An Evening with Professor Michel Zink

April 6, 2015 | By French Culture

On Thursday, April 2, 2015, the Cultural Services of the French Embassy and Albertine Books hosted a talk with Michel Zink, Professor at the prestigious Collège de France, Permanent Secretary of the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, and world renowned expert on medieval literature. Thomas Michelon, the French Embassy's Deputy Cultural Counselor, welcomed Professor Zink with the following remarks. 


Ladies and gentlemen, Professor Zink,

It is a great honor and a great joy to welcome you to Albertine this evening.

Today we have the pleasure of hearing from Professor Michel Zink, an eminent member of the Collège de France and Chair of the literature and Medieval France departments.  Professor Zink’s works have been a major contribution to the field of medieval scientific research and have paved the way for the rediscovery of its literature, as well as authors, such as Rutebeuf.  He spreads his knowledge as a visiting professor, notably at Yale, Berkeley, Johns Hopkins, Columbia, University of Chicago, and Stanford – and he just completed a seminar at Tulane.

You may have heard Professor Zink’s distinct voice and his concise and illuminating talks on France Inter last summer.  In just a few sentences, he brilliantly pinpointed a specific aspect of the rich period that was the Middle Ages.  By canvassing centuries, he enables us to understand the spirit of the men and women of that time – who were both so similar to us and so different.

With his unique knack for “bringing vanished dreams back to life,” Professor Zink executed his expansive and nuanced work, Welcome to the Middle Ages.  He used a characteristic relentlessness, ultimately enlivening the Middle Ages for audiences today.

In your text we discover societal models, a way of relating to nature, and many other topics that bring us closer to the Middle Ages and help us to understand, through sublime texts, the humans that we once were.

You remind us, dear Professor Zink, that the Middle Ages – which, being 10 centuries long, is too vast to avoid some erroneous conflations – is an enlightened, rich, dense, and impassioning period.

The distribution of power in European cities and the shape of our oldest nations was constructed, to a great extent, during this period.  And the Middle Ages still haunt our century today – from the chanting of Gesualdo and Palestrina, to the masterpieces of Duccio and Giotto, to the wild spirit of Bayard and Du Guesclin, to the political genius of Hugues Capet and Louis XI, or the marvelous texts of Chrétien de Troyes.  We are the heirs of these cultural cornerstones, and their influence still touches us.

With this in mind, after Professor Zink’s talk, we invite you to participate in a book club discussion on the poetry of Maurice Scève.  With this discussion we aim to highlight, later in the Renaissance period, a literature that touches on subjects as diverse as passionate love, courage, despair, fate, and human tragedy – a literature that truly stands out against both the texts that precede and follow it in history. 

Professor Zink, you have shown – and here I’m using your own words – the "unmistakable originality" of medieval literature. You have demonstrated its unconditional quality, both as a matrix for literature to come and as an heir and a foil to Antiquity. 

I will now pass the floor over to Professor Zink.


Watch the conversation with Professor Michel Zink here.

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