Hunting for Textual Bodies: Rethinking the Relationship between the Poetic Voice and Manuscript Matter

Date: 5 June 2017
Time: 5:30 p.m.
Location: UVA Special Collections
Lecturer: Deborah McGrady - Associate Professor of French, University of Virginia

This talk will focus on a scrappy codex currently housed in the Turin State Archives (AS, J.b.IX.10) that contains nearly 300 French lyrics and that is the product of many hands and voices from the fifteenth through the eighteenth centuries. In spite of its courtly content, the codex is deceptively humble. Its form is reminiscent of an account ledger, its paper is torn and stained, it exhibits frequently illegible penmanship and occasional juvenile flourishes. Multiple hands populate the pages; they add new works, rewrite past entries, retroactively claim ownership by providing an author’s name, and, in some cases, materially express the frustrations of writing complicated verse. In all of these moments, “textual bodies” emerge; that is, identities that speak out as creations and creators of the corpus that has been stitched together and identified as a whole. I shall consider three such examples: an eighteenth-century bookseller eager to repurpose the work, a late-medieval owner who takes possession of the anthology-in-progress, and an enigmatic poet who stakes out new territory for himself. What can this patchwork of hands and voices tell us about the intimate relationship between making, composing, and reading so-called courtly poetry? How might we use this humble and damaged booklet to rethink the circulation of poetry, the vitality of the material artifact, and the desire to inscribe oneself in and define oneself through the written word? In short, can this motley and neglected codex teach us how to breathe life into the artifacts that represent a past literary community?