26 January 2010
Scanlon, Larry. The Cambridge Companion to Medieval English Literature, 1100-1500. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge UP, 2009. Print.
In Richard Green’s essay, he focuses on the topic of “textual communities” within the medieval community. He delves into the concept of people reading the same thing within the same community and gleaning similar understandings and topics from the text that might not be realized by groups from different communities and that these texts are much more intimate and self-defining when they are localized within a certain group. To Green, these texts have become more of and “kind of interpretation” rather than simply an “object of interpretation” that can be traced through many different communities like religious and gentry.
A: Defining what is a “textual community”
Before the printing press, books were hand made. Because of this and the fact that literacy and reading was not as common, the books that a certain community read helped them define themselves and make them more self-conscious. It is the process of creating, reading, and questioning these texts within a community and the subsequent ideals that stem from these questions.
B: What are the requirements for a textual community?
There are three general requirements for a textual community, while it is almost impossible to link all three together there is a trend between communities that follow similar patterns. (1) A set of texts which share many of the same features. (2) An identifiable group of early readers of these texts who can be shown to have known one another. (3) Evidence, either internal or external, that their self-consciously literate habits of thought led such readers to evolve a distinctive way of using and interpreting these texts. (Scanlon 29)
B: Types of textual communities
Certainly textual communities arose from religious groups. “Every medieval monastery, where the reading, copying, and studying oreligious texts was a routine activity constituted and ipso facto textual community,” (Scanlon 33). The Lloards and their interpretations of religious texts started a textual community that saw an interpretation of the Bible. Likewise women and nuns created textual communities as they studied about lives of saints. A man who owned business or Lords, had books such as encyclopedias and guides that were very specialized and aided in everyday life created textual communities as these men pulled their identities and thought processes from these texts. Chaucer and his close associates constituted a textual community as well as they were all reading similar texts and sharing the same questions.
Is it possible, in today’s society of e-readers and instant access to a wide range of texts, to establish a modern textual community?
Does the idea of a textual community only extend to a group that has access to the written work itself or, like in the case of Beowulf and other oral narratives, can a textual community extend to those who share similar ideas but are not close to the text itself?
What does it mean that a text can be a “kind of interpretation” rather than just an “object of interpretation?”