, textually speaking, at random, in accordance with one’s meditative disposition(s), the order of which, as the medieval monk knew all too well, is far from preordained. In his seminal Space Between Words, Paul Saenger elegantly describes this procedure with regard to the Orationes sive meditationes: He [Anselm] composed a book, to which he himself gave the title Orationes sive meditationes, with the explicit intent that it be perused and read in private, where it might serve as a spiritual conduit from the author to the reader. Anselm’s initial title for the Monologion was Exemplum meditandi de ratione fidei, and its first chapter was “Exercitatio mentis ad contemplandum Deum.” In it, he carefully distinguished between images and logographs, internal mental speech and external oral speech. For Anselm, like John of Fécamp, meditation was the free, speculative thought stimulated by private reading. Anselm became one of the first medieval authors to refer to the punctuation of his own text when he pointed out that his division of the text into paragraphs freed the reader from obligatory reading from beginning to end by permitting easy entry wherever one wanted. This liberty empowered readers to control the process of their own spiritual stimulation. 6 This is the core of my argument in Eternity’s Ennui. 7 Anselm, S. Anselmi Cantuariensis Archiepiscopi Opera Omnia, hereafter SAO. The Orationes sive meditationes can be found in 2:5–91.

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Anselm also expressed the concern, unprecedented in the writings of the early Middle Ages, that monks should avoid a too rapid reading of devotional texts. In a world in which scriptura continua and hierarchical word blocks had been normal, reading had been a slow and laborious task, and reading too rapidly could not have been a vice worthy of condemnation. The endemic fault of early medieval oral readers, denounced by the ninthcentury monk Hildemar in his Commentum in Regulam sancti Benedicti was an inaudible mumbling of syllables, reflecting lack of comprehension. In effect, the new word separation that facilitated the reading of difficult texts and enhanced individual spirituality in the eyes of the reformed Benedictines created a new vice. Anselm insisted that spiritual works be read decorously, with the requisite emotion. As reading became a silent and solitary activity, constraints imposed by the group were no longer efficacious, and explicit injunctions against private abuse were required.8

One of the interesting aspects of Saenger’s argument is the fact that a technical change in the writing of manuscripts causes – or, at least, coincides with – a change in reading practice. At the same time, Anselm’s offer of liberty to the reader in choosing where to begin reading a text – or where to end – might raise questions as to its sustained successiveness. Does not this free handling of the text destroy its very structure, if it has any? Of course, it cannot be Anselm’s intention to undermine, for instance, the order or argumentation or, for that matter, the melodiousness of language. To address these questions, we must realize that external and internal speech are far from being two separate entities. Consequently, Saenger’s emphasis on meditation as ‘speculative thought stimulated by private reading’ should not, anachronistically, be taken to mean the speechless roaming of a (romantic) subject, disconnected from external speech. Internal speech, however silent, does not cease to be speech. Here memory comes once more to the fore. Rather than functioning as an empty container concept, analogous to an empty subject, it operates as the basic faculty that underlies the act of reading and thinking. Underlying memory, in turn, is the immense realm of sensorial and intellectual options that may be allowed to rise to the surface, such being the dynamics of external and internal ‘free’ speech.9 In Musil’s 8 Saenger, Space Between Words, 203–4. 9 In principle, this is the Augustinian view, as described in Book 10 of Confessions. Anselm, for his part, adopts this view while condensing and radicalizing it. His radicalism shows not only in his famous sola ratione, but, in line with the sola ratione, also in his handling of speech and silence. See Pranger, The Artificiality of Christianity, Part 2: ‘Density’.


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words, ‘When there is a sense of the real, there must also be a sense of the possible’ (‘Wenn es Wirklichkeitssinn gibt, muß es auch Möglichkeitssinn geben’).10 Thus, for Saenger’s Anselm, all of these notions constitute an integral reading process. An integral reading process: that seems to be precisely what is eliminated by the gaps and silence allowed by Anselm’s prescriptions. If applied generically, how could there be epic or narrative continuity, since the idea of reading as a trajectory is abandoned? Neither does Anselmian silence represent a universal monastic model. On the contrary, his poetics seems to go against the grain of the dominant Neoplatonist-Christian tradition of the soul’s journey towards God, the One, the Ineffable. Over the course of that itinerary, with its strict order of stages and degrees, there seems to be no room for any interruption or pause, no chance of falling silent, except at the end. It is this idea of an itinerary that reigned supreme throughout the monastic period and up to the heyday of Scholasticism.11 Nor do late medieval and early modern ‘great mystics’ favour a ‘compositional’ silence in Anselmian terms. True, they have thrown away the ladder of ascent, but in doing so, they have turned into the strongmen of silence – or, for that matter, of the Ur-voice or Ur-cry – rather than maintaining a liminal silence ingrained in the reading and listening process itself. All of this is to say that, when it comes to silence, Anselm’s is a special case. Liminal silence abounds in his work – not only in his Meditationes, but also throughout his oeuvre. Thus, using the famous formula sola ratione in his Proslogion in order to prove the ‘existence of God’, he proceeds by silencing God’s existence, taking as his point of departure the fool who says in his heart, ‘There is no God’.12 With the ultimate result of that proof being the necessity of God’s existence, we have returned to Musil’s ‘sense of the real’ opening up ‘the sense of the possible’. It is for good reason that, in this particular case, Anselm rephrases ‘necessity’ as the fact that ‘it is impossible for God not to exist’. Whilst bluntly using ‘necessity’ would state the case loud and clear (missing the point altogether), here the phrase ‘impossible not to’ creates a moment of silence – a space as well as a rite de passage between words. 10 Musil, Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften, 1:16; see also the Turner quotation at the beginning of this chapter. 11 Cf. Bonaventure’s Itinerarium mentis in deum (The Mind’s Journey towards God), which ends with language withering away: ‘turn your attention away from language’ (parum dandum est linguae); Bonaventure, Itinerarium mentis in deum 7.5, in Obras de San Buenaventura, 1:630. 12 Proslogion, ch. 2–5; SAO 1:96–104.

