Discourse and Dominion in the Fourteenth Century : Oral Contexts of Writing in Philosophy, Politics, and Poetry

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 1995-04-01
  • Publisher: Princeton Univ Pr
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This wide-ranging study of language and cultural change in fourteenth-century England argues that the influence of oral tradition is much more important to the advance of literacy than previously supposed. In contrast to the view of orality and literacy as opposing forces, the book maintains that the power of language consists in displacement, the capacity of one channel of language to take the place of the other, to make the source disappear into the copy. Appreciating the interplay between oral and written language makes possible for the first time a way of understanding the high literate achievements of this century in relation to momentous developments in social and political life.Part I reasseses the "nominalism" of Ockham and the "realism" of Wyclif through discussions of their major treatises on language and government. Part II argues that the chronicle histories of this century are tied specifically to oral customs, and Part III shows how Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Chaucer's Knight's Tale confront outright the displacement of language and dominion. Informed by recent discussions in critical theory, philosophy, and anthropology, the book offers a new synoptic view of fourteenth-century culture. As a critique of the social context of medieval literacy, it speaks directly to postmodern debate about the politics of historicism today.

Author Biography

Jesse M. Gellrich is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Louisiana State University.

Table of Contents

Vox Literata: On the Uses of Oral and Written Language in the Later Middle Agesp. 3
The Voice of the Sign and the Semiology of Dominion in the Work of Ockhamp. 39
"Real Language" and the Rule of the Book in the Work of Wyclifp. 79
Orality and Rhetoric in the Chronicle History of Edward IIIp. 123
The Politics of Literacy in the Reign of Richard IIp. 151
The Spell of the Ax: Diglossia and History in Sir Gawain and the Green Knightp. 195
"Withouten Any Repplicacioun": Discourse and Dominion in the Knight's Talep. 227
Bibliographyp. 273
Indexp. 297
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