10 April 2011
Meyer-Lee, Robert J. “Manuscript Studies, Literary Value, and the Object of Chaucer Studies.”Studies in the Age of Chaucer 30 (2008): 1-37. Web. 10 April 2011. <http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/studies_in_the_age_of_chaucer/v030/30.meyer-lee.html>
In this article, Meyer-Lee is concerned with the effects of Chaucer’s Works on the role of manuscript studies and canonical value. According to Meyer-Lee, there seems to be two versions of Chaucer in publication, one being the “‘beautiful’ canonical Chaucer” and the other being a “Chaucer of ‘historical medieval reality”, which complicates the studies of his Works along with the texts of lesser known and read medieval poets either authorized or anonymous (2). He also stresses the complications of judgment and criticism of Chaucer’s Works to its degree of literary value, while also questioning the definition of literary value and its implication on manuscript studies and Chaucer’s texts. Throughout his argument, Meyer-Lee emphasizes the importance of maintaining well-rounded ideology concerning manuscript studies, one that involves both the creative and the scholarly, the historic and the modern, the individual value and communal value of Chaucer’s Works.
A. His dualistic Chaucer:
Offers two versions of Chaucer as defined by the editorial binding of his Works and the literary merit offered to both: “these two apprehensions of Chaucer nevertheless possess antithetical principles, and the tension between them has been felt in the form of oppositional schools, and sometimes in the work of individual scholars” (3).
Complicates the role of Chaucer as a defining character of the medieval canon and how to interpret which Chaucer is presented to us in which edition of his Works: “an object of artistic excellence [or] an object of historical authenticity” (3).
B. His position on manuscript studies:
Provides a broader evaluation of Chaucer’s role in the medieval canon by exploring the various editions of The Canterbury Tales in manuscripts and modern anthologies: “the elevation of the medieval manuscript to the status of central object of inquiry” (5)
In the same paragraph as the above quote, he provides a quote from Stephen Nichols which suggests we take a new approach to our manuscript studies, one that includes “an examination of the ‘manuscript matrix’ rather than merely the texts represented in editions, ‘and of both language and manuscript [in interaction] with the social context and networks they inscribe’” (5).
C. His questioning of literary value within Chaucer studies:
Regarding its “place and function”: although necessary to literary studies, the merit of value on Chaucer’s Works “possess a claim on the nature of the material realizations of the objects of study and pedagogy” (9).
The effects of past judgment by New Criticism, formalism, and historicism: New Criticism places a “hierarchal disjunction between manuscript studies” (10). Formalism continues to have influence over Chaucer criticism as well as the “normative practices of close reading that prevail in the classroom. Historicism complicates the real and fictional reading of Chaucer’s works.
Literary value and its multiple definitions: “What was held to constitute this value was theorized in different ways by different groups” (20). He also sees this value as having two functions: an “anchor point” and “outcome” (22).
D. Making The Canterbury Tales more concrete:
Distancing ourselves from the object of value: “enables our own inherited commitments to that object to remain in some inchoate state” (30).
How to anthologize The Canterbury Tales: “electronic, rhizomic, dynamically reconfigurable, variant-comprehensive, hypertext edition” (31). But what seems the most important to this argument is his involvement of the reader as interpreter who “must take care to respect the multiple intentions and contexts informing the work” (31).
The creative and scholarly within a single manuscript compilation: Agreeing with Tanselle, he categorizes editions as either “creative” which “correspond to literary value” and “scholarly” which “correspond to historical authenticity” (36). But he makes a very valid point that either type of edition is to be considered creative as the product of those “who have manipulated the evidence according to preconceived notions of aesthetic superiority” (37). He ends his overall argument that editions should not be either one or the other, but “keep the creative and the scholarly in conversation” (37).
- Meyer-Lee gives us a somewhat ambiguous definitions of literary value. What do you consider literary value and merit?
- Our anthology is completely noncanonical. How do you think it has effected our perceptions of medieval literature and culture by looking beyond Chaucer as an object of historical authenticity?
- Meyer-Lee mentions a hypertexual version of The Canterbury Tales, with this technological advancement of Chaucer, how would this effect his reception to students (interested or uninterested) and to the teaching of his works? If MS Ashmole 61 was converted in a similar manner, would that change our perceptions of medieval literary networks and in what way?