|About the Book|
My dissertation investigates the ideological value of fame in fourteenth-century English literature and culture. While pagan literature glorified fame, medieval Christian writers often saw the seeking of fame as an activity rife with spiritual peril.MoreMy dissertation investigates the ideological value of fame in fourteenth-century English literature and culture. While pagan literature glorified fame, medieval Christian writers often saw the seeking of fame as an activity rife with spiritual peril. Piero Boitanis study on Chaucers House of Fame, however, discerned a redeemed sense of fame in writers like Petrarch and Dante, who valued not just the earning of fame, but also relished the role of the poet in conferring fame upon others. The act of bestowing fame, I argue, provides a model for how poets and theologians sought to recover and appropriate the pre-Christian past. The process of giving fame (bad or good), or of withholding it, participates in the work of mourning in the way that Nicholas Abraham and Maria Torok have redefined it. Abraham and Torok describe this mourning work as introjection, a process whereby the self assimilates a threatening other through play and translation. The giving of fame is a fundamental part of this process for it allows the giver to judge the past in terms of the present. To investigate the ways that medieval communities relate to their heterogeneous pasts, I examine the giving of fame in four texts: Chaucers The House of Fame, Piers Plowman, St. Erkenwald, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. But the process of appropriating the past for the present often results in moments of slippage and rupture, or the untimely. Fame must necessarily cross the distance between past and present, but instead of smoothing over the ruptures that divide the past from the present, it becomes emblematic of them. My analysis of fames untimeliness in late fourteenth-century Middle English texts would suggest that, rather than being a symptom of an unsuccessful attempt at introjection, the untimely may be a necessary condition for it. The medieval Christian mourning of a past it is severed from points to the fallen nature of time, and the exchange between introjection and the untimely may be continuous until the final Judgment, when there will no longer be a need to make sense of the past (or future).