Bahr 2013

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Bahr, Arthur. Fragments and Assemblages: Forming Compilatiosn of Medieval London. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013.

Introduction: Compilation, Assemblage, Fragment

"The hybridity of the surviving forms of medieval literature, that is, calls for a comparably hybrid methodology." (1)

"medieval manuscripts expose as false the long-implied opposition between form and history."


"Even those skeptical of so neat a separation of the literary-imaginative from the historical-physical are often reluctant to see artistic significance in the arrangement of texts within medieval manuscripts, since their construction was frequently guided more by practical than by aesthetic considerations." (2)
"As this book will show, aligning codicological with literary evidence often reveals more extensive traces of intentionality than we would otherwise have." (3)

compilation: "not as an objective quality of either texts or objects, but rather as a mode of perceiving such forms so as to disclose an interpretably meaningful arrangement, thereby bringing into being a text/work that is more than the sum of its parts." (3)

"When, along with its originating intentions, the original physical shape of an object has likewise been lost, can we meaningfully interpret its surviving forms? How can we make fragments speak with a voice that is intelligible, if not unified? Such questions get at the very heart of medieval studies since the period's literary record is dominated by fragmentary manuscripts, incomplete texts, and anonymous authors." (4-5)
"what is at stake is a method, necessarily both speculative (i.e., theoretical) and historical, that mediates between the occluded or lost original medieval intention and the subjective, contemporary apprehension of text and manuscript that informs their meaning, bringing intention into being as if for the first time. This meaning is contingent, I claim, on what Benjamin calls an 'experience with the past' as opposed to a reconstruction of it, a past that is not mere masses of data but perceived in and across time." (5)
"Compilations shake up such limited narratives. They compel texts to change their meanings in ways that a purely linear historicity cannot fully recover or anticipate, as a particular text's relation to its broader codicological forms makes us rethink or resee something that by itself might seem straightforward, uninteresting, or overfamiliar. Ultimately, then Fragments and Assemblages shows that the individual texts and authors that it studies can be transformed, not just by the medieval compilational structures in which they are preserved, but also by the modern one -- this book -- that sets them in newly resonant juxtaposition." (5-6)

ordinatio, "those elements of the text's presentation and layout that make the reading process easier" (6)

compilatio, "larger-scale, textual analogue of such small-scale visual aids: a repackaging, rearranging, or excerpting of authoritative texts that makes the resulting compilation more useful or comprehensible" (6)

"this book's principal argument will be that the selection and arrangement of texts in manuscripts, like that of words in poetry, can produce those 'metaphorical potentialities,' discontinuities and excesses, multiple and shifting meanings, resistance to paraphrase, and openness to rereading that have deservedly become resurgent objects of critical value" (10)
"This, then, is my definition of compilation: the assemblange of multiple discrete works into a larer structure whose formal interplay of textual and material parts makes available some version of those literary effects described above. Such objects are likewise assemblages of disparate historical moments: of their individual texts' composition and subsequent, often gradual evolution into the particular material form they now occupy, which itself often differs from its original, medieval form. How those historical vectors inform and complicate the formal arrangements that together compose the visible compilation, I argue, constitutes both a potential source of aesthetic resonance and an invitation to literary analysis." (10-11)
"'Historicism offers the 'eternal' image of the past; historical materialism supplies a unique experience with the past.' Rather than being swept along by an inexorably linear historicity, in other words, the historical materialist must make of the present a temporality in which to capture an experience of the past's relation with that present." (12-13) <-- Benjamin, "On the concept of history"
"the links between social and textual identity were sufficiently strong in fourteenth-centur London that it makes sense for us to read some of its textual assemblages as ways of engaging with the social imaginary" (17-18)

Deleuze and Guattari, book as assembled object, "usefully reminds us that no assembled object, and especially no materially fragmented medieval manuscript, can fully sustain whatever unifying impulses might have inspired its construction." (38)

"The question then becomes how to link these metaphoric forms of fragmentation within each compilation's medieval temporality to its contemporary status as a literally fragmentary object: damaged, incomplete, or both in ways that are impossible to have been masterminded by a single, all-intending author. Joining these notions of fragmentation across temporal distances might liberate these texts and objects from a universal, totalizing historicity, the reductive form of historicism that we considered earlier." (39)
"Interpreting compilations thus involves a temporal paradx: in order to discuss such forms at all, we must isolate them at a moment in time, but their form at every moment includes their multiple retrospective and prospective histories. This dizzying array of temporal vectors, paralleled by the host of other contrasts and oppositions we have considered, complicates efforts to assemble anything meaningful out of fragments like those I have gathered together in this study." (47)
"taking seriously the current, fragmentary states of medieval manuscripts offers one way of disrupting the linear historicism that would ignore their lost scribes and unknown makers" (48-9)