Metaphoric pens : exploring medieval conceptions of writing as technology in the twelfth-century renaissance and beyond




Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


French Studies

Document Type



This dissertation investigates textual representations of writing in twelfth-century French romance. Grounded in an historical context that establishes the twelfth century as the foundation of the modern book, I explore the complex relationship between author, audience, and text. My thesis asserts that medieval authors, following the intellectual enlightenment of the Twelfth Century Renaissance, express apprehensions, fears, enthusiasm, and wonderment at their craft. Looking at metaphoric representations of writing, I employ cognitive science, principally Lakoff and Johnson's theory of metaphor, to better understand the complex and multifarious attitudes toward writing as a new and changing technology. By first establishing the integral link between metaphor and culture and the historical context for writing's expansion, I look at writing acts and the written word as they appear explicitly and implicitly in the narratives in order to trace an emerging literary subjectivity. Beginning with the metaphoric comparison of pen and ink to sword and blood, my first chapter looks at the early so-called “aristocratic” version of Floire et Blanchefleur and its “popular” counterpart. Focusing less on the individual versions but rather on the divergences between them, I examine apprehensions surrounding writing’s potential. Looking at writing’s integral role in translatio, I trace writing as a means of transfer to a tool for authority, an instrument of power, and eventually—as a means of destruction. The following two chapters explore writing’s reproductive nature and issues of gender, from authorship as insemination in Chrétien de Troyes’ romances to the book as child in Marie de France’s lais. In the final chapter, I examine the authorial "I" in Partonopeu de Blois in order to demonstrate that literary subjectivity took root in the twelfth century, in a text that predates the Roman de la Rose by some fifty years. Each of my chapters serves to highlight the intrinsic relationship between writing and culture in the twelfth century, revealing attitudes toward writing as well as many unexplored aspects of these important literary productions. This dissertation will contribute to medieval French studies in two important ways: by offering a complementary view of authorship and writing which stems from and is grounded in the literary texts rather than in historical archives, and to shed new light on authorial, aristocratic, and popular attitudes toward writing.



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Committee Chair

Leupin, Alexandre



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