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REVIEWS PEGGY A. KNAPP, ed.,Assays: CriticalApproaches to Medieval and Renaissance Texts. Vol. 2. Pittsburgh, Pa.: University of Pitts­ burgh Press, 1983. Pp. viii, 129. $21.00. Assays is an annual publication designed to provide a forum in which "modern critical thought" can be applied to medieval and Renaissance literature; the first two essays in volume 2 are struc­ turalist in emphasis; the second pair, poststructuralist; the fifth, rather conventional; the last, psychoanalytical. I shall review the essays in order, giving most attention to those on Chaucer. Neither of the first two contributions makes for easy reading. Laury Magnus's "The Hem ofPhilosophy: Free and Bound Motifs in the Franklin's Tale" equivocates (abused terms include theoria, praxis, narratological, and pragmatic) and lacks a clear thesis; the obfuscations conceal an implausible argument, which is the follow­ ing: that a major theme in The Franklins Tale is the theory and practice ofwriting, as Chaucer makes clear through the digression in which Dorigen complains against the black rocks. As structuralists know, digressions rarely effect plot, and yet Dorigen's digression is cause of action in the tale (this point is not demonstrated). Since allusions to Boethius draw attention to the relationship of theory (philosophical speculation) and praxis (note the hem ofLady Philos­ ophy's robe), and since the Franklin, as narrator, is concerned with proposing a theory of proper behavior (the ethics of "gentilesse") and illustrating its praxis (does he, in fact?), we may conclude that Chaucer wishes to exemplify a theory of writing by choosing a rare and difficult plot structure and by giving that theory (blueprint) of writing its due praxis. Another obscure attempt to show that abstract models serve as determinants of Chaucer's art is "Chaucer's Pardoner's Beneficent Lie," by Paul C. Bauschatz. Specifically Bauschatz tries to superim­ pose Augustine's distinctions among kinds ofutterance (true, false; revealing, deceiving) on Anselm's four-cornered model for dis­ tinguishing kinds ofpredication (the logic ofnegative particles) and then apply the results to The Pardoner's Tale, as though Chaucer were trying to embody these moral and logical models in that tale. These heuristics are doomed from the start to failure, since Au199 STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER gustine's and Anselm's discussions of language scarcely resemble each other. Bauschatz, moreover, distorts Augustine's terms in pursuing his thesis, and he must suppose that Chaucer, upon discovering Augustine's neglect of the "beneficent lie" (the empty "fourth corner" corresponding to Anselm's "not to cause not to be"), sought to remedy this deficiency in dramatic fashion. When Bauschatz finally turns to ThePardoner's Tale, he brings to it the same imprecision that characterizes his analysis of Augustine and Anselm. For example, he supposes that because the Pardoner takes great care with his delivery of a memorized "predicacioun" (not logical predication, as Bauschatz would have it, but preaching, a sermon) he must be ignoring content in favor ofform and thus is vaguely unaware of the content. This exemplifies a form of Au­ gustine'sfalsehood(not lying), in which the speaker talks mechan­ ically of one thing while thinking about unrelated matters. Bauschatz does not show that Chaucer recognizes the "beneficent lie" as a category (Aug-selmian or otherwise) of human discourse. Yes, the Pardoner says that through his hypocrisy he saves other people, but is that assertion reliable? And even if true, is the statement relevant, given that the salutary effect is merely an acci­ dental by-product of the Pardoner's greed? Certainly The Par­ doner's Tale shows Chaucer's interest in the limitations and dangers oflanguage, but Bauschatz fails to demonstrate that that interest is programmatic. A more sophisticated essay is Robert S. Knapp's "Penance, Irony, and Chaucer's Retraction," ostensibly an argument to show that the Retraction at the end of The Canterbury Tales is not ironic. Knapp, however, attends primarily to a semiotic analysis of penance which instead ofserving his thesis swallows it up. He begins by noting that theRetraction is an act ofpenance and that penance, as a sacrament, is also a sign and thus "partakes of semiotics" (p. 50). Knapp adds that, as an effort to "restore the text" (i...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1949-0755
Print ISSN
0190-2407
Pages
pp. 199-202
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Open Access
No
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