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122ARTHURIANA temptation in such self-confidence, however, is sounded in the closing essay by Mary Baine Campbell, who cautions against the tendency of even technologically literate people to glut their spiritual needs upon occult fetishism. We should worry when our society makes the Grail inro an 'X-FiIe' or conspiratorial secret that is either utterly solipsistic or eternally 'out there,' unresolved. As a whole that is more richly suggestive than its generally competent and sometimes eloquent parts, this is a scholarly anthology worth looking at. PETER H. GOODRICH Northern Michigan University ROSF.MARIE p. McGerr, Chaucer's Open Books:Resistance to Closure in Medieval Discourse. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1998. Pp. 210. isbn: 0-81301572 -3- «49-95That Chaucer's oeuvre is anything but an 'open book' is what gives Chaucerians something interesting to do. The inconclusively open endings ofsome ofhis poems and the pervasive polysemy in his work constitute part of their challenge, or closedness, for us, and provide Rosemarie McGerr with the theme ofher book. The word 'open' in her title refers not only to apparently unfinished works (House of Fame, Legend ofGood Women, the Canterbury Tales) but also to a sensibility that stresses ambiguity of signification and of interpretation, avoidance of resolution, and multiple perspectives. Umberto Eco is her theorist of choice. In Chapter 1, McGerr places Chaucer in a European tradition of classical and medieval poetic theory, which paid a good deal of attention to closure, and of inconclusive or incomplete poetry both long and short. Authors ofmanuals on the composition of poetry, letters, and sermons considered not only techniques ofending but also the relation of end to beginning and to overall structure. This emphasis, with its conventions and artifices, could generate resistance and parody as well as compliance—indeed, in its most provocative form, resistance and parody disguised as compliance, as in Guillaume de Machaut's clever rondeau 'Ma fin est mon commencement' (pp. 28-29). The chapter lacks discussion ofmanuscript production and transmission—the 'mouvance' or variability written about by Paul Zumthor and Bernard Cerquiglini and that certainly contribute to openness. The remaining six chapters take up, in chronological order, Chaucer's four dreamvisions , the Troi/us, and the Tales. Much ofthe discussion requires recapitulation of the narrative and commentary on it, as McGerr attempts to demonstrate how an ending relates to the rest of the poem. This relation is generally to do with the ambiguity, fallibility, contingency, incompleteness, etc., oftemporal life, language, texts and interpretation. Her readings are largely synthetic, recording agreement or various shades ofdifference with various other critics, though without any thorough nose-to-nose engagement with those from whom she differs—or, for that matter, with whom she agrees. For example, when McGerr opts for the opinion that the last sentence of the Legend is really its proper ending, she relates it to 'a popular REVIEWS123 device in medieval literature, the simple assertion that a work has reached its end' (p. 120). The problem is that that is not what the last line in the Legend asserts. It says nothing about the piece being over; rather it seems to assert a purpose. It says, 'This tale is seyd for this conclusioun,' a sentence with several ambiguities: 'this' conclusion, meaning which conclusion? 'conclusion' as ending or as logical inference? 'for' meaning 'because of—an implied teleology? and 'this tale' meaning the individual legend or the Legend ofGood Women as a whole? It is indeed an 'open' ending, whether complete or not. The book touches base with numerous topics of interest but remains—well, inconclusive. Unfortunately, this kind of'openness' is less a virtue—less interesting— in scholarship than in poetry. The assertions it does make (for instance, re: Chaucer's challenge to reader expectations and undercutting ofliterary convention) are by no means new. When McGerr ends by announcing that 'It is time...to reconsider Chaucer's poems in this new light [i.e., of resistance to closure] and to give heed to the reading lessons they provide' (p. 157) one is tempted to think that the alarm clock went offa while ago. SHEILA DELANY Simon Fraser University jerry root, Space to speke': The ConfessionalSubject in MedievalLiterature. American University Studies Ser...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1934-1539
Print ISSN
1078-6279
Pages
pp. 122-123
Launched on MUSE
2015-04-01
Open Access
No
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