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The Ethical Poetic of the Later Middle Ages

The Ethical Poetic of the Later Middle Ages

Series: Heritage
Copyright Date: 1982
Pages: 327
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  • Book Info
    The Ethical Poetic of the Later Middle Ages
    Book Description:

    This study of the definition of literature in the late medieval period is based on manuals of writing and on literary commentary and glosses.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-5627-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. ix-2)

    I first began to be a medievalist in the Bodleian Library, seated before a manuscript I could not read, written in a language I could but laboriously translate. In that experience, despair was mitigated by the pleasure that I was in physical contact with something medieval, and the hope that if I were patient I would learn what the manuscript could teach. The nature of my project forced me to begin with manuscripts, and being in Bodley encouraged me to continue in that habit. As a result, I made in ignorance a large number of discoveries which had already been...

  4. 1 Ethical poetry, poetic ethics, and the sentence of poetry
    (pp. 3-66)

    The enterprise of this chapter is to locate a particular occurrence of poetry. I wish to look at the universe of late medieval Europe in order to see where and under what guise we might find in it the thing which we are now accustomed to call a poem. To announce this purpose is both to presume the possibility of historical criticism, and in this presumption to imply that finding poetry in late medieval Europe can be done clearly and obviously. It can, but only after a considerable modern critical adjustment. To impose at the outset a proper sense of...

  5. 2 Poetic thinking and the forma tractandi
    (pp. 67-116)

    At the end of the twelfth century, medieval people who occupied themselves with what we now call information retrieval began to make much increased use of the fact that the alphabet has an order as well as a content, and therefore that the arbitrary relationship between names and their spellings could be of practical use. The result was the biblical concordance. Richard and Mary Rouse have described this factual development in happy and useful detail;¹ they pay less attention, however, to what might be called the theology of it; that is, to the larger significance of a cultural decision to...

  6. 3 Poetic disposition and the forma tractatus
    (pp. 117-178)

    Both in the Middle Ages and now, well-made sermons customarily have three points. One late medieval ars predicandi explains why: ‘because of the Trinity, because a triple cord is hard to break, because Saint Bernard’s sermons had three points, and because three points take up about the right amount of time.’¹ Here definition, precedent, and practical experience meet in a way that is characteristically medieval. Texts have parts, and these parts exist as such for every possible good reason. The non-organic character of medieval wholes has already been quite elaborately defined, analysed, and argued;² but I think in a way...

  7. 4 Assimilatio and the material of poetry
    (pp. 179-247)

    When Archibald MacLeish proclaimed that ‘a poem must not mean, but be,’ he gave a defining slogan to a generation of literary criticism. As a slogan, it was useful enough; as a serious statement about the nature of poetic language, it is hopelessly silly, because it polarizes as opposites the two features of language whose identity is the basis of all the value language has. Words exist as the achievement of relationships, not as their rival. Nevertheless, MacLeish is right in honouring the fact that in poetry, something is – the words evoke a species of existence. For this species...

  8. 5 The assimilation of the real world
    (pp. 248-287)

    In the preceding chapter, I have tried to define the material of poetry by calling it assimilatio. In doing so I do not wish to deny that poems are obviously made out of words, but rather to suggest that under medieval presumptions words as such do not make a meaningful category. Taken as words only, as a self-referential linguistic entity, a poem may have modern existence, but would, in the Middle Ages, make ontological nonsense. It is, nevertheless, both possible and proper to begin to describe what a poem is by looking at the words, and by noticing that even...

  9. 6 ‘Consideratio’ and the audiences of poetry
    (pp. 288-314)

    In the second part of Cervantes’Don Quixote, according to the analysis of Michel Foucault, ‘Don Quixote meets characters who have read the first part of his story and recognize him, the real man, as the hero of the book. Cervantes’s text turns back upon itself, thrusts back into its own density, and becomes the object of its own narrative. The first part of the hero’s adventures plays in the second part the role originally assumed by chivalric romances… Between the first and second parts of the novel, in the narrow gap between those two volumes, and by their power...

    (pp. 315-327)