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A Short Introduction to the German Literary Culture of the High Middle Ages

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Title: A Short Introduction to the German Literary Culture of the High Middle Ages


1
A Short Introduction to the German Literary
Culture of the High Middle Ages
  • Traditionally known among literary scholars as
  • --the Blütezeit, or period of flourishing.
  • --or, the Stauferzeit the reign of the
    Hohenstaufen emperors Frederick I
    (Barbarossa), Henrich VI, Frederick II
  • -- Court Literature (literature produced at the
    courts of powerful nobles, who were the patrons
    of the poets)

2
The Historical Context
  • --The Twelfth Century Renaissance (Charles
    Haskins)
  • --The beginning assimilation of new philosophical
    and scientific texts (early Scholasticism)
  • --The Crusades
  • --Gothic architecture and art

3
The rise of literatures in the vernacular
languages
  • -- Strong influences from French literature,
    which developed earlier.
  • -- Literatures the relationship between
    orality and literacy is dynamic.
  • -- The Aufführungssituation, or situation of
    performance. Literature was originally a
    performative art.
  • -- The importance of the ministeriales in
    literary culture.

4
The significant genres
  • Lyric Poetry
  • -- Love Songs
  • -- political / didactic poetry
  • Epic Poetry
  • -- Heroic Epics
  • -- romanz (Romance)
  • Drama None to speak of in the strict sense.

5
Cultural Developments during the Blütezeit
  • --The literature of the Blütezeit demonstrates a
    welling up of religious / spiritual experience
    among lay people (in this case necessarily the
    lay nobility).
  • -- The convergence of this religiosity /
    spirituality with the values and interests of the
    lay nobility gives rise to a variety of
    interesting literary themes and structures.
  • -- The court literature of the High Middle Ages
    particularly the romances endeavor to
    accommodate sometimes conflicting values and
    interests . . .
  • . . . and achieve this by virtue
    of an increased indeterminacy or
    open-endedness.

6
What is the right way to live? Walther von der
Vogelweide
  • I sat on a stone and crossed my legs and put my
    hand against my chin and thought anxiously about
    the right way to live in this world. I could not
    figure out how to bring three things together in
    such a way that one would not ruin the other two.
    Two of these things are honor and possessions
    the interest in one of these often damages the
    interest in the other. And the third is the grace
    of God, which is the crown of the other two.

7
Romance as a new Narrative Art Form
  • The matter of Rome and the matter of Britain.
  • Romance a verse narrative about love and
    adventure (the definition expands to include
    prose vernacular narratives that began to be
    produced in the 13th century).
  • Note that love and adventure are inherently
    worldly, secular concerns.

8
From M. Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination, Chapte
r Epic and Novel
  • On epic poetry The epic world achieves a
    radical degree of completeness not only in its
    content but in its meaning and values as well.
    The epic world is constructed in the zone of an
    absolute distanced image, beyond the sphere of
    possible contact with the developing, incomplete
    and therefore rethinking and re-evaluating
    present.

9
Bakhtin on the Novel (and by implication,
Romance, as its older relative)
  • Basic idea the novel engages the present in all
    of its open-endedness.
  • On the novelization of other genres ( a long
    quote just remember the last idea!)
  • What are the salient features of this
    novelization of other genres suggested by us?
    They become more free and flexible they become
    permeated with laughter, irony, humor, elements
    of self-parody and finally this is the most
    important thing the novel inserts into these
    other genres an indeterminacy, a certain semantic
    open-endedness, a living contact with unfinished,
    still evolving contemporary reality (the
    openended present).
  • --For our time-period, substitute
    romancingfor novelization.

10
Gottfried von Strassburgs Tristan
  • Gottfried was among the more educated of the
    medieval authors and presumably lived in
    Strasbourg hence, in urban surroundings.
  • His Tristan was composed ca. 1210 and based on
    the Tristan of an Anglo-Norman poet named Thomas.
  • The Tristan narrative material was part of the
    Matter of Britain (sometimes found in the orbit
    of King Arthur)
  • Other, earlier versions of the Tristan story were
    produced by Béroul (in French) and Eilhart von
    Oberge (in German) Gottfried says they didnt
    get the story right!
  • The versions of Thomas and Gottfried are the
    poetically and rhetorically most accomplished
    ones.
  • Gottfrieds poem, in particular, is known for its
    rhetorically polished and adorned verses, and for
    its challenging aesthetic conception
  • --the conception in a
    nutshell, the adulterous love of Tristan and
    Isolde is an Absolute
  • --Worth repeating the
    conception in a nutshell, the adulterous love
    of Tristan and Isolde is Absolute

11
From the Prologue of Gottfrieds Tristan
  • -- Referring to the story of Tristan and Isolde
  • This is bread to all noble hearts. With this
    their death lives on. We read their life, we read
    their death, and to us it is as sweet as bread.
  • Their life, their death are our bread. Thus
    lives their life, thus lives their death. Thus
    they live still, and yet are dead, and their
    death is the bread of the living.

12
The Nibelungenlied
  • The Nibelungen material has its origins in the
    migration period (5th and 6th centuries)
  • In contrast to the courtly narratives, it is
    basically Germanic and epic (remember
    Bakhtins conception of epic poetry).
  • The Nibelungenlied is one of numerous versions of
    the story of Siegfried and the Burgundian Kings,
    who die in the end in a battle at the court of
    Etzel (Attila the Hun).
  • The Nibelungenlied was composed ca. 1210 by an
    anonymous poet (anonymity being typical in the
    authorship of epic poetry)
  • though considered epic poetry, the
    Nibelungenlied has been largely shaped by the
    contemporary romances.

13
Romancing Epic Poetry The Nibelungenlied
  • The character Siegfried shows an interesting
    double-nature that demonstrates the influence of
    the romances, with their concerns of love and
    adventure, on the hero
  • --He is a fighter of mythic proportions, who has
    slain a dragon, and bested whole armies
    single-handedly the corresponding epic terms
    degen, recke.
  • -- He also participates in courtly festivals,
    tournaments, and falls in love with the beautiful
    Kriemhilde the love causes him sometimes to
    become weak-kneed and turn red as a beet. Besides
    being a degen, he is also a rîter!
  • In the end the logic of the heroic epic asserts
    itself. Ther is no courtly happy ending.

14
Conclusion
  • A reiteration of a position, or argument, that I
    made earlier
  • -- Romance (stories of love and adventure)
    introduce an indeterminacy into medieval
    narrative art.
  • -- narratives thus get closer to being able
    to express reality as something that is
    open-ended and indeterminate (i.e. subject to
    chance, contingency, local influences, etc.)
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