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“Et autres que nommer ne sai”: when counting is recounting


My presentation will deal only tangentially with issues of quantitative methods in literary studies. It will focus on the implicit metadiscourse on literature and its quantitative aspect as it is found in medieval texts. A manifestation of the role played by numbers in the theory of literature that emerges from practices of storytelling and the narrator’s comments on them is the great number of enumerative pieces and lists in the medieval corpus. Either as enumerative pieces or inserted in long narratives, such as epics, novels, and dramatic works, they name participants to wars and festivities, tools, musical instruments played by entertainers, goods sold by pedlars or required in the household, etc. An important number of them, from the twelfth to the sixteenth century, consist of lists of literary works. To a certain extent these catalogues of works provide an image of the literary canon of the time, a representation of its evolution from the simple enumeration of texts to the elaboration of a Parnassus of authors at the turn of the sixteenth century.

Usually when a list appears in a narrative, it comes with demarcating markers at its beginning and end in which the narrator plays on the analogy between counting, naming and recounting. In the first part of my presentation, I will look at the implications of this correlation. I will then concentrate on the lists of literary works and what they reveal about the anthological conception of literature in the Middle Ages.

SvD, November 2009

  • Conferences > NEWW November meetings > 2009 > Jeay

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