Medievalists have long been interested in the "abandoned woman," a figure historically used to examine the value of traditional male heroism. Moving beyond previous studies which have focused primarily on Virgil's Dido, Suzanne Hagedorn focuses on the vernacular works of Dante, Bocaccio, and Chaucer, arguing that revisiting the classical tradition of the abandoned woman enables one to reconsider ancient epics and myths from a female perspective and question assumptions about gender roles in medieval literature.
Renewed interest in aesthetics, in form, and the idea of the literary has led some scholars to announce the arrival of a “new formalism,” but the provisional histories of such a critical rebirth tend to begin well after the beginning, paying scant attention to medieval literary scholarship, much less the Middle Ages. The essays in Answerable Style: The Idea of the Literary in Medieval England offer a collective rebuke to the assumption that any such aesthetic turn can succeed without careful attention to the history and criticism of “the medieval literary.”
Taking as their touchstone the influential work of Anne Middleton, whose searching explorations of the dialectical intersection of form and history in Middle English writing lie at the heart of the medievalist’s literary critical enterprise, the essays in this volume address the medieval idea of the literary, with special focus on the poetry of Chaucer, Langland, and Gower. The essays, by a notable array of medievalists, range from the “contact zones” between clerical culture and vernacular writing, to manuscript study and its effects on the modalities of “persona” and voicing, to the history of emotion as a basis for new literary ideals, to the reshapings of the genre of tragedy in response to late-medieval visions of history, and finally to the relations between poets writing in different medieval vernaculars. With this unusually broad yet thematically complementary set of essays, Answerable Style offers a set of key critical and historical reference points for questions currently preoccupying literary study.
One of the most common ways of setting the arts in parallel, at least from the literary side, is through the popular rhetorical device of ekphrasis. The original meaning of this term is simply an extended and detailed, lively description, but it has been used most commonly in reference to painting or sculpture. In this lively collection of essays, Andrew James Johnston, Ethan Knapp, and Margitta Rouse offer a major contribution to the study of text–image relationships in medieval Europe. Resisting any rigid definition of ekphrasis, The Art of Vision is committed to reclaiming medieval ekphrasis, which has not only been criticized for its supposed aesthetic narcissism but has also frequently been depicted as belonging to an epoch when the distinctions between word and image were far less rigidly drawn. Examples studied range from the eleventh through the seventeenth centuries and include texts written in Medieval Latin, Medieval French, Middle English, Middle Scots, Middle High German, and Early Modern English.
The essays in this volume highlight precisely the entanglements that ekphrasis suggests and/or rejects: not merely of word and image, but also of sign and thing, stasis and mobility, medieval and (early) modern, absence and presence, the rhetorical and the visual, thinking and feeling, knowledge and desire, and many more. The Art of Vision furthers our understanding of the complexities of medieval ekphrasis while also complicating later understandings of this device. As such, it offers a more diverse account of medieval ekphrasis than previous studies of medieval text–image relationships, which have normally focused on a single country, language, or even manuscript.
The Book of the Heart
Eric Jager University of Chicago Press, 2000 Library of Congress PN56.H374J34 2000 | Dewey Decimal 809.915
In today's increasingly electronic world, we say our personality traits are "hard-wired" and we "replay" our memories. But we use a different metaphor when we speak of someone "reading" another's mind or a desire to "turn over a new leaf"—these phrases refer to the "book of the self," an idea that dates from the beginnings of Western culture.
Eric Jager traces the history and psychology of the self-as-text concept from antiquity to the modern day. He focuses especially on the Middle Ages, when the metaphor of a "book of the heart" modeled on the manuscript codex attained its most vivid expressions in literature and art. For instance, medieval saints' legends tell of martyrs whose hearts recorded divine inscriptions; lyrics and romances feature lovers whose hearts are inscribed with their passion; paintings depict hearts as books; and medieval scribes even produced manuscript codices shaped like hearts.
"The Book of the Heart provides a fresh perspective on the influence of the book as artifact on our language and culture. Reading this book broadens our appreciation of the relationship between things and ideas."—Henry Petroski, author of The Book on the Bookshelf
The fourteen essays that comprise Collections in Context: The Organization of Knowledge and Community in Europe interrogate questions posed by French, Flemish, English, and Italian collections of all sorts—libraries as a whole, anthologies and miscellanies assembled within a single manuscript or printed book, and even illustrated ivory boxes.
Collecting became an increasingly important activity during the fourteenth through seventeenth centuries, when the decreased cost of producing books made ownership available to more people. But the act of collecting is never neutral: it gathers information, orders material (especially linear texts), and prioritizes everything—in short, collecting both organizes and comments on knowledge. Moreover, the context of a collection must reveal something about identity, but whose? That of the compiler? The reader or viewer? The donor? The patron?
