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Allegory, Hermeneutics and Epistemology: Guillaume Deguileville’s Pilgrimage trilogy in England 1350-1450.

English title Allegory, Hermeneutics and Epistemology: Guillaume Deguileville’s Pilgrimage trilogy in England, 1350-1450.
Applicant Nievergelt Marco
Number 137123
Funding scheme Ambizione
Research institution Section d'anglais Faculté des lettres Université de Lausanne
Institution of higher education University of Lausanne - LA
Main discipline German and English languages and literature
Start/End 01.08.2012 - 31.07.2015
Approved amount 413'796.00
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All Disciplines (3)

Discipline
German and English languages and literature
Philosophy
Romance languages and literature

Keywords (4)

allegory; epistemology; hermeneutics; Guillaume de Deguileville

Lay Summary (English)

Lead
Lay summary

The present research project consists of a study of the reception of the French allegorical tradition, particularly Guillaume de Deguileville’s Pèlerinages-trilogy by five major English authors of the late Middle Ages: Geoffrey Chaucer, William Langland, Thomas Hoccleve, John Lydgate and the anonymous Gawain-Poet. Particularly Deguileville’s Pèlerinage de Vie Humaine (Vie) was a highly influential, indeed seminal late medieval poem, widely copied, read, adapted, printed and translated into various European Languages (German, Dutch, Spanish, English and Latin) between 1331 and ca. 1600.

The fundamental insight behind the project is that the Vie was much more than simply a morally didactic late-medieval allegory: it was read as a highly serious philosophical reflection on burning contemporary issues of knowledge, perception and interpretation. The poem may be seen as restoring a ‘traditional’ view originally propagated by Augustine and others, according to whom the physical world was a complex, but ultimately interpretable and transparent sign for the presence of the Divine. The interpretability of the natural world was furthermore mirrored in the interpretability of the biblical scriptures and of biblically inspired spiritual allegory more broadly. This ‘certainty’ concerning the human ability to interpret both ‘world’ and ‘words’ correctly was of central importance for the medieval world-view, but had recently been challenged by the rediscovery of Aristotle’s writings and their commentaries in the thirteenth century. These new Aristotelian materials emphasized the potential divergence, multiplicity and arbitrariness of human acts of interpretation. The Roman de la Rose, possibly the most influential medieval secular text of the Middle Ages, had already begun to play with such ideas to question and subvert such epistemological ‘certainties’ derived from Augustine, and Deguileville explicitly sets out to counter, resist and ‘correct’ the subversive epistemology of the Roman de la Rose with the Vie. Deguileville, believing in the possibility of a ‘truthful’, accurate interpretation of the created world, produces a narrative of the pilgrim’s ‘journey’ that becomes both metaphor and model for a process of apprenticeship and initiation into a particular ‘system’ of reading, deciphering and understanding both the world and allegorical writing.

The overarching question confronted by these two poems is no less than the potential interpretability of the world, and of allegory itself: is the natural world, and with it any form of figurative representation, inherently meaningful, and therefore interpretable, as implied by the Vie? Or do the created world, along with any allegorical representation, only acquire their significance through human acts of attribution of meaning, an idea explored by the Roman de la Rose? Are meaning and order inherent in the cosmos, or are they only inherent in the human mind? All later English poets studied in this project are preoccupied with exactly those questions, and use both the Roman de la Rose and the Vie simultaneously as models for their own allegorical writings, sources for ideas and motifs, and as partner-texts in a dialogue over such fundamental questions of epistemology and hermeneutics.


Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Publications

Publication
The Place of Emotion: Space, Silence and Interiority in the Stanzaic Morte Arthure
Nievergelt Marco (2015), The Place of Emotion: Space, Silence and Interiority in the Stanzaic Morte Arthure, in Arthurian Literature, 32 (2015), 31-58.
The Sege of Melayne and the Siege of Jerusalem: National Identity, Beleaguered Christendom and Holy War during the Great Papal Schism
Nievergelt Marco (2015), The Sege of Melayne and the Siege of Jerusalem: National Identity, Beleaguered Christendom and Holy War during the Great Papal Schism, in Chaucer Review, 49 (2015)(4), 402-426.
Invisible Itineraries: The textual wanderings of Guillaume Deguileville’s Pèlerinage de Vie Humaine in Sixteenth-Century England and Europe
Nievergelt Marco (2014), Invisible Itineraries: The textual wanderings of Guillaume Deguileville’s Pèlerinage de Vie Humaine in Sixteenth-Century England and Europe, in Ursula Peters Andreas Kablitz (ed.), Winter Universitätsverlag, Heidelberg, 721-746.
The ‘Pèlerinage’-Allegories of Guillaume de Deguileville: Tradition, Authority and Influence
Nievergelt Marco, Kamath Stephqnie A.V.G. (2013), The ‘Pèlerinage’-Allegories of Guillaume de Deguileville: Tradition, Authority and Influence, Boydell and Brewer, Cambridge.
Allegory
Nievergelt Marco, Allegory, in ed. Robert Rouse and Sian Echard (ed.), Blackwell, Oxford.
Allegory, Hermeneutics and Textuality: The French Lineage of Langland’s Revisionary Poetics
Nievergelt Marco, Allegory, Hermeneutics and Textuality: The French Lineage of Langland’s Revisionary Poetics, in Yearbook of Langland Studies, 30 (2016).
Can Thought Experiments Backfire? Avicenna’s Flying Man, Intellectual Cognition and the Experience of Allegory in Deguileville’s Pèlerinage de Vie Humaine
Nievergelt Marco, Can Thought Experiments Backfire? Avicenna’s Flying Man, Intellectual Cognition and the Experience of Allegory in Deguileville’s Pèlerinage de Vie Humaine, in Knox Philip, Morton Jonathan, Reeve Daniel (ed.), Brepols, Turnhout.
Creation, Reproduction and Idolatry: Pygmalion and Generative Textuality in the Roman de la Rose
Nievergelt Marco, Creation, Reproduction and Idolatry: Pygmalion and Generative Textuality in the Roman de la Rose, in Dutton Elisabeth, Rhode Martin (ed.).
From dialecticism to didacticism – and back again: Allegory, Epistemology and Authority between the Roman de la Rose and the Pèlerinage de Vie Humaine
Nievergelt Marco, From dialecticism to didacticism – and back again: Allegory, Epistemology and Authority between the Roman de la Rose and the Pèlerinage de Vie Humaine, in New Medieval Literatures, 16 (2015).
Giving Freely in Sir Cleges: The Economy of Salvation and the Gift of Romance
Nievergelt Marco, Giving Freely in Sir Cleges: The Economy of Salvation and the Gift of Romance, in Archibald Elizabeth, Leitch Megan, Saunders Corinne (ed.), Boydell & Brewer, Cambridge.
The Failures of Allegory or the Allegory of Failure: Space, Time and Subjectivity in Narrative Allegory, ca. 1230–1600
Nievergelt Marco, The Failures of Allegory or the Allegory of Failure: Space, Time and Subjectivity in Narrative Allegory, ca. 1230–1600, in Blrjak Vladimir (ed.), Chatto and Windus, London.
Writing of the ‘hoole book’ of King Arthur: the inscription of the textual subject in Malory’s Morte Darthur’
Nievergelt Marco, Writing of the ‘hoole book’ of King Arthur: the inscription of the textual subject in Malory’s Morte Darthur’, in Modern Philology, forthcoming 2016.

