The twelfth century witnessed the birth of modern Western European literary tradition: major narrative works appeared in both French and in German, founding a literary culture independent of the Latin tradition of the Church and Roman Antiquity. But what gave rise to the sudden interest in and legitimization of literature in these “vulgar tongues”? Until now, the answer has centred on the somewhat nebulous role of new female vernacular readers. Powell argues that a different appraisal of the same evidence offers a window onto something more momentous: not “women readers” but instead a reading act conceived of as female lies behind the polysemic identification of women as the audience of new media in the twelfth century. This woman is at the centre of a re-conception of Christian knowing, a veritable revolution in the mediation of knowledge and truth. By following this figure through detailed readings of key early works, Powell unveils a surprise, a new poetics of the body meant to embrace the capacities of new audiences and viewers of medieval literature and visual art.
Gender, Reading, and Truth in the Twelfth Century
Argues that a reading act conceived of as female lies behind the polysemic identification of women as the audience of new media in the twelfth century.
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Part One: Reading as sponsa et mater
Chapter One: Mutations of the Reading Woman
Chapter Two: Reading as Mary Did
Chapter Three: Constructing the Woman’s Mirror
Chapter Four: Seeking the Reader/Viewer of the St. Albans Psalter
Part Two: Reading the Widowed Bride
Chapter Five: Quae est ista, quae ascendit? (Cant. 3:6); Rethinking the Woman Reader in Early Old French Literature
Chapter Six: Ego dilecto meo et dilectus meus mihi (Cant. 6:2); Mary’s Reading and the Epiphany of Empathy
Chapter Seven: A New Poetics for aventiure; The Exposition of Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival
Chapter Eight: The Heart, the Wound, and the Word—Sacred and Profane
Appendix: The Prologue to Parzival
List of Works Cited