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Rereading The Nun's Priest's Tale
Chaucer’s The Nun’s Priest’s Tale is one of the most popular of The Canterbury Tales. It is only 646 lines long, yet it contains elements of a beast fable, an exemplum, a satire, and other genres. There have been countless attempts to articulate the “real” meaning of the tale, but it has confounded the critics. Peter W. Travis contends that part of the fun and part of the frustration of trying to interpret the tale has to do with Chaucer’s use of the tale to demonstrate the resistance of all literature to traditional critical practices. But the world of The Nun’s Priest’s Tale is so creative and so quintessentially Chaucerian that critics persist in writing about it. No one has followed the critical fortunes of Chauntecleer and his companions more closely over time than Peter Travis. One of the most important contributions of this book is his assessment of the tale’s reception. Travis also provides an admirable discussion of genre: his analysis of parody and Menippean satire clarify how to approach works such as this tale that take pleasure in resisting traditional generic classifications. Travis also demonstrates that the tale deliberately invoked its readers’ memories of specific grammar school literary assignments, and the tale thus becomes a miniaturized synopticon of western learning. Building on these analyses and insights, Travis’s final argument is that The Nun’s Priest’s Tale is Chaucer’s premier work of self-parody, an ironic apologia pro sua arte. The most profound matters foregrounded in the tale are not advertisements of the poet’s achievements. Rather, they are poetic problems that Chaucer wrestled with from the beginning of his career and, at the end of that career, wanted to address in a concentrated, experimental, and parapoetic way.
Democratic Critiques of Democracy
Guillermo O'Donnell here brings together a collection of significant recent essays in which he considers both the method for and substance of critiques of democracies. While progress has been made in democratization, the authoritarian legacy hangs as a shadow over that advancement. O'Donnell engages in his analysis while keeping a firm gaze on that dangerous past. O'Donnell's work has influenced a generation of political scientists. The essays in this volume bring forward and develop many of the ideas presented in his earlier collection, Counterpoints: Selected Essays on Authoritarianism and Democracy. This work will be of interest to scholars working in justice reform, democratization, and comparative politics.
Diplomacy, Theology, and the Politics of Interwar Ecumenism
Eastern Orthodox and Anglicans is the first sustained study of inter-Orthodox relations, the special role of the Anglican Church, and the problems of Orthodox nationalism in the modern age. Despite many challenges, the interwar years were a time of intense creativity in the Russian Orthodox Church. Russian émigrés, freed from enforced isolation in the wake of the Russian Revolution, found themselves in close contact with figures from other Orthodox churches and from the Roman Catholic Church and all varieties of Protestant confessions. For many reasons, Russian exiles found themselves drawn to the Anglican Church in particular. The interwar years thus witnessed a concentrated effort to bridge the gap between Orthodox and Anglican. Geffert’s book is a detailed history of that effort. It is the story of efforts toward rapprochement by two churches and their ultimate failure to achieve formal unity. The same political, diplomatic, historical, personal, and religious forces that first inspired contact were the ones that ultimately undermined the effort. Bryn Geffert recounts the history of an important chapter in the history of Christian ecumenism, one that is relevant to contemporary efforts to achieve meaningful interfaith dialogue.
Aquinas, Whitehead, and the Metaphysics of Creation
In Ecological Ethics and the Human Soul: Aquinas, Whitehead, and the Metaphysics of Value, Francisco J. Benzoni addresses the pervasive and destructive view that there is a moral gulf between human beings and other creatures. Thomas Aquinas, whose metaphysics entails such a moral gulf, holds that human beings are ultimately separate from nature. Alfred North Whitehead, in contrast, maintains that human beings are continuous with the rest of nature. These different metaphysical systems demand different ethical stances toward creation. Benzoni analyzes and challenges Thomas's understanding of the human soul, his primary justification for the moral separation, arguing that it is finally philosophically untenable. The author finds promising the alternative metaphysics of Whitehead, for whom human beings are a part of nature—even if the highest part; all creatures have a degree of subjectivity and creativity, and thus all have intrinsic value and moral worth, independent of subjective human valuation. Further, though there is difference, there is no moral gulf between God and the world. God is truly affected by the experience of creatures. Benzoni argues that if this vision of moral worth is articulated with sufficient force and clarity, it could help heal the human relation to our planet.