With essays by a wide array of international scholars, Collections in Context demonstrates that the very act of collecting inevitably imposes some kind of relationship among what might otherwise be naively thought of as disparate elements and simultaneously exposes something about the community that created and used the collection. Thus, Collections in Context offers unusual insights into how collecting both produced knowledge and built community in early modern Europe.
<div>Translation played an essential role throughout the Middle Ages, bridging the gap between literate and lay, and enabling intercourse between languages in multi-lingual Europe. Medieval translation was extremely diverse, ranging from the literality and Latinity of legal documents to the free adaptation of courtly romance. </div><div>This guide to medieval translation covers a broad range of religious and vernacular texts and addresses the theoretical and pragmatic problems faced by modern translators of medieval works as they attempt to mediate between past and present.</div>
One of the great achievements of the Middle Ages, Europe’s courtly culture gave the world the tournament, the festival, the knighting ceremony, and also courtly love. But courtly love has strangely been ignored by historians of sexuality. With Courtly Love, the Love of Courtliness, and the History of Sexuality, James Schultz corrects this oversight with careful analysis of key courtly texts of the medieval German literary tradition.
Courtly love, Schultz finds, was provoked not by the biological and intrinsic factors that play such a large role in our contemporary thinking about sexuality—sex difference or desire—but by extrinsic signs of class: bodies that were visibly noble and behaviors that represented exemplary courtliness. Individuals became “subjects” of courtly love only to the extent that their love took the shape of certain courtly roles such as singer, lady, or knight. They hoped not only for physical union but also for the social distinction that comes from realizing these roles to perfection. To an extraordinary extent, courtly love represented the love of courtliness—the eroticization of noble status and the courtly culture that celebrated noble power and refinement
Forging Communities explores the importance of the cultivation, provision, trade, and exchange of foods and beverages to mankind’s technological advancement, violent conquest, and maritime exploration. The thirteen essays here show how the sharing of food and drink forged social, religious, and community bonds, and how ceremonial feasts as well as domestic daily meals strengthened ties and solidified ethnoreligious identity through the sharing of food customs. The very act of eating and the pleasure derived from it are metaphorically linked to two other sublime activities of the human experience: sexuality and the search for the divine.
This interdisciplinary study of food in medieval and early modern communities connects threads of history conventionally examined separately or in isolation. The intersection of foodstuffs with politics, religion, economics, and culture enhances our understanding of historical developments and cultural continuities through the centuries, giving insight that today, as much as in the past, we are what we eat and what we eat is never devoid of meaning.
Fragments for a History of a Vanishing Humanism brings together scholars working in prehistoric, classical, medieval, and early modern studies who are developing, from longer and slower historical perspectives, critical post/humanisms that explore: 1) the significance (historical, sociocultural, psychic, etc.) of human expression and affectivity; 2) the impact of technology and new sciences on what it means to be a human self; 3) the importance of art and literature in defining and enacting human selves; 4) the importance of history in defining the human; 5) the artistic plasticity of the human; 6) the question of a human collectivity—what is the value, and peril, of “being human” or “being post/human” together?; and finally, 7) the constructive, and destructive, relations (aesthetic, historical, and philosophical) of the human to the nonhuman.
This volume, edited by Myra Seaman and Eileen A. Joy, insists on the always provisional and contingent formations of the human, and of various humanisms, over time, while also aiming to demonstrate the different ways these formations emerge (and also disappear) in different times and places, from the most ancient past to the most contemporary present. The essays are offered as “fragments” because the authors do not believe there can ever be a “total history” of either the human or the post/human as they play themselves out in differing historical contexts. At the same time, the volume as a whole argues that defining what “the human” (or “post/human”) is has always been an ongoing, never finished cultural project.
In Getting Medieval Carolyn Dinshaw examines communities—dissident and orthodox—in late-fourteenth and early-fifteenth-century England to create a new sense of queer history. Reaching beyond both medieval and queer studies, Dinshaw demonstrates in this challenging work how intellectual inquiry into pre-modern societies can contribute invaluably to current issues in cultural studies. In the process, she makes important connections between past and present cultures that until now have not been realized. In her pursuit of historical analyses that embrace the heterogeneity and indeterminacy of sex and sexuality, Dinshaw examines canonical Middle English texts such as the Canterbury Tales and TheBook of Margery Kempe. She examines polemics around the religious dissidents known as the Lollards as well as accounts of prostitutes in London to address questions of how particular sexual practices and identifications were normalized while others were proscribed. By exploring contemporary (mis)appropriations of medieval tropes in texts ranging from Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction to recent Congressional debates on U.S. cultural production, Dinshaw demonstrates how such modern media can serve to reinforce constrictive heteronormative values and deny the multifarious nature of history. Finally, she works with and against the theories of Michel Foucault, Homi K. Bhabha, Roland Barthes, and John Boswell to show how deconstructionist impulses as well as historical perspectives can further an understanding of community in both pre- and postmodern societies. This long-anticipated volume will be indispensible to medieval and queer scholars and will be welcomed by a larger cultural studies audience.
