The Ethics of Reading in Manuscript Culture: Glossing the Libro de Buen Amor

The Ethics of Reading in Manuscript Culture: Glossing the Libro de Buen Amor

The Ethics of Reading in Manuscript Culture: Glossing the Libro de Buen Amor

The Ethics of Reading in Manuscript Culture: Glossing the Libro de Buen Amor

Synopsis

Reexamining the roles played by author, reader, scribe, and text in medieval literary practice, John Dagenais argues that the entire physical manuscript must be the basis of any discussion of how meaning was made. Medievalists, he maintains, have relied too heavily on critical editions that seek to create a single, definitive text reflecting an author's intentions. In reality, manuscripts bear not only authorial texts but also a variety of elements added by scribes and readers: glosses, marginal notes, pointing hands, illuminations, and fragments of other, seemingly unrelated works. Using the surviving manuscripts of the fourteenth-century Libro de buen amor, a work that has been read both as didactic treatise on spiritual love and as a celebration of sensual pleasures, Dagenais shows how consideration of the physical manuscripts and their cultural context can shed new light on interpretive issues that have puzzled modern readers. Dagenais also addresses the theory and practice of reading in the Middle Ages, showing that for medieval readers the text on the manuscript leaf, including the text of the Libro, was primarily rhetorical and ethical in nature. It spoke to them directly, individually, always in the present moment. Exploring the margins of the manuscripts of the Libro and of other Iberian works, Dagenais reveals how medieval readers continually reshaped their texts, both physically and ethically as they read, and argues that the context of medieval manuscript culture forces us to reconsider such comfortable received notions as text and literature and the theories we have based upon them.

Excerpt

Few books of the Middle Ages have proven to be as frustrating to modern scholars as Juan Ruiz's Book of Good Love. The very title by which we know it, Libro de buen amor, was given to it only ninety years ago and has recently become a new topic of critical debate. The precise date of composition and the identity of the author remain in question despite new documentary evidence that identifies an Archpriest of Hita named Juan Ruiz in 1330 (Hernández, “Venerable” 10). Can we believe this documentary evidence, or does other evidence suggest that the book was written in the late fourteenth century, too late for this Juan Ruiz, Archpriest of Hita, to be the author of the book?

If basic external facts such as the identity of the author and the date of the work's composition are still unresolved, the text remains equally obscure. There remain many passages whose literal sense escapes us. What is the sense of “puntos” in the following lines: “dicha buena / o mala por puntos la Juzgat

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