New Horizons for the Literary
A visible presence for some two decades, electronic literature has already produced many works that deserve the rigorous scrutiny critics have long practiced with print literature. Only now, however, with Electronic Literature by N. Katherine Hayles, do we have the first systematic survey of the field and an analysis of its importance, breadth, and wide-ranging implications for literary study. Hayles’s book is designed to help electronic literature move into the classroom. Her systematic survey of the field addresses its major genres, the challenges it poses to traditional literary theory, and the complex and compelling issues at stake. She develops a theoretical framework for understanding how electronic literature both draws on the print tradition and requires new reading and interpretive strategies. Grounding her approach in the evolutionary dynamic between humans and technology, Hayles argues that neither the body nor the machine should be given absolute theoretical priority. Rather, she focuses on the interconnections between embodied writers and users and the intelligent machines that perform electronic texts. Through close readings of important works, Hayles demonstrates that a new mode of narration is emerging that differs significantly from previous models. Key to her argument is the observation that almost all contemporary literature has its genesis as electronic files, so that print becomes a specific mode for electronic text rather than an entirely different medium. Hayles illustrates the implications of this condition with three contemporary novels that bear the mark of the digital.
Female Spiritualities, Contested Orthodoxies, and English Religious Cultures, 1350-1700
In The Embodied Word: Female Spiritualities, Contested Orthodoxies, and English Religious Cultures, 1350–1700, Nancy Bradley Warren expands on the topic of female spirituality, first explored in her book Women of God and Arms, to encompass broad issues of religion, gender, and historical periodization. Through her analyses of the variety of ways in which medieval spirituality was deliberately and actively carried forward to the early modern period, Warren underscores both continuities and revisions that challenge conventional distinctions between medieval and early modern culture. The early modern writings of Julian of Norwich are an illustrative starting point for Warren’s challenge to established views of English religious cultures. In a single chapter, Warren follows the textual and devotional practices of Julian as they influence two English Benedictine nuns in exile, and then Grace Mildmay, a seventeenth-century Protestant gentry woman, “to shed light on the ways in which individual encounters of the divine, especially gendered bodily encounters expressed textually, signify for others both personally and socio-historically.” In subsequent chapters, Warren discusses St. Birgitta of Sweden’s imitatio Christi in the context of the importance of Spain and Spanish women in shaping a distinctive form of early modern Englishness strongly aligned with medieval religious culture; juxtaposes the fifteenth-century mystic Margery Kempe with the life and writings of Anna Trapnel, a seventeenth-century Baptist; and treats Catherine of Siena together with the Protestant Anne Askew and Lollard and Recusant women. In the final chapters she focuses on the interplay of gender and textuality in women’s textual representations of themselves and in works written by men who used the traditions of female spirituality in the service of competing orthodoxies.
Essays on the Natural World in Medieval and Early Modern Europe
Historians and cultural critics face special challenges when treating the nonhuman natural world in the medieval and early modern periods. Their most daunting problem is that in both the visual and written records of the time, nature seems to be both everywhere and nowhere. In the broadest sense, nature was everywhere, for it was vital to human survival. Agriculture, animal husbandry, medicine, and the patterns of human settlement all have their basis in natural settings. Humans also marked personal, community, and seasonal events by natural occurrences and built their cultural explanations around the workings of nature, which formed the unspoken backdrop for every historical event and document of the time. Yet in spite of the ubiquity of nature’s continual presence in the physical surroundings and the artistic and literary cultures of these periods, overt discussion of nature is often hard to find. Until the sixteenth century, responses to nature were quite often recorded only in the course of investigating other subjects. In a very real sense, nature went without saying. As a result, modern scholars analyzing the concept of nature in the history of medieval and early modern Europe must often work in deeply interdisciplinary ways. This challenge is deftly handled by the contributors to Engaging with Nature, whose essays provide insights into such topics as concepts of animal/human relationships; environmental and ecological history; medieval hunting; early modern collections of natural objects; the relationship of religion and nature; the rise of science; and the artistic representations of exotic plants and animals produced by Europeans encountering the New World.
