- Pursuing History: Middle English Manuscripts and Their Texts by Ralph Hanna III, Literary History and the Challenge of Philology: The Legacy of Erich Auerbach ed. by Seth Lerer (review)
- Studies in the Age of Chaucer
- The New Chaucer Society
- Volume 20, 1998
- pp. 269-277
- View Citation
- Additional Information
REVIEWS specifics about fifteenth-century York partake of this same kind of meta-attitudinal facticity. What these musings suggest is that, maddeningly unreflective though historians can be, their very pragmaticism may have correctives to offer to what one may confidently assume most students of history see as the excesses of modern theoretical assumptions about the nature of texts that, like Bishop Berkeley, can come dangerously close to deny ing extramental existence in its entirety. This is, however, aJohnsonian subject on which the five historians of Bodies and Disciplines are disap pointingly silent. Although reviewers are always supposed to review the book before them, not the one that they might have preferred, in the present instance it seems clear that if each chapter from one discipline had been followed by a direct comment from the other, participants and readers alike would have better been able to see the ways in which his tory and literary studies operating in tandem can produce more last ingly fruitful results than can either of them working in splendid iso lation. In short, Hanna's fatality-strewn intersection would have truly become Strohm's life-enhancing carrefour. CHARLES T. W00D Dartmouth College RALPH HANNA III. Pursuing History: Middle English Manuscripts and Their Texts. Figurae: Reading Medieval Culture Series. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1996. Pp. x, 362. $39.50. SETH LERER, ed. Literary History andthe Challenge ofPhilology: The Legacy ofErich Auerbach. Figurae: Reading Medieval Culture Series. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996. Pp. xii, 301. $45.00. Pursuing history or challenging history: what's your preference? And is there a difference, formay not any pursuitbe also a challenge? Two books, both in the same Stanford series on "reading medieval culture" (with, in the case of Lerer's collection, the added rhetorical convenience that the series uses the same trope of tropes-figura-that provoked and ani mated the career of Erich Auerbach); two books examining the function of history and historiography at a time when it has again become criti cally fashionable to do so; two books that are both collectanea orflorilegia, 269 STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER bibliographical emulations of the medieval book itself-one organized around the actual writings of one of our most distinguished living tex tuists and bibliographers, and the other commemorating and evaluating the ongoing presence of a textuist of an earlier generation. Any reviewer, any reader, of these two books together is tempted to ask: did Auerbach make Hanna and his works possible? And/or, more provocatively: is Hanna our current Auerbach? And does the fact that both authors write from an acknowledged situatedness-a specific time and place that self consciously uses that individual awareness of occupying a particular mo ment in the cumulative history of textuality-mean that both books can be seen as celebrations of what has elsewhere become known as a "per sonalise" criticism, so that Auerbach's having written Mimesis in Istanbul as aJewish exile from Nazi Germany is a proper critical precur sor to Hanna's opening anecdote of his linguistically tolerant father and of his later having "set up shop as an anti-Chaucerian" (p. 2)? Consider just some of the autobiographical and polemical contexts provided for Hanna's writings: his determination to "abandon" the "canonical Chaucer [of } the Robinson Works" (p. 5); his attacks on the "historical repression" of Chaucerian editors who "denied that [Chaucer's} text had a history of circulation" (p. 4); his acknowledge ment that his desire to see medieval books as "fluid, developing enti ties" has become "almost a fetish" in his work (p. 7); his admission that the six Chaucerian essays are "studies I should have preferred not to have undertaken" (p. 14) but that he had to capitulate to the "inevitability" of Chaucer's "ipsissima verba," just as Shakespeare bestrides the world of later bibliographical work; his acceptance of the Bloomian view of the necessary and "aggressive" killing of the precursor, who in his case is identified as Derek Pearsall, "whose presence I must remove to con struct my version of medieval literature" (p. 15). Are not these and many other signs of Hanna's presence in his codicological, textual, and editorial scholarship a recognition that...