Ardis Butterfield Lectures on "Medieval Lyric: A Translatable or Untranslatable Zone?"

September 25, 2018

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 of music. She has served as President of the New Chaucer Society from 2016 to 2018. She was elected Fellow of the English Association in 2012, and received the 2010 R. H. Gapper Prize from the Society for French Studies for her groundbreaking reappraisal, The Familiar Enemy: Chaucer, Language and Nation in the Hundred Years War (Oxford 2009). In addition to this important study, members of our community will undoubtedly be familiar with the following fundamental volumes: Poetry and Music in Medieval France (Cambridge 2002), Chaucer and the City (Cambridge 2006), and Performing Medieval Text (MHRA, 2017).