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  • Höfische Kompromisse. Acht Kapitel zur höfischen Epik
  • Markus Stock
Höfische Kompromisse. Acht kapitel zur höfischen Epik. By Jan-Dirk Müller. Tübingen: Niemeyer Verlag, 2007. Pp. 509. $105.

The almost five hundred pages of Müller’s densely written book examine how German vernacular literature of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries negotiates and critiques the hierarchies, contradictions, and aporias between divergent premises of medieval society as they appear in courtly epic and romance. Müller uses the term “negotiation” with a nod toward Greenblatt’s New Historicism (p. 40), but his method is clearly different, applying narratology to a historical analysis of the literary imaginary of courtly romance and, to a lesser degree, epic.

Müller focuses on what he terms “narrative cores” (Erzählkerne) of courtly literature. According to him, such narrative cores are topics or themes inciting narrative responses, and it is less the recurrence of such topics or motives than their narrative productivity and generative power that are at the center of his analyses. In these “cores” the author hopes to find the discursive connectors to issues pertinent to German aristocratic society around 1200. With this, Müller continues to work on a project which had begun to take shape in his Nibelungenlied book, Spielregeln für den Untergang (1998; translated into English as Rules for the Endgame, Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 2007), namely to retrace what he calls the “literary anthropology” of this era. The study’s basic proposition is that the narratives process and offer solutions, or at least compromises (thus the book’s title: Courtly Compromises), regarding tensions and unresolved problems in the [End Page 271] discursive foundations of aristocratic society. This literature, and this is one of the essences of Müller’s book, is able to work through certain constellations in a speculative manner, to set aporetic positions against each other and thereby to deconstruct latent or dilemmatic societal structures. In this sense, Müller describes courtly literature of this time as a medium of addressing unresolved issues of the social imaginary of high medieval aristocratic culture. Although Müller limits his analyses to German texts, this approach might, of course, be applied to other high medieval European literatures; therefore, this book will be interesting to scholars beyond the confines of German medieval studies.

Müller’s most important decision in presenting his material is that rather than devoting chapters to specific texts or text groups, the book is organized according to the “narrative cores” displayed and discussed in various forms in a number of high medieval literary texts. The first chapters focus on characters as members of the collective and their determination by genealogy (Chapter 1), and by their belonging to certain social and/or religious groups (Chapter 2). In contrast, and in a clearly intended dialectic, Chapters 3 and 4 illustrate how courtly romance and epic take a precarious stand by negotiating the new interest in the individual as opposed to dominant collective determination. Müller demonstrates how this tension plays out in the enormous narrative productivity around the heroes’ names (Chapter 3) as both collective and individualized identifiers, and more so in the numerous instances of identity crises in German romance (Chapter 4), Iwein’s loss of self and subsequent modified self-realization in Hartmann’s romance (pp. 241–45) being just the tip of the iceberg. These first chapters set the scene for a second pair of interrelated topics, which are central to Müller’s redrawing of the “literary anthropology” around 1200: spaces determining the characters, and love.

Müller is able to show how precarious and, at the same time, dynamic, the negotiation of space in high medieval literature is (Chapter 5): courtly narrative tends to constitute no clear-cut spheres, but rather seems interested in in-between spaces (Zwischenräume), in which the “paradoxes of the courtly public sphere” (p. 272) are played out. Ambivalences are also created with respect to the depiction of the human interior and exterior, or psychological and physical, which are not only differently, but also less markedly distinguished than in the modern era (Chapter 6). The literary fictions playfully engage with the shifting...


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pp. 271-273
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