In the early twentieth century, marriage manuals sought to link marital sex to the progress of civilization, searching for the history of what they considered to be normal sexuality. In Heterosyncrasies, Karma Lochrie looks to the foundation of modern society in the Middle Ages to undertake a profound questioning of the heterosexuality of that history. Lochrie begins this provocative rethinking of sexuality by dismantling the very idea of normal through a study of the development of statistics in the nineteenth century. She then intervenes in contemporary debates about queer versus ostensibly stable heterosexual social and sexual categories by exposing the "heterosyncratic" organization of sexuality in the Middle Ages and by clarifying the dubious contribution that the concept of normality has made to the construction of sexuality. In medieval texts from the letters of Heloise to Lollard heretical attacks on the Church, to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, medical discourse surrounding the clitoris, and finally the Amazons of medieval myth, Lochrie focuses on female sexuality in the Middle Ages in an effort to discern a less binary, more diversified understanding of it. Lochrie demonstrates how the medieval categories of natural and unnatural were distinctly different from our modern categories of normal and abnormal. In her work we see how abandoning heteronormativity as a medieval organizer of sexualities profoundly changes the way we understand all sexualities - past, present, and possibly even future. Heterosyncrasies is a milestone in the study of sexual identity politics, revealing not only how presumptions of normality obscure our understanding of the past, but also how these beliefs affect our present-day laws, society, and daily life.
From pet keeping to sky burials, a posthuman and ecocritical interrogation of and challenge to human particularity in medieval texts
Mainstream medieval thought, like much of mainstream modern thought, habitually argued that because humans alone had language, reason, and immortal souls, all other life was simply theirs for the taking. But outside this scholarly consensus teemed a host of other ways to imagine the shared worlds of humans and nonhumans. How Not to Make a Human engages with these nonsystematic practices and thought to challenge both human particularity and the notion that agency, free will, and rationality are the defining characteristics of being human.
Recuperating the Middle Ages as a lost opportunity for decentering humanity, Karl Steel provides a posthuman and ecocritical interrogation of a wide range of medieval texts. Exploring such diverse topics as medieval pet keeping, stories of feral and isolated children, the ecological implications of funeral practices, and the “bare life” of oysters from a variety of disanthropic perspectives, Steel furnishes contemporary posthumanists with overlooked cultural models to challenge human and other supremacies at their roots.
By collecting beliefs and practices outside the mainstream of medieval thought, How Not to Make a Human connects contemporary concerns with ecology, animal life, and rethinkings of what it means to be human to uncanny materials that emphasize matters of death, violence, edibility, and vulnerability.
How Soon Is Now? performs a powerful critique of modernist temporal regimes through its revelatory exploration of queer ways of being in time as well as of the potential queerness of time itself. Carolyn Dinshaw focuses on medieval tales of asynchrony and on engagements with these medieval temporal worlds by amateur readers centuries later. In doing so, she illuminates forms of desirous, embodied being that are out of sync with ordinarily linear measurements of everyday life, that involve multiple temporalities, that precipitate out of time altogether. Dinshaw claims the possibility of a fuller, denser, more crowded now that theorists tell us is extant but that often eludes our temporal grasp.
Whether discussing Victorian men of letters who parodied the Book of John Mandeville, a fictionalized fourteenth-century travel narrative, or Hope Emily Allen, modern coeditor of the early-fifteenth-century Book of Margery Kempe, Dinshaw argues that these and other medievalists outside the academy inhabit different temporalities than modern professionals operating according to the clock. How Soon Is Now? clears space for amateurs, hobbyists, and dabblers who approach medieval worlds from positions of affect and attachment, from desires to build other kinds of worlds. Unruly, untimely, they urge us toward a disorderly and asynchronous collective.
From the twelfth century onwards, medieval English writers adapted the conventions of high literary culture to establish themselves as recognized authors and claim a significant place for works of imagination beside those of doctrine and instruction. Their efforts extended over three languages—Latin, French, and English—and across a discontinuous literary history. Their strategy was to approach authorship as a field of rhetorical invention rather than a fixed institution. Consequently, their work is at once revisionary and ambivalent. Writers conspicuously position themselves within tradition, exploit the resources of poetic belatedness, and negotiate complex relations to their audiences and social authority.
