In this Book

University of Minnesota Press
summary
In the first book to examine one of the most peculiar features of one of the greatest and most perplexing poems of England’s late Middle Ages-the successive attempts of Piers Plowman to begin, and to keep beginning, D. Vance Smith compels us to rethink beginning, as concept and practice, in both medieval and contemporary terms.

The problem of beginning was invested with increasing urgency in the fourteenth century, imagined and grappled with in the courts, the churches, the universities, the workshops, the fields, and the streets of England. The Book of the Incipit reveals how Langland’s poem exemplifies a widespread interest in beginning in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, an interest that appears in such divergent fields as the physics of motion, the measurement of time, logic, grammar, rhetoric, theology, book production, and insurrection.

Smith offers a theoretical understanding of beginning that departs from the structuralisms of Edward Said and the traditional formalisms of A. D. Nuttall and most medievalist and modernist treatments of closure. Instead, he conceives a work’s beginning as a figure of the beginning of the work itself, the inception of language as the problem of beginning to which we continue to return.

Table of Contents

  1. Cover
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  1. About the Series, Title Page, Copyright, Quotes
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  1. Contents
  2. pp. vii-viii
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  1. Preliminary
  2. pp. ix-xiv
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  1. Incipit: A Fourteenth-Century Incipit
  2. pp. 1-41
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  1. Initium: Incipits and the Intentions of Vernacular Writing
  2. pp. 42-60
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  1. Exordium: Making Beginnings: Disposition and Inscription
  2. pp. 61-81
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  1. Thema: The Book That Makes Itself
  2. pp. 82-112
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  1. Origo: Genealogy: Engenderment and Digression
  2. pp. 113-139
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  1. Conditora: The Archive of Grammar: Beginning and Documentary Remembrance
  2. pp. 140-170
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  1. Principium: Beginning Perfection: The Theology of Inception
  2. pp. 171-212
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  1. Notes
  2. pp. 213-260
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  1. Bibliography
  2. pp. 261-282
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  1. Index
  2. pp. 283-296
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