THE FROZEN TROUBADOUR
THE CANON OF THE TOIRTOISE TRIUMPHANT
Fragments, Paradoxes and Enigmas
from the 29th century
This job, as it turns out, is more than I bargained for. First, it's dangerous (a number of my
colleagues have disappeared) though I am bred for survival (having learned as a boy to
elude the giant lizards of my native Komodo). Second, the remaining members of the
Gesellschaft besides me suffer, respectively, from delusions of immortality and the abuse of
liquor. To top things off (to "ice the cake") as my American friends would say there's this
new manuscript we found in the mailbox: both Professor Daffe and Professor Kennedy (also
daffy) are convinced it has leaked through a(nother !) rift in the time / space continuum,
arriving in this instance not from a parallel universe but from the distant future of our world.
The "frozen troubadour" to whom the title refers is one Peire Cardenal, medieval poet and
musician, and eloquent witness to the tragic demise of the elegant culture of Old Provence.
We find it curious that Cardenal comes from a time period and practiced an occupation
close to those of Henry von Ofterdingen (not exactly the pseudonymous composer , nor
precisely the fictitious hero of Novalis' novel, but the "original" minnesinger (a pretentious
conceit to be sure). This troubadour, then, is resurrected or perhaps reconstructed
(anti-deconstructed, to be precise) by his remote descendants, possibly in the hope of
learning from an authentic biological life form some of the secret subtleties of music, of
poetry and of love, though it would seem our hero becomes infected, almost immediately,
with that mixture of impatience, uncertainty and malaise that would seem a general affliction
in the 29th century.
Indeed the text indicates that there must have been (that is, there will at some point be) an
era of chaos thanks to which the past will appear to our descendants in hopelessly
fragmented, incoherent form - perhaps nothing but this website will remain and it will
become synonymous with the history of the world. This pleases us in a limited way,
though we recognize the validity of other events and enterprises. What disturbs us is the
thought that, just possibly, such a catastrophe has occurred already in our own past, that we
live in a world impoverished of so much knowledge and wisdom - this would go quite a way
toward explaining our unhappy state, the precarious relation between our sense of how
things should be and how they currently are.
Needless to say, there will be sceptics who would question the reliability, even the
authenticity, of what follows. And just as surely there will be those whose natural
weakness of imagination, whose exaggerated chiliastic yearnings, will incline them attach
too serious, too literal a significance to the what follows. Yet others will be inclined to
interpret Cardenal's yearning for his bygone world as a metaphor masking some tragic,
unmentionable loss on the part of this writer (thanks to which the unremitting goofiness of
these Gesellschaft publications is mitigated, transcended, dignified), with the mask serving
to purify, even as the reader's not knowing serves to universalize - such is the price of art (I
mean if that were true). Personally, I would encourage an appropriately Post-(Post-)
Modern position, celebrating rather than lamenting the inevitable gap between the text and
that which it signifies, and refusing to confound the situation with too assiduous a concern
for mere truth.
Prof. Pelog Slenderoso
It was not from sleep but from sweet centuries of death that Peire Cardenal was awakened.
And as his wandering, vagabond soul rose toward consciousness through tiers of dream, he
felt a lingering thrill at the transparent clarity of things give way first to the pain of nostalgia
for some overwhelming truth slipping away, and then to the intoxication of the world's
embrace in the stiffness of his limbs, the dryness in his throat.
Peire opened his eyes: three robots were hovering about his bed...
The soul in its slumbers dreams of eternal things, and so on waking, Peire's first thought
was that he had arrived in the Gnostic Kingdom of Light, that those floating spheres were
the incorruptible forms of eternity, that he had been delivered from the darkness and
deception of this false world, fashioned by an Imposter-God, where we languish, intoxicated
to forgetfulness of our royal heritage. "The Bogomils were right," he said to himself,
referring to a religious sect of dualistic persuasion mercilessly persecuted in the Albigensian
Crusade that ravaged 12th century Provence and destroyed the courtly civilization in which
his art had flourished.