Authorial invention in the Middle Ages is the base of a national tradition that English writers in the Renaissance saw as stable and capable of emulating the canons of classical languages and the Italian and French vernaculars. In Invention and Authorship in Medieval England, Robert R. Edwards brings new interpretive perspectives to Walter Map, Marie de France, John Gower, Geoffrey Chaucer, Thomas Hoccleve, and John Lydgate. He offers a critical reading of key moments that define the emergence of medieval English authorship by showing how writers adapt the commonplaces of authorship to define themselves and their works externally and to construct literary meaning internally.
Conservative thinkers of the early Middle Ages conceived of sensual gratification as a demonic snare contrived to debase the higher faculties of humanity, and they identified pagan writing as one of the primary conduits of decadence. Two aspects of the pagan legacy were treated with particular distrust: fiction, conceived as a devious contrivance that falsified God’s order; and rhetorical opulence, viewed as a vain extravagance. Writing that offered these dangerous allurements came to be known as “hermaphroditic” and, by the later Middle Ages, to be equated with homosexuality.
At the margins of these developments, however, some authors began to validate fiction as a medium for truth and a source of legitimate enjoyment, while others began to explore and defend the pleasures of opulent rhetoric. Here David Rollo examines two such texts—Alain de Lille’s De planctu Naturae and Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun’s Roman de la Rose—arguing that their authors, in acknowledging the liberating potential of their irregular written orientations, brought about a nuanced reappraisal of homosexuality. Rollo concludes with a consideration of the influence of the latter on Chaucer’s Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale.
In Machines of the Mind, Katharine Breen proposes that medieval personifications should be understood neither as failed novelistic characters nor as instruments of heavy-handed didacticism. She argues that personifications are instead powerful tools for thought that help us to remember and manipulate complex ideas, testing them against existing moral and political paradigms. Specifically, different types of medieval personification should be seen as corresponding to positions in the rich and nuanced medieval debate over universals. Breen identifies three different types of personification—Platonic, Aristotelian, and Prudentian—that gave medieval writers a surprisingly varied spectrum with which to paint their characters.
Through a series of new readings of major authors and works, from Plato to Piers Plowman, Breen illuminates how medieval personifications embody the full range of positions between philosophical realism and nominalism, varying according to the convictions of individual authors and the purposes of individual works. Recalling Gregory the Great’s reference to machinae mentis (machines of the mind), Breen demonstrates that medieval writers applied personification with utility and subtlety, employing methods of personification as tools that serve different functions. Machines of the Mind offers insight for medievalists working at the crossroads of religion, philosophy, and literature, as well as for scholars interested in literary character-building and gendered relationships among characters, readers, and texts beyond the Middle Ages.
Ancient and medieval literary texts often call attention to their existence as physical objects. Shane Butler helps us to understand why. Arguing that writing has always been as much a material struggle as an intellectual one, The Matter of the Page offers timely lessons for the digital age about how creativity works and why literature moves us.
Butler begins with some considerations about the materiality of the literary text, both as a process (the draft) and a product (the book), and he traces the curious history of “the page” from scroll to manuscript codex to printed book and beyond. He then offers a series of unforgettable portraits of authors at work: Thucydides struggling to describe his own diseased body; Vergil ready to burn an epic poem he could not finish; Lucretius wrestling with words even as he fights the madness that will drive him to suicide; Cicero mesmerized by the thought of erasing his entire career; Seneca plumbing the depths of the soul in the wax of his tablets; and Dhuoda, who sees the book she writes as a door, a tunnel, a womb. Butler reveals how the work of writing transformed each of these authors into his or her own first reader, and he explains what this metamorphosis teaches us about how we too should read.
All Greek and Latin quotations are translated into English and technical matters are carefully explained for general readers, with scholarly details in the notes.
Over the course of the Middle Ages, the economies of Europe, Asia, and northern Africa became more closely integrated, fostering the international and intercontinental journeys of merchants, pilgrims, diplomats, missionaries, and adventurers. During a time in history when travel was often difficult, expensive, and fraught with danger, these wayfarers composed accounts of their experiences in unprecedented numbers and transformed traditional conceptions of human mobility.
Exploring this phenomenon, The Medieval Invention of Travel draws on an impressive array of sources to develop original readings of canonical figures such as Marco Polo, John Mandeville, and Petrarch, as well as a host of lesser-known travel writers. As Shayne Aaron Legassie demonstrates, the Middle Ages inherited a Greco-Roman model of heroic travel, which viewed the ideal journey as a triumph over temptation and bodily travail. Medieval travel writers revolutionized this ancient paradigm by incorporating practices of reading and writing into the ascetic regime of the heroic voyager, fashioning a bold new conception of travel that would endure into modern times. Engaging methods and insights from a range of disciplines, The Medieval Invention of Travel offers a comprehensive account of how medieval travel writers and their audiences reshaped the intellectual and material culture of Europe for centuries to come.
