The Ethics of Reading in Manuscript Culture

The Ethics of Reading in Manuscript Culture: Glossing the "Libro de buen amor"

John Dagenais
Copyright Date: 1994
Pages: 304
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7t93h
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  • Book Info
    The Ethics of Reading in Manuscript Culture
    Book Description:

    Reexamining the roles played by author, reader, scribe, and text in medieval literary practice, John Dagenais argues that the entire physical manuscript must be the basis of any discussion of how meaning was made. Medievalists, he maintains, have relied too heavily on critical editions that seek to create a single, definitive text reflecting an author's intentions. In reality, manuscripts bear not only authorial texts but also a variety of elements added by scribes and readers: glosses, marginal notes, pointing hands, illuminations, and fragments of other, seemingly unrelated works. Using the surviving manuscripts of the fourteenth-centuryLibro de buen amor, a work that has been read both as didactic treatise on spiritual love and as a celebration of sensual pleasures, Dagenais shows how consideration of the physical manuscripts and their cultural context can shed new light on interpretive issues that have puzzled modern readers.

    Dagenais also addresses the theory and practice of reading in the Middle Ages, showing that for medieval readers the text on the manuscript leaf, including the text of theLibro, was primarily rhetorical and ethical in nature. It spoke to them directly, individually, always in the present moment. Exploring the margins of the manuscripts of theLibroand of other Iberian works, Dagenais reveals how medieval readers continually reshaped their texts, both physically and ethically as they read, and argues that the context of medieval manuscript culture forces us to reconsider such comfortable received notions as "text" and "literature" and the theories we have based upon them.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2107-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. PREFACE
    (pp. xiii-2)
  5. INTRODUCTION THE LARGER GLOSS
    (pp. 3-30)

    GASPAR MELCHOR DE JOVELLANOS, a leading figure of the Spanish Enlightenment, sounds the opening salvos of the critical debate over the moral sense of theLibro de buen amorin his “Censura” to the first modern edition (1790) of the text. Jovellanos argues that, contrary to the wishes of the text’s editor, Tomás Antonio Sánchez, who would prefer to suppress certain scurrilous and blasphemous passages, the entire text should be published (Sanxxix–xxxii).¹ Jovellanos’s reasons include the sensible observation that if one began suppressing all the stanzas that violate “those most rigid principles of modesty,” one would end up...

  6. PART I
    • 1 “A GLORIOUS THYNG, CERTEYN”: AT THE MARGINS OF THE MEDIEVAL TEXT
      (pp. 33-55)

      READING CAN serve as an illuminating master paradigm of the textual life of the Middle Ages. But we must understand that this paradigm operates at the same high level of generality as does the writer/text paradigm. It still requires considerable nuancing with regard to place, time, language, genre, the specific scripta under study, and above all the techniques we might employ in studying them. All those phenomena which we have customarily examined under the reigning “creative” paradigm need to be worked out anew under the paradigm of reading. As we work through the paradigm of reading using the evidence afforded...

    • 2 ADAPTATION AND APPLICATION
      (pp. 56-79)

      THE PROCESS OF Glosynge, that ever-deficient surplus, allowed any given piece of text to take on tremendous density of interpretation. And yet most of the glosses we saw in the preceding chapter ultimately pointed not into the text, but outward toward a realm of human action. In the San Millán gloss, it is the glossator himself who amplifies a sermon benediction, asking for guidance in serving God. In the “Jason and Medusa” gloss, the sinful soul cries out for God’s mercy. The snippet of Isidore’s text that “glosses” theAutoanswers the question, “Why are we confused?”: “Because we do...

    • 3 THE ETHICS OF READING THE BOOK OF THE ARCHPRIEST OF HITA
      (pp. 80-108)

      THUS FAR, we have studied an “indeterminacy” that was part of the very nature of the medieval scriptum, that gave to the text analiquid minus, a negative charge that allowed a gloss to spring up at any point. The reader determined the nature of this fulfillment according to his or her occasional circumstances: educational background, cultural or social milieu, moral status, and ethical concerns of the moment. I have sought to illustrate this feature of medieval literary life through concrete examples drawn from medieval scripta. The reasons for which this indeterminacy came into being, its origins and history, are...

  7. PART II
    • INTRODUCTION
      (pp. 111-117)

      THE PRECEDING chapters have shown how fundamental the indeterminacy of text and gloss was to the medieval reading experience. It was as much a part of this experience as concepts like “coherence,” “unity,” “author,” or “text” are for us. The reader’s life situation, memory (including memory of past readings), and ethical, intellectual, or educational status gave occasional determinacy to the letter of the text. But this did not rule out other determinacies discovered by the same reader on other occasions. When we turn to examine medieval scripta we find that the indeterminacy that was a part of the reader’s rhetorical...

    • 4 S/Ç: THE MANUSCRIPTS OF THE LIBRO AND THEIR SCRIBES
      (pp. 118-152)

      I BEGIN BY characterizing briefly the three scripta that constitute ourLibroG(Gayoso) is now housed in the library of the Real Academia Española. It bears a colophon that gives the date 1389 (86v). Scholars generally accept this date as an accurate statement of the year in which the manuscript was completed (but see Kelly,Canon28–35). It survives in eighty-seven rough paper folios measuring 220 mm by 150 mm, rebound in modern times.Gis incomplete in the form it has come down to us; in addition, numerous folios have been bound out of order. More than...

    • 5 AT THE MARGINS OF THE LIBRO
      (pp. 153-170)

      SCRIBES ARE OUR first readers of theLibro. It is their extremely complex psychological and mechanical act of transforming one scriptum into another that sets the stage for future readings of theLibro. The act of copying a text inevitably transforms it, but just as importantly, it creates marginal space. These spaces quickly begin to fill with new material that joins the game of determinacy and indeterminacy, surplus andaliquid minus, that drives medieval manuscript culture. Some marginalia we find inSGTare probably the work of correctors or the scribes themselves: folio numbers or letters (though often these are...

    • 6 READING THE BOOK OF THE ARCHPRIEST OF HITA
      (pp. 171-212)

      THE MEDIEVAL SCRIPTUM grows through a process of accretion, beginning with the pivotal act of scribal copying, continuing through the work of rubricators and illuminators, and on to individual readers who begin to intervene in the scriptum, adding their own annotations and jottings in the margins. But medieval reading does not end at the physical margins of the scriptum. The process of reading leads to the production of new scripta. Often it is simply that the scribal process begins again, as a new copy is made from an old one. But other processes begin as readers respond in a variety...

  8. CONCLUSION TOLLE LEGE
    (pp. 213-218)

    THE READINGS of theLibrowe have observed in the final two chapters leave the twentieth-century reader of medieval literature distinctly dissatisfied. Medieval readers skim across the surface of the text. They miss, or are uninterested in, the riches we like to find there: the political or intellectual program of the author, his artistic goals, the complex interplay and interweaving of ideas, images, motifs, the text’s dramatization of the conflict between desire and denial, natural impulses and social controls, love and death. Medieval readers read piecemeal, in patches, like scavengers combing our master text for whatever they can use. They...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 219-242)
  10. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 243-262)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 263-278)