- Visuality and Materiality in the Story of Tristan and Isolde ed. by Jutta Eming, Ann Marie Rasmussen, and Kathryn Starkey
Edited by Jutta Eming, Ann Marie Rasmussen, and Kathryn Starkey. Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame University Press, 2012. xv + 355 pages + 83 illustrations. $45.00.
The present volume seeks to examine “surviving evidence” on Tristan “from a variety of disciplinary approaches” (11), with these perspectives emphasizing primarily the fields of art history and literature. Contributions by leading scholars, who participated in a 2007 symposium bearing a name identical to the book’s title, have been variously expanded for this publication that includes appropriate black-and-white as well as color illustrations. The editors’ introduction discusses not only individual essays and their importance but also the rationale for the topical grouping of the articles.
Essays are arranged into three main sections: “Courtly Bodies, Seeing, and Emotions,” “Media, Representation, and Performance,” and “The Visual Culture of Tristan”; as might be expected, the latter two parts are joined by some useful overlap in individual arguments. The editors comment on definitions of visuality and materiality as well as applications to the narrative strains of Tristan. Part I remains perhaps the most traditional in concept, yet arguments here on literary manifestations of love, especially in Gottfried, are firmly anchored in recent critical debate. Parts II and III demonstrate a broader focus by emphasizing literary versions of Tristan and pictorial depiction beyond Gottfried and the German thirteenth century. More importantly, they contribute to a major goal of this volume to “pose questions that are both significant and largely unanswered due to the isolation of art historical and literary discourses” [End Page 122] (4). The mutuality of critical discourse is then maintained as a common thread, where possible, by contributors.
After Jan-Dirk Müller’s focus on the episode of Riwalin and Blanscheflur, its uniqueness in a “transition from light to darkness” (25), the same author sets up an initial contrast with Tristan’s love and the sphere of “courtly visuality” (32). These analytical images and associations with emotional states lead ultimately to the cave and its aura of darkness. The watchful eye of the court stands even here as an unavoidable concern and motivating force. Müller’s conclusion looks toward Richard Wagner’s understanding of the Tristan story and his creation of a transcendent “metaphysics of love” (38). In contrast to this model, Gottfried’s protagonists differ markedly in their ineluctable attachment to courtly society. The succeeding two essays reduce the admirably broad scope of Müller’s comments understandably to specific visual episodes or elements of the narrative. Haiko Wandhoff takes as a point of departure the “cave of lovers” (“der minnenden hol” ) while James Schultz examines the love potion and “sexual desire” (66). For the first of these, the grotto is seen as an “outstanding example of materiality and visuality in the Tristan story.” While taking Gottfried’s Tristan as a “narrative meditation on the relationship of love and art,” Wandhoff interprets the protagonists as “loving artists” who find their cave, just as the poet is inspired by the many “caves of poetry” (43) constructed by artists since antiquity. By defining the cave as a mirror of the “Romance of Lovers” (42), Gottfried’s text can be further read as a grotto in itself. Visual performance and role-playing by the protagonists become a means of art masking love, all of which leads to the Cave of Lovers as a climactic attempt to represent love permanently in art. None of this is indeed possible without the collaborative role of Gottfried as an artist himself, so that the “climax of this merger of Tristan and Gottfried” is “their common invention of the love grotto” (50). The implications for reading Gottfried in Wandhoff’s “How to Find Love in Literature” extend, in his conclusion, to the modern reader seeking love, or truth, just as Mark as a “less talented reader” was destined to fail (60–61).
This potential relation between medieval and modern understanding similarly informs Schultz’s examination of “sexual desire” in his essay on the German Tristan...