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I will mention another example in passing, since it is too obvious to elaborate on it in the context of this article: the ‘Christ removed’ (Christo remoto) in Anselm’s Cur deus homo.13 By being silent about Christ, Anselm proves – along the same lines as proving the ‘necessity’ of God’s existence – that it is Christ who has suffered by necessity and nobody else (which, of course, must again be rephrased in terms of Musil’s ‘sense of the possible’): it is impossible that anybody other than Christ has died for humankind. Only when this Wirklichkeitssinn – achieved in the silent moment of ruling out the impossible – is in place can the lid be removed from the fathomless box of the possible. Having come so far, we can also catch a glimpse of the workings of memory; it goes along with the game of silence. Rather than hovering over this entire process of passing from speech to silence to speech, it is intrinsic to that process. Just as oblivion does not guarantee a return to remembrance, so silence and the spaces between words do not guarantee the bridging of any linguistic gap. In that sense, Anselm’s game – like Bernard’s and Obama’s, as we shall see, and perhaps like that of any practitioner of liminal silence – is in essence apocalyptic. Once entered, silence does not guarantee any return or continuation, any past or future, of sound and speech: rien ne va plus. To shed more light on the theme of liminal silence in Anselm, let us turn to his letters.14 It is here that we meet an Anselm who is lighter and less burdened by the anachronistic weight of his intellectual afterlife. The least we can say in advance is that, once we glimpse Anselm writing to real yet absent people, we can observe him – rather than conforming to the limitless dimensions of real space and time – searching for a silent centre from which it is possible to cut through the confusions of remoteness and absence in order to establish a monastery of the mind, so to speak. As a result, dealing with his fellow monks, wherever they are, is not entirely unlike dealing with God, wherever he may be. This monastic-epistolary stance is elegantly characterized by Eileen Sweeney as follows: In an important sense Anselm never casts himself nor addresses his fellow monks as ‘on the way’ but places them at one extreme or the other. Anselm’s addressees, like Anselm and everyone in life, of course, is [are] in via, but the point is that for Anselm, being ‘on the way’ is not a place to stay or be at home. Anselm only recognizes two possibilities: one is either moving out of the world toward God (in which case what matters 13 Cur deus homo; SAO 2:36–133. For the Christo remoto, see the praefatio, 42. 14 SAO vols. 3, 4, and 5. I focus on the letters in vol. 3.


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is not where one is but where one is going, not the motion but its goal), or one is mired in the nullity of the world.15

Quite! In Anselm’s monastic case, the general anthropological notion of humankind as being in via should be specified as stemming from – and being dominated by – a stabilitas loci, the materiality of which is spiritual by nature. Consequently, the notion of travelling changes, as does the status of spatial distance. In a sense, this metamorphosis of travelling from movement to stasis and pauses (in speaking and writing) is analogous not only to his own handling of silence through ‘his sense of the possible’, as in his Proslogion and Cur deus homo. It also takes us back (or forward, in historical terms) to worries about the survival of successiveness and melodiousness. By taking the heart out of melodiousness and harmony in the guise of reciprocity, Anselm seems to deprive himself of any spatial dimension and to replace it with utter silence in the guise of proclaiming the lack of any need for friends to write letters at all. They had better stay silent. Even though, for Anselm, this silence is as self-evident as the impossibility for God not to exist or for Christ not to suffer, his monastic friends had more trouble grasping this stance – as indeed quite a number of contemporaries failed to understand Anselm at all.16 Thus it took a letter for Anselm to explain to his monastic friends the absence of any need for writing letters. If those friends had caught the implications of this particular ‘sense of the possible’, they should not have been surprised about what they perceived as an undesirable communication gap. Nevertheless, surprised they were. One example stands out because of the stubbornness of the two correspondents. Anselm, for his part, was writing as a reluctant correspondent, preferring silence to what, for him, was nothing but superfluous chatter. Since the other correspondent in this case – his former fellow monk at Bec, Gundulf – had repeatedly requested that Anselm write to him, Anselm replies as follows: To the monk Gundulf. He who is his all to him who is his all [his own to his own], friend to friend, brother to brother, Anselm to Gundulf, wishes him, for love of happiness, perseverance in holiness, as reward for holiness, eternal happiness. Now my Gundulf and your Anselm are witness to the fact that you and I have no need whatsoever to express our mutual affection for each other through letters. For since your and my soul never think about each other 15 Sweeney, Anselm of Canterbury and the Desire for the Word, 71. 16 See Pranger, ‘Anselm Misunderstood’, 163–87.

