Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Medieval Crossover: Reading the Secular against the Sacred

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Medieval Crossover: Reading the Secular against the Sacred

Article excerpt

Barbara Newman, Medieval Crossover: Reading the Secular against the Sacred, The Conway Lectures in Medieval Studies (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2013). xvi + 399 pp. ISBN 978-0-268-03611-9. $42.00.

In this engaging book, Barbara Newman presents a fresh approach to reading the interplay of sacred and secular in medieval literature, covering a wide range of French, English, and Latin texts. Describing the dialectical relationship between the two modes as ?crossover', Newman advocates a hermeneutics of ?both/and' which allows for double judgement of doubly coded works - that is, a text can be examined from both sacred and secular standpoints, removing the imperative to designate either register as dominant. This is an elegant solution to the problematic task of hierarchizing these modes when they coexist within a text; as Newman points out, the sacred and the secular may merge like water and wine, or lie close together whilst remaining stubbornly separate like oil and water. Double judgement banishes the Robertsonian ?ghost of Criticism Past', and resists the critical urge to disinter a monolithic meaning, thus allowing the full complexity of medieval texts and their play in, through, and between these categories of signification to be explored and acknowledged. In addition to five chapters, each of which employs a separate corpus to address a different aspect of crossover, the book's appendices offer a new translation of one of the texts under discussion, the Medieval Latin Passion of the Jews of Prague, and a new edition and facing translation of another, the Middle French dit La Desputoison de Dieu et de sa mère.

Newman's first chapter, 'Theorizing crossover', illustrates the hermeneutics of 'both/and' and the principle of double judgement, and presents some examples of double coding and crossover: the liturgical paradox of the felix culpa, or 'fortunate fault'; the ways in which a pagan matiere can be combined with a Christian sen to produce a secular conjointure\ and the hybrid genre of hagiographie romance. …

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