Theses Doctoral

The Song from the Singer: Personification, Embodiment, and Anthropomorphization in Troubadour Lyric

Levitsky, Anne Adele

This dissertation explores the relationship of the act of singing to being a human in the lyric poetry of the troubadours, traveling poet-musicians who frequented the courts of contemporary southern France in the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. In my dissertation, I demonstrate that the troubadours surpass traditionally-held perceptions of their corpus as one entirely engaged with themes of courtly romance and society, and argue that their lyric poetry instead both displays the influence of philosophical conceptions of sound, and critiques notions of personhood and sexuality privileged by grammarians, philosophers, and theologians. I examine a poetic device within troubadour songs that I term ‘personified song’—an occurrence in the lyric tradition where a performer turns toward the song he/she is about to finish singing and directly addresses it. This act lends the song the human capabilities of speech, motion, and agency. It is through the lens of the ‘personified song’ that I analyze this understudied facet of troubadour song.
Chapter One argues that the location of personification in the poetic text interacts with the song’s melodic structure to affect the type of personification the song undergoes, while exploring the ways in which singing facilitates the creation of a body for the song.
Chapters Two and Three examine specific types of body formation located in the tornadas of the personified songs. In Chapter Two, I argue that the troubadours exploit pedagogies of singing and philosophical conceptions of sound to undercut the privileging of heterosexual relationships as the only, “natural” form of sexual relationship. In Chapter Three, I argue that troubadour lyric poetry engages with Latin grammatical treatises to undermine the primacy of a binary gender system, and open up space within the lyric for a third gender. I examine songs whose tornadas include both of the differently gendered (masculine and feminine) versions of the Old Occitan noun for “song,” exploring the complicated (and often contradictory) way in which multiple subject positions were expected to inhabit a single person, and suggesting a fluidity of gendered constructs that permeates the lyric corpus as a whole.
In my final chapter, I argue that the troubadours continue to act as social critics even after their poetic tradition comes to an end, as the songs form different types of bodies through their contact with the parchment page of the manuscripts in which they are preserved. I analyze the songs’s lives as objects of literary transmission, exploring how the concept of the personified song changes when its audience no longer encounters it in performance. I argue that, although the personified songs do not make explicit reference to the parchment on which they come to be written, they are similarly embodied with parchment-skins that simultaneously serve as body and body-covering.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Boynton, Susan L.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 14, 2018