Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Debate and Dialogue: Alain Chartier in His Cultural Context

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Debate and Dialogue: Alain Chartier in His Cultural Context

Article excerpt

Emma Cayley, Debate and Dialogue: Alain Chartier in his Cultural Context (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2006). 258 pp. ISBN 978-0-19-929026-0. £56.00.

Emma Cayley has written an excellent book that helps us understand more broadly the literary culture of late medieval France. As her preface points out, this is the first full-length study that reads Alain Chartier's Latin and French works together both from a literary-critical perspective and in the context of the manuscripts in which they appear. Such a comprehensive piece of scholarship was needed, and begins to redress the curious disregard of Chartier's corpus in medieval studies. Other scholars have explored some of the ideas raised here, but in shorter publications limited to certain works, authors, or themes. Cayley has pulled all the threads together. The strength of the book is its elegant combination of three different approaches: readings that bring Chartier's Latin and French production into conversation with each other; broad contextualization of Chartier's work within a theoretically informed discussion of intellectual and literary preoccupations of his day; and serious consideration of what we can learn from the disposition of his texts in the manuscripts that preserve them.

The first chapter lays out in a learned survey the 'literary, legal, and intellectual antecedents of late medieval debate', to quote its subtitle. Cayley uses gaming and playing-field metaphors to explain the intellectual and institutional penchant for poetic competition that lays the groundwork for Chartier and his contemporaries. She argues that 'collaboration through debate was the principal creative mode' in late medieval France (p. 28), a mode which Chartier's texts represent and with which they engage. Her model of a 'collaborative debating community', both figurative and actual, uses theoretical constructs elaborated primarily by Roger Caillois and Pierre Bourdieu. One of her primary literary examples in this chapter is the Cent Ballades of Jean Ie Seneschal. Having established the prevalence of such dialogic cultural practices, she moves in chapter 2 to a close examination of examples of debate in early humanist circles, and discusses extensively the famous Querelle de la Rose in which Christine de Pizan participated. …

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