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Introduction. The Troubadours in Italy

From: Tenso
Volume 28, Numbers 1-2, Spring-Fall 2013
pp. 3-5 | 10.1353/ten.2013.0004

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

May 14, 2010, Kalamazoo, Michigan: a far cry from the medieval French midi, and from Italy too for that matter, but the occasion which first brought together these four presentations on "The Troubadours in Italy," published here in the order in which they were presented. Individually and collectively these papers contribute new insights into the fascinating story of how the Italians helped to transform a series of Occitan poets and singers into "the troubadours." In particular, they show how that story tugs at the concepts of space and time.

To begin with that of space, these papers all remind us that in some respects Occitania is simply not a place. Or that rather, as Occitan became a prestige language, it came to carry its own place around with it. Everyone, says Raimon Vidal in a passage quoted by Courtney Wells, wants to participate in the production and enjoyment of troubadour poetry; one can be Catalan or Italian and still be an Occitan troubadour. Occitania is a cultural home, not a political or geographical one. Anyone can be welcomed into it, provided they can learn the language of its poetry. There comes the rub: Occitan may have universal appeal, but mastery of it requires a passage through Latin, a language which is universal in the quite different sense of being both the object and the medium of learning, and which as a gateway is therefore somewhat restrictive. Chansonnier P, as Wells affirms, is a manuscript whose remit is to provide exactly this kind of controlled access.

Whereas Wells shows how P sets out to capture Occitan in the net of Latin pedagogy, Charmaine Lee documents the different ways in which its narrative texts were transmitted and consumed depending on the area where they were copied. The dynamics of Occitan stories that are typically retained or enhanced in copies made in the south of France give way, in Italy, to a more lyrical treatment in which passages with sentimental content are more likely to be copied than whole texts. This confirms them, in the eyes of Italian consumers, as more "Occitan," since narrativity is associated with Frenchness. "Occitanity," like "Frenchness," is thus a generic construct, not a geographical one. By the time of Dante, Sarah Spence's paper suggests, the abstracting, lyricizing developments presented in the two previous papers have run their course; Occitan has been cut loose from any spatial anchorage to become a language of love intelligible to all those who seek to understand it. Her interpretation of the Purgatory argues, however, that in Dante's eyes Occitan is now no longer the vernacular's most universal and desirable form. In Dante's vision, moreover, the summit of vernacularity does indeed have a geography—that of a summit, no less. The "language of Si," Spence argues, can be identified with the topography and regions of Italy. But even now the sense of space that emerges is highly fungible. Sicilian and Tuscan are curiously superimposed both on one another and on Cicero's ideal of Roman rhetoric so as to achieve a new kind of (Italian) universality.

The papers so far trace the detachment of Occitan from any locatable geographical home, but they do so by following a spatial continuum from the French midi down into Italy. William Paden's contribution confirms that Italian scholarship on the troubadours is grounded in the experience of contiguity and overlap; the situation of an American Occitanist is, by contrast, one of discontinuity. The trajectory from Narbonne to the Veneto or Sicily is nothing like that from Narbonne to Kansas. Whereas the Italians, Paden points out, use a variety of metonymies and mediations to claim ownership of the troubadours, denizens of Kansas who read the troubadours for the first time feel (in his words) as if they are "walking on the moon." Such disparity may strengthen Americans' appreciation of the troubadours. As Paden observes, Native American toponyms precede those of European settlers by only a short time span. The same territory is successively coded in terms of two different and linguistically remote cultures, each visible to the other by virtue of their radical separation. Is it obvious that the transition-free assimilation of Occitania into...


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