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  • Situation and Textual Mediation: Toward a Material Poetics of the Fifteenth-Century Lyric
  • Ana M. Gómez-Bravo

The tight laws that govern the poetic text have often prompted hermeneutic analyses steered toward an understanding of the text as a self-sufficient entity with self-generating meaning. Authors such as Fernán Pérez de Guzmán, writing “En coplas materiales / e retorica comuna”, however, conjure up a material text that is situated within a tangible medium, prompting the consideration of textual situation (ID0105, MN6, vv. 2569–70). Situated language helps communicate a material world, a tangible social, political, and cultural extratext in which the text is inevitably embedded.1 Materialist [End Page 43] approaches such as those proposed by Hennessy and Landry & MacLean help interrogate the text as both a material object dependent on its medium and as a referential entity. This critical perspective highlights the key role of modes of textual production and dissemination, with consideration of the agency of producers and receivers, as well as the significance of material culture and artifacts, in their interplay with relevant sociocultural developments. The material text is always culturally embedded, not only as part of a larger codicological or bibliographic unit, but also as an object attached to other objects with which it produces meaning. A materialist outlook invites a consideration of the text and its medium as much as that of the material culture that envelops it.

This article will consider fifteenth-century poetic practices in relation to the objects with which the poem associates and their networks of exchange, particularly in relation to gift giving. As an object itself, the poem depends on its medium, facing particular archival challenges as the situation that facilitated its interface with other objects is vanished. I will argue that, as the poem provides textual mediation for the material culture in which it is embedded, it similarly textualizes material situation, thwarting ephemerality when moving from circulating as a single paper to becoming part of a book. My argument moves from a consideration of gifts that, like the poem, use paper as a material support to that of others that are more dissimilar, namely food gifts.2 The specific material nature of these gifts is captured by the text and results in a complex interplay of text and object. This material centric approach helps make the argument that the fifteenth-century poem is not an exclusively rhetorical entity in which referential power is solely constricted to other texts. Rather, the poem is viewed as being embedded in daily life as an object, thus arguing for a material poetics.

Papers and Objects

The object as it stands can be interpreted and troped in many different ways, [End Page 44] and because it is culturally embedded when part of social transactions, it is further ascribed the meaning arising from particular situations and the ways in which these are interpreted.3 A piece of paper with the proper explanation was one of the more practical means of making sense out of an uninscribed object. This can be observed in inventories such as those drawn upon Queen Isabel’s death. Among her many personal possessions, a post-mortem inventory describes several small objects identified as relics. The objects themselves are to a certain degree amorphous and unable to convey their own value because of their extreme fragmentary nature and the plainness of their materials, which include a white cord, a small stone, small pin tips, a piece of green cloth, some white threads, a piece of dried bread, some black and orange threads, a piece of wax, and a broken piece of stone. However, these objects appear carefully wrapped by individual papers that explain the origin and extraordinary nature of such seeming scraps. Thus we learn that, for instance, the pin tips come from the head of John the Baptist, the green cloth was part of the Temple’s veil, the white threads belong to Saint Francis’ belt, the white fragments are bits of Mary’s dried milk and yet the dried bread is a piece of that on Jesus’ table during the Last Supper:

Vnos papelicos de rreliquias en el vno vn cordonçico blanco y en el...