Sensory Perception in the Medieval West

By Guijt, Flora | Parergon, July 2017 | Go to article overview

Sensory Perception in the Medieval West


Guijt, Flora, Parergon


Thomson, Simon, and Michael Bintley, eds, Sensory Perception in the Medieval West (Utrecht Studies in Medieval Literacy, 34), Turnhout, Brepols, 2016; hardback; pp. ix, 254; 11 colour, 15 b/w illustrations, 3 b/w tables; R.R.P. [euro]85.00; ISBN 9782503567143.

The topic of sensory perception has become of increasing interest to scholars over the last thirty years. Having moved away from the notion that perception is a purely mental process, the present challenge is to engage a historical sensory experience beyond 'simpler descriptions of understanding or interpretation' (p. 3). This collection of essays seeks to explore the two cruxes, as they are described, connected to this subject: 'how an audience's sensory perception could be exploited or piqued by objects and experiences in the medieval world; [and] how scholars can attempt to bridge the gap between present and past sensory engagements' (pp. 1-2).

This is achieved through an interdisciplinary approach to the topic of sensory perception, going beyond the study of literature by including other material matters that have proven their worth in previous discussions on physical and sensory experience. The result is an impressive collection of essays investigating a wide range of aspects of this comprehensive and difficult theme through exploring textual and material products of the medieval period. A broad range of methodologies, from linguistic investigation to surveys, and from conventional considerations to statistical analysis, is used to cover these diverse aspects. The following is a discussion of but a few of the essays included in the work.

Author Jonathan Wilcox explores the second 'crux' of the book by raising questions about our own sensory engagement with medieval manuscript studies. He points out that with the turn from traditional print to digital media, we might lose sight of what is 'missing'. He concludes his contribution to the book with the paradoxical statement that 'the digital revolution and a new-found respect for the academic study of craft may be the perfect combination' (p. 51) to engage all our senses when dealing with these manuscripts.

The use of more modern technologies becomes clear in the next essay, where Mariana Lopez explores the aural experience in the medieval York Mystery Plays. …

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