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Reviewed by:
  • Figures de l'oubli (IVe-XVIe siècle)
  • Philip E. Bennett
Figures de l'oubli (IVe-XVIe sie`cle). Edited by Patrizia Romagnoli and Barbara Wahlen. (Special issue of Études de Lettres, 276.1-2 (2007)). Lausanne: Universite´ de Lausanne, 2007. 358 pp. Pb CHF 26.00.

This themed issue of a periodical gathers fifteen essays exploring the relationship of forgetfulness, or forgetting, and memory from St Augustine's Confessions, Book x, which Philippe Frieden analyses, to Montaigne, whose Essais, according to Teresa Chevrolet, are founded on the essayist's view that forgetting the factual detail of citations is vital to remembering and assimilating arguments. One other article concerns the sixteenth century, that of Michel Jourde, 'L'Invendu', which analyses not so much forgetfulness but the fear of misrepresentation that authors and editors felt when confronted by the capacity of the new technology of printing for rapidly disseminating faulty and slipshod work. On a related theme Tania Van Hemelryck analyses colophons and other paratexts in manuscripts to argue that scribes actively worked to suppress the personality of authors in the works they transcribed, but this both minimizes the broad range of scribal activity and takes inadequate account of how authors inscribed themselves into their texts from the twelfth century on, not just in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. However, the article usefully reopens the debate on early notions of intellectual property. The remaining articles deal with thematics of twelfth- to fifteenth-century literature, most, in one degree or another, exploring the paradox that forgetting implies the memorialization of what is to be forgotten. One difficulty that all the authors in the volume encountered is the polysemy of oublier and its compounds in medieval French. So the syntagma 'ne pas oublier [son] enseigne' in Yasmina Foehr-Janssens's 'Entre amnésie et amnistie' seems to have less to do with memory than with the practical idea of 'failing to use', while s'entr'oublier implies falling into an ecstatic trance, being unaware of the present, not forgetting the past. A number of contributors — Michelle Szkilnik, Romaine Wolf-Bonvin, Francine Mora, Barbara Wahlen — explore the effects that authors can produce by contrasting the evident failure of characters appearing in single [End Page 481] romances, or in whole series of romances, to remember previous adventures with the memory and understanding of the implications of those adventures shown by their narrators. The complicity established between author-narrator and public allows a variety of moral and aesthetic judgements to be made on characters and on the genre itself. Two articles, those of Jean-Claude Mühlethaler and Christopher Lucken, discuss fifteenth-century works. Mühlethaler explores the 'rooil de oubliance' in Alain Chartier's Livre de l'Espérance using Villon's entr'oubli at the end of his Lais as an intertext; he contrasts Chartier's optimistic Boethian appeal to divine reason linking a universalized memory to creativity with Villon's catatonic loss of awareness, implying an almost Sartrian sense of human isolation and condemnation to silence. Despite some problems of interpretation of concepts such as Nonchaloir and Passe-Temps, Lucken's reading of Charles d'Orléans's poetry as falling into two parts — the former, up to the Départie d'Amour, concerned, like all poetry of fin'amor, with love remembered, the later works focused on the deliberate forgetting of that thematic — offers some fruitful insights. The volume as a whole provides a stimulating reflection on the creative potential of the antithesis of memory.

Philip E. Bennett
University of Edinburgh


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