English | Middle English Litetrature
L613 | 23352 | Gayk

L613  23352 GAYK (#1)
Middle English Literature

2:30p – 3:45p TR


Images are often regarded as potentially threatening to literate
culture; they compete with words and seem to possess an immediacy
unavailable to the written text.  This course will consider the
fears and fascinations prompted by images in vernacular religious
writing in late medieval England.  By the end of the fourteenth
century the devotional and ecclesiastical use of images had become a
point of controversy. In the past, images were held to be libri
laicorum, or books for the laity, who could not read Latin.
Increasing levels of literacy in late-medieval England and the
increasing availability of devotional writings in the vernacular
provided new access to written texts for the laity; these
developments also prompted widespread anxiety about the role images
play in devotion and the ability of the laity to correctly read
texts. In this course we will examine a number of late medieval
religious texts that display an interest in the image debates and
more broadly in the shifting relationship between images and texts.
While the course focuses primarily on anxiety about religious images
before the Reformation, it will conclude with a very brief
discussion of Protestant anxieties about image making.

Over the course of semester we will consider such topics as: the
necessity and danger of images; the psychological, mnemonic,
didactic, and affective functions of the image; images and the
religious and literary imagination; the “incarnational aesthetic”;
mental images; heresy and literacy; ekphrasis; sexuality, gender,
and images; textuality and the image; images and desire; the
rhetorics of reformation and pre-reformation iconoclasm;
periodization; images and the pagan other; manuscript images;
architectural images.

Primary texts will include: Lollard writings, The Cloud of
Unknowing, Piers Plowman, The Book of Margery Kempe, Capgrave’s Life
of Saint Katherine, and selections from the writings of Julian of
Norwich, Thomas Hoccleve, John Lydgate, Reginald Pecock, Edmund
Spenser, and the anonymous authors of didactic and religious texts.
Alongside the readings, we will frequently examine images (in
medieval architecture, art, and manuscripts).  Finally, to raise the
relevant issues at stake in any study of religious writing about
images, we will read widely in medieval theology and philosophy and
contemporary art history and aesthetic theory.

Course requirements will focus on gaining fluency in the skills and
genres necessary for participation in the profession.  Requirements
include a book review, a syllabus and course description for an
undergraduate literature course, an in-class presentation on one
author and/or text, a conference proposal, and conference-length
paper. The class will conclude with a mock conference in which the
participants present their papers.

Acquiring a basic knowledge of early Reformation history before the
course convenes will serve you well.  As a primer, I would suggest
the three different readings of the period offered by: the first
three chapters of Diarmaid MacCulloch’s Reformation: Europe’s House
Divided (2003), the first part of Eamon Duffy’s Stripping of the
Altars (1992), and James Simpson’s Reform and Cultural Revolution