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REVIEWS ralizations are a fashionable precaution for the ideologically circum­ spect author; here Theresa Tinkle convincingly displays the multiple, discordant, and creatively chaotic nature of her subjects and the deep historical roots of their conflicted meanings, while in no way dissolving, but on the contrary strengthening, her readers' awareness of the pro­ fundity of medieval poets' engagement with the figures of Venus and Cupid and the philosophical importance of the poetic structures cen­ tered upon them. HELEN PHILLIPS University of Nottingham DAVID WILLIAMS. Deformed Discourse: The Function of the Monster in Mediaeval Thought and Literature. Montreal and Kingston; London and Buffalo: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1996.Pp.xiv, 392. $55.0 0. David Williams's challenging study of the monster in medieval thought and literature goes well beyond the catalog-style discussion that seems to be a typical feature of books and articles in this subject area.Williams offers a framework of understanding for monstrosity, contending that in medieval cosmology, and specifically in Pseudo­ Dionysian thought, the idea of the monster has a centrality to the scheme ofthings that postmedievals have to recover.The monster is not contra naturam, but rather extra naturam. Williams quotes Isidore's Etymologiae 1 1.3.1-2: "Varro says that portents are things which seem to have been born contrary to nature, but in truth, they are not born contrary to nature, because they exist by the divine will, since the Creator's will is the nature of everything created.... " The monstrous can be seen to have a major function within the scheme of things be­ cause of a series of moves Pseudo-Dionysius offers in his cognitive sys­ tem that effectively constitute a deformed discourse, or the proper in­ terpretation of sacred symbols.Pseudo-Dionysius, readers of The Cloud of Unknowing and related treatises will remember, offers the negative path to God: what God is not is easier to consider than what He is. Operationally this negation yields to paradoxical utterances and the failure to make any positive predication about God; this failure, how343 STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER ever, liberates the knower from the "logical" limits of predication and points to a transcendent possibility. As Cusa has it, God is the coinci­ dence of opposites. The monster is similarly a sign of negation, point­ ing to the paradox of "what is" and "what is not" or the transcendent. Amplifying John Scotus Eriugena and his Periphyseon, Williams can argue that in Eriugena's worldview "God the Creator is also seen as monster." Eriugena is a key figure for Williams because he sees the ninth-century thinker as creating a teratological symbolism based on a liberal interpretation of Pseudo-Dionysius. Having established the philosophical basis for his book in negative theology, Williams goes on to the second part of his grand argument, which part gives the necessary links between the general theory ofmon­ sters and the specific representations of them in select texts. Part 2, "Taxonomy," is, in one sense, the catalog of monsters so often seen in scholarship, but here it comes forward not as a descriptive inventory of things that go bump in the night but in the context ofa considered the­ ory offorms, based on the history ofideas. Williams does not lose sight of the foundation he established earlier, repeating the central ideas of negative theology and paradoxical utterances from time to time in his taxonomy with good rhetorical effect. Admittedly such a taxonomy is "a system ofcategories ofnothing," a contradictory "structuring ofdis­ order," and yet the "requirement of an affirmative discourse that at­ tempts to understand the negative." Foucault's famous comment on the Chinese encyclopedia and its taxonomy of animals is a proper motto to this theme that the "exotic charm ofanother system ofthought" makes us understand "the limitation of our own, the stark impossibility of thinking that." Williams's first taxonomic divide is "The Body Monstrous," wherein size (i.e., pygmies, giants), locus and position (an­ tipodes, shape-shifters), the head (multi-, bi-, tri-, a-cephalic, as well as the human-headed animal), the mouth, the eyes, ears, and lips, and the genitals (disembodied, vagina dentata, and the hermaphrodite) are or­ dering categories. Since the body...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1949-0755
Print ISSN
0190-2407
Pages
pp. 343-346
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Open Access
No
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