Date of Degree
Robert O. Payne
Comparative Literature | Medieval Studies
Literary individualism manifested itself in the twelfth century both trivially and profoundly. Word puzzles and overt self-naming within a literary work, and discussions of the nature of poetry and the role of the poet in the world, increasingly considered the purpose and efficacy of writing and ultimately of language per se. Poets asserted themselves in their works not so much for the sake of self-promotion, in a modern sense, but to address and modulate contemporary intellectual and spiritual issues. Speculative grammar, nominalism and realism, often provided the material for poets such as Guillem IX, Marcabru, Dante, Chaucer and Langland. As literacy and Aristotelian logic became widespread, these poets contributed to a distinction being made between history and fiction; they employed contemporary ideas about language and its relationship to experience as both metaphor and theme. They elaborated a Western sensibility that had been articulated at least as early as Plato, Paul, and especially Augustine who essentially viewed the world as a text. This basic metaphor ultimately formed the later medieval outlook; text, and language and/or discourse maintained fluid interrelationships. Moreover, Anselm had set aside Augustine's criterion of intentionality as the most important factor when determining falsehoods. Anselm recognized the separateness of language; statements could have a natural integrity despite their lack of objective reference. This autonomy of language formed the ground for individual poetic identity. In the face of a hierarchical authority inherited from the past, poets insisted upon their presence as individuals by aligning themselves with their texts. Marcabru writes about his difficulties in forging an eloquent text that will always be at a remove from him. Dante undertakes this theme through a fictional persona, who resembles himself and discourses with Virgil about the possibility of enunciating truth. Langland, finally, aligns author and persona with poetic theme in the name Will. In measuring dream and allegory against actual experience, Langland discusses the individual writer's will and his hope for salvation.
Kimmelman, Burt Joseph, "The Poetics of Authorship in the Later Middle Ages: The Emergence of the Modern Literary Persona" (1991). CUNY Academic Works.