- Vernacular and Latin Literary Discourses of the Muslim Other in Medieval Germany by Jerold C. Frakes
The Muslim Other is a topic that merits the attention given it by Jerold C. Frakes in this recent study. The author of the present volume seeks to “add a missing (medieval German) piece to the puzzle” of “representing the Muslim Other” (xi–xii) by drawing on selected, key texts from the tenth to the thirteenth centuries. In dealing with the topic, Frakes chooses a hagiographic legend in verse by Hrothsvit von Gandersheim, the Ludus de Antichristo, Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Willehalm and Parzival, as well as lyrics by Walther von der Vogelweide. This choice enables Frakes to examine accepted judgments and to raise new questions concerning literary and cultural texts written during a range of time across several centuries [End Page 367] and represented by varying literary forms. In this way Frakes is able to consider variables that have not been fully examined in previous investigations dealing, at least in part, with the Muslim Other.
Application of theoretical and cultural models in literary analysis has often left the medieval period by the wayside. In contrast, the present study, and those it seeks to amplify, examines a preliminary one-dimensional view of the Muslim Other in the medieval period followed in the twelfth century by its alleged, gradual transformation through a series of texts and their chronological shifts in perspective. In his review of these literary works, and in various analyses that would argue for a graduated tolerance of the Muslim Other, Frakes introduces a discussion of Edward Said’s now-Classic conceptions of “Orientalism.” In his chapter on “Discourses of the Muslim Other” (pp. 11–46), Frakes reviews the fundamentals of Said’s model and its relevance as a tool of criticism in medieval studies. On this point, the author provides a useful overview of those scholarly positions that have taken issue with implications of Said’s thesis. As an example, Frakes considers at some length the difficulties that have been raised by a number of critics concerning chronology, most importantly the feasibility of applying Orientalism “as a political praxis … at any time before the period of European capitalist ‘expansion,’ that is, conquest and colonialism beginning in the late fifteenth century” (p. 18). While reminding his readers first that the discourse of Orientalism does not reflect an exact or truthful reproduction of an original as much as a “mediated form” (p. 15) that relys, for example, on styles and figures of speech, Frakes proceeds to weigh those critical responses concerning a pre-fifteenth-century application. Useful here is the variety of disciplines considered, all of which could be reflected in literary expression as fundamental to the texts under consideration. Frakes points justifiably to the difficulties of academic periodization, as exemplified by James Muldoon’s thesis on the implications of European expansion and colonization existing already during the “long centuries of the Crusades” (p. 25). With these theoretical models and cautionary guidelines established, Frakes outlines his own concerns leading to the works he has chosen, these being derived partly from the traditions of courtly and Crusader epic as well as from associated lyric poetry. His analyses are then introduced as providing a ground for examining cultural engagement and confrontation with the ultimate question of individual transformation of the Other.
In his first two examples, Frakes presents a sober assessment not only of both texts during the context of their provenance but also of significant research that has broached the issues of immediate concern to his own theses. After discussing Hrotsvit’s version of Pelagius in relation to other, early examples of the legend, Frakes addresses possible depictions of the Muslim Other. Since the monochromatic representation of Muslims as evil has been questioned by some scholars based on an understanding of terminology used in the text, Frakes confronts the possibility of a multilayered representation of the Other in Hrotsvit’s legend. The narrative is conceded to be rife...