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Reviews381 The Ethics of Reading in Manuscript Culture: Glossing the "Libro de buen amor," by John Dagenais; xxiii & 278 pp. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994, $39.50. John Dagenais's thesis is that medieval readers used manuscripts very differently from the way modern ones use printed books. His evidence comes from the margins of the manuscripts of the fourteenth-century Spanish Libro de buen amor, in which, as in many other medieval manuscripts, readers marked features they considered noteworthy by adding a drawing of a hand or such words as nota or exemplum. Dagenais calls this type of reading ethical because the marginalia suggest that the text is incomplete until an individual reader "begins to engage his own prudence orjudgment in making ethical decisions about the material in the text, deciding, for example, whether a given behavior is being praised or blamed" (p. 61). The marginalia often draw attention to proverbs, exempla, or sententiae already familiar from written or oral tradition. They confirm C. S. Lewis's remark that "medieval readers . . . enjoyed books which told them what they already knew." The value ofthese traditional materials does not depend on the way they are used in a particular text: "the ethically dubious uses to which Trotaconventos turns her exempla do not invalidate the exempla themselves" (p. 168). Medieval readers completely failed to perceive the moral ambiguity many modern scholars see in the Libro (p. 212), just as they say nothing that suggests they found the book funny. Modern readers concentrate on the narrative of the Archpriest's pursuit of love and are puzzled by the juxtaposition of comic misadventures and moral counsel; the marginalia suggest that medieval readers treated the Libro as a collection of maxims or exempla to be memorized or recalled as guides to conduct. The Libro brings together a mass of "proverbial and exemplary material to which is now added, in fictional form, the implicit . . . application of this material to a 'real-life' situation" (p. 75). The reader must judge this fictional situation, assessing the characters' behavior either as worthy of imitation or as a warning of dangers to be avoided. Dagenais's impressively learned book is less a new interpretation of the Libro than an amassing of new evidence for an interpretation, proposed by Leo Spitzer in 1934 and now out of favor, that considers the Libro primarily as a didactic work in the mainstream of European medieval literature. I am sure that Dagenais is right to stress that medieval readers took Juan Ruiz's didacticism seriously. I have reservations, however, about his view that the marginalia represent a kind of reading peculiar to medieval manuscript culture. In my Cervantes and Ariosto: Renewing Fiction (1989), I noted that Renaissance readers, too, "believed that their task was to apply a text to their own particular situations, to use it as a source of guidance for shaping their own moral lives" (p. 116). Like the marginalia in the manuscripts of the Libro, the commentaries that accompany some sixteenth-century editions of Orlando 382Philosophy and Literature furioso divide the text into fragments that offer an opportunity to comment on moral or philosophical questions. The commentaries are not primarily concerned with literary criticism; they give no hint that there is anything to laugh at in Ariosto's poem, but this can hardly be taken as evidence that the annotatore lacked a sense ofhumor. Certainly it does not prove that the readers who made Orlandofurioso a sixteenth-century bestseller were blind to Ariosto's comic vision. Similarly, the marginalia in the manuscripts of the Libro need not represent a considered response to the Libro as a whole. The annotations are limited to points their authors considered important as guides to conduct, whether their own or that of other readers. They do not tell us thatJuan Ruiz's contemporaries did not find his book funny, much less that we are wrong to laugh at it. University of OregonThomas R. Hart The Reconfigured Eye: Visual Truth in the Post-Photographic Era, byWilliamJ. Mitchell; viii & 273 pp. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1992, $60.00. In this study of electronic photography the author contends that the digital image "shakes our faith" in referentiality and truth. Digital photography deals less...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 381-382
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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