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From Topic to Tale

From Topic to Tale: Logic and Narrativity in the Middle Ages

Eugene Vance
Foreword by Wlad Godzich
Volume: 47
Copyright Date: 1987
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 168
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttsd8g
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  • Book Info
    From Topic to Tale
    Book Description:

    Shows how a rhetorical tradition was transformed into a textual one and ends with a discussion of the relationship between discourse and society.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8247-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. viii-ix)
  4. Foreword: In Memoriam
    (pp. x-xix)
    Wlad Godzich

    “They have tampered with verse,” Mallarmié once wrote with that sense of awe that does not yet know whether it shall give way to righteous wrath at the horror being perpetrated or turn into exhilaration at the boldness of the stroke. Anyone who looks at recent scholarship on the Middle Ages is likely to experience a similar reaction: they have tampered with the Middle Ages, and the anxiety underlying the awe at such sacrilegious behavior does not know whether to experience the rush of release or to cower in fear of the consequences. Why should this be so? What is...

  5. Introduction
    (pp. xx-2)

    With the surge of vernacular literacy in the second half of the twelfth century, many enduring types, forms, and codes of what, for lack of a better term, we commonly call “medieval literature” permanently embedded themselves in European culture. The extraordinary dynamism of secular vernacular letters at that time corresponded to mutations in the social order that were no less radical: for instance, the rise of urbanism, the division of the labor force, the monetarization of social relationships, the articulation of a new class consciousness, the exploitation of writing and accounting as new instruments of political power, and the emergence...

  6. Chapter 1 From Grammatica to a Poetics of the Text
    (pp. 3-13)

    That a poet named Chrétien existed, that he composed vernacular narrative poems in writing, and that he was alitteratusin the sense that he could also translate and exploit such classicalauctoresas Virgil and Ovid, are all facts beyond dispute. Chriétien names both himself in his functions asconteurandrimoyeurand his courtly patrons (Marie de Champagne and Philippe de Flandres), and he links the name “Chrétien” with a specific corpus of vernacular poems and translations from the Latin.¹

    Obviously, to claim that Chrétien was “literate” is to suppose that he possessed far more than the manual...

  7. Chapter 2 De voir dire mot le conjure: Dialectics and Fictive Truth
    (pp. 14-27)

    Chretien’s romances express more than one hermeneutical concept pertaining to the relationship betweenmatière, language, and truth, or, in more philosophical terms, between things, words, and intellect. For this reason Chrétien’s art may be seen as a crossroad of different epistemological trends in twelfth-century culture in general and in the discipline ofgrammaticain particular.

    On the one hand, we find in his art the persistence of a conservative and fundamentally Augustinian hermeneutics, a mystical one to the extent that the perception of truth was above all an operation of the charitable human will that is rewarded by divine illumination....

  8. Chapter 3 Selfhood and Substance in Erec et Enide
    (pp. 28-40)

    The play of oxymoron and of thematic opposition is a strong feature of Chrétien’s narrative art, as it is of all courtly poetry. However, whenever Chrétien indulges conspicuously in a poetic convention, we may expect that he does so with a lucid artistic strategy in mind. Chrétien is not only a writer who experiments whenever he writes, but also one who draws his audience into the processes of invention and understanding, both through intrusions of the narrative voice into his stories and through dramatizations of the life of the mind in his fictive heroes.

    In the case of oxymoron, Chrétien...

  9. Chapter 4 Topos and Tale
    (pp. 41-52)

    If we grant first that Chrétien presents heroes for whom proper perception and argumentation are modes of action in their own right and second that Chrétien similarly challenges his audience with narrative situations and with constructions of plot which carry what we may call a hermeneutical imperative, then much remains to be said about the closely related processes of finding or “inventing” (inveniendi) these arguments and of evaluating (iudicandi) them.

    Traditionally, the art of finding and evaluating arguments belongs to the theory of topics.¹ The English word "topic" is, of course, a very diffuse way of translating the Greek topos...

  10. Chapter 5 Si est homo, est animal
    (pp. 53-79)

    It is possible to find many correspondences between dialectical topics and the underlyingconjointuresof Chrétien’s narrative syntax—and also, to find conspicuous defiances of topically based truths posed at the narrative surface of Chrétien’s fictive universe. For a poet to challenge the established authority of logical discourse is not necessarily to repudiate it, but may be seen as an effective strategy for valorizing the vernacular poetic as an autonomous mode of apprehending reality. Perhaps I may generalize and suggest that no new discourse, poetic or otherwise, can establish itself within a preexisting network of other discourses in a community...

  11. Chapter 6 From Man-Beast to Lion-Knight: Difference, Kind, and Emblem
    (pp. 80-108)

    Chrétien’s understanding ofconjointureas the potential—not merely to dramatize unstated relationships between objects, circumstances, or episodes in his narrative, but to conceive hismatièretopically — meant that he could understand narrative relationships abstractly: as “places” that are “empty” because they can subsist in the intellect independently of the specific content that can “fill” them. The abstractness of topicalconjointure, understood as the primary condition of truth in narrative, made it possible for Chrétien to refract the single, topically conceived relationship between a “special” man and his generic animality through many different circumstantial perspectives, and also to invoke...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 111-124)
  13. Index
    (pp. 127-131)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 132-133)