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kchrcoverWhy look at the Kaiserchronik? There are lots of reasons. Because of the popularity that its stories of Roman and German emperors enjoyed in the Middle Ages. Because of its place in a wider pattern of relationships between chronicles and the emergence of what one might call ‘national literatures’ in medieval Europe. Or because of the richness of its manuscript transmission, which is now part of a major research project in Cambridge and Marburg.

That may give an indication of the bigger picture behind the medieval German chronicle that I wrote about in my first book, which has just been reviewed by Christoph Pretzer in the journal Medium Ævum, 84 (2015), 352–3. It is an interesting experience to read one’s own book through another’s eyes, so I thought I’d reflect on some of the points that were raised. This is not meant adversarially (besides, I’m a critical reviewer myself so would not expect my own work to be treated any differently), simply as an informal way of thinking aloud on some topics that readers might be interested in.

Focusing on particular episodes without clarifying whether/how they are representative of the Kaiserchronik as a whole. This is a fair point: how does my micro-analysis of individual episodes relate to the large-scale structures between episodes (typology, salvation history) that have also been indentified in the Kchr? And yes, further research would be needed to see whether my four episodes are representative in the sense of exemplifying techniques used elsewhere in the work. Equally, this book in many ways deliberately avoids making claims to totality: it is essentially trying to map out a spectrum of possibilities represented in the selected episodes – which can be explored, questioned, extended by other scholars – not to arrive at a statement of the narrative technique of the Kaiserchronik.

Following on from the above, it is worth addressing the criticism of ‘preselecting only those episodes that lend themselves especially well to the demonstration of the narratological principle in question’. This might give the impression that each episode was chosen because it exemplifies a particular theory (i.e. resulting in a circular argument that conveniently passes over other episodes that do not suppport it). Actually, though, the structure of the book had other motivations: my aim was to choose episodes about well-known historical rulers with whom a wider readership would be familiar, and to do so in a way that gave equal prominence to the so-called ‘Roman’ (Silvester/Constantine, Charlemagne) and ‘German’ (Otto the Great, Heinrich IV/Godfrey) parts of the Kaiserchronik. I did indeed select a particular narratological ‘lens’ that seemed particularly suited to viewing each episode thus chosen, and I recognize that this raises methodological questions of its own – but it is nonetheless rather different from choosing the episode in order to prove the principle.

‘methodological eclecticism’.  The question of how the various narratological approaches that I adopt might fit together to form a single theory is not resolved. This is on the one hand a valid criticism; on the other hand, it is notable that other books, such as the posthumous Erzähltheorie in mediävistischer Perspektive by Armin Schulz (now available in an affordable paperback edition), find a multiperspectival approach best suited to capturing what is distinctive about medieval narrative. So it would definitely be worth formulating more clearly the assumptions behind my combination of frameworks.

I concur that some of the approaches proved more successful than others. The review mentions Uspensky’s psychological plane and Otto the Great as one less convincing example, and I can only say that I agree! (Such difficulties do, however, neatly demonstrate that the episodes cannot have been selected to fit the frameworks.) Perhaps this was a case of the thesis-writer not being confident enough to recognize that the third-party conceptual apparatus doesn’t quite work, at least with the kind of character models and world-formation that were at stake. This same example also raises another aspect of terminology that I would want to revisit: in some parts of the book (as here with Uspensky’s planes of perspective, or the Martínez/Scheffel categories of motivation in Chapter 3), I adopt or adapt existing terminological classifications, whereas elsewhere I tend toward freer modes of description and analysis. Addressing this imbalance might be one way of drawing the different methods together into a more coherent whole.

So, if you’re still reading after all that … the review certainly got me thinking! I’ve never quite managed to get away from chronicles since doing the thesis – the Sächsische Weltchronik will figure in the Lohengrin book, and Scandinavian/northern German historiography is going to be important in the latter stages of the current Northern Narratives project – so it was nice to return to the Kaiserchronik for a bit on a wet afternoon in Durham!

Edited to add that, having managed to bring myself to read one review, I’ve since realized that at least one other is also out there, a really positive appraisal by Alison Beringer in the Journal of English and Germanic Philology, 113 (2014), 370–1. Interestingly, she refers to a ‘profitably eclectic consideration of a number of theories’ and identifies this as a feature that may, in fact, appeal more to modernists than to medievalists – I’m curious to see how these aspects play out in other reviews, and will try to update this post accordingly!