“If I may, I’d like to vent…”

A one-sided conversation

Cover of Michel Zimmermann's Écrire et lire en Catalogne

Cover of Michel Zimmermann's Écrire et lire en Catalogne

I seem to be embarking on a love-hate relationship with Michel Zimmermann‘s recent book of his thèse d’état. I have, in fact, a problem with quite a lot of his work, which can be simply expressed: I am in awe of his knowledge of the material, which is my material too but which I know far less well; I am often provoked to admiration by some of his insights; but only slightly less often am I provoked to strong disagreement. Starting in on 1200 pages of his work means this is going to happen a lot. But why such frequent disagreement? Am I just contrary? It is after all well-documented that the only person in the field who agrees with fewer people than do I is Gaspar Feliu (whom all praise! of course, he and I don’t agree on some things…).1 I mean, when Zimmermann says that Borrell II promoted himself as a duke (or at least, dux), should I perhaps not twitch, even though I know that of his 180-odd appearances only three use that title, and one of them is a forgery ripped off from one of the others, both of which are elaborate church consecrations? And that only the forgery is actually supposedly in his voice?2 But Zimmermann knows that scribal choice of words and issuer’s intent aren’t always the same thing, because he dedicates 70-odd pages of his magnum opus, based on a decade’s painstaking research, to the matter, so perhaps I should consider that he probably knows better than I do? And yet…

One serious thing, which is a relief in the immediate timeframe but disturbing in the long one. In this 1200-page meisterwerk, how come there’s no index entry for nuns? I’m working on nuns who can write right now, you see, so I know we had some. And actually, on the three pages dedicated to literate women, he mentions one of my nuns (though as book-owner, not as writer) and a couple of other women scribes I had no idea about.3 And we get women witnesses and women acting at law, too, here and there, we’re quite unusual in early medieval Catalonia. Is 3 pages in 1219 really all they get? I am of course going to have to read the whole thing because he and I are working on such similar issues of authorship and the purpose of documents, and he writes about getting beyond traditional diplomatic to the social significance of the documents in a way that makes my heart glad … but already I find myself asking, for example, if publishing a will really does make it accessible to anyone who wants it?4 I mean, who keeps these documents, and whom do they let see them? Wouldn’t you have to sue the beneficiaries before these things came out? and I know he’s going to tell me about this, because use of documents at law is something he discusses, but I also know that if we ever meet I’m going to spend the whole conversation losing arguments that I start, because I just don’t agree. Sorry.

Dialogue of the deaf (because I’ve got my fingers in my ears)


Ahem! I quote:

“Whereas the body ‘disappears’ from awareness in the everyday existence of the unimpaired, when we face pain, disease, or impairment, the body ‘dys-appears’, becoming unceasingly present.”5

Wow. There’s a separate thing I hate about academia perfectly encapsulated in each half of that sentence. Is to be able to forget our own body really the pinnacle of health? Or maybe it just accounts for how you are apparently feeling no pain for that horrible half-Hellenistic neological pun. Not so here, comrade. OW, and indeed, UGH.

P. S. I think there is one person in the world who might both read this post and recognise the title. If you do: yes, I’m still living in the past, hullo!

1. Ironically, the one piece of Zimmermann’s writing I used to quote with entire approval, “La prise de Barcelone par al-Mansûr et la naissance de l’historiographie catalane” in L’Historiographie en Occident du Ve au XVe siècle. Actes du Congrès de la Société des Historiens Médiévistes de l’Enseignement Supérieur. Tours, 10-12 juin 1977, Annales de Bretagne et des Pays de l’Ouest Vol. 87 (Rennes 1980), pp. 191-218, I no longer do because of something Professor Feliu wrote, La Presa de Barcelona per Almansor: història i mitificació. Discurs de recepció de Gaspar Feliu i Montfort com a membre numerari de la Secció Històrico-Arqueològica, llegit el dia 12 de desembre de 2007 (Barcelona 2007), online here, last modified 15 September 2008 as of 3 November 2008.

2. He makes this claim in “Catalogne et ‘regnum francorum’ : les enseignements de la titulature comtale” in Federico Udina i Martorell (ed.), Symposium internacional sobre els orígens de Catalunya (segles VIII-XI) (Barcelona 1991-1992), also published as Memorias de le Real Academia de Buenas Letras de Barcelona Vols. 23 & 24 (Barcelona 1991 & 1992), II pp. 209-263, and in Zimmermann, “Western Francia: the southern principalities” in T. Reuter (ed.), The New Cambridge Medieval History III: c. 900-c. 1024, pp. 420-456. The documents are J. Rius (ed.), Cartulario de «Sant Cugat» del Vallés Vol. I (Barcelona 1945), doc. no. 217, and Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la secció històrico-arqueològica LIII (Barcelona 1998), 3 vols, doc. nos 1122 & 1127, of which 1122 is the forgery based on 1127.

3. Michel Zimmermann, Écrire et lire en Catalogne (IXe-XIIe siècle), Bibliothèque de la Casa de Velázquez 23 (Madrid 2003), 2 vols, I pp. 107-109, the nun Carissima (whose signature in the previous post) p. 108.

4. Ibid., I pp. 25-38.

5. Lu Ann de Cunzo, “Exploring the Institution: Reform, Confinement, Social Change” in Martin Hall & Stephen W. Silliman (edd.), Historical Archaeology, Blackwell Studies in Global Archaeology 9 (Oxford 2006), pp. 167-189, quote at p. 183.

8 responses to ““If I may, I’d like to vent…”

  1. Pingback: I am beginning to see a trend here « A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

  2. Pingback: L’affaire Zimmermann continue « A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

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  4. Pingback: Bearing the sins of Michel Zimmermann « A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

  5. Pingback: Back in my bad books: l’affaire Zimmermann encore une fois | A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

  6. Pingback: Domna grammatika: a surprise from Michel Zimmermann | A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

  7. Pingback: Unexpected female scribe perhaps too unexpected | A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

  8. Pingback: Name in Print XXIV: women writing in tenth-century Catalonia | A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

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