Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Chaucer's Body: The Anxiety of Circulation in the 'Canterbury Tales'

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Chaucer's Body: The Anxiety of Circulation in the 'Canterbury Tales'

Article excerpt

R. Allen Shoaf, Chaucer's Body: The Anxiety of Circulation in the 'Canterbury Tales' (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2001). xvi + 165 pp. ISBN o-8130-2423-4. $55.00.

Al Shoaf offers a new book on Chaucer that is sometimes intellectually bracing but more often frankly bizarre. He proposes that in the Tales, 'infection, the consequence of contagion, itself the result of circulation, threatens the human body. And the most infectious agent there is ... is language itself' (p. 3). Yet this thesis, slenderly based on such phenomena as the drunken Cook's infectious breath (prologue to the Manciple's Tale), is actually only part of a herd of topics which Shoaf wishes to lasso with his Bloom-inspired slogan 'the anxiety of circulation'. Plague, alchemy, the 'Europeanization' of fourteenth-century England, autobiography, metonymy, Chaucer's theory of reading, bodily diet, translation: 'circulation' is a concept elasticized to accommodate all these and more.

The nub of the book, behind its 'anxiety' artifice and its elaborate invocation of a plethora of psychoanalytical and other theoretical positions, lies in Shoaf's abiding interest in puns, and in the opportunities that he claims to find for the reader to co-generate them in the space between reader and writer. The Host's remark 'And wel I woot the substance is in me, / If any thyng shal wel reported be' is identified as a distorted statement of Chaucer's 'theory of reading' (pp. 18-19). For Chaucer the 'substance' of telling is not 'in' one individual or narrative but exists in the 'space between' individuals. …

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