Embracing a Catholic Vision
Engineering Education and Practice: Embracing a Catholic Vision is a collection of essays exploring how major themes of Catholic social teaching—respect for the environment, sustainability, technological design, and service to the poor—all positively affect engineering curricula, students, and faculty. Many engineering programs at American universities focus solely on developing technological sophistication without promoting ethical and humanitarian priorities. The contributors to this collection argue, however, that undergraduate engineering education needs to be broadened beyond its current narrow restrictions. The authors of this unique collection, nearly all of whom are engineers themselves, show how some Christian universities in the United States have found creative ways of opening up their engineering curricula. They demonstrate how the professional education of engineers can be enriched not only by ethical and religious themes, which are typically isolated in humanities curricula, but also by special fieldwork courses that offer hands-on service-learning opportunities and embody a rich educational synthesis.
Traditionally, Christian martyrdom is a repetition of the story of Christ’s suffering and death: the more closely the victim’s narrative replicates the Christological model, the more legible the martyrdom. But if the textual construction of martyrdom depends on the rehearsal of a paradigmatic story, how does the discourse reconcile the broad range of individuals, beliefs, and persecutions seeking legitimation by claims of martyrdom? By observing how martyrdom is constructed through the interplay of historical event and literary form, Alice Dailey explores the development of English martyr discourse through the period of intense religious controversy from the heresy executions of Queen Mary to the regicide of 1649. Through close study of texts ranging from late medieval passion drama and hagiography to John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments, martyrologies of the Counter-Reformation, Charles I’s Eikon Basilike, and John Milton’s Eikonoklastes, The English Martyr from Reformation to Revolution considers the shifting religiopolitical rhetoric of Reformation England. By putting history and literary form in dialogue, Dailey describes not only the reformation of one of the oldest, most influential genres of the Christian West but a revolution in the very concept of martyrdom. In England in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, martyrdom develops from medieval notions of strict typological repetition, she argues, into Charles I’s defense of individual conscience—an abstract, figurative form of martyrdom that survives into modernity. Rather than being a static genre, martyrology emerges in Dailey’s study as deeply nuanced and subtly responsive to historical circumstance.
His Theology and His World
Erich Przywara, S.J. (1889–1972), is one of the important Catholic intellectuals of the twentieth century. Yet, in the English-speaking world Przywara remains largely unknown. Few of his sixty books or six hundred articles have been translated. In this engaging new book, Thomas O’Meara offers a comprehensive study of the German Jesuit Erich Przywara and his philosophical theology. Przywara’s scholarly contributions were remarkable. He was one of three theologians who introduced the writings of John Henry Cardinal Newman into Germany. From Przywara’s position at the Jesuit journal in Munich, Stimmen der Zeit, he offered an open and broad Catholic perspective on the cultural, philosophical, and theological currents of his time. As one of the first Catholic intellectuals to employ the phenomenologies of Edmund Husserl and Max Scheler, he was also responsible for giving an influential, more theological interpretation of the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola. Przywara was also deeply engaged in the ideas and authors of his times. He was the first Catholic dialogue partner of Karl Barth and Paul Tillich. Edmund Husserl was counted among Przywara’s friends, and Edith Stein was a close personal and intellectual friend. Through his interactions with important figures of his age and his writings, ranging from speculative systems to liturgical hymns, Przywara was of marked importance in furthering a varied dialogue between German Catholicism and modern culture. Following a foreword by Michael A. Fahey, S.J., O’Meara presents a chapter on Pryzwara’s life and a chronology of his writings. O’Meara then discusses Pryzwara’s philosophical theology, his lecture-courses at German universities on Augustine and Aquinas, his philosophy of religion, and his influence on important intellectual contemporaries. O’Meara concludes with an in-depth analysis of Pryzwara’s theology—focusing particularly on his Catholic views on person, liturgy, and church.