Friday, February 8, 2013

Abstract: "Rupescissa in the Reformation: Fluid Texts and the Boundaries of the Middle Ages"

This is the abstract I submitted for the paper I'll present in Kalamazoo in May. One of the significant things about "Wilhelm Friess" is that the first Friess prophecy was actually an abridgment of Rupescissa's Vademecum, so that Rupescissa's work turns out to have been far more accessible to a broad spectrum of readers in the sixteenth century than previously known. What I find particularly interesting, however, is the sheer variability of the text. The different versions appear in quick succession and change rapidly in a way we usually associate more with manuscript transmission than with printing.
Abstract: “Rupescissa in the Reformation: Fluid Texts and the Boundaries of the Middle Ages”
In a 1996 article (republished in English translation as “The Fluid Text” in 2005), Joachim Bumke observed that the textual histories of medieval courtly epics do not correspond to the model of classical Lachmannian textual criticism. It is the oldest manuscripts that are most variable and resistant to analysis as descendants of a single archetype. Bumke attributes the unwieldy stemmata of courtly epics to the function of the written word in the thirteenth centuries, which he contrasts with its radically different use in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Even in the second half of the sixteenth century, however, the same kind of convoluted, irresolvable textual history can be found in the case of the “Prophecies of Wilhelm Friess,” the most popular German prophetic pamphlet of the second half of the sixteenth century. The text of these pamphlets is in fact an abridgement of the Vademecum of Johannes de Rupescissa, and these pamphlets represented the most significant route for the distribution of Rupescissa’s apocalypticism into Reformation Germany. Knowing the Latin source and the French redaction upon which “Wilhelm Friess” was based allows us reconstruct the text’s history and to see with unusual clarity how it changed within the space of a few years. In the decade following its translation from a French exemplar in 1557, “Wilhelm Friess” exhibited all the textual fluidity that Bumke observed in the centuries-long textual histories of medieval courtly epics. Is Bumke’s appeal to the different functions of the written word between 1200 and 1500 untenable? I propose that textual fluidity is a marker for medieval modes of thought that is determined not only by time but also my such non-chronological criteria as genre.

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