- Negotiating Heritage: Memories of the Middle Ages
Covering an incredibly extensive range of media and eras, Negotiating Heritage explores the ways in which notions or elements of the past have been used, rewritten, adopted and (deliberately) expunged from the historical and cultural record. Specifically, it considers the constructs of the medieval period – both during the medieval period itself and subsequent reinterpretations and re-uses of the medieval across the Renaissance, Early Modern and beyond.
The overall focus is memory, which gives the collection of articles a good hook: memory is approached in a collective, cultural sense, from the echoes of the Seven Deadly Sins in the musicality of Kurt Weill to the incorporation of medieval architecture in modern buildings. Explorations of memorials (tombs, rituals, folklore, and foundations) also abound.
The editors clearly understand the pitfalls of such a broad, interdisciplinary approach. They have provided not only an overarching focus in memory, but have categorized the essays into four sections: Authority and Heritage', 'Ritual Commemoration', 'Memory and Oblivion' and 'Artistic Negotiations with the Medieval Heritage'. Each has an introductory overview to help explicate the connections and synergies between them.
However, at times the connections are somewhat forced, and only about half the articles really touch on memory in any explicit way. This is more apparent in the last section, 'Artistic Negotiations with the Medieval Heritage' which more firmly explores cultural appropriations of the medieval than any consideration of memory. Moreover, although the introductions to each of the four 'sections' are well written and highly useful for getting a sense of the theoretical framing of the section, they also come with the all-too-typical quotes from revered sources on the matter: The Bible, Nietzsche, Aristotle, Burke, et al. The framing quotes add another layer of academic obfuscation to the ideas behind the articles – the reader feels the need to be a exegetical scholar, a Nietzsche expert, and so on, in order to make sense of the overall direction of the collection. Indeed, this general tendency is seen across the collection, rendering the individual articles and the four topical introductions minefields of references and casual allusions. [End Page 193]
That being said, the collection as a whole is delightful, and the sheer breadth involved stimulates the reader's mind: there are so many different approaches to lose yourself in! Many of the articles provide enough academic and historical context to make the arguments clear, despite the fact it seems unlikely any given reader would be an expert in fields from music to architecture to mausoleums to pageantry. Some are harder going than others, and tend to be written for a decidedly expert audience. Again, there is always this general tendency 'to sound academic' lurking behind the scenes of the majority of the collection which brings the reader up short.
The first four essays, by Bruun, Munster-Swendsen, Andree and Bruhn, all deal primarily with the use of memory and heritage within power dynamics, from the self-identity of Citeaux to the fiction of Chrétien de Troyes. These are some of the most well-argued and interesting essays in the collection – certainly providing the most coherent meta-narrative of the book. Verbaal, Pranger and Bossuyt all sadly suffer from the above lack of context: as a non-expert it is hard to make complete sense of what they present, and there is not enough authorial 'handholding'. At the same time, their essays on ritual and oblivion (the need to forget) are fascinating, even if this reader got the feeling there was some argument forever out of reach. The last section is a reverse-image of the first, with the six essays lacking a real connection with one another: a shame as individually they are coherent, well argued and interesting. The last essay is, again, well-argued and interesting, but it does not have much to say. Essentially Kabir contends that scholars and folk historians recently...