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Texte et contre-texte pour la période pré-moderne ed. by Nelly Labère (review)
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Texte et contre-texte pour la période pré-moderne. Textes réunis par Nelly Labère. (Scripta mediaevalia, 23.) Bordeaux: Ausonius, 2013. 256pp.

‘Qu’est-ce que le contre-texte?’ is the editor’s framing question (pp. 9, 227). The volume’s fifteen essays furnish a range of answers that make a compelling case overall for using the term as a tool to rethink the categories and supposed norms that we apply to the study of literary texts from the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries. The title’s designation of this period as ‘pré-moderne’ is pertinent in this regard, avoiding a tussle of classification between ‘late medieval’ and ‘early Renaissance’. The primary reference for contre-texte for critics of the premodern period lies in Pierre Bec’s discussion of troubadour poetry and of how, as Nelly Labère sets out in her introduction, the term can embrace both model and counter-model and thereby engage reflection on what constitutes the norms — literary, philological, etc. — of works in this period. There is much play throughout on the polysemy of contre: its capacity to indicate not only what is ‘against’ (a subversion, for example), but also what is ‘apposed’ (should we, for instance, see a given text as a rewriting or as a parody?), or, indeed, what are the relations between same and other, inside and outside, centre and margin. The collection is structured into three sections, addressing first, in two perspicacious essays by Tania Van Hemelryck and Olivier Delsaux, materialities of contre-texte: manuscript spaces that have falsely been treated as marginal (margins and scribal colophons), followed by two essays on dramatic genres, including the sermon joyeux as a particular crucible for reflecting on norms, deviance, and transgression. The second section treats literary motifs and stereotypes, demonstrating, across a range of genres, the complex ways in which scenes and figures function as models, with a given realization defining its own position as well as that of its point of reference in a dialogic relationship. The final, longest section deals with structures of [End Page 388] authorship and authority and feels slightly weaker in its coherence: the term contre-texte is not always addressed directly and seems at times to operate indiscriminately as a synonym for intertextuality or comparative reading. The strongest essays return to and take issue with Bec’s remarks, problematizing contre-texte as an idea while at the same time affirming its usefulness as a critical tool for questioning; for instance, ‘who’ construes the contre? Are we picking up on premodern norms or imposing our own, such as those of canonization, as modern critics? Of particular note is Jelle Koopmans’s provocative essay ‘Contre-textes et contre-sociétés’. This collection makes a valuable contribution to a recent trend for re-evaluating the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries as a literary period and teasing out its specificities beyond neat classifications or binaries (for example, ‘transition’ from manuscript to print — which, moreover, could have received further attention in the materialities section). The essays provide a salutary spur to greater critical self-consciousness, for instance when assessing the intention and impact of a given réécriture, as several raise the question of whether to read the re-writing as serious or ludic (or both). As Koopmans encourages (p. 59), we do well to spend due time refining the precise questions that we ask of our materials.

Helen J. Swift
St Hilda’s College, Oxford