Sunday, March 19, 2006

Medieval Noise

"Few academic journals can pull off two articles about farting in one issue, butExemplaria does it with panache."

So writes Bettina Bildhauer in the Times Literary Supplement (10 March 2006) about the "Medieval Noise" cluster.

I'm just relieved that a pun about the cluster being full of hot air was avoided.


Karl Steel said...

Read your introduction, which elicits this quotation of part of a note from the diss.

Marius Victorinus, Ars Grammatica, Italo Mariotti ed. (Florence: Felice le Monnier, 1967), II.2-4, 66, “vocis formae sunt duae, articulata et confusa. Articulata est quae audita intellegitur et scribitur et ideo a plerisque explanata, a nonnullis intellegibilis dicitur….Confusa autem est quae nihil aliud quam simplicem vocis sonum emittit, ut est equi hinnitus, anguis sibilus, plausus, stridor et cetera his similia”
[there are two forms of the voice, distinct and indistinct. The distinct is that which, when heard, is understood and written and therefore explained to many and is said to be understandable to many....The indistinct however is that which is nothing more than the single sound of a voice cast out, as is the neighing of a horse, or the hissing of a snake, or clapping, hissing, or other such things]

Hope the translation holds water.

At any rate, this division between confusa/articulata is everywhere. It's just that the M. Victorinus is the earliest one I could turn up w/out too much effort.

I suppose I should read the Valerie Allen to see if she has something more to say about it. I should also have a stab at Bruce Holsinger's book about music someday, because music strikes me as sound that doesn't align at all nicely according to confusa/articulata.


And then I wonder about probably the most intractable noise in medieval literature, the demon Plutus's "Pape Satan, Pape Satan, aleppe," (Inferno VII.1) or perhaps even Nimrod's unheard language, a noise because it is language understood only to him (Inferno XXXI.79-81). Which reminds me, in turn, of my paternal Grandfather, whose fourth language was English, and who, like so many immigrants, didn't bother to teach his children any of the old languages. And so when the stroke that gave him a lingering death took away his English, he could speak to, but not be understood by, my father.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Leave it to Karl to have so much good bibliography at the ready. Great stuff, and very useful.

Holsinger isn't about noise so much as harmony -- especially the queer comminglings of polyphony. Claire Sponsler, though, is working on a book on environmental noise in the Middle Ages. I'm certain it will be wonderful.

Karl, the movement from Nimrod (passionate for meaningful expression, to tell his story, but bellowing only sound) to grandfather was poetic .. and touching.

Of all the components of our identity that old age takes from us it is our anchor to the present that hurts those we've left behind the most. I've no doubt I'll be mumbling lines from "The Wanderer" and chanting Latin catchphrases as I shamble around the nursing home some day.

Karl Steel said...
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Karl Steel said...
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Karl Steel said...

Here we go again! Experimenting w/ the post/delete option that I didn't realize that blogger provided for mere commenters:

So Allen does discuss this distinction, which derives, or at least is most famously set forth, in Priscian. Duh.

I wonder about rendering "articulata," as she does, as "intelligible." Although she doesn't (need to) take her analysis this direction, I like a translation, like hers, that locates the onus of coherence in the listener rather than the noisemaker, that is, what's required is for the listener to make the sound understandable rather than for the speaker/hisser/moaner to make an understandable noise. The effects of this translation crux could be wide-ranging: but I won't explore them here, just yet.

Thanks for the kind comments JJC; that Grandfather story is one that’s been floating around, well, since the fellow died (1898-1995): it just needs to find the right home someday. I’m also reminded of a student I had once, who was educated in Korea until he was about 12 and then sent to America for an education in English for the next 6 years before college. Apparently this sort of thing isn’t so uncommon. The upshot was that he didn’t have a single language he had much competence in: his Korean, he told me, hadn’t really gone much further than that of an early teen, while his English was, to my eyes, only partial. There’s a postcolonial insight to be derived from this, I think.

If you haven't already flown off to your lovely island, a safe flight to you. If you’ve landed, a safe flight home.

The Wanderer would be a good choice for an old man. Perhaps I ought to start storing it up against my coming decrepitude.