Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
Project title: Tenting – hunting – getting oriented. Cultural practices in nature in the novel around 1300.
Supervisors: Jun.-Prof. Dr. Claudia Lauer, Prof. Dr. Marion Gindhart
A man suffering from love goes into a hollow oak tree, and starts feeding only on grass and leaves. An old man tames a wild animal, putting on its head a piece of paper on which something is written. A military company sets so many multicoloured tents, that the residents of the city under siege confuse the battlefield with a May landscape. A hunting knight finds the way to his future bride by following the traces of a female deer.
The characters of the Middle High German novels act not only in representative ceremonial halls and intimate chambers, but a lot of acts can take place outside of the fortresses, and can carry the spatial index of free nature. Many various explanations are possible, because the human being sojourns in nature, and when such a scenario is activated, the existential aspects of the sojourn are often explicated – how a person transforms the landscape configuration to secure food and shelter to spend the night. Employing examples of installing residences (tent, cottage, hermitage, hollow tree trunk) and alimentary acts in nature (identifying edible herbs, hunting, steps in preparation, consumption), the dissertation describes how these cultural practices can be narrated in novels around 1300 and what semantics they transplant in nature, as well as how their primary, physiological relation to sleeping and eating is occasionally re-coded, so that they serve for representation of the protagonists. In the case of human residences, binary opposites are used, such as mobile–stable, permeable–dense, temporary–permanent, male–female, as descriptive categories through which the herefrom resulting modifications of nature can be determined more precisely as happening once, iterative, permanent, reversible, irreversible, gender specific or gender indifferent. The strategies for food-searching, hunting techniques and the relation to the prey, on the other hand, should be analysed in regard to the patterns of order and aesthetic models on which they are based.
Nature, however, cannot be assigned only a passive role, as the keyword ‘getting oriented’ – the third thematic focus of the dissertation – signalises: it can assist a cultural practice, for example retaining the traces of the animals and giving instructions where to look for food, but also prevent a certain cultural practice, when wind or rain damage the human residence and impel the figure to find another location. Furthermore, messages in the stars also illustrate the power of nature to dictate the human behaviour. Thus, this perspective can display how the interaction between man and nature develops, and answer the question, what characterises their relation – whether nature appears as an assistant or as a rival of man.
Nonetheless, what exactly is meant by ‘nature’ as surface for cultural practices, that is, the partner for dialogue is yet to be defined on the basis of the texts themselves: what entity is signified with the word ‘nature’, is nature understandable only as a group of negatives, such as not-court, not-human, not-knight? Is ‘nature’ the given entirety of all living beings or an arbitrary segment that varies depending on the situation and the character? How are the interferences between rhetoric, Christian interpretation and mimesis actualized – is nature constantly presented as a combination of long-known sites or can it be mimetically reflected? The notion of ‘nature’ does not mean something determined in advance, but should be gradually uncovered during the dissertation in all its fictional nuances in the Middle High German novel around 1300.