The Future of the Middle Ages: Medieval Literature in the 1990s

The Future of the Middle Ages: Medieval Literature in the 1990s

The Future of the Middle Ages: Medieval Literature in the 1990s

The Future of the Middle Ages: Medieval Literature in the 1990s


"A unique witness to a debate central to medieval studies caught in all the fire of its initial explosion but tempered by the invitation to seek what the future may hold.... The issues are... embedded in a context that orients them in new directions."--Margaret Switten, Mount Holyoke College

In these spirited essays, contributors across a broad spectrum reassess the study of the Middle Ages in the context of today's rapidly changing world. They address concerns ranging from the impact of the end of the cold war on medieval studies to the relationship between philology and twentieth-century poetry, to new views of the long-term history of sexuality.
At the crux of the discussion lies the problem of how editors should treat the medieval text, the subject of renewed debate between scholars who believe that the editor and the printed book must enter into the reader's perception of the text and those who advocate a more direct analysis of the medieval manuscript source. The primary focus is on the study of the Middle Ages in France, but areas of concern extend to Spain, Italy, and Germany.
Because the book includes disagreement and competing views of the state of medieval studies today, it allows the reader to gauge the breadth and depth of the debate and to anticipate directions of future study.

Scholars at a Perilous Ford, by William D. Paden
A Philological Invention of Modernism: Menéndez Pidal, Garcéa Lorca, and the Harlem Renaissance, by Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht
Is There a New Textual Philology in Old French? Perennial Problems, Provisional Solutions, by Peter F. Dembowski
The Future of Old French Studies in America: The "Old" Philology and the Crisis of the "New," by Rupert T. Pickens
Philology and Its Discontents, by Stephen G. Nichols
Beyond the Borders of Nation and Discipline, by Joan M. Ferrante
Old French Literature and the New Medievalism, by R. Howard Bloch

William D. Paden is professor of French and chair, Department of French and Italian, Northwestern University. He is coeditor of The Poems of the Troubadour Bertran de Born and editor of The Voice of the Trobairitz: Perspectives on the Women Troubadours and of the two-volume edition of The Medieval Pastourelle, which was named a Choice Outstanding Academic Book 1988-89.


The practice of philology, whatever the particular domain or approach, expresses an impulse to reach toward alterity, and specifically toward the past. Such an impulse springs from a bundle of affects, both subtle and powerful, which are susceptible to influence by subtle or powerful changes in the world. Therefore, as philologists respond differently to the course of contemporary history, their impulses toward the past will differ, and they will plunge into controversy or polemic among themselves. the advancing present continually rewrites the past through a process involving discussion, diversity, and dissent.

The events of May 1968, on and around the boulevard Saint- Michel in Paris, created reverberations among a generation of French scholars and intellectuals who felt the need to make a sharp break with the past, recent or remote. More than twenty years later this conviction reached expression in philology with the publication ofBernard Cerquiglini Éloge de la variante: Histoire critique de la philologie (1989), which scandalized conservative champions of historical continuity. When Cerquiglini's jacobinism echoed across the Atlantic in 1990, it aroused among contributors to a special issue of Speculum and their readers the same range of feelings from triumph to outrage, feelings which were complicated by an overlay ranging from sympathy to hostility toward the spirit of '68. Since this specular response occurred in the United States, where medieval European culture is more distant from political turmoil than in Europe, it was no doubt less political and more cerebral than its sources of inspiration in Paris.

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