Dimensions of Honor (UC Berkeley, Stanford University)

Kathrin Gollwitzer-Oh's picture
December 2, 2016
California, United States
Subject Fields: 
Cultural History / Studies, Intellectual History, Literature, Medieval and Byzantine History / Studies, German History / Studies

Dimensions of Honor in Medieval German Literature –

A Workshop

(UC Berkeley/Stanford University)

December 2nd 2016, 10am – 6pm

The term 'honor’ has been described as a paradoxical coding. It is not only a category that evokes a multitude of images and concepts interchangeably, it also possesses the capacity to combine conflicting and aporetic semantics, structures, and logics/dynamics. 

In the Middle Ages, these are highly complex, yet functional.  Signifiers of honor can both be seen, heard, and 'read’. Honor is embodied in objects, can be witnessed in highly aesthetical choreographies, and can be perceived in the beauty and abundance of a body or material display such as an armor. It is both an agent of societal order, a specific knowledge of interaction, and action of communication. Based on agonal structures and deeply rooted in a culture of visuality and materiality, a man’s or a woman’s reputation – or its loss – has to always become evident in public. Furthermore, an extraordinary reputation and the ability to act on one’s honor are encased in a 'good name’ that can travel and become representative of ethos.  

The discourse on honor that manifests itself in literature, historiography and other genres cannot be regarded as a mere copy of  historical and societal conditions. On the contrary, it primarily generates a significance of honor first and foremost. Since the bestowing of honor is a continuous process, a process that sets new precedence and requires maintenance, honor is fragil, it can easily be lost or damaged. It needs constant visual and audible demonstration, being proven in combat or by different external acts or symbolization. As such, the fundamental problem of honor is a medial one, a problem of visualization and creating evidence, as well as a question of how honor can be narrated.   

This workshop’s objective is to take a closer look at how historiographic, religious, and literary texts of different genres narrate, relate to, and visualize honor. How does honor  manifest itself? What kind of specifically aesthetical configurations of honor does the literary discourse unfold? How is a discourse about ethos intertwined with contemporary discourses on mediality and aesthetics? How do the mechanisms and dynamics of honor refer to the interrelation between the internal and external, between courtly society and the individual? What strategies are being used to ensure that the gain, violation, or loss of honor can be witnessed? What functions do the semantics of honor play in relation to superordinate discourses such as discourses on governance, war, violence, and concepts of order? How do different genres develop –  in part and at times – conflicting semantics of honor? What is the relationship of honor, which is constantly under revision and interpretation, to concepts of fame and glory that echo across time and space? And how is honor linked to the concepts of triuwe, schulde, schame, and zorn? The workshop understands itself as an attempt to do ground work in investigating these aforementioned questions, discussing together texts such as Einhard's "Vita Karoli Magni", Bernhard von Clairvaux’s  “Vita Sancti Malachias episcopi“, Gottfried von Straßburg’s “Tristan“, Hartmann von Aue’s “Erec“ and “Iwein“, Ulrich von Zatzikhoven’s “Lanzelet“, Wirnt von Grafenberg’s  “Wigalois“, Thomasîn von Zerclaere’s “ Welscher Gast“,  the Middle High German "Rolandslied“ and others.


Please register by 13th of November 2016 in order to receive material and texts on time. 

If you would like to attend or have any questions, please contact Kathrin Gollwitzer-Oh at kathrin.gollwitzer@germanistik.uni-muenchen.de

Contact Info: 
Organizers: Niklaus Largier (UC Berkeley),  Kathrin Gollwitzer-Oh (UC Berkeley)
German Department
5319 Dwinelle Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720