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Ardis Butterfield Lecture - "Medieval Lyric: A Translatable or Untranslatable Zone?"

Please join us on Tuesdsay, September 25 at 5:30pm in Cocke Hall Philosophy Library for a Distinguished Lecture in Poetry & Poetics. Ardis Butterfield, Marie Borroff Professor of English at Yale University, will give a talk on "Medieval Lyric: A translatable or untranslatable zone?” 

The role of such pioneering figures in medieval studies as Erich Auerbach and Leo Spitzer has been recently reassessed within the field of comparative literature, as part of a wide and growing effort, evident across many disciplines, to engage with the controversial claims of ‘world literature’. The terms of this reassessment have pointed to their multilingual and plurilingual immersion in languages while working as scholars in exile in Istanbul in the 1930s and 1940s, facing a world in which the nation and empire and war were all in urgent turmoil.  Spitzer’s version of ‘global translatio’ as seen through his article ‘Learning Turkish’ is marshalled by Emily Apter as an avant la lettre approach to a global literature that is ‘against world literature’.

This lecture proposes that not only Auerbach and Spitzer, but their primary topic of research – medieval poetry, and specifically the medieval lyric – has much more to reveal about notions of untranslatability than has yet been acknowledged in these debates. The medieval period is central to the current debate about comparative literature and world literature because it is saturated in plurilingualism in ways that are only gradually being acknowledged. Medieval plurilingualism performs a range of remarkable feats: first, it affirms the need to understand ‘global’ poetry as being centrally about languages and their relationships. Second, it both challenges and extends modern thinking about the global and language(s) because it is a period that is necessarily, and radically, heavily engaged in linguistic non-essentialism, in fuzziness, in rough translation. Third, it provides examples of lyric poetry where untranslatability is central, disruptive, and history-making.

Ardis Butterfield is the Marie Borroff Professor of English at Yale University, where she is also a Professor of French and Professor of Music. She specializes in the works of Chaucer, literatures of France and England from the 13th to 15th centuries, and in medieval music, as well as in theories and histories of language, form, and genre, city writing, bilingualism and medieval linguistic identities. Her books include the prize-winning The Familiar Enemy: Chaucer, Language and the Nation in the Hundred Years War and Poetry and Music in Medieval France. She edited Chaucer and the City, a collection of essays inspired by her undergraduate course on London in Literature. Co-founder of the Medieval Song Network, a collaborative, international project to encourage new interdisciplinary research on the medieval lyric, she currently co-hosts the Yale-based group Medieval Song Lab, and an annual colloquium on Anglophone Histories which she also co-founded at Yale. In 2016 she was voted President of the New Chaucer Society (2016 - 2018). She is currently engaged in three projects: a biography, Chaucer: A London Life; a new edition of medieval English lyrics for Norton; and a book on lyric form in the middle ages: Living Form: The Origins of Medieval Song. Before coming to Yale, she broadcasted regularly on radio and television in the UK, and continues to write reviews for BBC History magazine and the London Review of Books amongst other magazines and academic journals.