Academic journal article Style

Knowledge, Belief, and Lack of Agency: The Dreams of Geoffrey, Troilus, Criseyde, and Chauntecleer

Academic journal article Style

Knowledge, Belief, and Lack of Agency: The Dreams of Geoffrey, Troilus, Criseyde, and Chauntecleer

Article excerpt

In the process of their posthumous life they [great works] are enriched with new meanings, new significance: it is as though these works outgrow what they were in the epoch of their creation.

Mikhail Bakhtin, Speech 4

The great institutions of power that developed in the Middle Ages . . . were able to gain acceptance[;] this was because they presented themselves as agencies of regulation, arbitration, and demarcation, as a way of introducing order in the midst of these powers, of establishing a principle that would temper them and distribute them according to boundaries and a fixed hierarchy.

Michel Foucault, History of Sexuality 86-87

Great texts written centuries ago remain meaningful, providing sites for examining, understanding, and questioning current epistemology and ontology. Instead of defining what something means, exegesis and criticism of great texts highlight relationships and downplay inconsistencies, clarifying the nexus among knowledge, experience, and belief. A careful analysis of dream-lore categories, primary sources (Parliament of Fowls, Troilus and Criseyde, and the Nun's Priest's Tale), and current criticism uncovers an elaborate epistemology underscoring modem expectations of knowledge. Because readers' interpretations lead to the authorship of "new" texts - interpretations affected by the protocols of reading of an environment, culture, and historical period exegesis of the above texts underscores the paradigms and practices of modern culture, presenting a sectarian version of rationality as well as documenting formulations of self, truth, and power.(2) Present practices, rituals, and traditions concerning knowledge - seemingly objective, monolithic, and reliable - can be further understood through a critical exploration of and by comparison with the dominant knowledge paradigms of Chaucer's culture. In particular, signs of conflict, incoherence, and/or contradiction indicate emergent epistemes sustained by alternate epistemelogical structures. Building on Mikhail Bakhtin's definition of authoritative discourse and Michel Foucault's historical reconfigurations of knowledge and power, I identify dreams as a tangible, constraining mechanism that directs the individual conduct of Geoffrey, Troilus, Criseyde, and Chauntecleer. Their responses to dreams mark them as authoritative, monologic, hegemonic texts that depict a future with meaningful albeit limiting ontology. To interpret their actions as disempowered or lacking in agency, however, is to misunderstand the network of power relations which demand their assiduous complicity.

Mikhail Bakhtin defines authoritative discourse as "the word of the fathers," in which external knowledge must be simultaneously internally persuasive. Participants are expected to adhere obediently, all the while working diligently to internalize its precepts so that it serves as a terministic screen for how they comprehend and interact with the world (Dialogic 342-45). Within the paradigm of authoritative discourse, there is no place for "experiential knowledge." Authoritative discourse, located in "a distanced zone, organically connected with a past that is felt to be hierarchically higher," requires "unconditional allegiance" (342-43). It "is indissolubly fused with its authority - with political power, an institution, a person - and it stands and falls together with that authority" (343). There can be no middle ground, no rational process for accepting one part of knowledge while rejecting another. Authoritative discourse demands total acquiescence so that knowledge and belief operate simultaneously to support the development of a legacy, an epistemological paradigm, a substantive justification for the monarchy. Because knowledge and belief are fused, the interpreter serves as a passive and invisible agent. Knowledge, understood as a static entity, is unchanging in meaning even with subsequent interpretations or multiple interpreters. Working out of the context of Christian doctrine, this paradigm expects minimal human involvement, prohibiting human agency in the processes of knowledge-making. …

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