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kugence Vance. FROM TOPIC

TO TALE: LOGIC AND NARRATIVI- TY IN THE MIDDLE AGES. Foreword bv Wład Godzich. University of Minne- sota Press: Minncapolis 1987, pp, NXXIII. 131.

Eugene Vances book shouid be wełcomced by both medievalists and tho- se interested in the history of literary ideas as one of the still rather few stu- dies of medieval vernacular poetics in the context of contemporary linguistic science, Medievalists will profit from

it on the conceptual apparatus which enabied :nedicval poets to compose their works as thev did. Historians of lite- rary thought, on the other hand, may be led into some hitherto unacknowled- ged intellectual foundations of poetics —

separate discipline ot study.

which began only to emerge as such in the remote Middle Ages.

cnough. out of tririum it is

now a

Innovatively the

three arts of the rhe-

torie which is seen by Vance as part not

cularly influential on poeties, but logic

operaing through the channels of


Vance's discussion of the

fiction fictive truth as developing under the impact of dialectics is espe-

Mluminatling. Following the geno- ral critical consensus as to the cultural shift from orality to literacy during the twelfth-century Renaissance and as- susnung the related

mnatice upon literature, he suggests that that influence began to carry logical concepts into the art of poetic discourse after tne infiltration of dialec- tics into grammar in the first half of the twelfth century. Thus, the grammar

notions of and


influence of yram-


which Chretien de Troves was most di- rectly familiar with was logical gra:n- mar, and Vance argues that. as a re- sulłt, the rules governing the praduction of both grammaticał as well as ać


logi- discourse began to operate also iu the sphere of narrative compo-ition.

He draws a number of supgestive analogics, He conpares a logica: argu- ment, defined as "a sequence of pro- positions”, to a "kernel storw' unders- tood as a "discrete discursive unit made up of a sequence of narrative state-

(p. 20). Like the truth argument. *"[..] the truth of a series of consignificant. fictive events is inherent to narrative discourse itself.

and not to reality.” (p. 20) Furthermore,

"both a proposition and a narrative sta- tement reflect 'happenings' which are above all menta! phenomena. (.) in that they express 'phantasies' or presen- tations of reality to the mind.” ip. 20..

The new notion of truth

proposed by Vance for medieva! poetics liberate poetry. he clalms, from the constraints of referentiality.

Yet in my opinion this is only partlw For though such constraints are removed as far as material reality is concerned, thev still persist in relation to the realm of The concept of reflection present in the last oż tne for- mulations quoted above entails separa-

the of thinkizg and

writing: the writer conveys the thoughts already formed jn his

discoursc. The source of creatiritw, and of 'mcaning, is seen,

the lterary text

mind. This not Vance s

point about the essential textuality of Chretien's poetics, but also calls for an ments or ewents"

of an


stems to



tion of processes

into mind

implicitily, not in but in the


writer s only



appropriate theory of imagination which would account for the birth of new ideas in the poet's intellect.

Moreover, in linking poetics with dialectics so radically there is a poten- tial danger of reducing the former to the status of a branch of logic. Vance solves this problem by proposing a dy- namic view of that relationship. He emphasizes time and again that Chre- tien's marratives should be regarded as a conscious transgression of dialectical principles and that *Chretien seems concerned to assign epistemological li- mits to the claims of logical truth in*

his fiction, that is, to show us that fiction can perfectly well include logi- cal necessities without being constrai- ned by them” (p. 21). This emphasis on the spirit of autonomy in Chrćtien's re- lationship to logic endows his poetics with a dynamism which is further il- luminated by Vance's recognition of multiple influences on his art. It is es- pecially manifest in the presentation of logic and rhetoric as opposite forces differently shaping Chrótien's poetics (ct. p. 23). The dynamic view of the interaction between poetic discourse and other types of discourse provides an ex- cellent theoretical framework for the analysis of specific romances.

The very nature of romance and of courtly ethiecs is convincingly discussed by Vance in relation to logic. He shows change to be an essential element of romance on various levels of its struc- ture, a feature which distinguishes ro- mance from the earlier heroic epic. He argues that the new possibility of dra- wing characters as dynamic, changea- ble beings, as well as the possibility of perceiving signs as equivocal and even as containing contrary meanings was due to the logical distinction between the unchangeable substance and varying ac- cidents. Thus, romance can be defined as "an art of the accident—aventure—

—which *happens' to or in a noble pri- mary substance, for instance, a knight who now fights and now loves” (p. 30).