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in terms of absence but embrace each other incessantly, nothing is lacking in our relationship except the fact that our presence to each other is not physical. Why then should I describe my love for you in a letter, when you keep the real imprint of that love in the inner sanctum of your heart? For what else does your love for me mean than the image of my love for you? That is why your will, known to me, urges me to write something to you because of our physical absence. But because we are known to each other through the presence of our souls, I do not know what to say to you except that God may give you that of which He knows that it will please Him and benefit you. Farewell.17

This insistence on the superfluity of exchanging letters between kindred souls is all the more remarkable in the light of Anselm’s adherence, in other letters, to the ancient requirement of physical presence and his sensitivity to the fatal blows of grief that physical absence and distance deliver to friendship. In this vein, he writes to his friend Gilbert Crispin, a former monk at Bec who went on to become the Abbot of Westminster: ‘I often recognized how great and how true this affection was when it revealed itself face to face, kiss to kiss, embrace to embrace’.18 Exclamations like this abound, in particular in the salutations of Anselm’s letters, and it is with good reason that Sweeney’s section on friendship in her book on Anselm is entitled ‘Physical Separation and Spiritual Union’. But, apparently, Gundulf’s is a different case. Like Gilbert, he had been a fellow monk of Anselm’s at Bec before following Lanfranc, first to Caen and then to Canterbury, where he ended up as the Bishop of Rochester. We have a total of 16 letters from Anselm to Gundulf, seven of them written when Anselm was still the prior at Bec. Those seven stand out for their strong language of monastic love, whereas the later letters are much more business-like. In all but one of those seven letters, Anselm touches upon the theme of the lack of necessity for writing, as if he feels pressurized by Gundulf’s repeated requests: ‘as you propose to write, most beloved soul of my soul, as you propose to write, I am not sure what should be the best starting point of my address’ (Letter 4). These requests incite Anselm, in turn, to develop a kind of rhetorical acrobatics of refusal. Thus in Letter 7, he limits his salutation – and, by implication, the letter – to ‘Anselm to Gundulf’, just to drive home the point that the mere mentioning of names tells the full story of affective union. In Letter 16, he voices his doubts concerning the added value of ‘letters 17 Epistola 41; SAO 3:152–53. 18 Epistola 130; SAO 3:271–73; trans. Sweeney, Anselm and the Desire for the Word, 48.


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flying’ –by airmail, as it were – ‘to and fro, trans mare, from coast to coast’. All Gundulf has to do is ‘enter the inner chamber’ of his heart to learn the status of their mutual affections. Finally, in an attempt to counter Gundulf’s stubborn insistence, Anselm turns to Pauline mysticism, to ‘things no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no human heart conceived’ (1 Cor. 2:9; Letter 59): ‘Since you know that the flavour of love is not known with the eyes or ears, but is delightfully tasted only with the mouth of the heart, with which words and letters could your and my love be described? And yet you insist impertinently to me that I do what cannot be done’.19 Anselm’s radical requirement of silence in the form of non-writing sums up his poetic principle, as hinted at by Saenger: the use of memory silently underpinning gaps and absences, pauses, slowings down, and shifts from one line or passage to another. This vertical and ‘fragmented’ approach makes sense only if we acknowledge that, in the absence of any tertium comparationis with any other linguistic structure, it is organized from a centre rather than as a linear discourse. If we are indeed dealing with circularity rather than with linearity, we also have to acknowledge that the very centre of that circle is nothing less than a ‘degree zero’ – as another manifestation of silence – which, paradoxically, guarantees both Anselm’s immense accuracy and his fluidity. It is that very basic structure that allows for Anselm’s playfulness, for his shifts and absences, as well as for his Musillike precision, with the Wirklichkeitssinn as the source of Möglichkeitssinn. Let me try to give some flesh to this peculiar geometry. As for the relationship between absent friends, we know by now that, perceived from the centre, no exchange of letters between monks is necessary or desirable. A bit further removed from that degree zero, but still within a circle immediately around it, we observe Anselm lamenting in a letter the absence of kisses and embraces or, using a different register, filling up the absent space with the Pauline ‘what no eye has seen’ – which can be found if, just as in the Proslogion, one enters ‘the inner room of the heart’. Yet what seem to be different points of view are not mutually exclusive, corresponding as they do to the slow language of the monastery, where stating in so many words and, even more vociferously, making a double statement in the guise of sending letters about the lack of any necessity to write letters only intensifies, as in the Song of Songs, the mutual affect of love and longing. It is precisely this written denial that creates a poetic void, which proves to be presence and fullness. Thus Anselm writes to Gundulf: ‘For I am sure that you are not doing this [asking for letters] to have your love excited by letters lest it fall asleep or to have my love intimated 19 Epistola 59; SAO 3:173–74.

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that it stay awake’ (Letter 59; Song of Songs 5:2). Not only is this negativity with regard to writing an old trick on the part of Christian authors, with the sole purpose of evoking the intensity of affect and love. For Anselm it is more than that, based as it is on a circularity in which distance or proximity to the centre creates lightness and freedom by locating problems of suffering and pain, joy and longing that become more ‘moveable’ than they ever would be if they were on a straight line. In technical terms, Anselm achieves this effect, as we have seen, by means of using necessity only in the guise of a double negation (rephrasing it as ‘the impossibility not to’) – necessity in the reverse, so to speak – just as the denial of the need for mutual, Canticle-like exhortations (as discussed above) only reaffirms the bond of love: ‘I sleep but my heart is awake’. This is not a preexisting necessity, imposed from the outside, but rather a necessity from within – a ‘following’ (sequens).20 Likewise, the necessity of Christ’s incarnation in Cur deus homo is equally sequens, resulting in the circular, tautological conclusion that Christ has suffered because he has suffered within the parameters of the necessitas sequens – just as, inversely, the fool from the Proslogion who denies the existence of God is proven to be a fool because he is a fool (stultus quia stultus).

