Gower Bibliography

Gower, Liminality, and the Politics of Space

Ganim, John M. "Gower, Liminality, and the Politics of Space." Exemplaria 19 (2007), pp. 90-116. ISSN 1041-2573

Review

Ganim has come a long way in his thinking since presenting the germ of this article in a paper entitled "Gower le flâneur" in a Gower Society-sponsored session at the 39th International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo in 2004. Then Ganim found much to be said for viewing Gower as just such a figure of "flânérie"—a term borrowed from Walter Benjamin which Ganim defines here as "the archetypal modern subject…the modern urban observer" (112). At present juncture, however, his extensive probing of Gower's "liminalities" (N.B., although Ganim himself uses only the singular, the plural seems appropriate, given his apparent effort here to provide examples of borderlines of every sort and kind, from geographic boundaries to instances of mobility qua mobility in Book I of the Vox Clamantis and variously throughout the Confessio Amantis) has led Ganim to the precisely opposite conclusion, that "In many ways, both historically and formally, Benjamin's flâneur is very different than the wandering subject in Gower" (113); and this is because "his [Gower's] perspective is not one of detachment, even allegorical detachment, but an attachment to things as they were and should be once again, an attachment simultaneously nostalgic and utopian" (112). Gower himself, it would seem (N.B.: Ganim regularly uses "Gower" to refer to the poet and to Gower's oeuvre) comes rather close to it: his "predicament nevertheless prefigures the contradictory position of the modern subject, and suggests, in his [i.e., Gower's] obsession with liminality, at least one way of accommodating those contradictions" (113). But Ganim's primary interest lies not in Gower the individual, but rather in deciphering "Gower's largest effort, his search for a unified field theory of his world, one in which the ethical, the social, the rhetorical, the spiritual and the poetic work from the same position towards the same end" (110). Ultimately Gower cannot achieve the cohesion he seeks, however: "The analysis of space in Gower [sic] suggests that the liminal geographies and settings of his works hold contradictions and confusions in suspension, almost symptomatically (rather than intentionally) exposing a gap between the analysis of social [sic] and the personal division that is the initial focus of Gower's complaint and the transcendent and idealized solutions he offers….Reliance on a liminal imaginative geography suggests how complicated, and ultimately compromised, were Gower's efforts to align his ethical, political and poetic agendas into one coherent discourse" (113). While this is hardly an original claim—one can trace its origins to David Aers and Larry Scanlon in the 1990's, at least in so far as Ganim calls attention to the frequent contradiction between Gower's goals and his perception of realpolitik—there is nonetheless great and valuable material here, particularly in its extensive bibliography, and application of au courant discussions of "space" defined very widely indeed. This reader was particularly grateful for the breadth and depth of Ganim's resources. The following editorial issues should be noted, however: pp. 104-105, the translation of Mirour de l'Omme ll. 26497-505 is mis-numbered as ll.26497-508, and the translator mis-cited as "Burton" instead of William Burton Wilson (the full reference to Wilson's translation is correct in the bibliography); and on p. 105 as well, see fn. 8, which would seem to concern Constance C. Relihan's work on Shakespeare's Pericles but instead, to the puzzlement of this reader, cites Sheila Delany's fine article "Geographies of Desire: Orientalism in Chaucer's Legend of Good Women."] [RFY. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 26.2]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Backgrounds and General Studies
Vox Clamantis
Confessio Amantis
Mirour de l’Omme (Speculum Meditantis)

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