Spatial perception and conceptions in the (re-)presenting and (re-)constructing of Old English texts
- Australian and New Zealand Association of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (Inc.)
- Volume 9, Number 1, June 1991
- pp. 87-102
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Spatial perception and conceptions in the (re-)presenting and (re-)constructing of Old English texts Recent work by Bately1 and Bauschatz2 has brought out how in the Old English period conceptions and representations of that abstract notion w e call 'time' differ from those generally current today. The society and culture of a thousand years ago focussed upon aspects different from the linearity of time which informs our reliance upon the digital watch and calendar, and our stress upon the on-going tripartite progression from past to present to future. They suggest that the encoding of temporal concepts was concerned as much or more with the present's relationship to the past,3 and with the cyclic and durational elements of time and with 'the fact that time is all "present" in eternity'.4 Clemoes too has pointed out how the Parker chronicler copied year numbers in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for which there are no entries as 'a declaration of continuity'.5 As these studies have shown, time as an abstract concept is conceived within a cultural framework, and diachronic changes in the cultural encoding of perceptions of time suggest important differences between Anglo-Saxon and twentieth-century cultures. Temporality in more general terms and its encoding in written texts has also been a topic of interest for cultural theorists: for instance, Ricoeur6 has written a monumental study of time and narrative, and Bakhtin has argued that time is given its most paradigmatic expression in 1 Janet Bately, 'Time and the Passing of Time in "The Wanderer" and Related OE Texts', Essays and Studies ns 37 (1984), 1-15; and 'On Some Words for Time in Old English Literature', in Problems of Old English Lexicography, ed. Alfred Bammesberger, Eichstatter Beitrage 15, Abt. Sprache und Literatur, Regensburg, 1985, pp. 47-64. 2 Paul C. Bauschatz, The Well and the Tree: World and Time in Early Germanic Culture, Amherst, M A , 1982. See also Dean Loganbill, 'Time and Monsters in Beowulf, In Geardagum 3 (1979), 26-35. 3 Bauschatz, The Well and the Tree, pp. 139-40. 4 Bately, 'Time and the Passing of Time', p. 15. On the related aspect of eschatology, see Milton McC. Gatch, Preaching and Theology in Anglo-Saxon England: Mfric and Wulfstan, Toronto and Buffalo, 1977. 5 Peter Clemoes, 'Language in Context: Her in the 890 Anglo-Saxon Chronicle', Leeds Studies in English ns 16 (1985), 27-36; quotation p. 31. 6 Paul Ricoeur, Time and Narrative, 3 vols, trans. Kathleen Blarney and David Pellauer, Chicago, 1984-88. For discussion of a more cognitive approach to time, see The Personal Experience of Time, ed. Bernard S. Gorman and Alden E. Wessman, New York and London, 1977. 88 R. Waterhouse literary texts.7 But although Bakhtin has also emphasised the traditional inseparability of time and space in his concept of the chronotype, less attention seems to have been given to spatiality: it is Foucault8 in particular w h o has examined the manipulation of spatiality in post-Renaissance periods as a means of social control. Representations of spatial form, and of objects (animate or inanimate) that can be perceived in relation to each other within space, can be tangible and physical, as well as linguistic, and attention is increasingly being paid to the conceptualisation of space and the implications of its reconstruction in physical as well as in linguistic terms.9 However, there is a seeming 'asymmetry'10 between studies of time and space, in studies of cognition, while the study of modes of encoding spatiality and spatial objects in written texts has largely become the preserve of narratologists as they deal with point of view and 'focalisation'.11 Yet in general their investigation of focalisation does not take up cultural conceptions of spatiality as such. While Anglo-Saxonists have done a great deal of work on surviving manuscript illuminations and on artifacts such as those found at Sutton Hoo,1 2 7 Katerina Clark and Michael Holquist, Mikhail Bakhtin, Cambridge, MA, and London, 1984, especially p. 278. 8 Michel Foucault has dealt stimulatingly and provocatively with aspects of spatiality in his wide-ranging explorations of culture. A selection of his writings on spatiality are most conveniently...