Bernard of Clairvaux: Silence as Wakeful Rest As we now turn to Bernard of Clairvaux, I hope we have dispensed beforehand with two obstacles: a timeless, devotional subject and a recognizable, successive discourse. By that I do not mean that Bernard – or Anselm, for that matter – was not a meticulous engineer of his own work. Thus it is with the parameters of Anselm’s random reading method in mind that we should approach Bernard’s text, although the uninterrupted flow of his language, like Wagner’s unendliche Melodie, does not seem to allow for gaps and pauses. Yet it is – paradoxically, so it may seem – only within the constraints, whether real or imagined, of the unendliche Melodie that the search for Bernadine silence, including gaps and pauses, makes sense. Silence is not the first quality one would associate with Bernard. ‘Mystical silence then, perhaps?’ whispers the devotional subject. No, definitely not. If there is silence, it is one that leaves the reader behind, more baffled than satisfied. To get some inkling of what is going on in Bernard’s work, let us turn to his handling of the text: ‘The king has brought me into his bedchamber’ (Deus introduxit me in cellaria [cubiculum] suum; Song of Songs 1:3), first 20 See Cur deus homo 2.17; SAO 2:125.


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in the 23rd sermon of Sermones super Cantica and then in the treatise De gradibus superbiae et humilitatis.21 As for mystical silence, if Sermon 23 achieves a silence of sorts, it certainly cannot be called perfect. If ever there was a text that seemed tailor-made for establishing mystical intimacy and silence, it is the Introduxit me. Yet Bernard goes out of his way to strew caveats throughout the sermon, even adding texts from the Song of Songs that blatantly evoke silence while purposely overlooking the offer at hand, just to replace it with hesitation and withdrawal. Thus, after singling out one girl from the group of young girls as the bride-elect and, in that capacity, bringing her to the cubiculum, he still adds a caveat to his praise for her: This secret [of access] is exclusively reserved by the bridegroom for his one and only dove, who is beautiful and perfect. That is why I do not feel completely unworthy if I myself appear not to be admitted to that room, the more so since I am convinced that meanwhile, even the bride is not yet granted full access to all the secrets she wishes to know. For that reason, she begs to be shown where ‘he is pasturing and resting at midday’ (ubi cubet in meridie).22

So much for being ‘brought into the bedchamber of the king’. Instead, Bernard keeps weaving his strings of hesitations up to the very end of the sermon, declining the very access to silence that is semantically on offer throughout. Of course, this literary procedure cannot be called aleatoric per se. But at least this much is clear: it resists semantic successiveness and, indeed, melodiousness, harmony and completion of any kind. Bernard’s De gradibus is an even harder nut to crack. Taking as its point of departure the ladder of ascent as described in Benedict’s Rule, Bernard reverses the Rule’s humble steps – from fear of God (the first step) to the love that banishes fear – and transforms it into a ladder of descent. In so doing, he comes up with a series of satirical portraits of silly monks tumbling down it, just to conclude at the end that this satirical description represents nothing but his own descent – mea descensio. A homo ludens if ever there was one, as witty as he is remote. The long prelude to this sarcastic tour de force in De gradibus looks like a mess, to the extent that the order of the discourse seems disorganized and 21 Bernard, Sancti Bernardi Opera, hereafter SBO. Sermones super Cantica 23 = SBO 1:138–50. De gradibus humilitatis et superbiae = SBO 3:15–59. Translations from the Sermones super Cantica are my own. For the translation of De gradibus, I use Evans, Bernard of Clairvaux. 22 Sermones super Cantica 23.4.10; SBO 1:145.

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rambling. Roughly speaking, it revolves around Paul’s famous ‘mystical’ experience in 2 Corinthians 12 – which we already saw at work in Anselm’s letters – in which he describes how he was caught up into the third heaven. As for the commentator of this text, his is the challenge of moving from the first two heavens to the third. But rather than developing a clear-cut model for achieving silence, Bernard – having made himself part of his own discourse, as he so often does – becomes entangled in the unstructured web of his own verbosity (loquacitas): But why am I, poor man, running about the two higher heavens with my tongue, talking with more loquacity than spiritual liveliness, when with my hands and feet I am still striving down here? I can already glimpse the Lord [on top of the ladder…] but I climb slowly, a weary traveler, and needy somewhere to rest. Woe is me if the darkness surrounds me (John 12:35) or if I should flee in the winter or on the Sabbath (Matthew 24:20) […] for now, even at an acceptable time and in a day of salvation I can scarcely make my way. Why am I so slow? Pray for me anyone who is my son, brother, friend, companion of my journey in the Lord. Pray for me to the Almighty, that he may give my footsteps vigor and that the foot of pride may not come near me (Psalm 35:12).23

To summarize all of this misery, Bernard quotes one of his favourite Psalm texts, expressing the hope to escape this doom and ‘fly away’: ‘Who will give me wings like a dove so that I might fly away and be at rest in love? (Psalm 54:7). But I have no wings’.24 Here we meet our homo ludens in the full force of his falling short, lending apocalyptic urgency to a discourse, which is not only striving to be but is also – equally frighteningly – actually being underpinned by silence. All of a sudden, in the very midst of this Winterreise, the sweet text from the Song of Songs makes itself heard: ‘The king has brought me in his bedchamber…(Song of Songs 1:3)’. There she is admitted at last to the King’s chamber, for whose love she languishes. There for a short time, half an hour, while there is silence in heaven, she sleeps sweetly and at peace in that longed-for embrace. But her mind is alert, and it is filled with the secrets of truths on which she will feed in

23 De gradibus 9.24; SBO 3; Evans, Bernard of Clairvaux, 120–21. 24 De gradibus 9.25; SBO 3; Evans, Bernard of Clairvaux, 121.