A new concept of heroic honour is also Recenzie

possible, one that is not exclusively based on the hero's constancy and pro- wess on the battlefield but which en- compasses also his activities as a true servant of love. The very vocabulary of courtly erotic poetry is characterized by a number of oxymorons of which the opposition between joie and dolor may be considered representative. Such a coexistence of contraries in one human being and within the scope of one psy- chological state may again be attribu- ted, Vance argues, to the subtleties of the dialectical reasoning of the day.

Lastly, he views Chrćtien's creation of the merveilleux as his conscious exploi- tation and contestation of the logical criteria of necessity and probability. In sum, logic is regarded here as a power- ful formative factor of romance narra- tive form and of courtly ethics.

Furthermore, Vance reflects upon the role of medieval logic on a more abstract level of general and theoreti- cal poetics. Namely, he suggests that dialectical topics provided medieval wri- ters with a set of general rules of nar- rative construction and that it therefore constituted a kind of metarhetoric or metafiction. He points to the difference between the notion of topics as introdu- ced by Curtius and the medieval me- aning of topics as a branch of logic. He claims, moreover, that Chretien was in- fluenced not so much by rhetorical to- pics, which taught how to find argu- ments concerning circumstances and facts, as by the more theoretical dialec- tical topics which defined universal and abstract laws of reasoning. Vance describes this discipline as *those lat- tent ([sic!] rules of composition which guarantee the possibility of fiction as being formally and logically true. Wit- hout making claims for its being onto- logically true in the same way as to- pics allow logicians to construct purely hypothetical syllogisms such as 'if all human beings are wood and all wood is stone, all human beings are stone”

(pp. 47—48). At this point Vance once again emphasizes that Chrćtien, far


Recenz:e Il:

from being constrained bv dialectcal his distinctian between sens and con- laws. is interested rather in "construc- jolntrure «s not quite clear, it mav be ting scenes where norms ot belief are gathere:t that the latiev teru relecs ta

belied by the the

ceptional and the marvelous" (p. 52).

circumstances of CX-

'Theoreticat considerations ot the book

tyvsos of

arc supported by illustratiwe kuidc and Yrwn.

arca of


roc et Van-

ce regaras the poreeption: br

both the poet and bus characiers of the equivocał worłd of romance as the man

dialectical influence on

sphere of poc -

tics. A protaponists ontołogicał and sa- ciał status, his or her actens and rnora!

character, as well as emmblerns and sXIn- bols

to interpretation and engage the facultx the

the argues, and the subtleties ot the between substance and surrounding them are all subject

of rational other characters Erec ct Enide, makes


judgenent on and of Vance his characters


part of reader. In Chretien audience


distinetion AaCCi-

dents, and the ersuing possibiłty of the existence of contraries within sub-

Accidental presented

by Chretien first in the sphere of social rolos


stance, change is

and then on a gical level in the

of Yrain

deeper. psycholło- heroes” lives. In his

analysis Vance

the le checalier au

are al topic

demonstrates how various episodes of Yrain ou

lion, differing in related to the

"from species".


tent, single abs-

tract and

example of its maximal proposition: cif it is

espe- cially to the classical

a kuman.

the course of the story human basic anirna- litv is first established step by step. up to the point of

it is an animal He shows how in

the degradation of Yvain te a forest beast,

next the

and how it is into the final

ideal social

perfected image of

hero as an animal.

Vance's investigation of the dialec- tical determinants of Chretien's poetics leads him to an interesting redefinition of the much debated terms "sens" and

sśconjointure'. First of all, he is able to divorce them from any notion of onta- logical referentialitiv and to treat them as the functions of the internal, syntag- matic organization of the test. Although

8 Zasadnicnia rodzajow lu

tho network ol internat textuał rela- tonship». while the forrner ta te >ue- aning wiich ture: related parts o the text consigrify cr. p. 225 The analysis

kob ol

2 a

ot Yrain ii: the uiuloct:cal to- pics leads Wance further abstrac- tion of the meanine of conjointure which how comnes to be understood as a pat- tern o purclw abstract nurratice rcia- tonships which are "places that are c©mnpty' because thes can subsist in

inmdebende.tiv cho otie spo

the intellect '

cific content that can cFuU śkem © dp. s0n.

