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Reviews The New Medievalism DAVID TOWNSEND Marina S. Brownlee, Kevin Brownlee, and Stephen G. Nichols, editors. The New Medievalism Johns Hopkins University Press 1991 Over the past twenty years, emerging critical discourses have both unsettled and revitalized conversation around literature. Practical applications have usually moved backwards from more recent to more ancient and remote texts. Powerful critiques of the metaphysics of a unified vision's embodiment in coherent and unproblematic language were focused earliest on texts shaped by the Enlighten- ~ent and its legacy. Derrida's insights - and his obfuscations - came, of course, partly in his reading of Plato, but clustered especially around Condillac, Rousseau, Hegel, Freud, Levi-Strauss, and Austin. It remained for Derrida's later readers to problematize the coherence of late medieval literary expression; only even more recently have texts of the earlier Middle Ages undergone deconstructive analysis. Notions ofdialogization and the interplay ofvoices that Mikhail Bakhtin developed with a primary view to the bourgeoiS novel have been fruitfully reapplied to texts as far from his original applications as Beowu1ffrom Eugene Onegin. The phenomenology of the reader's response, illustrated in post-Enlightenment fiction by Wolfgang Iser, has also helped to recover the diversity of vision encoded in medieval texts - a diversity that some earlier strains of criticism threatened to engulf in a nostalgic projection of hierarchic spiritual consensus. (At the same time, credit must be given to the hermeneutically engaged critics who have originally developed central insights in a medieval context- Franz BaumI, Hans RobertJauss, Brian Stock, and Paul Zumthor among them.) A fecund welter of competing critical languages has come to embody richly divergent understandings of medieval literature and its meanings in a postmodern age. Although this body ofrevisionist critical work has in fact gathered momentum for a decade or more, for some medievalists it still represents an unassimilated challenge. Among those trained with more than a superficial command of their discipline's dauntingly elaborate technical tools, and with a consequent degree of respect for those tools' power and flexibility, more than a few confront the current interpretive debates as newcomers. Some imagine barbarians at the gates - despite UNlVERSITY OFTORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME 62, NUMBER 2, WINTER 1992/3 306 DAVID TOWNSEND the debt all medievalists must at some level feel to barbariansJ of all people, for getting the post-Roman world off the ground in the first place. In contrast, others are caught by the allure of a brave new world, or perhaps of a forbidden planet. Talk of the new in medieval studies has circulated for a number of years, even as some in the field continue to assume that they are filling in a great map of knowledge whose lineaments are already for the most part fixed. Over the past six or seven years a number of collections, full-length studies of methodology, and special issues of scholarly journals have presented their own work as embodying an awareness of a threshold they have passed, thus defining their own critical practice as transformed from what had gone before. As a title for one such collection, 'The New Medievalism' must in some sense be seen as a gesture to call attention to the liminality of its own enterprise. Editor Stephen G. Nichols, in his introduction to the thirteen subsequent essays in Romance studies, suggests that the title 'denotes a revisionist movement ... that is resolutely ec1ecticyet relatively consistent in its concerns and presuppositions,' and that the collection is intended 'to provide a coherent illustration, representative rather than exhaustive, of the work being done by new medievalists.' He and his fellow editors have divided the essays into four groups, given over respectively to Theoretical Dimensions, the New Philology, Literary Anthropology, and Authority and History. Whereas the title of the volume promotes the book's own liminality, its own status as bearing the shock of the new, this division among the essays reinforces a sense that the work represented here has a kind of wholeness complemented by the categorizations used to create divisions within the collection. The anthology presents itself resolutely as both new, and as a new thing: it purports both to say that which medievalists have not said before, and to do so by presenting a...


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