The Circularity of Song—and its Mystic Upshot

Eminently among Romance philologists, Paul Zumthor analyzes the object of love in the trouvère lyric of northern France as the song or “chant” itself.' The self-enclosure of lyric is manifest as a loving-singing equivalence. Zumthor constructs the triad: aimer—chanter—trouver, in which the equivalence of loving, singing, and poem-making or “finding” (“trouver” being taken as the root for “trouvère”) removes all transitivity from lyric discourse. There is no “hors du chant,” nothing outside the song—a formulation that tellingly echoes Jacques Derrida’s renowned dictum “there is nothing outside the text” (“il n’y a pas de hors-texte”). In Zumthor’s words, “to sing, which is to love (and vice versa), action without object ... engenders its own substantiation, the song, which is love (and vice versa)” (136). As a consequence, he can say that the song is the object, or equivalently the subject, of itself: “The song is thus its own subject” (“La chanson est ainsi son propre sujet,” 139). This entails, moreover, that it is “its own meaning” (“son propre sens”) and that, according to the enabling metaphor of this entire cluster of conceits, “The poem is the mirror of itself” (“Le poème est miroir de soi,” 139).

This reflexivity of lyric displaces representational content and proclaims the logical anteriority of the song to the story it tells or to the fiction it actualizes (138). Singing, at this point, is freed from any proper sense and is turned by a sort of catachresis into “a pure vocative in expansion” (“un pur vocatif en expansion”). As such, it is “anterior or posterior to all communication in the proper sense” (“antérieur ou postérieur à toute communication proprement dite,” 137). The entire text examined as sample is to be seen, accordingly, as an expansion of the verb “chanter” (“to sing”) in the initial strophe and again of the nominative form of “chanson” at the end in the envoi. This lexical item, “chanson” for “song,” occurs there “topographically” with an allocutive or apostrophic function in a vocative or imperative indicating the goal or final cause of the singing (chanter!chanson).

1 Paul Zumthor, “De la circularité du chant (à propos des trouvères des xiie et xiiie siècles),” Poétique 2 (1970): 129-40.

Kristeva similarly suggests that the joi (joy) of this song is an immediate expression of jouissance without referential significance (“Il ne porte pas de signification référentielle, objective”) in situating Troubadour chant in her history of Christian spirituality and more generally of “love” (Histoires d’amour, 349). She illustrates the exceeding of signification by joi and the primacy of affect over sense through detailed linguistic analysis of ambiguity wrought by semantic contamination due to homophones and neighboring sonorities in Arnaut Daniel’s “En cest sonet coind’e lèri” [“To this light tune, precious and gay”], a “masterpiece of song on the song” (“chef d’oeuvre de chant sur le chant,” 353).

Kristeva points out, furthermore, that Guillaume de Lorris’s portion of the Roman de la rose (c. 1230) in langue d’oeil seems to be a “quest for a ‘covert’ sense transcending the literal” (“quête du sens ‘couvert’ transcendant le sens littéral,” 362). This poetic or allegorical sense referring to some higher reality than the Rose itself is rooted in interior vision (“vision interne”) and constitutes the space of love and of writing as a “narcissistic universe” (362). It creates not a fiction but rather an analogical reality. Such is the true sense of Guillaume’s discourse, and Kristeva herself sees this as pointing to the “narcissistic” visions of Dante’s Paradiso (362). These allegorical visions are, nonetheless, potentially theological in tenor.

Zumthor hints at the theological underpinnings of this conception of poetic language and its creative “making” based on the “lexical trinities” and the “emanation” or diffusion of being from singing as modeled on Scholastic, originally Neoplatonic conceptions of divine Creation by diffusion of the Good, an Absolute “diffusif de soi” and the producer of its own sense (134). Zumthor is working on Trouvère chanson, which is more controlled, abstract, and ascetic than Troubadour song, with its exuberant imagination and expression. However, we have already seen with William IX, Duke of Aquitaine, that the essential structures of selfreflection, with their metaphysical resonances, are no less discernible also from the beginning of the Troubadour lyric tradition.

In the background of Troubadour lyric is the mystical theology of William of St. Thierry and Richard of St. Victor, among others. This has been demonstrated in the critical scholarship, even if not all scholars are convinced that the Christian influence is specific and deliberate rather than more a matter of general cultural background of the Latin liturgy and Marian cult.[1] The influence of Christian mysticism is perhaps most demonstrable with reference specifically to the lark figure’—on which we will dwell shortly in section 8. In any case, an existential condition

The Circularity of Song 55 underlying whatever cultural ideology and genealogy is at stake. Mystical theology opens a dimension of transcendence to the abyss of the Godhead, and this, too, is crucial to the structure of lyric as newly rediscovered by the Troubadours and as developed further by Dante in the Paradiso. The potential for infinite expansion of the poem radiating out from its own self-reflective act of singing—as mirroring and imitating the act of divine Creation—is already clearly intimated in preceding lyric tradition. But it is played out on a vast scale by Dante, most deliberately and consequentially in the theological apotheosis of lyric poetry in the Paradiso.

  • [1] Ulrich Mölk, Trobadorlyrik: Eine Einführung (München/Zürich: Artemis, 1982), 37-38, registers some reservations. 2 Luvia Lazzerini, “L’ ‘allodetta’ e il suo archetipo. La revalorazione dei temi mistici nella lirica trobadorica e nello stil novo,” in Sotto il segno di Dante. Scritti in onore di Francesco Mazzoni (Florence: Le Lettere, 1998), 165-88.
< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >