Communication and Displacement - Abstract

Communication and displacement: the materiality of poetic voice
Presenter: Helen J. Swift

Poetic voice in Machaut’s works has received ample critical attention, from Brownlee’s literary conception of ‘Machaut’s “global” identity as poète’ (1984) to Leo’s iconographical study of authorial presence in the illuminated Machaut manuscripts (2005). It has, however, proven more difficult for critics to sever the tie between author and narrative voice, especially given the primary context for study of the poetic je being the ‘complete works’ manuscripts, including those completed in Machaut’s lifetime. The present paper, following Swift’s re-examination of the poetic je in the texts of the dits (2012), applies the theoretical approach taken in that piece to the materiality of manuscript representation. A. C. Spearing’s provocative notion of ‘subjectless subjectivity’ seems irreconcilable with the concreteness of manuscript rubrication and illustrations of an incorporate je. However, we should be wary of using such images as apparent ‘cues’ for an embodied understanding of an individual subject’s, or implied author’s, presence. Reading selected dits from ‘complete works’ manuscripts (especially C and F-G) alongside anthologies (notably Ar (897)), I argue that codicological manifestations of je fulfill a function of displacement and redirection, and, if anything, gesture towards authorial absence rather than presence. This phenomenon will be treated as a general trend, rather than peculiarly linked to Machaut’s intentions. Attention will be paid to portrayals of a narrator-persona, but will see the figure being used as a tool for directing attention towards communication processes within and without the image, pointing the reader/viewer’s eye/ear away from the identity represented. The figure will also be analysed in relation to others in the image, to discern how concrete visual representation is in fact more fluid, even uncertain, in its location of point of view and narratorial perspective. Miniatures which do not show a narrator will also be analysed for their contribution to this dynamic of displacement.