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memory when she comes to herself. There she sees things invisible, hears the ineffable, which no man can utter (2 Corinthians 12:4).25

Modicum dimidia hora: for a short time, half an hour.26 This loose measuring of time is important – as important, I would like to add, as the freedom, the spaces between words, and the unlimited duration of reading and meditating that Anselm grants his readers. Of course, the full effect of this silence can only be achieved if we do away with both the constraints of melodious successiveness and the well-ordered expectations of subjectivity – even if, as in modern ‘spiritual music’, this is shrouded in the shape of exercises in silence, as in the bond between Pärt as a composer and his devout listeners,27 a bond which could not survive the wintery interruption and the threat of failure on an apocalyptic scale.

Barack Obama: Silence as Triumph over Human Bondage This restful vigilance is silently heard in the dimidia hora of Obama’s 2015 eulogy for the victims of the shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on 17 June 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina. 28 As the great rhetorician he is, Obama knew how to adopt the idiom of the African-American religious way of speaking and preaching – a fact that is less self-evident than it seems, since, during his presidency, Obama refrained from expressing himself in religious terms, just as, according to some reports, he rarely attended church. But like the Emanuel Church itself, that language, 25 De gradibus 7.21; SBO 3; Evans, Bernard of Clairvaux, 118. 26 The Vulgate text runs as follows: ‘Et [….] factum est silentium in caelo quasi media hora’. In view of the complex development and transmission of the Vulgate, it is not unusual to find slightly alternative versions in Bernard (such as the use of modicum instead of quasi). Both quasi and modicum are difficult to translate; they somehow loosen up the strict duration of half an hour, while at the same time drawing attention to a certain tension between this looseness and the precision of dimidia hora. 27 The new religious music highlights the subjective experience of the listener; see Pranger ‘In Defence of Complexity’, 275–89. A documentary film about the new spiritual music, The Third Ear, has a long shot of a group of people listening to the music of Arvo Pärt with their eyes shut as part of a therapeutic session, under the guidance of someone who does not comment on the intricacies of the music, but on the emotional part of the brain. See Pranger, ‘In Defence of Complexity’, 284. This is neither liminal nor transcendent silence, but rather music as an uninterrupted rendering of the experience of silence. 28 The Emanuel Church (or Mother Emanuel), founded in 1816, is ‘the oldest African Methodist Episcopal Church in the Southern United States, with the first independent black denomination in the United States’; see

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rooted as it is in the history of slavery, was political to the core, as Obama knew full well. Another justification for his use of this language was the fact that, a few days before – during a video court appearance, the so-called bond hearing – relatives of the victims, one by one, had offered forgiveness to the attacker. Thus ‘grace’ became the obvious keyword of Obama’s speech, its mantralike repetition – in line with the Southern preaching style – culminating in a twice-whispered ‘amazing grace, amazing grace’. Next, Obama fell silent.29 This silence lasted, in the experience of the audience, ‘as it were half an hour’ – a quasi dimidia hora – until out of that very silence, stretched to the breaking point, Obama’s slow and soft singing of the first two syllables of the hymn ‘Amazing Grace’ emerged. Here, the silence between words doubled up into another dimidia hora, so to speak, within the word itself. In accordance with the African-American tradition of singing hymns and spirituals, the musical requirement of pausing after one or two syllables (the ‘amà’ of ‘amà-zing’) is no musical guarantee of succession, to the extent that the ‘amà’ of ‘amà-zing’ will necessarily make it to the full ‘amazing’.30 Together with the preceding ‘half hour’s silence’, that little space inside the word ‘amazing’ itself, like another modicum dimidia hora, countered the loquacitas of the speaker, which had already slowed towards silence in Obama’s sighing of ‘amazing grace … amazing grace’. True to form, quite some time after the event, Obama offered two explanations for his long silence – a playful one, suggesting that he had been inwardly looking for the right pitch; and a more serious one, explaining that, during the short helicopter ride into Charleston, he had brought up the possibility that ‘he might be going to sing’, and he wanted to make sure that once he started to do so, the audience would join in. Of course they did, for, as Obama 29 See ‘The Story behind President Obama Singing “Amazing Grace” at Charleston Funeral’, http:// story?id=32264346. 30 Tellingly, almost all ‘white’ renderings of this hymn ignore the gap – or, musically speaking, the rest to be taken – inside ‘ama-zing’ and smooth over this dimidia hora by making a liaison between ‘amà’ and ‘zing’, thereby removing its apocalyptic vigilance. On a lighter note, music offers a host of other examples in this area. If we listen to a populist performance of, for instance, An der schönen, blauen Donau by André Rieu before his customary mass audience, we can hear him smooth down the gaps and suspense inside the waltz, like another ‘white’ gospel singer, turning it into one uninterrupted legato. In contrast, a performance conducted by ‘the conductors’ conductor’, Carlos Kleiber, turns around the same, worn-out piece precisely by stretching, quasi dimidia hora-wise, the limits of suspense and silence almost unbearably, into an almost magical (or call it mystical) event, de silentio. What I have been saying about some of the special ways of manipulating (musical) rest obtains, of course, also for a skilled or distorted use of rhythm.


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knew all too well, this double dimidia hora, even in its most suspenseful guise, was underpinned by memory – in this particular case, the memory of the battle song of slavery and deliverance. While Obama was ‘looking for the right pitch’, the silent audience, like Obama himself, was vigilant in the extreme – so much so that, once the ‘amà-’ sounded, they erupted into cries of recognition and emotion, effortlessly joining Obama in singing ‘Amazing Grace’. In terms of consolation, Obama, together with his audience, had made it. Solidly and unforgettably, they had triumphed over apocalyptic doom. What makes silence tick? Could it be the fact that – as we have seen in Anselm, Bernard, and Obama – silence may simultaneously be a nocturnal event and a midday slumber, the definitive status of which keeps us in suspense while harking back to the unfathomable depths of memory? Thus ‘I sleep but my heart is awake’ (Dormio sed cor meum vigilat).

