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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Songs of the Self: Authorship and Mastery in Minnesang

  • Author(s): Fockele, Kenneth Elswick
  • Advisor(s): Largier, Niklaus
  • et al.

Despite the centrality of medieval courtly love lyric, or Minnesang, to the canon of German literature, its interpretation has been shaped in large degree by what is not known about it—that is, the lack of information about its authors. This has led on the one hand to functional approaches that treat the authors as a class subject to sociological analysis, and on the other to approaches that emphasize the fictionality of Minnesang as a form of role-playing in which genre conventions supersede individual contributions. I argue that the men who composed and performed these songs at court were, in fact, using them to create and curate individual profiles for themselves. The project of these poets is to persuade the audience of their own ethical insight and aesthetic skill. Each, in his own way, seeks to portray himself as the master of all possibilities offered by courtly song.

In chapter one, using the manuscript versions of a song by Heinrich von Morungen, I develop a new concept of authorship for the unstable medium of medieval lyric. Drawing on the insights of Material Philology, I show that Morungen anticipated and made use of this instability (or mouvance), imbuing his songs with the imprint of his authorship in a way that allows for the vagaries of oral and even written transmission. In chapter two, I explore the tension between a stable author figure and an unstable medium. Modern editorial practices have oversimplified the transmission of the lyric of Reinmar der Alte in the service of an exaggerated image of him as the virtuoso of joy in suffering unrequited love. Through a close reading of four versions of one of Reinmar’s songs, I argue that the author emerges as the master of the sum of a flexible array of aesthetic and ethical possibilities. In chapter three, I use the conceptual framework developed in these close readings to sketch a broader picture of one poet as an author. Through a survey of Heinrich von Veldeke’s songs, I show that juxtaposing contrasting perspectives throws into relief the implied author as a clerically educated figure who has mastered varied domains of intellectual and aesthetic knowledge and skill. By means of a comparison with the Latin poetry of Peter of Blois, I sharpen the contours of Veldeke’s mode of clerical authorship. The form of authorship that I identify in this dissertation—the author as master of possibilities—is specific to Minnesang, but suggests that there are types of authorship particular to other genres and other moments in time that remain to be defined.

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