Kiwanee Crummey ENG 400 Dr. Seaman 25 January 2011
Lerer, Seth. “Medieval English Literature and the Idea of the Anthology.” PMLA 118 (2003): 1251-67. Print.
In this particular article, author Seth Lerer explores the dynamics of voluminous compilations (anthologies) from medieval to modern. By analyzing the beginnings of anthological works in the form of bound manuscripts in the Middle Ages, he discovers defining factors such as the “assertion of medium” that dictate “literariness” and thus what qualifies as a work that should be preserved within an anthology. Lerer proceeds to make very assertive and distinctive suggestions on how in order to understand medieval literary culture one must take into account, not just the works that made it into collections, but the mediums of documentation, preservation and expression chosen by the authors. This suggestion alone allows him to differentiate between the what and how that goes into the making of contemporary anthologies—and presumably the defining of postmodern literary culture—versus the compilation of medieval literary text (s) in the same form.
A. “Canonicity” and the literary canon
The idea of the literary canon is used to introduce Lerer’s examination and argument(s) surrounding what is most important when viewing a literary text within historical and cultural boundaries.
**Note**Paying close attention to Guillory’s quote on canonicity… “Canonicity is not the property of the work itself, but of its transmission, its relation to other works” (Lerer 1252).
B. Exploring the role of the anthology—Medieval vs. Contemporary
Consider how Lerer approaches the role of the anthology pre-print right up to the time print was available as “basic”, “brought together by a patron, a buyer…” (Lerer 1253). He asserts that the miscellany of these volumes breeds the individuality of the medieval literary culture.
Recognize the emphasis he places on the media of transmission used as just as important as the authors that contributed.
Consider how he seems to scrutinize modern anthological compilation as being unnecessarily devoted to author and title.
C. How are/were anthologies assembled
- What do you think is significant about Lerer’s analysis of the idea of the anthology from medieval to contemporary?
- How does considering anthologies within the context of the works and their “mediums of transmission” redefine our modern perception of literary canons?
- Do you think that the “privacy” associated with the binding of manuscripts in medieval times into what we would consider anthologies grant them a type of authority, by comparison to modern day anthologies “guided by critical intelligence”?