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Reviewed by:
  • Logical Fictions in Medieval Literature and Philosophy by Virginie Greene
  • Jonathan Morton
Logical Fictions in Medieval Literature and Philosophy. By Virginie Greene. (Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literature, 93.) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014. 322 pp.

The corpus of Virginie Greene’s unusual study comprises French medieval literature, philosophical works from classical Greece and Rome and twelfth-century Europe, and twentieth-century analytical philosophy. The aim is to reflect on the nature of fiction and ‘to raise a number of questions and provoke investigations that I am myself unable to ask or undertake for they belong to anthropologists, psychologists, and philosophers [End Page 377] rather than to literary critics’ (p. 4). Philosophical texts are analysed using the tools of a literary scholar and read alongside discussion of the philosophical implications of courtly literature. In Chapter 1 Greene draws on Abelard to suggest her own theory of ‘fiction as a mental process of creating imaginary particulars’ (p. 14), a process she terms ‘adstraction’ (the inverse of abstraction). Chapter 2 discusses predication in Anselm’s De grammatico alongside one of Marie de France’s Fables. Modern disputes about non-existent things in analytical philosophy (Bertrand Russell, Alexius Meinong, Rudolf Carnap, Saul Kripke) lead to a historical investigation of the (non-existent) unicorn, from ancient Greece to medieval bestiary material in Chapter 3. The unnamed unicorn is paralleled with the tradition of the named fox Renard. To explain the meta-discourses around fiction and reason that Greene identifies as particular phenomena around 1100 and around 1900, she suggests as a cause the emergence of new fictional media (vernacular literature and cinema, respectively). The most successful chapters are 4, 5, and 6, each reading an individual text to consider tensions around the logical principle of noncontradiction. Thoughtful discussion of the implications of fictional figures of opponents in Aristotle’s Metaphysics and Anselm’s Proslogion precede an intelligent reading of Faux Semblant’s Cretan Liar’s paradox and of Amant in the Roman de la rose. Chapters 7 and 8 consider Aristotle’s construction of earlier philosophers and then Abelard’s construction of himself using what Greene terms a ‘phantasm’, by which she means ‘a mental image or series of images staging the self in relation to real events and people, like a memory, but with significant and consistent imaginative aspects’ (p. 143). As with ‘adstraction’, the term is under-theorized, leading to some confusion. It is not made clear how Freudian theory, or the suggestion that Socrates’ death is a ‘symbolic patricide that had to happen to allow philosophy to become historical’ (p. 163), help us to understand Aristotle’s relationship with earlier philosophers. The phantasm of philosophical genealogy is used to explain the early twelfth-century culture of philosophical debate. We are told that the impossibility of pagans Plato and Aristotle becoming Fathers in the Church led to a split philosophical genealogy so that ‘fatherless sons turned into master speakers and writers’ (p. 192) but it is not clear why this should be so, nor what the implications of such a claim might be. A final chapter on friendship covers Plato, Cicero, Aristotle, and Aelred before examining the famous fight between Yvain and Gauvain in Chrétien de Troyes. This volume raises questions rather than resolving them, and offers a take on philosophical works and texts from medieval French literature that is certainly original and provocative.

Jonathan Morton
New College, Oxford
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Additional Information

ISSN
1468-2931
Print ISSN
0016-1128
Pages
pp. 377-378
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-09
Open Access
No
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