Gower Bibliography

Reflections on Gower as 'Sapiens in Ethics and Politics'.

Aers, David. "Reflections on Gower as 'Sapiens in Ethics and Politics'." In Re-Visioning Gower. Ed. Yeager, R.F.. Charlotte, NC: Pegasus Press, 1998, pp. 185-201.


Aers explores the fissures in VC rather than its unity. His target is a large one, the view of Gower as a coherent as well as comprehensive moral and political philosopher first advanced by Coffman and Fisher (whom Aers does not cite) and more recently reaffirmed by such writers as Minnis, Yeager, Olsson, Simpson, and Scanlon. Aers slyly lays out some of the contradictions among those who defend the coherency of Gower's thought, but he give most attention to the contradictions within Gower's own writing. In VC, he finds it impossible to resolve Gower's advocacy of an evangelical pacifism in Books III and VI with his "unironic celebration of aristocratic violence" (p. 190) in his advice to King Richard to follow the example of his father. Such a contradiction, he points out, was encouraged by the medieval church, where it had become "normalized and internalized" (p. 192). It is allowed by the structure of VC, in which the "units . . . are paratactically sealed off from each other rather than brought into dialogue. . . . [VC's] paratactic mode becomes a powerful impediment to moral inquiry, to sustained critical reflection on the difficulties that are raised. The mode protects the poet from having to confront sharp contradictions in his ethics, let alone from having to explore their sources in the traditions he inherits and the culture he inhabits" (p. 193; his italics). The same failure can be found in Gower's treatment of the church in CA, in which the poet alternately condemns the church for the degeneracy of its practices and for the mystification of its claims of spiritual authority and upholds the church against the Wycliffites whose criticisms he echoes. "Are we being invited to cultivate ironic reflections on the grounds of all doctrine, on the grounds of all claims to unfeigned, uninvented authority in matters concerning the divine?" (p. 200). No, Aers concludes; to a "paratactic mode" corresponds a "paratactic moralism" (p. 201). [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 18.1]

Item Type:Book Section
Subjects:Vox Clamantis

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