Eliza Zingesser

Eliza Zingesser

A.B. summa cum laude, Smith College (2005)
Ph.D. Princeton University (2012)

Research Interests
Medieval French and Occitan literature, music, and culture; multilingualism, language contact, and translation theory; gender, sexuality, and queer theory; animal studies; voice and sound studies

My current book project, Lovebirds: Avian Erotic Entanglements in Medieval French and Occitan Literature, is about how birds, rather than being mere “symbols” of love, performed actual work with respect to the erotic experience. In each chapter, I turn to a different confluence of birds and human subjects (confluences I propose to call “entanglements”) and to what those confluences enabled erotically. In an introduction, I trace the history of the association between birds and love back to classical antiquity but also forward, showing that it endures to this day in our contemporary erotic vocabulary and imaginary. In the rest of the book, I argue that human-avian entanglements made possible: a type of language that foregrounds the corporeal and sensorial over the semantic (chapter 1, “Pidgin Poetics”), erotic affects such as desire and pleasure (chapter 2, “The Wings of Desire”), erotic self-conception and the pivoting of love objects (chapter 3, “The Falcon as Fulcrum”), and memory of the love object (chapter 4, “Mnemonic Birds”). In a coda, I explore how metamorphosis into a bird seems to be a requisite condition for physical erotic contact, and especially for procreation, in much medieval literature.

My first book, Stolen Song: How the Troubadours Became French (Cornell University Press, 2020), documented for the first time the act of cultural appropriation that created a founding moment for French literary history: the rescripting and domestication of troubadour song, a prestige corpus in the European sphere, as French, and the simultaneous creation of an alternative point of origin for French literary history—a body of faux-archaic Occitanizing song. In one of my essays, “Francophone Troubadours,” I give an overview of the book’s argument.

Some of my recent articles have been about the interface of human and avian language, a shared predilection between birds and humans for acoustic recycling, and an unwillingness on the part of medieval French and Occitan authors to formally demarcate birdsong/speech (“Pidgin Poetics,”“Chrétien the Jay,” and “Voice and Species in the Ovide moralisé”). I have also written about the intersection of finance and literature, e.g., about metaphors of love as debt or usury and masochism as a mode of payment (“The Poets of the North”), and about Froissart’s depiction of poetry as a kind of financial accounting (“The Value of Verse”). My other essays are about sources that authors choose to suppress as well as those they choose to remember, especially in the context of the materiality of their work and/or cross-cultural interaction. One is about an Italian expansion and revision of Richard de Fournival’s Bestiaire d’amour and its strategy of self-authorization as the sole authentic version of the Bestiaire (“Remembering to Forget”), another about the suppression of Italian sources and the promotion of French ones in Nicole de Margival’s Dit de la panthère (“The Vernacular Panther”), another about Guillaume de Machaut’s debt to neoplatonism in his general prologue (“The Genesis of Poetry”), and another about the way in which the reuse of woodcuts from an edition of Aesop’s Fables in a 1547 edition of Rabelais cues that text and its paratext for readers (“Rabelais et Ésope en images”). For full bibliographic references, see below.

I regularly teach “Literature Humanities” as part of Columbia’s Core Curriculum as well as a class called “Queer Medieval France.” I have also taught “Eloquent Animals,” “Writing Women in Medieval France and England,” and “Reading and Writing (on) the Body in the Francophone Middle Ages,” among others. In the near future, I hope to teach a course called “Medieval Media Theory.”

Articles and Book Chapters
“Voice and Species in the Ovide moralisé.” Forthcoming in the Journal for Interdisciplinary Voice Studies.

“Chrétien the Jay: Avian Rhetoric in Philomena.” Rhetorica: A Journal of the History of Rhetoric 38.2 (2020): 156-179

“The Poets of the North: Economies of Literature and Love.” In Musical Culture in the World of Adam de la Halle, ed. Jennifer Saltzstein. Leiden: Brill (2019), 51-76

“Francophone Troubadours: Assimilating Occitan Lyric in Medieval France.” In Medieval Francophone Literary Culture Outside France, ed. Dirk Schoenaers and Nicola Morato. Turnhout: Brepols (2018), 371-387

“Pidgin Poetics: Bird Talk in Medieval France and Occitania.” New Medieval Literatures 17 (2017): 62-80. (Winner of the Malcolm Bowie Prize from the Society for French Studies)

“Remembering to Forget Richard de Fournival’s Bestiaire d’amour in Italy: The Case of Pierpont Morgan MS 459.” French Studies 69.4 (2015): 439-448

“The Vernacular Panther: Encyclopedism, Citation, and French Authority in Nicole de Margival’s Dit de la panthère.” Modern Philology 109.3 (2012): 301-311

“The Genesis of Poetry: Machaut’s Prologue, Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy and Chartrian Neoplatonism.” Viator 42.2 (2011): 143-156

“The Value of Verse: Storytelling as Accounting in Froissart’s Dit du florin.” Modern Language Notes 125.4 (2010): 861-872

“Rabelais et Ésope en images.” Études Rabelaisiennes 50 (2010): 23-42

Last updated January 2024