Only gradually was he persuaded that it was to the remote future - the 29th century - that he
had been summoned. Over time he learned of the events that had shaped the intervening
years: how the dawn of the Cybernetic Age had been dimmed by unexpected clouds of a
universal malaise amounting to a second Dark Age (how man, with an eternity of existence
stretching before him, had descended into insouciance, apathy or fatalism, or else sought
refuge in the fecklessness of virtual reality), he learned of the revival of lively interest in the
past, a New Renaissance, of how its efforts were hampered by a cumulative loss of
meaning. His native tongue, once called langue d'oc, or Old Occitan, had been forgotten,
so that those scholars who attempted to reconstruct the courtly life of the troubadours had
recourse only to computerized translations so incomprehensible as to provoke a theory that,
from the dark nether-regions of cyberspace, a False One had sprung whose desire it is to
ruin, distort and malign all that is pellucid and lovely.
Peire learned of the heroic efforts of those scholars and aesthetes of the New Renaissance
to rekindle a living artistic culture in a post-functional world - indeed he may have been
privileged to see for himself a masterpiece preserved from primitive times, a pivotal work,
constituting as it were the last gasp of representational art while also serving as an early
example of the "Abstract Expressionless" I refer, of course, to Polar Bear in a Snow Storm,
likely the collective achievement of some Inuit group, now on permanent display at the
At the same time he was undoubtedly introduced to those musical developments that typify
the early Cyber-Renaissance. (Perhaps he attended a performance of some portion of that
ongoing work, Canon of the Tortoise Triumphant, an admirably structured composition in
which the dux is followed by the comes at the distance of several thousand years, while
the imitation proceeds by a process of augmentation by ten to the one thousandth power,
the idea being that, as time-space is curved, the lead voice will come to outstrip the follower
so effectively that it will actually appear, in distant millennia, behind, approaching from the
rear, at which point the slower part will be recognized as the leader, with the imitation
proceeding by diminution.)
It was into such a world - a world, like ours, fraught with contradictions, spiced with lively
arguments - that Peire Cardenal was awakened. (They found him stuck in a glacier, his
body preserved over the centuries, and they coaxed him back to life with care and cunning,
desperately seeking the perspective of flesh and blood, eager to pounce on him with a
thousand questions, these immortally ignorant, all too human robots.)
The troubadour found himself torn between recollections, lingering dreams and confusion
over contemporary innovation, and, as was his habit, sought clarity in poetry and in music (a
language at once more precise and more elusive). But immediately he found himself in the
dilemma of one who faces limitless possibilities: fumbling blindly, he broke the symmetry of
silence, engendering (you might say) time and space, and with them two myths: that
creation is a divine effulgence of love, and that it's a heavenly cataclysm. But just as that
pre-cosmic stillness contained an irrepressible urge, so the messy music that spilled forth
retained some hint ( in its wholeness and in each of its parts) of formal perfection, and the
tension of this paradox made Beauty, and the beauty seemed to justify the work.
What the troubadour left us is an autobiographical fragment - a failed attempt to rekindle a
lost art, in which the author repeatedly loses his way through false starts, philosophical
cul-de-sacs and (worst) emotional outbursts, strangely eloquent of his confusion, and in its
inconclusiveness and ambiguity, faithfully representative of the world - a world thus revealed
as the uncompleted handiwork of some unknown demigod who either died without making
his purposes clear (hence our confusion) - or, worse, who has captured the world's souls in
the opacity of steel, leading them to forget their True Homeland in the organic world of the
past - a fate from which deliverance can only come through a Prince of Light from Beyond,
bearing this redeeming knowledge: we are mortal, and only through death can their be
growth, change, transformation, new life.
Here follows the disconcerting biographical fragment left by
The Frozen Troubadour
Call me Peire. Peire Cardenal. Peter the cardinal, with the red hat and the black
mask. Or Amadeus Robot. That’s what some call me now. It’s a silly name, in my
opinion, but, seeing as they brought me back from the dead in this cybernetic age, I
don’t presume to argue.
If you knew your history – and I’ll bet you don’t, as I understand much of it was
garbled or lost long ago – you would recognize me as one of the celebrated
troubadours of 13th c. Provence. We used to strap on our boots, tune the
instruments, and travel about singing clever songs in sparkling voices on the
subject of courtly love.
That is, until the Pope sent an army down from northern France. Crusaders, they
called themselves, with the mission of eradicating heresy, which they eventually
did, while managing to seize political control (which was on their minds from the
start) and incidentally obliterating the entire sophisticated organism that was
Provencal society (which, they must have realized, was inevitable).