The Medieval Risk-Reward Society offers a study of adventure and love in the European Middle Ages focused on the poetry of authors such as Marie de France, Chrétien de Troyes, Wolfram von Eschenbach, and Gottfried von Strassburg—showing how a society based on sacrifice becomes a society based on wagers and investments. Will Hasty’s sociological approach to medieval courtly literature, informed by the analytic tools of game theory, reveals the blossoming of a worldview in which outcomes are uncertain, such that the very self (of a character or an authorial persona) is contingent on success or failure in possessing the things it desires—and upon which its social identity and personal happiness depend. Drawing on a diverse selection of contrasting canonical works ranging from the Iliad to the biblical book of Joshua to High Medieval German political texts to the writings of Leibniz and Mark Twain, Hasty enables an appreciation of the distinctive contributions made in antiquity and the Middle Ages to the medieval emergence of a European society based on risks and rewards.
The Medieval Risk-Reward Society: Courts, Adventure, and Love in the European Middle Ages takes a descriptive approach to the competitions in religion, politics, and poetry that are constitutive of medieval culture. Culture is considered always to be happening, and to be happening on the cultural cutting edge as competitions for rewards involving the element of chance. This study finds adventure and love—the principal concerns of medieval European romance poetry—to be cultural game changers, and thereby endeavors to make a humanist contribution to the development of a cultural game theory.
What does medieval literature look like from the point of view not of knights and ladies, but of treasure, and rings, nets and the grail? How does medieval literature imagine the agency of material things, and what exactly distinguishes human subjects from inanimate objects? Medieval Things: Agency, Materiality, and Narratives of Objects in Medieval German Literature and Beyond brings together a theoretically informed and politically engaged new materialist approach with a study of how everyday objects are understood in medieval literature. Bettina Bildhauer argues that medieval narratives can inspire current critical theory on agency and materiality. She focuses on famous and forgotten German narratives from the twelfth to the sixteenth centuries, including Wolfram of Eschenbach’s Parzival and the epic Song of the Nibelungs, and sets them in their global context. Many such tales can be reconceptualized as “thing biographies”—stories that follow the trajectory not of a human hero but of a coin, a gown, a treasure, or a ring. Many also use nets and networks to conceptualize dangerous structures of knowledge. Shine, glamour, and charisma emerge as particularly powerful ways in which material things exert a kind of agency that is neither pseudo-human nor fetishistic. In analyzing details like these from medieval literature, Bildhauer thus contributes in new ways to current theory on agency and materiality.
Medieval Women and Their Objects
Jenny Adams and Nancy Mason Bradbury, editors University of Michigan Press, 2016 Library of Congress HQ1147.F7M33 2016 | Dewey Decimal 305.40942
The essays gathered in this volume present multifaceted considerations of the intersection of objects and gender within the cultural contexts of late medieval France and England. Some take a material view of objects, showing buildings, books, and pictures as sites of gender negotiation and resistance and as extensions of women’s bodies. Others reconsider the concept of objectification in the lives of fictional and historical medieval women by looking closely at their relation to gendered material objects, taken literally as women’s possessions and as figurative manifestations of their desires.
The opening section looks at how medieval authors imagined fictional and legendary women using particular objects in ways that reinforce or challenge gender roles. These women bring objects into the orbit of gender identity, employing and relating to them in a literal sense, while also taking advantage of their symbolic meanings. The second section focuses on the use of texts both as objects in their own right and as mechanisms by which other objects are defined. The possessors of objects in these essays lived in the world, their lives documented by historical records, yet like their fictional and legendary counterparts, they too used objects for instrumental ends and with symbolic resonances. The final section considers the objectification of medieval women’s bodies as well as its limits. While this at times seems to allow for a trade in women, authorial attempts to give definitive shapes and boundaries to women’s bodies either complicate the gender boundaries they try to contain or reduce gender to an ideological abstraction. This volume contributes to the ongoing effort to calibrate female agency in the late Middle Ages, honoring the groundbreaking work of Carolyn P. Collette.
Mirabile Dictu covers in six separate chapters the works of Virgil, Dante, Boccaccio, Ariosto, Tasso, and Spenser. Its broad aim is to provide a select cross-section of works in the Middle Ages and Renaissance in order systematically to examine and compare for the first time the marvelous in the light of epic genre, of literary and critical theory (both past and present), and of historically and culturally determined representational practices.
Douglas Biow organizes this volume around the literary topos of the bleeding branch through which a metamorphosed person speaks. In each chapter the author takes this "marvellous event" as his starting point for a broad-ranging comparison of the several poets who employed the image; he also investigates the ways in which a period's notion of "history" underpins its representations of the marvelous. This method offers a controlled yet flexible framework within which to develop readings that engage a multiplicity of theories and approaches.
