St Augustine. La Cité de Dieu (first volume). Paris, early fifteenth century. Vellum, 339 leaves, 423 x 330 mm. 72 A 22, fol. 6r. From the Koninklijke Bibliothek.
This course will approach the Middle Ages from the perspective of cultural studies, exploring the idea of text and the question of reading in the broadest possible sense. Medieval thinkers saw the created world as a text written by Godwhich could be interpreted by those who knew how to read it properly, perceived by those who knew where to look, heard by those who knew what to listen for. This concept of the ultimate intelligibility of creation informs all of Medieval art and literature, encouraging us to ask questions about what, exactly, constitutes a text. What constitutes reading? What are the relationships between literary texts and material culture? When, why and how do they inform each other?
In this course, we will be reading all kinds of Medieval artifacts and trying to come to terms with the visions they convey. Literary texts will include dream visions such as Chaucer's Parliament of Fowls and Langland's Piers Plowman , "real" visions like those of Hildegard of Bingen and Julian of Norwich, courtly visions of relations between the sexes as expressed in Marie de France or the Gawain poet. We will be reading these texts against other artforms also intended either to be read or to affect reading. What, for instance does the stained-glass window have in common with the comic book? How is the narrative of the saint's life related to the reliquaries which contain the bones of saints? How is the City described in the Book of Revelations reconstituted in the iconographic programs of cathedrals? In the synesthesia of Hildegard's poetry and music? What symbolic systems are created in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and how are they connected to heraldry and the broader language of chivalry? Why has Dante's vision of Hell proved so irresistible to later authors and artists from Gustave Doré to the makers of the recent film Seven?
This course will carry introductory emphasis for the Haverford English major.