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Reviews173 The Tragic and the Sublime in Medieval Literature, by Piero Boitani; xii and 330 pp. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989, $69.95. Piero Boitani, author of Engluh Medieval Narrative in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries and editor of the essay collection Chaucer and the Italian Trecento, has long provided readers with literary and generic contexts in which to discuss and appreciate medieval literature. In The Tragic and the Sublime in Medieval Literature, Boitani puts together ten essays, some of which were previously published but are revised for the present volume, on works, passages, and episodes diat confront tragedy and sublimity. The collection focuses mainly on Dante, and all the essays seem to be building, like the Comedia itself, toward a study of Dante's sublime language during the final episodes with Beatrice, St. Bernard, die Virgin, and God at the end of the Paradiso. Chapter one focuses on Chaucer and the complexity of the old man in the Pardoner's Tale, a depiction Boitani argues is "supremely and 'sublimely' tragic." The second chapter, one of the most instructive in the book, contrasts the "meta-history" of Dante's story of Ugolino to Chaucer's starker, more universally tragic depiction of the same story in the Monk's Tale. Chaucer's version, says Boitani, recalls "black and white film ofscenes from a concentration camp" (p. 51). Chapter three turns to the oxymoronic language of Petrarchan love and its manifestation in Chaucer's Troilus. Boitani then focuses on the natural imagery of sunsets, flowers, and leaves in, mainly, Inferno II and the Troilus. Chapters five and six trace Biblical, Classical, and Medieval recognition scenes as contexts for the many dramatic recognition episodes in the Comedia. Chapter seven traces Marian lyrics in various authors including Chaucer, while the last two chapters provide the book's main focus, a study of the Dantesque sublime in the final cantos of the Paradiso, as Dante traces his steps toward recognition of God. Boitani makes very specific distinctions about the goals and audience of this book, and the reader or scholar would do well to keep them in mind while reading or deciding to read this collection. The book is "meant to be read by students" (p. ix) , and Boitani provides much plot summary and many quotations . Chaucerians probably do not need a close comparison of the Pardoner's old man and Hemingway's Santiago to see the distinct medievalness of Chaucer's depiction. But the comparison might help teachers provide a context for students new to the Middle Ages, and all readers will be impressed by Boitani's broad range, from Vergil to Eliot, Goethe, and Seamus Heaney. The chapters read like a set of lectures. Sometimes it is wearying to be dragged through the poetry word by word, and students will most likely want to put down the glosses and go read the primary texts for themselves. But like any good gloss or lecture, the book seems content to make us do just that. 1 74Philosophy and Literature But the critic and die researcher wanting, and needing, to engage with die critical issues of our time will find much less here. We find no gender studies, no sexual-textual politics, no new-historical contexts. Indeed, the book has no argument or diesis at all. Rather, it seeks to locate the tragic and sublime and make the reader sensitive to it and, no doubt, to the beauty of the poetry. Some critics will find this dangerously outdated and even politically irresponsible, beauty and the "quality" implied by sublimity being oppressive constructs of one kind or anodier. Odiers may find the absence ofpolitics a refreshing boon. In short, the book is quite frankly about an Italian professor's love for Dante, and Boitani clearly explains his authorial status: "any Italian critic must sooner or later confront his greatest poet . . . and that moment has now come for me" (p. xi). Readers are forewarned in the preface, and diey will have to decide whedier to witness this important moment, or these several moments, of confrontation that Professor Boitani has bound together. Whitman CollegeMichael Calabrese Crack Wars: Literature, Addiction, Mania, by Avital Ronell; 175 pp. Lincoln: University of Nebraska...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 173-174
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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