At first sight, there may be no flagrant evidence to recommend the traditional capital of the duchy of Burgundy for a specifically literary history between 1348 and 1418, a period
which immediately predates a famous golden age of arts and belles-lettres for the whole of the duchy throughout the fifteenth century. Compared to other places considered in this seventy-year period, Dijon lacked eminent literary figures who might emblematise their native or adopted city or place (as did the Guillaumes de Deguillevile at Chaalis, and Machaut at Reims). Yet it is precisely because this period gestates the outbreak of Burgundian splendour that a particular consideration of Dijon proves compelling.
Under the aegis of the last Capetian and the first Valois dukes of Burgundy, cultural activity in the old capital witnessed an unprecedented burgeoning. Thus one of its facets, local urban book production, was energized by the active scriptorium established at the new foundation (by Duke Philip the Bold) of the charterhouse of Champmol. Operating in symbiotic relation with ducal and municipal patronage of painterly creations (for example, the work of Claus Sluter, Jean Malouel), such activity began to turn Dijon into an attractive local capital of the arts – as shown by archival evidence. To some extent, local patrician, burgherly, and religious book cultures absorbed and refracted such efforts while reflecting, concomitantly, older traditions of manuscript book importation
Throughout the period considered, however, the idea of a literary history of Dijon more essentially takes the form of a tale of dispersed cultural contacts and significant, if unpredictably related, fragments of discourses. Dijon was a convenient place of transit: between northern and central or even southern Europe (the future Duke
John the Fearless initially embarked from Dijon on his crusading journey to the Mediterranean Sea); between the kingdom of France and the Holy Roman Empire; between various localities within the scattered Burgundian estates. Dijon was one among several places of ducal residence: for the ducal territorial ambit included other cities or chateaux in the duchy as well as, primarily, Paris – de facto another capital of Burgundy. Through its numerous religious houses and institutions Dijon came in contact with a number of important establishments in Burgundy and elsewhere – not least with nearby Cîteaux, the cradle place of Cistercian spirituality, whose community, during the period considered, was twice (1360,
1365) compelled to make a temporary retreat to Dijon.
All of this (diplomatic errands, administrative relations, artistic and spiritual connections) was not without consequences both for the presence of ‘literature’ in Dijon and for negotiating the forms of its ‘extraterritorial’ literary culture(s). Somewhere between 1348 and 1418, Dijon – as much here as elsewhere in provincial cities of importance in Western Europe – fosters a poetics of medieval cultural Relation (with a capital R, as in the conception proposed by Édouard Glissant); its zones of relative opacity cannot all be attributed to the vicissitudes of archival survival. It has much to tell us about our premodern European condition.