- The Neighboring Text: Chaucer, Boccaccio, Henryson by George Edmondson
Chaucer is a staple of any medieval English degree, but both Henryson and this particular Boccaccio text are much less familiar. Having flourished in the English Language and Early English Literature (ELEEL) school at Sydney in the 1980s this reviewer recognizes the critical apparatus at play in this work. Indeed, it is somewhat reassuring to find a contextualizing, poststructuralist analysis that is not afraid to speak about ideology, anxieties, politics, and resistances.
Edmondson's reading and contextualization of his subject - Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde, Boccaccio's Il Filostrato, and Henryson's Testament of Cresseid - are figured around a sound and useful conception of neighbourliness: texts considered as neighbours rather than in an inferred genetic relationship. His approach to the category 'neighbour' is unashamedly psychoanalytic, drawing [End Page 325] on, for example, Freud, Lacan, Fradenburg, and Žižek. And the approach is compelling. Edmondson draws on such concepts as jouissance, Nebensmensch, the Freudian 'Thing', desire, the Other, and the Lacanian second (symbolic) death to deliver a challenging framework for his exploration into textual neighbourliness.
At times quite dense, ultimately the book is an exercise in negotiating theory. This reviewer is still struggling with the array of jouissances (for the first chapter alone: Cresseid's, the Narrator's, Henryson's - each jouissance differing in respect of their own specific categories of neighbouring) and the seeming paradox (described also as ambivalence - whose?) in jouissance as pleasure, as burden, and as suffering. Indeed, this complexity itself implies an ideal reader who shares the specialized 'in' psychoanalytic knowledge fundamental to the argument. But (and I am not speaking here as an expert) I wonder if Edmondson's use of psychoanalysis is not at times a trifle over wrought.
Nevertheless, this is a valuable contribution to the field and a book that well repays deep engagement, critique, and debate, for there is a level of erudition here that is not easy to put to one side, and which calls out for further discussion. But its strength is also its weakness. The density of critique can itself be a disincentive to the interested but time-poor reader, and the publisher's reliance on endnotes results in a constant and annoying shuffle to get to the depth and fullness of Edmondson's argument.