Collaboration

Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
Oxford University / Corpus Christi College + New College + Modern Languages Faculty Great Britain and Northern Ireland (Europe)
- Publication
- Research Infrastructure
Institute of Advance Studies France (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Research Infrastructure
New College, Oxford University Great Britain and Northern Ireland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
King's College, London / Trinity College, Cambridge Great Britain and Northern Ireland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
Sixth International Piers Plowman Congress, University of Washington Talk given at a conference Allegory and the Limits of Analogy: Perception, Imagination and Cognition between Scholasticism and Penitential Poetry 23.07.2015 Seattle (U of Washington), United States of America Nievergelt Marco;
Thought Experiments: Poetry and Speculation in Medieval Europe, 1100–1450 Talk given at a conference Can Thought Experiments Backfire? Avicenna’s Flying Man, Intellectual Cognition and the Experience of Allegory in Deguileville’s Pèlerinage de Vie Humaine 13.04.2015 Oxford, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Nievergelt Marco;
CUSO doctoral workshop in Medieval and Early Modern English Studies Talk given at a conference Revisionary poetics: Langland reads Deguileville 18.03.2015 Geneva, Switzerland Nievergelt Marco;
Medieval Philosophy UK Network’ bi-annual meeting, Warburg Institute, London (invited contribution). Individual talk Allegory and Epistemology: Roger Bacon and Jean de Meun’s Roman de la Rose 13.03.2015 London, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Nievergelt Marco;
Kalamazoo, MI, 49th International Medieval Congress, Western Michigan University Talk given at a conference Organic Growth: sexual (re)production and textual proliferation in the tradition of the Rose 08.05.2014 Kalamazoo, MI, United States of America Nievergelt Marco;
14th Biennial Conference on Romance in Medieval Britain, University of Bristol Talk given at a conference From Bedroom to Cloister: Space, Emotion and Identity in the Stanzaic Morte Arthure 12.04.2014 University of Bristol, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Nievergelt Marco;
Allegory Studies? Interdisciplinary one-day conference Talk given at a conference The Failures of Allegory or the Allegory of Failure: Subjectivity, Narrative, History 07.11.2013 University of Warwick, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Nievergelt Marco;
Representing War and Violence in the Premodern World Talk given at a conference Chairing of a session on 'Leaders and Raiders, Vikings and Kings: Early Medieval War and Violence' 24.09.2013 Cambridge, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Nievergelt Marco;
Medieval Translator Conference Talk given at a conference Translating Scholastic Authority: Allegory and Epistemology between the Roman de la Rose and the Pèlerinage de Vie Humaine 08.07.2013 University of Leuven, Belgium, Belgium Nievergelt Marco;
The Five Senses in Medieval and Early Modern English Culture Talk given at a conference Seeing, Hearing and Understanding: Allegory, Cognition and the Senses in the Tradition of Guillaume de Deguileville’s Pèlerinage de Vie Humaine 07.06.2013 University of Berne, Switzerland, Switzerland Nievergelt Marco;
Research Day in Middle English Studies - University of Lausanne in partnership with Padua, Warwick and Budapest Talk given at a conference Deguileville, the Rose and the Rehabilitation of Allegory 12.04.2013 Université de Lausanne, Switzerland, Switzerland Nievergelt Marco;
Invited Guest Lecture at the Groupe D'Etudes du XVI siecle, University of Geneva Individual talk Un best-seller médiéval au xvième siècle: Le Pèlerinage de Vie Humaine de Guillaume de Deguileville en quête de modernité 25.03.2013 Université de Genève, Switzerland, Switzerland Nievergelt Marco;
Invited Guest Lecture at the Louvain la Neuve Research Seminar in Medieval Literature and Culture Individual talk Charlemagne Goes to Britain: La réception de la Matière de France en Angleterre aux xiv-xv siècles 13.02.2013 Université Catholique de Louvain, Belgique, Belgium Nievergelt Marco;
Congrès sur la Fonction et Symbolique du Rêve dans la Pensée Médiévale Talk given at a conference Allégorie et épistémologie: L’ABC herméneutique de Guillaume de Deguileville 07.12.2012 Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Geneva, Switzerland, Switzerland Nievergelt Marco;
Cours interdisciplinaire du CEMEP UNIL Talk given at a conference Eucharist and Community in Medieval English Literature, Drama and society 19.10.2012 University of Lausanne, Switzerland, Switzerland Nievergelt Marco;


Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
131770 Guillaume de Digulleville’s Allegory in Europe: Circulation, Reception and Influence 01.07.2011 Scientific Conferences