Mirabile Dictu offers not only an insightful survey of the literary connections among this group of important poets, but also a useful point of departure for scholars and students intrigued by the reuse of epic conventions, by the peculiar role of "marvellous" events in dramatic poetry, and by the later history of classical literature.
In the late medieval era, pain could be a symbol of holiness, disease, sin, or truth. It could be encouragement to lead a moral life, a punishment for wrong doing, or a method of healing. Exploring the varied depictions and descriptions of pain—from martyrdom narratives to practices of torture and surgery—The Modulated Scream attempts to decode this culture of suffering in the Middle Ages.
Esther Cohen brings to life the cacophony of howls emerging from the written record of physicians, torturers, theologians, and mystics. In considering how people understood suffering, explained it, and meted it out, Cohen discovers that pain was imbued with multiple meanings. While interpreting pain was the province only of the rarified elite, harnessing pain for religious, moral, legal, and social purposes was a practice that pervaded all classes of Medieval life. In the overlap of these contradicting attitudes about what pain was for—how it was to be understood and who should use it—Cohen reveals the distinct and often conflicting cultural traditions and practices of late medieval Europeans. Ambitious and wide-ranging, The Modulated Scream is intellectual history at its most acute.
In this series of interrelated essays, treating Ovil, Virgil, St. Augustine, Henrich von Morungen, Chretien de Troyes, Dante, Langland, and Chaucer, the author explores the ways in which medieval authors and their Roman predecessors used the image of the mirror both as instrument and metaphor. The essays individually provide fresh insights into the texts and issues discussed and, taken together, provide new perspectives on medieval culture and the ways it anticipated problems that plague our own.
Now through a Glass Darkly brings both traditional medievalist and postmodernist approaches to bear in its attempt to understand both the powers and the limits of verbal art. Nolan explores the ways medieval writers and their Roman predecessors used formal and thematic mirrors to examine the implications of alterity in the face of similarity, arguing that these preoccupations were as central to the medieval sensibility as they are to our own. Now through a Glass Darkly frames several of the key issues in the current debate over the continued viability (or not) of the inherited canon of Western culture, such as the question whether there is any meaning at all to be rescued from such notions as “coherence” or “tradition” in Western literature.
Now through a Glass Darkly will appeal to the educated generalist interested in the relationships between literature and its surrounding intellectual and cultural contexts as well as to those more specifically interested in medieval poetry and poetics. For medievalists and those who work at the intersection of critical theory and medieval literature, Now through a Glass Darkly will be of critical importance.
If medieval literary studies is, like so many fields, currently conditioned by an ecological turn that dislodges the human from its central place in materialist analysis, then why now focus on the law? Is not the law the most human, if not indeed the human, institution? In proposing that all life in medieval Britain, whether animal or vegetable, was subject to the same legal machine that enabled claims on land, are we not ignoring the ecocritical demand that we counteract human exceptionalism and reframe the past with inhuman eyes?
This volume, edited by Randy P. Schiff and Joseph Taylor, presents a diverse and stimulating group of interconnected essays that respond to these questions by infusing biopolitical material and theory into ecocentric studies of medieval life. The Politics of Ecology: Land, Life, and Law in Medieval Britain pursues the political power of sovereign law as it disciplines and manages various forms of natural life, and discloses the literary biopolitics played out in texts that work out the fraught interactions of life and law, in all its forms. Contributors to this volume explore such issues as legal networks and death, Arthurian bare life, Chaucerian medical biopolitics, the biopolitics of fur, ecologies of sainthood, arboreal political theology, conservation and political ecology, and geographical melancholy.
Bringing together both established and rising critical voices, The Politics of Ecology creates a place for cutting-edge medievalist ecocriticism focused on the intersections of land, life, and law in medieval English, French, and Latin literature.
Literary scholars often avoid the category of the aesthetic in discussions of ethics, believing that purely aesthetic judgments can vitiate analyses of a literary work’s sociopolitical heft and meaning. In Practicing Literary Theory in the Middle Ages, Eleanor Johnson reveals that aesthetics—the formal aspects of literary language that make it sense-perceptible—are indeed inextricable from ethics in the writing of medieval literature.
Johnson brings a keen formalist eye to bear on the prosimetric form: the mixing of prose with lyrical poetry. This form descends from the writings of the sixth-century Christian philosopher Boethius—specifically his famous prison text, Consolation of Philosophy—to the late medieval English tradition. Johnson argues that Boethius’s text had a broad influence not simply on the thematic and philosophical content of subsequent literary writing, but also on the specific aesthetic construction of several vernacular traditions. She demonstrates the underlying prosimetric structures in a variety of Middle English texts—including Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde and portions of the Canterbury Tales, Thomas Usk’s Testament of Love, John Gower’s Confessio amantis, and Thomas Hoccleve’s autobiographical poetry—and asks how particular formal choices work, how they resonate with medieval literary-theoretical ideas, and how particular poems and prose works mediate the tricky business of modeling ethical transformation for a readership.
