Gower Bibliography

The High Medieval Dream Vision: Poetry, Philosophy, and Literary Form.

Lunch, Kathryn L.. "The High Medieval Dream Vision: Poetry, Philosophy, and Literary Form." Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988

Review

CA is one of four works Lynch considers (along with Alain de Lille's "De Planctu Naturae," the "Roman de la Rose," and Danet's "Purgatorio") as examples of the "philosophical vision" of the late MiddleAges, a sub-genre of the dream vision deriving from Boethius' DCP. Her introduction and her first two chapters supply the historical and theoretical background: "The paradigmatic structure of the literary vision," she argues, "echoed central epistemological structures in scholastic philosophy." This epistemology was rooted in the problem of reconciling scriptural and scientific authority, and in the neces sity of accounting for man's ability to apprehend divine truth from earthly experience. It gave rise to a faculty psychology according to which man was led from perception by way of Imagination and Reason to the understanding of spiritual truths. The vision poem had as one its its purposes the defense of this epistemology. The plot of these poems is typically the visionary's spiritual journey towards truth, passing from literal image to figural and absolute meanings; the characters that accompany and instruct him typically stand for the facul ties by which higher levels of understanding are achieved; and one of the insights that he typically receives concerns the relation between his corporeal and spiritual natures. Like the other poems that Lynch discusses, CA is concerned with the narrator's spiritual growth; and following the model of Gower's predecessors, Amans' principal guide, his confessor Genius, is an embodiment of one of his faculties, his Imagination or ingenium. One of Genius' principal functions is to provide tales and images for Amans' consideration, but since he is not capable of performing the functions reserved to Reason, he is frequently unable to draw the proper moral lesson from his tales. His incompetency is thus a meaningful part of the epistemological design, and is emphasized by his comic misinterpretations and the many discrepancies between the tales and the moral truth they contain. Genius himself is capable of growth, particularly after his confrontation with the contradictions between classical and divine teaching in Book 5, and in Book 7 he instructs Amans on how the world can be a speculum in which he may finally come to understand divine love. The dialogue with Genius, however, is necessarily inconclusive; the real conclusion comes with another vision (8.2440 ff.) which ends with the ascendancy of Reason that the genre demands and with Amans' abandonment of his earthly love for that other love "that stant of charite confermed" (8.3165). Lynch's work is outstanding in many respects: in the connections she draws between medieval poetry and philosophy; in her account of the relation between form and meaning in the vision; in her explanation for the endurance of the vision form; and in her ability to provide an explanation of dream psychology that is consistent with the prevailing epistemology of the time. She writes lucidly and convincingly, and while carefully maintaining the thread of her argument she is sensitive to the many differences in the works that she examines. Her description of CA is a significant attempt to account for the form of the poem and offers a number of important insights: her discussion of the use of images and "pointing" in the poem seems especially promising. Her chapter is too brief, however, to consider all of the problems that her interpretation raises. She will give comfort to those who believe that Amans' love is portrayed as sinful at the beginning of the poem, and that he is brought to a virtuous renunciation at the end. These, however, are the presuppositions, rather than the conclusions, of her attempt to place CA within the genre she has defined. And for a key part of her analysis -- her assertion that Genius' lessons become more complete and more adequate as the poem proceeds -- she depends entirely on James Foster's unpublished dissertation on "The Influence of Medieval Mythography on John Gower's Confessio Amantis." There are other ways of viewing Amans' condition, of understanding Genius' role, and of interpreting his lessons, all of which are at the center of current critical discussion of the poem. If Lynch's assumptions about CA are correct, then she provides the clearest account so far of the ancestry of Gower's design and of the implications of his form; if they are not, then Gower's debt to the tradition that she describes so persuasively is rather more complex and more problematic than she allows. [PN. Copyright the John Gower Society. JGN 8.1]

Item Type:Book
Subjects:Confessio Amantis

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