Works Cited Anselm. S. Anselmi Cantuariensis Archiepiscopi Opera Omnia. Edited by F. Schmitt. 5 vols. Stuttgart/Bad Canstatt: Frommann-Holzbog, 1968. Augustine. Confessions. Translated by Henry Chadwick. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991. Bernard. Sancti Bernardi Opera. Edited by Jean Leclercq and Henri Rochais. 8 vols. Rome: Editiones Cistercienses 1957–1977. Bonaventure. Obras de San Buenaventura. Madrid: Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, 1955. Dominicus, Mart, and Michael Schöpping. Het derde oor [The Third Ear]. NPS [Dutch Public Broadcasting Corporation] documentary film. Broadcast February 4, 2011. Evans, G.R. Bernard of Clairvaux. Selected Works. New York: Paulist Press, 1987. Jankélévitch, Vladimir. La vie et la mort dans la musique de Debussy. Neuchatel: Les éditions de la Baconnière, 1994. Kraut, Jael. From Silence to Muteness. Music and Philosophy in the 20th Century. PhD diss., University of Amsterdam, 2010. Musil, Robert. Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften. Reinbek: Rowohlt Verlag, 1981. Pranger, Burcht. ‘In Defence of Complexity: The New Spiritual Music’s Farewell to Modernism’. In Contemporary Music and Spirituality, edited by Robert Scholl and Sander van Maas, 275–89. London/New York: Routledge, 2017. Pranger, M.B. ‘Anselm Misunderstood: Utopian Approaches towards Learning in the Eleventh Century’. In The European Dimension of St. Anselm’s Thinking, edited by Josef Zumr and Vilem Herold, 163–87. Prague: Institute of Philosophy of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, 1993.

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Pranger, M.B. The Artificiality of Christianity: Essays on the Poetics of Monasticism. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001. Pranger, M.B. Eternity’s Ennui: Temporality, Perseverance and Voice in Augustine and Western Literature. Leiden: Brill, 2010. Saenger, Paul. Space Between Words: The Origins of Silent Reading. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997. Sweeney, Eileen C. Anselm of Canterbury and the Desire for the Word. Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2012. Turner, Victor. ‘The Liminal Period in Rites de Passage’. In The Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Ritual. Ithaca/London: Cornell University Press, 1967.

List of Contributors

Prof. Dr. Rokus de Groot, Professor Emeritus of Musicology, University of Amsterdam Assoc. Prof. Pierre-Olivier Dittmar, Centre de recherches historiques (CRH), Anthropologie historique du long Moyen Âge (Alhoma), Ecole des hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris Dr. Cédric Giraud, Assistant Professor of Medieval History, University of Lorraine Dr. Babette Hellemans, Assistant Professor of Medieval and Cultural History, University of Groningen Dr. Irit Ruth Kleiman, Associate Professor of Romance Studies, Boston University Mr. Theo B. Lap, MA, PhD candidate, University of Groningen Prof. Dr. Burcht Pranger, Professor Emeritus of the History of Christianity, University of Amsterdam Prof. Jean-Claude Schmitt, Director of Studies, Groupe d’Anthropologie historique de l’Occident médiéval, Ecole des hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris Dr. Asghar Seyed-Gohrab, Senior Lecturer, Leiden Institute for Area Studies (LIAS), Leiden University Prof. Nicola Suthor, Professor of the History of Art, Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures, Yale University Prof. Sander van Maas, Assistant Professor of Musicology, University of Amsterdam; Visiting Professor, London College of Music Prof. Dr. Andrea von Hülsen-Esch, University Professor, Institut für Kunstgeschichte, Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf



Prof. Dr. Irene Zwiep, Professor of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Syrian Languages and Cultures, Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies, University of Amsterdam

Index Index of Names Abraham (biblical figure) 86, 185-86 Adam (biblical figure) 30, 179, 195, 222 Aelred of Rievaulx 198-99 Alfonso V of Aragon 65 Alfonso Henriques (King of Portugal) 42 Allori, Alessandro 102 Alter, Robert 171, 181 Ambrose of Milan, St. 198, 213-14, 231 Anne (Queen of England) 170-71 Anselm, archbishop of Canterbury, St. 30-31, 210-13, 216-17, 219-24, 229-30, 232-39, 244 Apelles (Greek painter) 92-94, 109 Aristotle 61-65, 110-11, 178 Arnulf, bishop of Lisieux 214 Augustine, St. 24, 196, 231, 244 Augustus, George 171 Ayâz (slave boy) 137, 142 Bach, Johann Sebastian 10, 23, 147, 151-56 Barbarigo, Agostino (Doge) 60 Barbaro, Francesco 58 Bartolmeu do Pilar, bishop of Belém do Pará 43 Barthes, Roland 13-17, 28-29, 157-75 Beckett, Samuel 22-23, 32 Benedict of Nursia, St. 210, 240 Benjamin, Walter 19 Berio, Luciano 164, 166 Bernard of Clairvaux, St. 31, 194, 200, 214, 229-30, 239-42, 244 Bernardo de Brito (Frai) 42 Bonaventure, St. 234, 244 Bordon, Benedetto 60 Borges, Jorge Luis 164 Bruni, Leonardi 58 Burrows, Donald 169 Buzzatti, Dino 164 Calvino, Italo 29, 157-74 Cappello, Bartolomeo 57 Carpaccio, Vittore 59 Carracci, Agostino 91, 96-111 Castiglione, Baldassare 62 Cavell, Stanley 22-23, 32 Cézanne, Paul 14, 23 Chadwick, Henry 321 Chrétien de Troyes 27, 113-14, 120-21 Ciamberlano, Luca 103 Clement III (Antipope) 216 Cosimo I de’ Medici 62 Couperin, Louis 151 D’Este, Leonello 65 De la Perriere, Guillaume 65 Debussy, Claude 231 Derrida, Jacques 157, 159, 161, 163, 174 Dominicus, Mart 244

