Potential lives : the matter of late medieval manuscripts

White, Thomas (2016) Potential lives : the matter of late medieval manuscripts. Doctoral thesis, Birkbeck, University of London.

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Abstract

Late medieval vernacular literary texts frequently reflect on their physical existence; they establish a poetics of material composition that is productively ambivalent about the contingencies of literary making in a manuscript culture. This thesis traces the ‘potential life’ of a late medieval manuscript. Four keywords (blankness, palimpsests, textiles, and fragments) provide the impetus for a discussion that connects a wide range of literary, codicological, and theoretical materials, in a mode that is iterative and additive. Manuscripts are not simply containers or substrates for literary texts; varied and ambivalent ideas about manuscripts are deeply embedded in the medieval period’s cultural and philosophical moment: they are the ‘matter’ of medieval writing in the dual sense of that word. In exploring the theoretical, figurative, and interpretative possibilities of manuscript study this thesis turns to a wide range of late medieval texts: these include the works of Geoffrey Chaucer, vernacular romance, The Book of Margery Kempe, The Book of Sir John Mandeville, and Thomas Hoccleve’s Series. The numerous and varied manuscripts of The Book of Sir John Mandeville form a central focus. As well as engaging with the late medieval period’s own rich vocabulary for describing the transformations of matter, I use contemporary ecological theory and new materialism in order to think further about the materials of medieval books. The work of Michel Serres, Bruno Latour, Tim Ingold, and Jonathan Gil Harris provides the occasion not simply to ‘apply’ contemporary theory to medieval materials, but to trace a more dialectical history in which theoretical, literary, and manuscript materials are brought into productive contact. This thesis demonstrates that late medieval manuscripts are sites where multiple temporalities are interwoven, in a manner that should encourage a critical self-­‐‑reflexiveness about how scholars narrate the lives of manuscripts, as well as about the modern archiving procedures that have come to condition our access to the medieval past. It reflects critically on the ways in which the medieval textual record has come to be fragmented, archived, and disciplined in the postmedieval period.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Copyright Holders: The copyright of this thesis rests with the author, who asserts his/her right to be known as such according to the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. No dealing with the thesis contrary to the copyright or moral rights of the author is permitted.
School/Department: School of Arts > English & Humanities
Depositing User: ORBIT Editor
Date Deposited: 18 May 2017 11:53
Last Modified: 18 May 2017 11:53
URI: http://bbktheses.da.ulcc.ac.uk/id/eprint/222

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