Chaucer's "Naked Text" and the Tradition of the Medieval Sublime
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
The dissertation challenges the familiar notion that the literary theory of the sublime did not exist during the middle ages. Analyzing the Latin tradition from the patristic period through the late medieval period, I argue for the vibrant presence of the sublime by documenting its centrality to medieval rhetoric, literary theory, and hermeneutics. For Longinus, the sublime produces transport out of language through great thoughts and great emotions. For the Romantics, the terror and awe of the ineffable or of natural phenomena effect transport. The medieval sublime, however, relies on the surprising power of the humble, local, and familiar to inebriate the senses unto the mystical and ineffable “heights” of experience. For both medieval rhetors and exegetes, the transport of the sublime is located in the movement from the literal to the figural or allegorical sense. The research is not just vital to the history of literary criticism: it is also crucial to making new sense of old questions about medieval poetry, specifically the traditions of literary realism often thought to have their origin in the great works of the late middle ages, including Chaucer’s works. Instead, I posit the medieval sublime as an historically verifiable source for Chaucer’s representation of lowly and homely detail. Chaucer asks us to see more in the “letter” of the text than the letter alone can convey. He is committed to exploring the means by which humble, simple style and subject matter can carry his audience towards the lofty reaches of spiritual and philosophical illumination. My research offers substantial contributions to the history of literary criticism and to our understanding of how rhetorical arts motivate medieval literature.
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Willis, Katherine E.C., "Chaucer's "Naked Text" and the Tradition of the Medieval Sublime" (2015). LSU Doctoral Dissertations. 145.
Gellrich, Jesse M.