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Blindness and Therapy in Late Medieval French and Italian Poetry

Blindness and Therapy in Late Medieval French and Italian Poetry

Julie Singer
Series: Gallica
Volume: 20
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 250
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  • Book Info
    Blindness and Therapy in Late Medieval French and Italian Poetry
    Book Description:

    This book argues that late medieval love poets, from Petrarch to Machaut and Charles d'Orléans, exploit scientific models as a broad framework within which to redefine the limits of the lyric subject and his body. Just as humoraltheory depends upon princi

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-781-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction: On Rhetoric and Remedy
    (pp. 1-22)

    The author of the hugely influential Aristotelian Problemata, repeatedly translated into Latin and the Romance vernaculars during the last three centuries of the Middle Ages, asks whether humoral imbalances cause disease because they give rise to hyperbole or elleipsis (superfluity or lack).² The semantic overlap between verbal and humoral states, between rhetorical figures and the etiology of disease, is striking. This enticing trace of a common ground shared by the two disciplines begs the question: what is the perceived relationship between medicine and rhetoric in the later Middle Ages? The medical domain’s dependence upon basic rhetorical principles is firmly established...

  6. 1 The Love-Imprint
    (pp. 23-53)

    The eye, according to long-established tradition, is construed as a portal linking the outer, physical world and the inner world of the mind. Nowhere is this communicative liminal function more manifest than in the celebrated illumination that opens the unique manuscript of an anonymous late-thirteenth- or early-fourteenth-century mise en vers of the physician, cleric, and poet Richard de Fournival’s Bestiaires d’amour (BnF ms fr 1951, fol. 1).¹ Personified Memory stands in a gothic arched doorway flanked by two lancets; the disembodied eye floating in the aperture to the left, and the ear in its pendant to the right, give visible...

  7. 2 Medical Blindness, Rhetorical Insight
    (pp. 54-78)

    In the preceding chapter we traced a significant overlap between medical and poetic discourses of eyesight and love. This well-documented intersection of poetic, physical, and physiological constructs of the body is often ascribed in contemporary critical literature, implicitly or explicitly, to a process of poetic ‘medicalization’, as defined in the Introduction. In this chapter, however, we shall see that some medieval writers remark upon this overlap and attribute it, rather, to an inappropriate rhetoricization of medicine. When medical discourses are seen as borrowing the terminology and tools of the writerly arts, poets push back: critiques of medical practitioners’ attempts at...

  8. 3 Irony, or the Therapeutics of Contraries
    (pp. 79-112)

    Late medieval medical texts bear witness to a coherent and complex construct of the eye and its function, and a well-developed typology of ocular dysfunctions identified with an array of diagnostic tools. Fourteenth-century medical and surgical treatments for visual impairment, on the other hand, remain somewhat limited: with ointments and dietary regimens comprising the bulk of therapeutic options, surgeries and eyeglasses are relegated to a last resort. In other words, while late medieval medical theorists have elaborated a standard physiological model of the eye, medical and surgical practitioners have a relatively narrow range of therapies at their disposal, among which...

  9. 4 Metaphor as Experimental Medicine
    (pp. 113-146)

    Contemporary disability theory warns of the danger of metaphorizing physical impairments: Susan Sontag maintains in Illness as Metaphor that ‘the most truthful way of regarding illness – and the healthiest way of being ill – is one most purified of, most resistant to, metaphoric thinking’, while David T. Mitchell and Sharon L. Snyder, in their groundbreaking study Narrative Prosthesis, characterize metaphors of disability as ‘opportunistic’ narrative devices.² That said, in late medieval narrative it is often not just a disability or illness, but also its cure, that is metaphorized. Are such therapies ‘untruthful’ or ‘opportunistic’ as well? Or do they...

  10. 5 Metonymy and Prosthesis
    (pp. 147-186)

    The metaphoric operation performed by the Remede de Fortune’s Esperance – lending textual abstractions to a tangible body in order to render that body whole – lies at the heart of the most ambitious late medieval attempts at the textual healing of blindness. But even as we recognize such phenomena in the writings of Machaut, we must remember that the starkly contrasting language of abstraction and tangibility is already a problematic framework to attempt to apply to medieval texts and bodies: just as medieval medicine is a theoretical more than a practical discipline, grounded in an abstract schema of complexions...

  11. 6 Blindfold Synecdoche
    (pp. 187-210)

    Treatment with likes, despite the less than unqualified success of Machaut’s lyric prosthesis, continues to provide a fruitful avenue for late medieval attempts at rhetorical remedy. In our final group of texts, composed in the mid-fifteenth century, such therapy is effected through the replacement of key terms with a comprehensive, rather than a contiguous, discourse: that is, through synecdoche rather than metonymy. By means of this figure a whole can stand for one of its constituent parts and, as in the works of Martin le Franc, Pierre Michault, Charles d’Orléans, and Simonnet Caillau, a part (afflicted or otherwise) can come...

  12. Epilogue. Just Words
    (pp. 211-214)

    During his Fall 2000 seminar on the Old French language the philologist Edward Montgomery once related a quip he attributed to his mentor, the great Urban T. Holmes, a quip that I cannot help but call to mind as I conclude this investigation into poetic and medical models of the body. At a cocktail party, the Old Man (as Holmes was fondly called in Montgomery’s yarns) was conversing with a physician who wondered why Ph.Ds, though not ‘real’ doctors, were granted that title. ‘Sir’, Holmes is said to have replied, ‘we were called “doctors” back when you were still known...

  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 215-234)
  14. Index
    (pp. 235-238)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 239-240)