- L’Humain et l’animal dans la France médiévale (xiie–xve s.) / Human and Animal in Medieval France (12th–15th c.) by d’Iréne Fabry-Tehranchi et Anna Russakoff
As its title may suggest, this bilingual, interdisciplinary collection of twelve essays eschews the polemical posthumanism of the recent ‘animal turn’ in medieval French and English studies. Rather than emphasizing an ethical critique of human–animal relations or investing in the recuperation of the animal per se within anthropocentric modes of [End Page 376] representation that tend to admit non-human life only as a metaphor or symbol, the volume unabashedly focuses on imaginative and theoretical negotiations of humans’ and animals’ reciprocally defined places in a range of essentially anthropological medieval discourses. If, however, the animal is approached here primarily in terms of human attempts to conceptualize humanity, Irène Fabry-Tehranchi’s concise and cogent Introduction foregrounds precisely the generative ambiguity of interspecies distinctions and of non-human signifiers. Four chapters examine how a dialectical ‘relation entre l’humain et l’animal est pensée comme différence ou inversion mais aussi convergence, perméabilité, voire contagion’ (p. 16). Peggy McCracken and Robert Sturges, reading the late chanson de geste of Tristan de Nanteuil and the Roman de Silence respectively, uncover paradoxical ontologies of humanity in figures of the ‘wild man’ (Tristan and Merlin) who are differentiated from beasts not by reason or sociality, but instead by powerful instincts — sexual desire, genealogical affinities located in the body, and the appetite for cooked food — that conflate nature and culture. Evelyn Birge Vitz scrutinizes parodic rhetorics of emotion in the Roman de Renart, linking the depiction of ‘animal’ essences to an unflattering reflection on human behaviour, while Joanna Pavlevski dissects evolving responses to interspecies hybridity as an iconographic and ontological problem in fifteenth-century manuscript illustrations of the metamorphic fairy Mélusine. Another cluster of essays demonstrates that textual and emblematic animals exceed univocal interpretation in a way that makes them function as sites of encounter between multiple symbolic systems, and especially as ‘un point de contact entre le monde religieux et le monde profane’ (p. 18), between moral or theological and secular, materialist world views. Katherine Clark accentuates the polyvalence of irreverent animal and hybrid figures, at once monitory and transgressive, in the margins of illuminated pontificals; Patricia Stewart traces the repurposing of bestiary lore as a source of homiletic exempla; and Dongmyung Ahn interprets subdeacons’ identification with donkeys in the Feast of Fools liturgy in terms of the Christian theology of inversion. Moving into the political sphere, Henri Simonneau and William Blanc analyse late-medieval exploitations of animal imagery’s labile symbolic and moral values for individual and partisan selffashioning, propaganda, and pageantry. Outliers in the collection are Constantin Teleanu’s account, in terms rather forbidding to the non-specialist, of the philosopher Ramon Llull’s Christologically motivated revision of the Aristotelian definition of man, and a very informative discussion by Benoît Descamps of the official regulations and cultural attitudes surrounding the husbandry, butchering, and consumption of meat animals in urban milieus. While perhaps less conceptually audacious than some recent interventions in medieval animal studies, the essays in this volume demonstrate that more traditional perspectives on the animal, the human, and the complex relationships between them are far from exhausted.