Donatello (workshop) 58 Donducci, Giovanni Andrea (Mastelletta) 109 Dossi, Dosso 62 Dyck, Anthonis, van 62 Eadmer of Canterbury 221-24 Eco, Umberto 164 Eleazar Kallir 183-84 Evans, G.R. 240-42, 244 Ferdowsi (Persian poet) 133, 138-39 Filarete (Italian architect) 93-94 Fiorillo, Johann Dominicus 94 Francisco de Souso Coutinho (governor of Para) 42-43 Fuas Roupinho (Dom) 41-43 Gaon, Saadia 183 Garnier, François 76-78, 86 Gelli, Giovan Battista 62 Gennep, Arnold, van 230 Geoffrey de Villehardouin (crusader) 122 George I (King of England) 29, 157, 160, 168-73, 175-76 Gibson, Roy 213-14 Giorgione (Italian painter) 62, 64 Giotto (Italian painter) 20, 27, 92-93, 106, 109 Gran Duchessa di Toscana 57 Gregory the Great, St. 201-02 Grimani, Antonio (Doge) 60 Guazzo, Stefano 62 Guerric of Igny 200 Guibert of Nogent 193 Guilhem IX (Occitan troubadour) 113, 117 Gundulf (monk) 236-38 Hagar (biblical figure) 86 Handel, George Friedrich 29, 157, 160, 168-72, 175 Hatton, Ragnhild 168, 176 Henry I (King of England) 223 Hildebert of Lavardin 214 Hildegard of Bingen, St. 202-03 Homer (Greek poet) 59 Hugh, archbishop of Lyon 221 Hugh, archdeacon of Canterbury 223 Hugh of Fouilloy 195 Hugh of Saint-Victor 194-95 Hume, Kathryn 169 Hume, Robert D. 175 Ignatius of Loyola 65 Jankélévitch, Vladimir 107-09, 231, 244 Jaufré Rudel 113, 115 Jean de Joinville 113, 122, 124-29 Johnson, James 173 Judith (biblical figure) 84 Kafka, Franz 164



Kantorowicz, Ernst 52 Kielmansegg, Johann Adolf von 169 Koopman, Ton 152 Lanfranc of Bec 201, 213, 237 Leiris, Michel 157-59, 163, 174 Lévi-Strauss, Claude 17, 81 Lodi, Giovanni Agostino da 62 Lucretius (Latin poet) 62 Lycurgus (lawgiver of Sparta) 63 Malchus, bishop of Waterford 223 Mallarmé, Stéphane 15-16, 22-23, 32 Malvasia, Carlo Cesare 102, 108 Manuel de Brito Alao, Padre 42 Maria (Queen of Portugal) 42 Martini, Simone 60 Matisse, Henri 101 Michelangelo (sculptor, painter, poet) 20, 27, 79, 93, 95-96, 106, 109 Michelet, Jules 174 Michiel, Marcantonio 67 Mocenigo, Giovanni (Doge) 60 Mo’ezzi (Persian poet) 133-34 Mohammad-Taqi Bahâr 134 Morosini, Domenico 63 Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus 149 Musil, Robert 234, 238, 244 Nagel, Alexander 23 Nestor 64 Nezâmi ʿAruzi 132-33, 135 Nietzsche, Friedrich 159, 165 Obama, Barack 229-30, 242-44 Odo of Soissons 202 Panofsky, Erwin 64-66, 78, 84 Paschal II (Pope) 216, 220, 224-25 Paulinus of Nola 213 Persian national epic 138 Peter of Blois 203 Peter of Celle 196-97, 203 Peter Damian 193-94 Peter Lombard 82 Peter the Venerable 214 Peterson, Elisabeth 82-83, 85 Piles, Roger De 94-95 Pisanello (Italian painter) 65 Placido, peasant 36, 42, 48, 51 Plato 21, 75, 81, 178, 187, 234 Pliny the Elder 94, 96, 101, 109 Plutarch (Latin poet) 63 Pseudo-Dionysius (mystic) 196 Quintilian (Latin poet) 107-08 Rabbi Akiva 180 Raimondi, Marcantonio 59 Ramana Maharshi 156

