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172Philosophy and Literature TheNewMedievalism, edited by Marina S. Brownlee, Kevin Brownlee, and Stephen G. Nichols; vi & 330 pp. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991, $42.50 cloth, $14.95 paper. The New Medievalism consists of thirteen essays on Romance medieval texts, learned and beautifully written by leading medievalists. They are prefaced by an essay by Stephen G. Nichols entided "The New Medievalism: Tradition and Discontinuity in Medieval Culture." "Modernism," says Nichols, "sought to make the Middle Ages in its own image" whereas "new medievalism has on the whole tried to avoid reading the Middle Ages onto the modern world" (p. 8). Following Brian Stock, the New Medievalists posit "an image of the Middle Ages in which change and innovation take pride of place" (p. 12), although they acknowledge that medieval society was principaUy tradition-dependent. They have a common aim, to "reformulate assumptions about the discipline of medieval studies" (p. 1), but they disclaim using any particular and uniform methodology. There is, however, an implicit methodology which is apparent even in the tides of essays, such as David F. Hult's "Reading It Right: The Ideology of Text Editing." The methodology is that of postmodernism, which habitually substitutes what Gregory A. Robbins calls anthropodicy (the attempt of humankind to explain humankind to itself) for the theodicy ofearlier periods (the attempt to explain God to humankind, best exemplified by Paradise Lost). This methodology is apparent in the names of essays, such as Nichols's "An Intellectual Anthropology of Marriage in the Middle Ages," and the tide of Part III, "Literary Anthropology." It is also apparent in R. Howard Bloch's "The Medieval Text—'Guigemar'— As a Provocation to the Discipline of Medieval Studies" in which Bloch says, "just as there can be no direct access to the past, there is no unmediated access to . . . any text, which, because of the degraded nature of verbal signs, requires interpretation or gloss" (p. 103). Anyone aware of the polysemous nature of human language wül perforce agree, but the use of postmodernist clichés like "unmediated" and "degraded" will repel readers not already persuaded of the validity of Bloch's epistemic assumptions. Like postmodernism generaUy, many of the essays seek to invert traditional interpretative paradigms. In "The Mind's Eye: Memory and Textuality," for example, Michael Riffaterre studies the similarities between oral and written discourse rather than the differences perceived by scholars like Walter J. Ong. By so doing, Riffaterre ignores the dimension oftradition-dependence analyzed byJohn Miles Foley and makes the Middle Ages curiously like the postmodern present. Many of the essays make me wonder whether the "New" Medievalism really differs from the "Old," because the new methodologies seem to lead not to new readings but (to use the language of the mass media) to new spin on old Reviews173 ideas. In "Dante's Sexual Solecisms: Gender and Genre in the Commedia,"Jeffrey T. Schnapp makes much of "gender substitutions" (p. 211) in the works of Dante and the fact that in the Vita Nuova, Beatrice is referred to by deus [god] rather than dea [goddess]. Although he links this fact to androgyny and "the feminization of the holy" (p. 208), he never refers to traditional Dante scholarship that notes Dante's use of deus—Mark Musa's Essay on tL· Vita Nuova, for example. Instead, he refers to a contemporary secondary source, Caroline Walker Bynum's scholarship on the late-medieval devotion of God as Mother. Nichols says that New Medievalism "denotes a revisionist movement in Romance medieval studies" (p. 1). The movement is, however, revisionist in following cultural and critical studies, which borrow terminology from the social sciences to interpret literary texts: but it makes no particular contribution to humanistic knowledge. However, those who view the Middle Ages as "a slippery and dangerous world of motion" (Nichols, p. 23) will find much in these essays that validates such a view. University of DenverAlexandra Hennessey Olsen Cultural Aesthetics: Renaissance Literature and the Practice of Social Ornament, by Patricia Fumerton; xii & 279 pp. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991, $34.00. Patricia Fumerton's search for the Renaissance self involves a meticulous process of combing through Elizabethan and Jacobean aristocracy's "decorations , gifts, foodstuffs, small...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 172-173
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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