What I find most interesting about the vidas are not the vidas by themselves, but the combination of the vidas with their footnotes. I’m assuming the footnotes are added by troubadour scholars who want to present factual historical biographical information of the troubadours. In this week’s response essay, I want to analyze the vidas and their footnotes through the lenses of Austin’s definition of factual statements and performative utterances.
Austin makes a distinction between ‘statements’ and ‘performatives.’ Statements are declarations of existing affairs and have to be either ‘true’ or ‘false.’ When the vidas give a biographical fact about the troubadour, that is a statement. According to Austin, performatives are speech acts that when said brings something new into existence. Performatives are neither true nor false.
It is obvious that footnotes constitute as statements, but how about the vidas? Are the vidas performatives or statements (or both)? And what happens when you juxtapose statements with performatives?
In most cases the footnotes clarify or flesh out biographical, historical, and geographical information. In contrast, the vidas can be seen as performatives, rather than statements. When a vida hyperbolically says that Falfin D’alvernhe is “one of the wisest gentlemen and one of the most courtly and generous men in the world,” the utterance it not a factual one but a performative one, and not simply because of the claim’s subjective nature. As Burgwinkle explains, “the vidas reveal a deliberate effort to present these varied poets...as part of an ideologically sanctioned system of training....though not all poets and patrons are equally talented and respectable, the honor of the system in which they participate is not questioned.” The claim about Falfin can be seen as a performance of cortezia and the importance of cortezia, rather than a factual argument.
In these cases, the categorization of vidas and their footnotes are clear. But in some cases, the footnotes actually contradict the vidas. In Guillem IX’s vida, the second footnote on Guillem’s line of descent states: “The vida is not accurate on this point” then continues to explain Guillem’s actual lineal descent. When a footnote corrects the vida, does that transform the vida from a performative into a statement? Does it matter if the vida is wrong factually? The point the vida is trying to perform is that Guillem IX has a very noble lineage, and it clearly succeeds. If whether the vida is true or false does not matter, does it automatically make it into a performative utterance?