Nance ireats the probiem ot refe- rontiality historicallv, implving that while it was overcome by Chretiens dialectica! poetics, it was nevertheless a determining factor in traditional epic.

Yet does the fact that epic discourse served also as a discourse or history entail roferentiality It may equally

well suggest that historical events

in the earlier period

were presented as

faithful to the objective truth but were shaped in accordance with the epic vi- sion of the world. The sa:ne holds true for the later period us well, as witnes-


sed, for cxampie, by Froissarts chroni- cies. "The question ol _ referentiality seems to be central to the very con- cept of a lterarv wors as Sue irrc- spectiwe af the epoch in which it is

paradox in argues for the the demand for refercntiali- tv in Chretien's poetics, he himself un- derstands literature as a

its cultural

produced. There is a fact that

absence of

the while Vance

retlection of ce. p. RAM.

Unfortunately, he does not sperify what precisely he


context (ef.

words such as

*referentialitv'. As it is, means by


contain a his rnain argument seernśs to

contradiction. On the one hand, fietive discourse is presented in terms o: hyv- pothetical narrative statements, subpo- sedlvy devoid of anv external r-feren- ces, and on the other hand, romance 1s

"for under-tan- SXIID).

understood as a model

ding and expressing reality" (p.

rackich ton XXXII z. 2 (Gy



Such a contradiction results, I think, from the lack of a definite methodolo- gical standpoint on the author's part.

He implicitly assumes the position of the historical-theoretical study of me- dieval poetics, which is based solely on medieval cultural and intellectual cate- gories. Such an approach in its pure form is, however, utopian since no one is able to shun altogether the cate- gories of one's own culture. Besides, the medieval categories themselves cannot be accepted unreservedly as the best possible key to medieval literature. As a result, Vance's study is based, not al- ways coherently, both on medieval as- sumptions as well as on those of the general-theoretical approach. The influ- ence of the latter is manifest in his preoccupation with signs in the last chapter where he gradually departs from the main concerns of the book, engaging himself in strictly semiotic considerations, The impact of semiotics and structuralism is also evident in his treatment of romance as a system de- termined by other external systems such as those derived from grammar, rhetoric, and dialectics.

Nevertheless, the most manifest modern theoretical influence can be ob- served in Vance's discussion of the textuality of medieval poetics. He con- siders that textuality to have been a product of the power of grammatica which for him seems to be synonymous not only with literacy and writing, but also with literature. He presents gram- matica as a literary universe within which medieval romances could come into being, and even more than that, as a shaping force of social and political organization. Thus, both the cultural re- ality and the poem which reflects it are viewed as products of the pervasi- ve influence of grammatica in the me- dieval world. Although Vance claims that there exists a difference between medieval textuality and modern the- ories of writing, this difference is not manifest in his book.

Moreover, the thesis about the cen- Recenzje

tral role of grammatica in the emer- gence of medieval vernacular poetics is not illustrated convincingly enough. In Chapter One, *From Grammatica to a Poetics of the Text”, where he discus- ses the meaning and characteristics of medieval grammar, he fails to show precisely the significance of those fea- tures for poetics, Only one aspect of grammar, the fact that it involved an active reading and interpretation of in- herited texts, is related here to the poetics of romance. He suggests that the hermeneutical attitudes of Biblical exegetes as well as interpreters of pagan auctores were now transferred by Chre- tien to his own vernacular and secular writing, and that they contributed to the development of such literary pheno- mena characteristic of romance poetry as the distinction between the past ten- se of the inherited story and the pre- sent tense of the interpreting narrator, and the corresponding distinction bet- ween history and story. The proposal of linking Latin exegesis of authorized Biblical as well as pagan writers witn the formation of vernacular poetics is very interesting, though "not entirely new. Similar influences have already been suggested for English vernacular poetics of the second half of the four- teenth century (cf. J. B. Allen, The Et- hical Poetic of the Later Middle Ages.

University of Toronto Press, 1982; A. J.

Minnis, Medieval Theory of Authorship, London 1984). While Vance's suggestions find firm support in those two studies, he also implies that the processes of transferrence of exegetical attitudes to vernacular secular writing, observable in English Literature in the second half of the fourteenth century, may have al- ready started to take place in French literature two centuries earlier.

