Research Statement

Research Statement

Overview. My field of research is medieval testimonies of Christian voyages in the infernal part of the otherworld, written between the fifth and the fifteenth centuries in Latin and the vernacular languages. The original objective of this prolific literature was to invent a picture of the hitherto indescribable hell in order to offer a coherent form to the human mind and present it as a material space that could be visited by an embodied soul. My dissertation examined Latin reports of infernal voyages produced in monasteries from the fifth through the twelfth centuries and their adaptation into Old French that began at the very end of the twelfth century. My research on infernal journeys was mainly descriptive and focused on details of the voyage. I analyzed the trip itself through each of the ca. 120 texts collected: the identity of the traveler, the corporeality of souls and the means of arriving to hell, and I scrutinized the architecture of the infernal regions, their running and administration, and the behavior of their inhabitants.

Recently, I have begun working on testimonies initially composed in Old French starting in the thirteenth century; these compositions differ from the earlier ones, which dealt primarily with individuals whose “temporary death” allowed them to visit infernal regions under divine supervision for a soteriological purpose. The vernacular texts from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries are written in the first person by authors whose voluntary access to the otherworld took the form of allegorical daydreams. This enlarged corpus has motivated me to study the narratology of the testimonies rather than the details of the journey and hell itself. I spent the first semester at CofC reading theoretical essays on narratology from scholars from France, Germany, Russia, Italy and the United-States, I then re-read all my texts, both Latin and Vernacular. I examine not only the dynamics of the tale, but the essence of the text that is: the medieval formulation of the reports, the structure of the testimony, and the elaboration of a specific imagery (figurative language, visual images, collective signs and symbolism). This new approach has led me to define a specific genre, which I refer to as ‘Infernal Testimonies’. As I was going forward, I realized that, in addition to specific narrative organization, these new texts used a discursive strategy oriented towards the author himself. I then began to investigate discursive analysis theory and realized that the infernal testimonies evolved concurrently with tales and fabliaux, and, as in these, the figure of the author emerged in the narrative, especially with the wave of vernacularization and secularization that took place in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

At present, in connection with the research group Laboratoire Fictions et Interactions (May 2016-present), I am investigating new fictional perspectives: the ways in which these texts engage the audience and the controversial messages that they were intended to convey.

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