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Unthought Medievalism


This article describes what the author calls “unthought medievalism”: a translation practice where specific forms such as verse, architecture, and plastic art are enlisted as medieval phenomena. Unlike a “thought” medievalism that involves creating a philological object that can be appropriated for ideological purposes, unthought medievalism is performative and phenomenological: it involves an intimate, immersive experience with medieval textuality to reach an artistic disengagement or playful freedom under formal constraints. A procedure of historical discontinuity reproduces a medieval phenomenon anew and otherwise via different media resulting in “medieval life forms.” Through this radical alterity, it plays with the gaps of not knowing medieval culture, and in this sense this medievalism can appear in surprising places: it converses with the discourse of the Global South and allows for the production of decolonialized knowledge. Unthought medievalism provides an alternate model for the emergence of world literature (such as cultures that do not commit to writing). It produces a version of medieval textuality not as a scholar would ‘think’ about medieval forms (although that is part of it, I argue) but rather as a craftsman would—through a freer, creative reworking of sounds, music, and material technology—an active present model of medieval culture realized through the process of artisanal making. The article includes an analysis of the Brazilian concrete poet Augusto de Campos’ translation of troubadour verse, E. Fay Jones and his articulation of Gothic architecture that converges with the eclectic American medievalism of Henry Adams, and the Occitan artists Gérard Zuchetto and Jean-Luc Séverac’s position in the politics of a regional cultural heritage.

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  1. Cover design in collaboration with A. Lizárraga and Walter Grieco.

  2. In these aspects of translation as a poetic phenomenology of creative immersion, producing medieval texts otherwise, I think of Giorgio Agamben’s essay on “The End of the Poem” (1996, pp. 109–115), where he discusses the hesitation between sound and sense at the end of the poem; Doris Sommer’s mistranslation as a game that involves a productive irritation, one that can lead to richer pluralistic faculties of knowing and feeling (2004, p. 142); Haun Saussy’s concept of “stumbling” in “Contagious Rhythm” and Henry Adams’ “irruption of force” discussed later in this essay.

  3. Sentiments in me of the harshly [harsh mind] of the men of the first eras…/The springtimes of sarcasm/intermittently in my harlequinate heart…/Intermittently…/

    At other times it is a sick man, a cold/in my soul sick like a long round sound. …/Cantabona! Cantabona!/Dlorom…/I am a Tupí strumming a lute!

  4. In his supplement to Raynouard’s Occitan dictionary, Levy translates the word as “free from boredom.”

  5. “Praefatio ad Lectorem electum (1910),” (Pound, 1952, p. 7).

  6. A neologism from James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, the objective of this poetic process is to invent “new poetic assemblages” that introduce “novel typologies” of the word, thereby reclaiming the word's density and capacity—“its verbivocovisual force”—“and the poem's potential to blend, or configure a structural dialogue, with different media” (Shellhorse, 2020, p. 149).

  7. Although Purdy (2011) emphasizes Goethe’s subjective and particular pleasurable experience of Gothic architecture against his making conclusions about style, still the relation between German character and the naturalism of Gothic architecture remains an integral part of Goethe’s experience of Gothic.

  8. See Chapter XX of Education (“Failure”) where Adams ponders his role as a professor of medieval history and laments his ignorance of what exactly he should be teaching (1983, pp. 994–995).

  9. For an account of American medievalists and medievalisms at the turn of the century see Courtenay (1982). Courtenay describes how the attractive “otherness” of the Middle Ages was rooted in its impracticality, as the New World did not inherit any of its governmental organizations and social institutions. For aristocratic Americans such as Henry Adams, the Middle Ages was the “most foreign of worlds to the American soul” (Courtenay, 1982, p. 10). Adams' contrasts of the dynamo and premodern societies anticipates other thinkers of this period who saw inspiration in a “New Mediaevalism” as a political program of the twentieth century, a new energy for a new age, an indictment of contemporary civilization and a harkening back to the Middle Ages as the high point of human civilization (Courtenay, 1982, p. 12).

  10. For I reverse things in such a way that now hills seem a beautiful plain to me, and I take the frost for a flower, and it seems to me that the heat cuts the cold, and the thunderclaps are songs and warblings, and the twigs seem covered with leaves (trans. Pattison).

  11. To trouble trobar/Finding words without ideas/And ideas without words/Inverting the flowers/And flourishing the verses/In the end one has found/Words pierced/And has pierced troubled words (my trans.).


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The author wishes to acknowledge with gratitude the useful comments and suggestions of Roland Greene, Bruce Holsinger, Andrew Hui, Gavin Jones, Niklaus Largier, and Courtney Wells.

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Correspondence to Marisa Galvez.

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Galvez, M. Unthought Medievalism. Neophilologus 105, 365–389 (2021).

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  • Medievalism
  • Troubadours
  • Global South
  • Augusto de Campos
  • Henry Adams
  • E. Fay Jones
  • Ezra Pound