The thirteenth century saw such a proliferation of new encyclopedic texts that more than one scholar has called it the “century of the encyclopedias.” Variously referred to as a speculum, thesaurus, or imago mundi—the term encyclopedia was not commonly applied to such books until the eighteenth century—these texts were organized in such a way that a reader could easily locate a collection of authoritative statements on any given topic. Because they reproduced, rather than simply summarized, parts of prior texts, these compilations became libraries in miniature.
In this groundbreaking study, Mary Franklin-Brown examines writings in Latin, Catalan, and French that are connected to the encyclopedic movement: Vincent of Beauvais’s Speculum maius; Ramon Llull’s Libre de meravelles, Arbor scientiae, and Arbre de filosofia d’amor; and Jean de Meun’s continuation of the Roman de la Rose. Franklin-Brown analyzes the order of knowledge in these challenging texts, describing the wide-ranging interests, the textual practices—including commentary, compilation, and organization—and the diverse discourses that they absorb from preexisting classical, patristic, and medieval writing. She also demonstrates how these encyclopedias, like libraries, became “heterotopias” of knowledge—spaces where many possible ways of knowing are juxtaposed.
But Franklin-Brown’s study will not appeal only to historians: she argues that a revised understanding of late medievalism makes it possible to discern a close connection between scholasticism and contemporary imaginative literature. She shows how encyclopedists employed the same practices of figuration, narrative, and citation as poets and romanciers, while much of the difficulty of the imaginative writing of this period derives from a juxtaposition of heterogeneous discourses inspired by encyclopedias.
With rich and innovative readings of texts both familiar and neglected, Reading the World reveals how the study of encyclopedism can illuminate both the intellectual work and the imaginative writing of the scholastic age.
The Rose and Geryon
Gabriella I. Baika Catholic University of America Press, 2014 Library of Congress PQ1528.B25 2014 | Dewey Decimal 841.1
The Rose and Geryon examines patterns of verbal behavior in works by Jean de Meun and Dante (with a focus on the Romance of the Rose and the Divine Comedy) in relationship with the most influential systems of verbal sins in the Middle Ages, systems elaborated by William Peraldus, Thomas Aquinas, Domenico Cavalca, and Laurent of Orléans. The book begins with a presentation of these four systems, and from there proceeds to analyze Jean de Meun's Testament as a possible source of influence for the Divine Comedy and take a closer look at Dante's prose works in search for a comprehensive theory of sinful speech. Furthermore Baika discusses verbal transgressions such as flattery, evil counsel, double talk, sowing of discord, and falsifying of words, under the heading Lingua dolosa "The Guileful Tongue," and the relationship between violence and the poetic discourse. The myriad ways in which the two iconic poets of medieval France and Italy absorb the tradition of peccata linguae in their works prove that abusive speech was not the exclusive sphere of interest of the ecclesiastical writers; secular poetry in the vernacular enriched in original ways the medieval debate on verbal vices. The Rose and Geryon addresses scholars and students of French and Italian literatures, as well as readers interested in ethics and women's studies.
During the Middle Ages in Europe, some sexual and gendered behaviors were labeled “sodomitical” or evoked the use of ambiguous phrases such as the “unmentionable vice” or the “sin against nature.” How, though, did these categories enter the field of vision? How do you know a sodomite when you see one?
In Seeing Sodomy in the Middle Ages, Robert Mills explores the relationship between sodomy and motifs of vision and visibility in medieval culture, on the one hand, and those categories we today call gender and sexuality, on the other. Challenging the view that ideas about sexual and gender dissidence were too confused to congeal into a coherent form in the Middle Ages, Mills demonstrates that sodomy had a rich, multimedia presence in the period—and that a flexible approach to questions of terminology sheds new light on the many forms this presence took. Among the topics that Mills covers are depictions of the practices of sodomites in illuminated Bibles; motifs of gender transformation and sex change as envisioned by medieval artists and commentators on Ovid; sexual relations in religious houses and other enclosed spaces; and the applicability of modern categories such as “transgender,” “butch” and “femme,” or “sexual orientation” to medieval culture.
Taking in a multitude of images, texts, and methodologies, this book will be of interest to all scholars, regardless of discipline, who engage with gender and sexuality in their work.