It is to be regretted that Vance does not pursue in greater detail the' transition from grammatica to a poetics of the text. Despite his theoretical as- sumptions, in his presentation of Chre- tien's poetics he tends to depart further and further away from medieval gram-




mar and to rely more and more on his own general convictions of a modern critic. His statement on page 6 is indi- cative of this: "Like the literature of most periods in our culture, medieval vernacular poetry tends both to fictio- nalize the process of its own begetting and to celebrate in its heroes cognitive processes that reflect the author's own”.

This opinion may be quite correct, and yet one wonders to what extent its au- thor may see medieval literature as a replica of his own critical tools and convictions. This is of course a peren- nial problem of literary study, but Van- ce's book, in its levelling of modern and medieval categories, does not help to solve it.

"In sum, the book seems to me strongest on logic and narrativity, and it succeeds in illuminating their mutual interaction, Its all too general discussion of the textual dimension of medieval culture, however, despite the many fascinating ideas which it contains, does not contribute to the clarity of the main issue and might perhaps be put aside as material for another study. Fi- nally, the methodological eclecticism of the book prevents its author from gi- ving us more fully persuasive insights into the status of medieval fiction.

Barbara Kowalik, Lublin

„Roman”. N* 8. Debats sur le roman aujourd'hui. Revue trimestrielle. Presse de la Renaissance. Paris 1984, ss. 183+

+ 1nlb.

Paryski kwartalnik „Roman” to pis- mo oddane sprawom powieści. Zamiesz- cza prozę, artykuły o powieściopisarst- wie, przeglądy, wywiady, materiały nie- publikowane, np. listy. Poszczególne ze- szyty są na ogół poświęcone konkret- nym tematom. Na przykład kreacji po- staci powieściowej, problemom zawodu pisarza, zagadnieniom pokolenia, „sło- wom i obrazom” (język i film). Autora- mi znacznej części tekstów są uczestni- cy dyskusji. Pismo redaguje zespół zło-

żony z sześciu osób: Francois Coupry — redaktor naczelny oraz pisarzy: Claude Delarue, Jean-Pierre Enard, Erik Or- senna, Rafael Pividal i Catherine Ri- hoit (pracownik naukowy uniwersytetu).

Wszyscy — z wyjątkiem Orsenny — uczestniczyli w dyskusji zamieszczonej w omawianym numerze pisma. Dysku- sja ta odbywała się jednak w szerszym gronie uczestników; oprócz wymienio- mych wzięli udział w niej również Alain Absire, Georges-Olivier Chateaureynaud, Alain Nadaud, Alexis Salatko, Alain Demouzon, Serge Koster, Francois Ri- viere, Jacques Bens, Michel Chaillou, Jacques Teboul, Frederik Tristan, Jean- Joseph Goux (pracownik naukowy uni-

wersytetu), Jean-Didier Wagneur, Pier-

re-Robert Leclercq, Jean-Luc Moreau;

J. D. Wagneur i J. L. Moreau to pra- cownicy „Radio-Gilda”.

Zeszyt ósmy ! jest publikacją spe- cjalną, omawiającą współczesne powie- ściopisarstwo. Zarejestrowane niemal w całości głosy dyskusji okrągłego stołu nie były autoryzowane (s. 4). Dyskusja toczyła się na przełomie czerwca i lipca 1984 roku w lokalu stowarzyszenia pisa- rzy. W publikacji poszczególne jej eta- py zostały poprzedzone efektywnym opi- sem miejsca i czasu oraz błyskotliwą charakterystyką uczestników przez R.

Pividala. Wśród komplementujących epi- tetów pod adresem osób nie zabrakło trafnych, nieraz i cierpkich, ocen sensu rezultatu polemik. Pośród głównych zagadnień znalazły się różne kwestie ty- czące powieści jako gatunku, traktowa- nego równorzędnie z innymi dziedzina- mi kultury jak film czy teatr oraz ty- czące zadań, pozycji 'i specyfiki po-


. *

A oto przegląd ważniejszych czy ra- czej charakterystycznych punktów dys- kusji.

'Nie dysponując innymi numerami

„Roman trudno ocenić, czy recenzowany zeszyt i w jakiej mierze jest reprezenta- tywny dla tego pisma. Chyba, że to po- wieść?...


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