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The anachronic manuscript: voices of the past in BnF fr. 17177

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

This thesis presents a case study of a single manuscript collection produced in late thirteenth-century France: BnF fr. 17177. This multi-text codex is at once paradigmatic of the intricate nature of medieval bookmaking practices and completely unique in the tradition of its longest text, the Histoire ancienne jusqu'à César. By taking the material object rather than the text as its point of departure, this thesis considers BnF fr. 17177 as a site of negotiation between different voices and ideologies, past and present. Going beyond the boundaries of the individual textual units, it becomes clear that no single authorial voice emerges. Instead the manuscript brims with different speakers, whose continual merging with, and separation from, the narrative instantiates an ambiguous sense of voice that is temporally- and spatially-displaced. This polyphony is a material one, and parole circulates in a way that resists a definite point of origin. Examined in an experiential framework, the manuscript asks to be touched, heard, and seen. The audience engages with the past in this affective and performative state, as the manuscript stages an untimely encounter with the historical figures represented in word and image. When situated in its local context of production in Soissons, it emerges that BnF fr. 17177 participated as an agent in a network of associations between different parts of medieval society. And in all of this, BnF fr. 17177 was not alone: a number of other recueils assembled between 1250–1350 in Europe also attest innovative and critical compilations that explore our problematic relationship to time. The manuscript is thus shown to be a palimpsestic and performative object that never truly belongs to one moment in time. At the intersection of codicology, literary studies, and discourse analysis, this thesis brings complex, shifting temporalities to the forefront rather than flattening them out.
Original languageEnglish
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Award date1 Jul 2020

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