Gower Bibliography

Teaching Gower's Liminal Literature and Critical Theory

Mitchell, J. Allan. "Teaching Gower's Liminal Literature and Critical Theory." In Approaches to Teaching the Poetry of John Gower. Ed. Yeager, R.F., and Gastle, Brian W. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2011, pp. 110-18.


The "Confessio Amantis", Mitchell argues, "is not easily assimilated to the typical repertoire of concepts and practices that belong to academic criticism" (110), and he asks why: "The lush 'ordinatio' ('arrangement') of the manuscript page, the varied discourse (amatory, dogmatic, and scientific), and the diverse representational strategies (literal and allegorical) all command attention. How can all the matter hang together?" (110-11) With guidance from Foucault and Bourdieu, he suggests, students can come to understand how Gower's poem "does all the merely functional things that are supposedly subliterary while inhabiting a specialized cultural field of the late fourteenth century," how "Gower belongs to an alternative literary experience" (112), and how his work, in its unique status, can inspire serious study. Indeed, Gower, as "both prophetic iconoclast and droll provocateur" (113), has produced a difficult poem that offers many "teachable moments." In it, students can find and productively examine, for example, "mimetic and didactic strategies [in] any number of exemplary cases," including especially those manifesting "incongruous moralization." After posing several additional, potentially fruitful questions about different features of liminality in Gower's poem, Mitchell observes that "Different aspects of the work will be illuminated depending on the theory of difference brought to bear--for example, intertextuality, bricolage, dialogism, or hybridity" (116). More broadly, "the multiplex nature of the work and the circumstantial, improvisatory reader-response provoked by it need theorizing generally" (117). Mitchell's closing comment summarizes what may make Gower so eminently teachable: "Gower's work stands apart from corrupting routines and rationalizations of its own time--and ours. It does not merely inhabit a different field of cultural and literary production; it can produce a new cultural field and redefine what literature can do." (117). [Kurt Olsson. Copyright. The John Gower Society. JGN 31.1]

Item Type:Book Section
Subjects:Confessio Amantis

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