Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Place of Thought: The Complexiy of One in Late Medieval French Didactic Poetry

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Place of Thought: The Complexiy of One in Late Medieval French Didactic Poetry

Article excerpt

Sarah Kay, The Place of Thought: The Complexity of One in Late Medieval French Didactic Poetry (Philadelphia, Pa: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007). xi + 236 pp. ISBN 0-8122-4007-3. £39.00/$ 59.95.

The Place of Thought is a landmark in medieval French studies. It offers a radical reassessment of didactic poetry from the long fourteenth century. Bucking a dominant trend of reading for plurality and indeterminacy, grounded in a Bakhtinian valorization of dialogism, Sarah Kay reinstates monologism as her critical focus. Coining the phrase 'the complexity of one', she shows how 'oneness' is at least as intellectually exciting for modern critics, and is moreover a central concern - both philosophical and poetical - of medieval poets, informed by urgent scholastic enquiry into relations between singularity and universality. She articulates this concern through case studies exploring how fourteenth-century poetry's didacticism involved 'placing' thought, following an Aristotelian understanding of circumscriptive place defining a body's limits. In the texts examined, recognizable spatial images (such as a tree or fountain) at once appeal to the visual and strain the bounds of visualizability in consequence of the difficulty of conceptualizing the unity of thought being promoted. Three chapters studying Christian didactic texts (Matfre Ermengaud's Breviari d'amor, the Ovide moralisé, Guillaume de Deguileville's Pèlerinage de vie humaine) explore the universal principle of divine love, probing the conditions of singular human communion with this 'One' together with the unity of individual selfhood. Three further chapters cover texts with predominantly secular themes (Guillaume de Machau t's Jugement du rey de Navarre, Jean Froissart's Joli buisson dejonece, Christine de Pizan's Chemin de long estude), concentrating on aspects of the univers als debate, the problems of cognitio singularis. Each case study is further illumined by a strand of modern theoretical reflection on the same philosophical problem. …

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