Bertulf or Galbert? Considerations Regarding a Sample of Historical and Psychoanalytical Criticism of Medieval Dreams

Bertulf or Galbert? Considerations Regarding a Sample of Historical and Psychoanalytical Criticism of Medieval Dreams

By Jeroen Deploige

Psychoanalytische Perspectieven, Vol.20:2 (2002)

Abstract: This is a review article on Rudi Künzel’s proposed historical and psychoanalytical critique of medieval dreams. Firstly, the authenticity criteria proposed by Künzel are discussed critically. In particular, doubts are raised about an excessively strict distinction between oral and written culture. Next, a proposal is formulated to use psychoanalytical sensibility in the discourse analysis of other medieval narratives. Finally, some ideas are formulated with reference to an example from Galbert of Bruges’ famous journal on the murder of the Count Charles the Good of Flanders in 1127.

Introduction: Since the sixties, the history of mentalities has emerged as a particularly popular area of study within medieval studies, but has nonetheless been severely hampered for a long time by both conceptual and theoretical vagueness. By seeking a connection with methods from ethnology, and by renaming the history of mentalities historical anthropology, French historians in particular, such as Jacques Le Goff and Jean-Claude Schmitt, have been responsible for introducing considerably more clarity and methodical rigour.

Rudi Künzel is also among the most important proponents of a more scientific and critical approach to more or less elusive cultural, psychic and social phenomena from the past. During the nineties, he twice tried to encourage medievalists to adopt a more systematic and meticulous historical critique in research into medieval representations, emotions and forms of communication. His research into traces of pagan-Christian syncretism and of oral transmission each produced a sort of checklist of criteria that was intended to establish the authenticity of written accounts of these phenomena. In a third, similar exercise, he has once again during this psychohistorical conference earned the gratitude of the guild of medievalists for an unusual historical critique of the medieval narrative sources.

This time, it is medieval accounts of dreams whose authenticity is pondered. These accounts may be either autobiographical in nature, or records of other people’s dreams. The most significant methodological innovation that Künzel introduces in this quest for authenticity is, exactly one hundred years after Freud’s Traumdeutung, to extend the scope of traditional historical criticism and historical anthropology by the incorporation of psychoanalytical research criteria. His exercise is presented as a “proposal” and as a “sample”, and thus lends itself ideally to commentary, questions and discussion. In what follows, as a discussant, I take up this invitation with alacrity.

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