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Paradox upon Paradox: Using and Abusing Language in The Cloud of Unknowing and Related Texts

From: Parergon
Volume 22, Number 2, July 2005
pp. 31-51 | 10.1353/pgn.2006.0049


The author of The Cloud of Unknowing warns his disciple of the deceptiveness of 'bodily' language applied to spiritual instruction. Innovation is accordingly to be found in aspects of his writing that constrict language use. These include his choice of English over Latin; strategies that imitate the movement of the mind in contemplation from a 'reality' mediated by words into transcendental freedom; colloquial immediacy; responsiveness to his reader's changing needs; and long negative explanations that expand into brief positive formulations. The interweaving of constrictive language with expansive (rhetorical) passages occurs on three levels of composition: structure, imagery, and style, including paradox.

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