Abstract

The present research project consists of a study of the reception of the French allegorical tradition, particularly Guillaume Deguileville’s 'Pèlerinages' trilogy, itself heavily influenced by the 'Roman de la Rose, by five major English authors of the late Middle Ages: Geoffrey Chaucer, William Langland, Thomas Hoccleve, John Lydgate and the anonymous Gawain-Poet. The fundamental insight behind the discussion of allegorical literature in terms of hermeneutics and epistemology, is that both the courtly/amorous allegory of the Roman de la Rose and the spiritual allegory of the Pèlerinages may be read, and were demonstrably read by late medieval readers, not merely as ‘narratives’, but rather as implicit philosophical reflections on epistemological and hermeneutic issues and problems. Designed to produce a full-length book study and a number of supporting articles to be published in specialised journals, the project is roughly divided into two parts. In the first part (Introduction + two chapters), I will present a study of the two seminal French allegories with particular emphasis on a) the intellectual / philosophical context in which they were produced, leading to a discussion of the radically different epistemological assumptions implicit in the two works; b) Deguileville’s conscious and explicit reaction to the Roman de la Rose, in particular his attempt to tame and ‘redeem’ its destabilising and subversive epistemology; c) the modalities of circulation of these two allegories, and their influence, individually and jointly, on poets and thinkers in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries; d) a discussion of the seminal, even ubiquitous influence of these two allegories in the period, their rapid emergence as canonical literary works, and especially as models for the writing of narrative allegory as well as paradigms for the conceptualisation of the world in terms of a system of signs. In the second part (five chapters and conclusion), I undertake a study of the influence of these two works on the work and thought of five of the most important late-medieval English poets. I argue that not only all five authors were familiar with both allegories and used them as ‘sources’ in the narrow sense, which I will demonstrate through extensive discussion of external and internal evidence as well as comparative readings, but rather that all five poets were engaged in a profound and constructive dialogue with these two models of allegorical writing. More specifically, all authors question the epistemological certainties implicit in Deguileville’s allegories, and thereby reflect on the breakdown of the ultimately monologic Augustinian hermeneutical process in the wake of the emergence of nominalism. In this sense, what I propose is not merely a study of ‘literary’ influence, but rather a study of the evolution of mentalities during the period 1350-1450, anchored in a discussion of the reception of these two French allegories, which appear to have functioned as literary and philosophical ‘models’ for other late medieval reflections on the limits of human knowledge in the form of narrative allegorical poetry. Interestingly, then, with the gradual emergence of nominalism’s more sceptical, relativistic understanding of human reason, the ‘paradigmatic’ exposition of the Augustinian hermeneutical process provided by Deguileville does not so much stop exerting an influence on later thinkers, but rather becomes a privileged interlocutor in the attempt to redefine, rewrite and question the limits of human knowledge. The relationship between the later English texts and their French ‘sources’ is therefore by no means static, but rather dynamic and dialogic, as Deguileville’s epistemological certainties are renegotiated, undercut and sometimes exploded with reference to the more playful and subversive epistemology of the Roman de la Rose. The responses range from Chaucer’s detached, even humorous meditation on the helplessness of human reason, to Langland’s anguished involvement in ever more bewildering and polyphonic layers of allegory, via the Gawain-Poet’s sober, dignified but painful acknowledgement of human failure. Later, in the fifteenth century, we find Hoccleve’s alienated and exiled poet-persona adopting the posture of lamentation and frustrated exile from God in his translation of an extract from the Pèlerinage de l’Âme, the ‘lament to the Virgin’, whereas Lydgate interestingly returns to the Pèlerinage de Vie - which he translates in its entirety - with renewed confidence in the epistemology proposed by Deguileville’s monastic allegory. Crucially though, in all these cases, the poets articulate their reflections on the problematic nature of human knowledge in terms of a strong and complex response to the allegories of the Rose and the Pèlerinages, whose joint role as truly ‘seminal’ works needs to be emphasised. The study would therefore contribute to a) the study of the long overlooked allegories of Guillaume Deguileville, in France and England, particularly their engagement with the dominant allegorical tradition of the Roman de la Rose; b) enhance and refine our knowledge of the five major late-medieval English poets, and transform our appreciation of ‘ricardian’ and early 'lancastrian' literature; 3) expand the existing discussions of the impact of nominalism on late medieval literature; 4) throw light on the evolution of the mentalités in the period 1350-1450, in particular by identifying the emergence of an incipient sense of ‘modernity’ in the forms of a gradual dismantling of quitessentially ‘medieval’, Augustinian epistemology.
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