Academic journal article Medium Aevum

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

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

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

Article excerpt

John Dagenais, The Ethics of Reading in Manuscript Culture: Glossing the 'Libro de buen amor' (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1994). xxiii + 278 pp. ISBN 0-691-03246-7. £30.00.

The Libro de buen amor combines three alluring features: an obscure manuscript tradition, the author's call to the reader to understand rightly a meaning which appears protean, and constant allusions to the mechanics of reading and writing. John Dagenais is the first critic fully to pursue their implications.

His approach is reader-based, a disciplining of reader-response theory with a sound knowledge of manuscript studies. Dagenais has developed (or rediscovered) a cultural model which allows a reader to come to an understanding of a text which exists as a set of variants. For him the typical medieval act of reading is 'glosynge' (a spelling which alludes to the Summoner's Tale), the (to modern eyes) fanciful exegeses which read meanings into the text: such meanings are commonly 'ethical' (e.g. p. 56). 'Glosynge' embraces glossing, commenting, copying, rehandling, and 'florilecture', the extraction and compilation of sententiae (p. 169). Dagenais introduces the term scriptum, the text as manifested in a particular witness (p. 20): it thus stands somewhere between the old-fashioned 'work' (suggestive of a finished form) and Barthes's texte (something entirely concocted in the reader's mind). Medieval readers, he argues, read in units both smaller than the 'work' and greater than it: Dagenais makes the bold assertion that in MS Τ the ascetic Vision de Filoberto which succeeds the Libro de buen amor acts as a gloss on it, making this scriptum 'an extended meditation on death' (p. …

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