The Shock of Medievalism
Kathleen Biddick Duke University Press, 1998 Library of Congress CB353.B5 1998 | Dewey Decimal 909.07
In The Shock of Medievalism Kathleen Biddick explores the nineteenth-century foundations of medieval studies as an academic discipline as well as certain unexamined contemporary consequences of these origins. By pairing debates over current academic trends and issues with innovative readings of medieval texts, Biddick exposes the presuppositions of the field of medieval studies and significantly shifts the objects of its historical inquiry. Biddick describes how the discipline of medieval studies was defined by a process of isolation and exclusion—a process that not only ignored significant political and cultural issues of the nineteenth century but also removed the period from the forces of history itself. Wanting to separate themselves from popular studies of medieval culture, and valuing their own studies as scientific, nineteenth-century academics created an exclusive discipline whose structure is consistently practiced today, despite the denials of most contemporary medieval scholars. Biddick supports her argument by discussing the unavowed melancholy that medieval Christians felt for Jews and by revealing the unintentional irony of nineteenth-century medievalists’ fabrication of sentimental objects of longing (such as the “gothic peasant”). The subsequent historical distortions of this century-old sentimentality, the relevance of worker dislocation during the industrial revolution, and other topics lead to a conclusion in which Biddick considers the impact of an array of factors on current medieval studies. Simultaneously displacing disciplinary stereotypes and altering an angle of historical inquiry, The Shock of Medievalism challenges accepted thinking even as it produces a new direction for medieval studies. This book will provoke scholars in this field and appeal to readers who are interested in how historicizing processes can affect the development of academic disciplines.
In the last few decades it has become abundantly clear how important is the "archaeology of the manuscript-book" in literary and textual scholarship. This method offers essential contexts for an editor's understanding of a manuscript, and helps to set the manuscript in the historical matrix in which the work was first brought out and understood.
This group of papers, edited by two well-known scholars of the medieval world, offers both general and particular approaches to the issues surrounding manuscripts produced in the medieval habit of "miscellany," works of seemingly diverse natures bound together into one volume. Julia Boffey investigates how certain poetical miscellanies came to be assembled, for example, while Sylvia Huot suggests that the miscellany had many different sorts of function and significance. Siegfried Wenzel considers a taxonomy of such collections, and A. S. G. Edwards' paper considers Bodleian Selden B.24 as an example of how the notions of canon, authorship, and attribution might come into play. Ann Matter's final chapter offers the notion that what we call "miscellanies" are likely to have an internal logic that we have been trained to miss, but can come to understand. Other contributors are Ralph Hanna III, Georg Knauer, Stephen Nichols, James J. O'Donnell, and Barbara A. Shailor.
Because The Whole Book deals not only with the content of miscellanies but also with contemporary literary principles, this volume will be of interest to a wide circle of literary critics and historians, as well as to students of the survival of literature and of cultural values.
Stephen G. Nichols is James M. Beall Professor of French and Chair of the Department of French, The Johns Hopkins University. Siegfried Wenzel is Professor of English, University of Pennsylvania.
Although authors of mystical treatises and dream visions shared a core set of assumptions about how visions are able to impart transcendent truths to their recipients, the modern divide between “religious” and “secular” has led scholars to study these genres in isolation. Willing to Know God addresses the simultaneous flowering of mystical and literary vision texts in the Middle Ages by questioning how the vision was thought to work. What preconditions must be met in these texts for the vision to transform the visionary? And when, as in poems such as Pearl, this change does not occur, what exactly has gone wrong?
Through close readings of medieval women’s visionary texts and English dream poems, Jessica Barr argues that the vision required the active as well as the passive participation of the visionary. In these texts, dreamers and visionaries must be volitionally united with the divine and employ their rational and analytic faculties in order to be transformed by the vision.
Willing to Know God proposes that the study of medieval vision texts demands a new approach that takes into account both vision literature that has been supposed to have a basis in lived experience and visions that are typically read as fictional. It argues that these two “genres” in fact complement and inform one another. Rather than discrete literary modes, they are best read as engaged in an ongoing conversation about the human mind’s ability to grasp the divine.
Exploring literary representations of women's laughter from the thirteenth through the sixteenth centuries, this volume offers an intriguing look into a culture of women's laughter, illustrating the many contexts that shaped the way women told jokes, as well as the ways their joking reflected their limited position in a society dominated by men. The book also considers the uses male authors made of the laughter of their fictional creations and the pleasures offered to both male and female audiences.
This study is the first to investigate women's laughter as a particular kind of "talking back" to medieval discourse on women, the subject of recent feminist medievalist studies. Female characters openly embrace women's laughter, associated with the body and castigated for its unruliness in conduct literature. Acknowledging that comic works were grounded in antifeminist traditions and that their female characters were in fact targets of laughter for male authors, this study argues that female characters who laugh and tell jokes also offer traces of how women might have used their laughter to respond to negative pronouncements about women in medieval culture. Both laughable and laughing, the female protagonists studied in this book will engage modern readers with their witty, sometimes bawdy jokes, allowing us to imagine the pleasures that medieval comic literature, so often labeled misogynous, offered to women as well as to men.
Lisa Perfetti is Assistant Professor of French, Muhlenberg College.