E. R. Curtius, Cleansing the Discipline

Between the 1950s and the 1990s, most doctoral dissertations in medieval literary studies included at least some reference to Ernst Robert Curtius’ 1948 Europäische Literatur und Lateinisches Mittelalter, translated into English as European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages. Because of his meticulous and encyclopedic study, medieval scholars viewed him as one of the founding fathers of the modern study of the Middle Ages. However, Curtius’ career and work includes some disturbing details, many of which can be seen at work in his 399-page long ‘review’ of Hans Hermann Glunz’s 1937 book on the literary aesthetics of medieval culture (Die Literarästhetik des europäischen Mittelalters: Wolfram, Rosenroman, Chaucer, Dante) as well as in his 1933 essai, Deutscher Geist in Gefahr. I have discussed these issues in detail in “‘Cleansing’ the Discipline’: Ernst Robert Curtius and His Medievalist Turn,” in: Medievalism in the Modern World: Essays in Honour of Leslie Workman. Ed. Richard Utz and Tom Shippey. Making the Middle Ages, 1. Turnhout: Brepols, 1998, 359-78. Louise D’Arcens (Prolepsis) summarizes: “Utz focuses on Curtius’ thoroughgoing demolition of his fellow-medievalist Hans Hermann Glunz, and the devastating outcome of this for Glunz. This Cantoresque essay provides a fascinating alternative portrait of a scholar whose anti-nationalist reputation, Utz suggests, sits uncomfortably alongside a more questionable ethic of scholarly ambition and intellectual dogmatism. By considering the human expense at which Curtius’ stature was achieved, the essay also offers a counter-history of medieval studies, one which ultimately makes a case for the importance of intellectual generosity and plurality within a discipline.”

mediävalismus medievalism medievalismo médiévalisme