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Other titles in the Middle Ages series:
Affective Meditation and the Invention of Medieval Compassion (Middle Ages)by Sarah Mcnamer
Synopses & Reviews
Affective meditation on the Passion was one of the most popular literary genres of the high and later Middle Ages. Proliferating in a rich variety of forms, these lyrical, impassioned, script-like texts in Latin and the vernacular had a deceptively simple goal: to teach their readers how to feel. They were thus instrumental in shaping and sustaining the wide-scale shift in medieval Christian sensibility from fear of God to compassion for the suffering Christ.Affective Meditation and the Invention of Medieval Compassion advances a new narrative for this broad cultural change and the meditative writings that both generated and reflected it. Sarah McNamer locates women as agents in the creation of the earliest and most influential texts in the genre, from John of Fecamp's Libellus to the Meditationes vitae Christi, thus challenging current paradigms that cast the compassionate affective mode as Anselmian or Franciscan in origin. The early development of the genre in women's practices had a powerful and lasting legacy. With special attention to Middle English texts, including Nicholas Love's Mirror and a wide range of Passion lyrics and laments, Affective Meditation and the Invention of Medieval Compassion illuminates how these scripts for the performance of prayer served to construct compassion itself as an intimate and feminine emotion. To feel compassion for Christ, in the private drama of the heart that these texts stage, was to feel like a woman. This was an assumption about emotion that proved historically consequential, McNamer demonstrates, as she traces some of its legal, ethical, and social functions in late medieval England.
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.
About the Author
Eleanor Johnson is assistant professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University.
Table of Contents
On Spellings and Translations
Introduction Formalism and Ethics: The Practice of Literary Theory
1. Formal Experiments with Ethical Writing: Prosimetrum and Protrepsis
2. Sensible Prose and a Sense of Meter: Chaucers Aesthetic Sentence in the Boece and Troilusand Criseyde
3. The Consolation of Tragedy: Protrepsis in the Troilus
4. Prosimetrum and the Canterbury Philosophy of Literature
5. Political Protrepsis: Usk and Gower
6. Hoccleve and the Convention of Mixed-Form Protrepsis
Conclusion A Mixed-Form Tradition of Literary Theory and Practice
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History and Social Science » Western Civilization » Medieval