Gower Bibliography

Bonjour Paresse: Literary Waste and Recycling in Book 4 of Gower's 'Confessio Amantis'.

Simpson, James. "Bonjour Paresse: Literary Waste and Recycling in Book 4 of Gower's 'Confessio Amantis'." Proceedings of the British Academy 151 (2007), pp. 257-84.


"Many of us," Simpson opines, "are the living heirs of Protestant anxiety regarding work and waste. We find it difficult to recover the charisma of idleness of any kind, be it religious or aristocratic" (p. 259). From such sectarian social anxiety he is particularly exercised in the rescue of "Wasted, idle reading" (p. 260): "My larger claim is that late medieval, pre-Reformation textual practice in not driven by a need to define and expel cultural waste; on the contrary, idle reading is an essential part of a cultural economy. More specifically, "otium" and idle reading are an essential part of a psychic economy" (p. 260). Simpson chooses to analyze Book IV (devoted to Sloth) of the Confessio Amantis to make his case, "since Amans' literary education in that book looks like nothing so much as a plain waste of time idly frittered. The text as a whole, further, seems unworried about idling away in archives of old texts" (p. 261). Subjecting Book IV to a rigorous reading, Simpson follows Amans along a path that, he argues, illustrates how easily "a literary education" can "feed the psyche's capacity for delusive satisfactions" (p. 284). He concludes by noting that there are [punctuation sic] "various ways in which Gower recognises the value of otium: there are some states of soul that cannot be broached directly, and that require homeopathic therapy that pretends to feed pathological desire even as it begins the cure. And that homeopathic psychic treatment involves a cultural commitment to idle, apparently wasted reading: like many other Middle English works that recycle prior texts, the Confessio demonstrates no desire to define books and libraries as waste. It offers instead a model of recreative relaxedness among many books; books will respond creatively to big questions, but only if we allow them to do their own work on us . . . . The recycling of old texts in the Confessio is less a matter of humble obeisance to older, higher literary authority, and more a matter of understanding how texts and traditions are creatively recycled through the complex operations of idle reading" (p. 284). [RFY. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 27.1]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Confessio Amantis

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