Medieval literary theory is not one history or tradition, nor one set of problems: our readings and discussions can range widely to reflect the various cultural interests at stake in medieval critical discourses about language, history, agency, representation, and form. The problems that define medieval critical theory did not begin with the Middle Ages, nor have they ended with it, and in this course we will explore a long perspective on issues that remain contested in contemporary critical discussions: the aesthetics and politics of textual depth and surface, demotic and elite cultures, canonicity, intentionality, gender and institutional power, ideas of "modernity," and disciplinary formation. We will read primary materials from the 4th to the 15th centuries, from Augustine's semiotics and Neoplatonist philosophies of myth to the great theoretical explorations of the 12th through 14th centuries (including works by Hugh of St. Victor, Averroes, Aquinas, Nicholas of Lyre, Dante, and Wycliffite writers). The questions we will consider include the genre of commentary, the many roles of allegory, reception aesthetics, hermeneutics and rhetoric, heresy and reading, and the materiality of texts.
This course is aimed at students in Comparative Literature, English, Classics, and foreign languages. We will take account of a wide range of research interests from participants working in any historical period. Readings will be sensibly weighted and structured to encourage individual rumination and collective discussion. All readings will be in English translation, although students are encouraged to work with the original languages of the texts where appropriate to their interests. The requirements for the course will be a seminar paper (15 to 20 pages) and responsibility for one discussion response during the semester.