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Sarah Bowden, 'The time of the text: temporality and salvation in twelfth-century German devotional writing’

Sarah Bowden (King's College London) will be giving an online talk on 7 February 2024 at 5:00 PM CET

The talk is part of the Interfaces Journal Lectures spring 2024 and will be online via Zoom. All are welcome to join! 

Register here


 This lecture uses as its starting-point the new issue of Interfaces on Time in the Twelfth Century, which I edited with Lea Braun and George Younge. The essays in the issue are wide-ranging, dealing with a variety of texts in Latin and the vernacular, and produce a picture of twelfth-century textuality that, although grounded in tradition, is unusally rich and experimental when it comes to thinking about time. One aspect that emerges is a developing tread in textual self-awareness—an interest, that is, in the time of the text; how the text works within time; and how the experience of the text might aid its recipients approximate an increased conceptual understanding of temporality and eternity.

In this lecture I look at some German-language devotional writing to explore this aspect more closely. My starting-point is Alber’s Tnugdalus, the first vernacular retelling of the Visio Tnugdali, which draws striking attention both to the temporal context in which the events of the story occurred and are retold as well as to the moment of its own telling, which is staged to be potentially infinitely repeatable. By drawing attention to its own work in time, Tnugdalus shows how texts have the potential to aid in the salvation of both their producers and recipients. I then explore this interconnection between textual temporality and salvation in two further examples: the works of the poet known as the Wilde Mann, who draws repreated attnetion to the moment of textual communication and its ideal function as a tool of spiritual conversion and salvation; and the Vorau Codex 276, an important early multi-text manuscript of German literature. Here, the ordering of the material plays out on a superficial level a chronological history of salvation from creation to apocalypse, but on closer consideration collapses this chronology into a kind of salvational circularity, and so encourages its readers to contemplate the temporal complexity of salvation and their own place in the world.

Editing was completed: 07.02.2024