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Book Reviews Tropologies: Ethics and Invention in England, c. 1350–1600. By Ryan McDermott. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2016. ISBN 9780268035402 (paperback); ISBN 0268035407 (paper). Pp. xiii + 432. $45.00. Readers of Christianity and Literature will want to read this book. Ryan McDermott has undertaken a massive intellectual project in Tropologies. He succeeds in describing a reading and writing strategy that spans the late medieval–early modern divide and helps foster ecumenical dialogue across the Protestant–Catholic one. Based on a participatory ontology, for which this study implicitly gives the reader a greater feel, Tropologies offers compelling readings of several late medieval and early modern works, including Patience, Piers Plowman, and the Doomsday pageant of the York Play. It carefully situates these and other texts historically, and it engages the thought of Michel de Certeau, Jacques Derrida, Jean-Luc Marion, Henri de Lubac, and others in meaningful, brief theoretical forays. McDermott’s trajectory, moving from ca. 1350 to ca. 1600, gives the argument a clear organizing principle. Along the way, he offers a series of significant insights, writing with generosity and a lucid and engaging style, not shy to apply an impressive (largely jargon-free) vocabulary, or to suggest contemporary relevance in sometimes whimsical and even wise asides. At the heart of this big book is a defense of tropological reading, which focuses on the applicatory dimension, especially of reading Scripture. This emphasis is radically hermeneutical, for it entails that reading is interpretive and open-ended, having meaning only in personal and communal responsiveness and a life lived in ongoing commitment to such application. The author elaborates his point with reference to historical specificity and difference: ‘‘In terms of history, tropological theory enabled theologians and exegetes to articulate how readers in the present could re-present and collaborate with the distant persons, things, and events to which the text of scripture granted access’’ (3, emphasis mine). Tropology, in the sense McDermott is trying to recover, does not leave interpretation untethered from the scriptural source of moral application. Neither, however, does it encourage the rigidity of some rule-based set of correspondences between past and present . Invention (from his subtitle) means both discovery and creativity, where new works ‘‘participate in the goodness for which the God of the Bible created the world’’ (3, emphasis mine). In the argument of Tropologies, responsiveness can take the form of writing. Christianity & Literature 2017, Vol. 66(3) 543–569 ! The Author(s) 2017 Reprints and permissions: sagepub.co.uk/ journalsPermissions.nav DOI: 10.1177/0148333116677683 journals.sagepub.com/home/cal The words ‘‘collaborate’’ and ‘‘participate’’ have particular, rich meaning in the theological milieu that McDermott is describing. In the opening chapter, he is (briefly) explicit about this: ‘‘‘spiritual exegesis’ entails a participatory metaphysics according to which created beings come to participate in the uncreated divine life’’ (12). Indeed, taken as a whole, the book offers a description and performative inhabitation of participatory metaphysics—not only in a late medieval Catholic context, but in early modern Protestant ones as well. Nonetheless, some readers may wish to supplement their reading of this book with others like Hans Boersma’s introductory Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry (2011) or A. M. Allchin’s older Participation in God: A Forgotten Strand in Anglican Tradition (1988). Spelling out that metaphysics per se is not McDermott’s task, yet he may also be limited by his distinguishing of tropological exegesis from ‘‘rhetorical and moral-philosophical discourses’’ (12) and even from theology understood in a narrow and professionalized way (13). This distinction allows McDermott to draw attention to certain issues not handled in previous studies of the works that he covers; it also contributes to his ability to help the reader to see continuities of exegetical practice over time that enfold literary and dramatic writers. Among these is the importance not merely of moving people to good action, but of drawing them into the story of salvation. At one point, the author will define that narrative as the passion, descent into hell, resurrection, and ascension of Christ and the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (195). Elsewhere, he...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2056-5666
Print ISSN
0148-3331
Pages
pp. 543-546
Launched on MUSE
2020-01-28
Open Access
No
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