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Title: Theories of the Nonsense Word in Medieval England
Authors: Kirk, Jordan
Advisors: Heller-Roazen, Daniel
Contributors: Comparative Literature Department
Keywords: Boethius
Cloud of Unknowing
Geoffrey Chaucer
Material Supposition
Walter Burley
Subjects: Comparative literature
Medieval literature
Issue Date: 2013
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: This dissertation is a study of medieval theories of the nonsense word. I establish how Aristotle's account of utterance underwent a major alteration in its transmission to the Middle Ages, such that the human voice came to be conceived of as in the first instance a non-signifying noise. I then examine the reception of this philosophical innovation in the logic, devotion, and poetry of fourteenth-century England. In chapters on Oxford logic, on the contemplative treatise the Cloud of Unknowing, and on Geoffrey Chaucer's dream vision the House of Fame, I uncover the philosophical stakes of what I take to be a fourteenth-century preoccupation with nonsense. The first chapter establishes that the sixth-century Roman scholar Boethius introduced a new idea of vox, or utterance, as fundamentally nonsensical in his translations of and commentaries on Aristotle's De interpretatione. The second chapter traces the inheritance of this idea in the Oxford logic of the twelfth through fourteenth centuries, and shows how although logicians attempted to banish nonsense words from their discipline, they were forced to confront them in the phenomenon of what they called material supposition, when a term stands for itself in a proposition. The third chapter proposes that the technique of prayer described in the Cloud of Unknowing consists in the production of a nonsense word through repetition, and that this technique--foreign to the mystical tradition in which the treatise is usually placed--is an elaboration of possibilities disclosed in the logical materials discussed in the dissertation's first half. The fourth and final chapter, on the House of Fame, argues that Chaucer revises academic theories of vox into a theory of tydynges, or rumors, in which it is nonsense that allows for speech to emerge from a state of dumbness proper to the poet.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Comparative Literature

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