Personally, I was never bothered by those Cathar heretics: we Catholics got along
with them well enough. In fact, for the most part they made good neighbors. I mean
they were easy to live near, what with all that striving for perfection (although
occasionally their disparagement of the material world as the bogus creation of an
evil demiurge led to a general sense of the unreality of things, which sometimes led
to surprisingly licentious behavior, transforming them, in such instances, from good,
to interesting, neighbors).
Well, imagine my surprise to wake from 17 centuries of slumber and find myself
surrounded by floating, pot-bellied machines with bulging eyes, and imagine, if you
will, my further surprise to discover their curiosity about those same, apparently
unresolvable theological issues disputed long ago. Indeed, their interest in this
matter was rivaled only by their zeal for poetical and musical information, though,
try as I might, I failed to recall much on this score: of melodies, rhythms and rhymes
my head was empty. This perplexed me, and perplexes me still, since there are so
many names and faces, sorrows and joys, I do recollect with clarity.
No matter: my new friends were not easily discouraged. From scanty snippets
sifted from the wreckage of antiquity they pieced together some semblance of my
songs, though, honestly, their cyber-realizations amounted to a lot of guess-work,
my notation having been so sketchy.
In fact, I found it hard to believe I had ever conceived such music, and felt
instinctively that I could do much better now (though way out of practice). I wanted
to erase from history this image of my self and replace it with something more
worthy of my true nature. (You know this feeling, don’t you? Just imagine it’s not
yesterday’s behavior, or last year’s, that you’d disavow, but something that’s stuck
to you for 17 centuries. )
In short, that just wasn’t me, and this fact left me wondering just who I am (since
clearly it was me, once upon a time). The Cathars taught that the soul is incarnate
in many forms, one following another, but my experience seemed just the opposite:
within this same resuscitated body a new man had grown, though, assuredly, he
possessed the artistic sensibility of his former self.
On the other hand I suffered acutely from certain persistent memories of a personal
nature. Every parent knows the continual, mortal heartache that comes from
witnessing their children die out of what they were and emerge into what they
become. At a certain point they are grown and leave home: then it’s as if a part of
your life has slipped off the earth forever, and their visits take on the aura of
dreams – fragile and evanescent, while in our real dreams our hearts revolt, for,
whatever life may decree, our wishes are elsewhere, and so our little ones return,
dislodged from time, their innocence and vulnerability restored, and conspire with
our long-dead parents to haunt our awakening.
Of course, in my case, the morning reminds me, not that my children are grown and
gone, but that the entire world that I knew has disappeared, along with my darling
Sophia. But I’d better interrupt myself here and set the record straight, to avoid any
misunderstandings. The biographical records that remain about me mention the
possibility – never demonstrated but merely suggested, according to some, by the
tone of my poetry – that I, Peire Cardenal, was a Roman Catholic priest. This is not
true, though theology has always been one of my hobbies ( alongside water-polo
and knitting Persian rugs). I think the confusion stems from the fact that, at a
certain age, I developed a prominent bald-spot on the back of my head, of such
smooth circularity that, from a distance, it resembled the type of headgear worn by
certain clerics (not to mention rabbis). This bald-spot is remarkable not only for the
spiritual perfection of its form, but for sitting unusually low on the back of my head,
seeming ready to sink, at any moment, like the sun into the twilit sea, and become
engulfed in the folds of my collar. The worst of it is that, since the hair on the front
of my head is intact, I keep forgetting about this bald-spot, only to be reminded with
a jolt at odd moments, as when, in a lavatory with many mirrors, I encounter multiple
images of myself. At such times I feel as one does upon discovering one’s pants
zipper is open and has been for some time; instinctively I fear I’ll be taken for some
kind of flasher.