Richeza, Anselmʼs sister 216 Robert de Clari 113, 122, 129 Rosa, Salvator 95-96, 106-07 Rosenzweig, Franz 187 Rostam and Sohrâb 138-42 Rudaki 135-37 Ruggerio, Romano 158 Saenger, Paul 232-34, 238, 245 Salutati, Coluccio 58 Samanid Dynasty 135 Sansovino, Francesco 57 Scipio Africanus (Roman general) 59 Scholem, Gershom 24, 187 Settignano, Desiderio, da 64 Shiva (Hindu god) 52 Sidonius Apollinaris 213 Siisiäinen, Lauri 163 Soltân Mahmud 133, 137, 142 Sontag, Susan 14 Stuart, James Francis Edward 171 Sweeney, Eileen 235-37, 245 Thornhill, James 168 Titian (Italian painter) 62, 64-66 Toledo, Eleonora da 64-65 Trevisan-Capello family 55, 57, 64, 67 Trevisan, Ludovico 58 Trevisan da Venezia, Zaccaria 57-58 Turner, Victor 230, 245 Urban II (Pope) 216, 219-20 Valeriano, Pierio 65-66 Vasari, Giorgio 66, 92-93, 95 Velde (the Elder), Jan van de (Dutch painter) 106 Verbaal, Wim 211, 214 Vespasian 59 Vicentino, Andrea 60 Vico, Giambattista 174-75 Waal, Henri, van de 94 Wagner, Richard 239 Walpole, Robert 171 Warner of Canterbury 214 William II, King of England 216 William of Saint-Thierry 203-04 Wills, David 175 Wirth, Jean 78, 84 Wittgenstein, Ludwig 21-23, 32 Wood, Christopher 23 Xenophon (philosopher) 61 Yannai (Hebrew poet) 30, 185-86 Zabarella, Francesco 58 Zeuxis (painter) 93-94 Ziani (Doge) 58 Zuccari, Federico 102



Index of Subjects arab music Âlâpa 149-51, 154 arsis-thesis 148-49 attention 14, 28, 42, 74, 78, 109, 139, 147-49, 155-56, 204, 234, 242 Âvâz 151 Bach compositions Clavierübung III 155 Inventions 155 Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C 147, 152-56 Baroque music 151 Beckett (play) Endgame 22-23 Belém 25, 35, 37-40, 42-43, 45, 47-50 bible moralisée 76 breath 124-26, 128-29 calligraphy 104, 106 Cambridge 57, 83 capriciousness 151-54 catholic 16, 47, 171 Cézanne (painting) Montagne Sainte-Victoire 14, 23 chaos 152, 155, 178 chord (musical) 152-55 compassion (didactics of) 26, 29-30, 147, 155-56 counterpoint 153 Couperin (composition) Préludes non-mesurés, Ordres 151 courtly audience 131-34, 141 creativity 17, 19-20, 24, 115, 191, 204-05 deus artifex 19, 24 dorsality 175 embodiment 52, 129, 147 embrace 116-17, 119, 123, 192, 218, 222, 237-38, 241 epic poetry 131-32 eucharist 16, 201 ex nihilo 13-14, 17, 24, 28-29, 46, 147, 149, 151, 177-78 ex voto 36, 39-40, 49 exegesis 61, 79, 176, 192-93, 195 Florence 57, 62, 64, 71, 75 fortune 79, 113-14, 206, 223 gamelan (Indonesian instrument) 151 Handel (composition) Water Music 18, 29, 136, 157, 159-60, 168-72, 175-76 homophony 153, 155 improvising Persian poetry 137 in mediis rebus 28, 147-49, 185 Indian music 52, 150-51, 154-55 inner speech 24, 29, 31, 177, 179, 182, 186-87 intention 14-16, 18, 20-22, 28, 31, 77-78, 92, 147-50, 155, 209, 211, 215, 223-24, 233 interpolation 139, 141, 143 invention 26, 35-36, 47-48, 75-76, 85, 129, 131, 155, 162, 173

islamic 24, 141-44 jazz 113, 129 jewish 24, 82, 115, 177-78, 182-83, 185, 187 letter collections 30-31, 209-19, 223-27 liminality 13, 31, 229-30 Logos 16, 95, 107, 178 London 57, 60, 65, 168-70 Mallarmé (poem) Coup de dés 15, 22-23, 26, 31 meditation 107, 192, 206, 212, 226, 232-34 memory 16, 20, 27-28, 31, 116, 118-20, 122, 136, 231-33, 235, 238, 242, 244 modernism/modernity 14, 16, 18, 22, 25-26, 31, 55, 136 monophony 155-56 Mozart (composition) Symphony 29 in A major, K. 201 149 musical ordering of time 149 Nezâmi ʿAruzi’s Four Discourses 132 orality 114 organ (musical instrument) 152 origin 13-14, 26, 28, 35, 41, 46, 48, 50-51, 53, 55, 62, 67, 75, 77-78, 82, 85, 110, 131, 141-42, 161-62, 164, 170, 175, 177, 192, 205, 213, 215, 217, 222 Persian music 151 Persian storytelling performance (naqqâli) 138-39 pilgrimage 41-43, 46-48, 51-52, 65, 219, 222 piyyut (Hebrew) 183, 186-88 plasticity of form 109, 151-52, 155-56, 183 poetic contests 132 polysemous 30, 77, 193 procession 18, 25-26, 35-37, 39, 41, 43, 45-48, 51-52, 59 psychoanalysis 84 replica 37, 39-40 Rome 95, 109 Rudaki’s poem on Bukhara 135-36 scales (musical) 152-54 secret 15, 140, 161, 198-204, 206, 218, 240-41 senses 27, 66, 113, 116, 119, 153, 156, 159, 197 sex without being married 142 Shāh-nāme (Ferdowsi’s) 138 smell 116, 124, 127, 129, 136, 159 sovereignty 29, 157, 159-60, 165, 167-68, 172-75 storytelling performance (naqqâli) 131, 138-39, 141 subjectivity 22, 31, 84, 113, 116, 242 touch 27-28, 51, 78, 115-16, 119-22, 124, 126, 128-29, 136, 141, 166, 196 trembling 24, 27, 29-30, 118-19, 164 troubadour 114-15, 117 Turkish music 151 Venice 55, 57-60, 65-70 virtuosity 102, 107, 135, 152, 184