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Doctoral Dissertation Announcement
Candidate: Lisa Horton
Doctor of Philosophy
Title: Recombinant Metaphors: Uses of Language and Medieval Interdisciplinarity in Pearl
Dr. Eve Salisbury, Chair
Dr. Jana Schulman
Dr. Richard Utz
Dr. Elizabeth Teviotdale
Date: Monday, October 22, 2012 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
2033 Brown Hall
The lengthy hiatus between Pearl’s composition, which current critical consensus estimates at 1390, and its first appearance in print in 1864, though obviously not an isolated case in the study of medieval literature, creates both a curious cognitive bridge between medieval and postmodern readers and a compelling interpretive vacuum that recent literary scholarship has been endeavoring to fill.
The great obstacle to an interpretation of so subtly complex a work as Pearl is the discontinuity between medieval and postmodern modes of thought partly resulting from persistent stereotypes that have accrued to the reception of the Middle Ages. The Pearl-poet imbues his work with the stratifications of a broadly literate experience, an intellectual contextualization which accumulates in the poem in fractally multiplicitous layers of imagery—his literacy is not merely in the literature of his time, but in all the liberal arts (both trivium and quadrivium). Such breadth, though a consistent feature of medieval literature, seldom factors into postmodern critical methodologies.
This study examines the many contexts that circumscribe the interpretive space of Pearl including medieval disciplines like cosmology, numerology, alchemy, and natural sciences such as the lapidaries, bestiaries and herbals. By looking at the poem in its historical and intellectual settings this study demonstrates the value of a multivalent approach that renders both poem and era more comprehensible to modern readers. Central to an interpretation of the poem based on this approach is an acknowledgment of the holistic nature of medieval thought, a fully actualized and integrated epistemology linking the medieval material environment of the late fourteenth century with the scientific and philosophical disciplines of the time.