The point is (or the points are) that I never was a priest, thus have nothing to hide
in speaking of my family, or invoking the name Sophia. Oh, where is she now, who
called me soul-mate, promising to search beyond the grave, through every world
and living form, until she found herself, again and immemorially, in my arms (or
whatever appendages I might possess – such as wings, bright ones, together with a
fine black mask and a smart tail, my tawny Mrs. Cardinal!)? In all those years I
slept in that glacial block, did my soul wither of waiting, spread itself upon the wind,
and disperse into the limitless expanse? And did she search in vain through cycles
of ages, coming at last to this bleak, inorganic, death-defying world, and despair at
finding, beneath the smooth, spinning spheres, behind the human-seeming
Faced with so many questions and so little hope, what could I do? I did exactly
what they brought me back to life to demonstrate, which happens to be what any
troubadour would do with his misery anyway: I resolved to parlay it into poetry and
set it to music. This is another mystery we’re no closer to solving – why our sorrow
sung’s endurable, why music makes sadness so lovely. The patterned promise of
meaning, lurking behind the chaos of existence? The consolation of beauty, refuge
of the battered heart? The defiant glow of artistic integrity in the face of
My wife is a beautiful stranger
Whatever the explanation, the task of writing turned out to be harder than I had
expected. Recall, oh 21st c. reader whom I address from the future, that in a world
with infinite time, with no boundaries, the only form is the asymptote, such that,
whatever one may choose, in choosing one moves farther from completing. (Yes,
it's you, my secret, long-lost self, dust of former lifetimes – it’s you whose furious
fancy imagines for me this strange destiny – you, who in time’s dark mirror creates
me in words, and pulls from me a promise (even as my heart protests: “I know
nothing!”) - a promise of pale ferns in brown basins, half obscured behind the
priest, beckoning like that moment in Bach when sound would cease, and with it
clocks and death, when banana-colored walls of oval sanctuaries threaten to set us
free – a promise of an unnameable woman to a barren man who’d shed the husk of
his past, entangled in vanity and delusion, mired in mingled hope…
To love is not to know but to wonder
Oh, my father! I have chased you down the ways and through the years: you
spared us nothing. And in the end, as you fell beyond reach, I felt your madness
stir within me.
Then long slumber, and protracted, crepuscular demise – infantile, amnesiac,
eccentric – till finally you forgot even to breathe: and not till then did I cease
whispering nonsense in the seashell of your ear.
But I have other, many fathers.
My wife is a beautiful stranger
Whose familiar form, whose well-known ways
Mask a mystery of sunsets
You said it best, if but once, in a single jewel of a poem hid among fifteen volumes
the rest of which – as you said Aquinas said of his work as he lay dying – is chaff.
Father of my flesh: if I could pity you and somehow still be proud! Father of dreams,
author of my destiny, inaccessible welder of words, could I climb beyond the pages
of your pen and, rising, grasp your shoulders, say:
To love is not to know
But to wonder
And to wander among imponderable sunsets
Rose and mauve
Oh, but I am the child of many, of Ezra Pound, for instance, whom you both
resemble; at the same time I’m father of many flowers, notably you, my reader
(skeptical, bemused) as well my well-grown boy come to uncanny resemblance
(how we walk how we talk, our hiccups our handwriting) – do you feel, my son,
imprisoned in your father, as your father does in his father before him?
If there were no time…but there is, and it’s braided with kindness and cruelty, the
invisible loom of what we are, against which all our protests are in vain. And since
there is time, then where have the hours of innocence gone, the daily shepherding
of your delicate lives through games and meals and songs and stories with verve
and tenderness, laughter and love? If they are here, if they persist, transmuted in
your self-sufficient selves (for we burn away in ardor what we love) then here too
are the anguished faces, the empty arms, maybe stiff unto death, of the many and
vulnerable loves I let drop, indifferent and proud.
So that the past sits heavy on me now, preaching patience, though it’s a shame I’ve
learned so late, at such a cost. Humility too, for nothing feels as I thought it would,
and by the way did you notice my description of life mirrors the trajectory of this
article? (Neither moves toward a conclusion; both tend to fall apart or sink to
obscurity.) And neither possesses that unity of purpose and style we’d like to
project: see how my glib and humorous prose, peppered with quaint particulars, has
aged into pathos and poetry.
Poetry? I can’t even remember my native language anymore, which means I don’t
really know who I was, but cherish, instead, notions about what I might have been.
Still, let me try again:
I will not anymore speak in modern tongue
But like a troubadour with harp in hand
In Occitan sing of you emerald eyes
Your teeth your hair your smooth melodious thighs:
Since last night any day, love, I could die.
I could die.
And they, my metal friends, could not – even if they wanted to. Father of flowers,
reader in my past – is this why they woke me, why these words have dripped back
to you through time - to undo your future, to negate their own interminable,
But what is the message they wished me to impart? Am I to remind you of Achilles’
choice for a short but glorious life? Or should I speak of Galahad, and the ship with
the white sails that delivered him God knows where?
Or is my failure most eloquent: perhaps what I wish to say is incommunicable.
Or maybe there’s nothing to say.