¡°Order, Freedom, and ¡®commune profyt¡¯ in Chaucer's Parlement of Foulys¡±*1)
Denise Ming-yueh Wang
In the Parlement of Foulys,2) the noble birds and the ¡°cherle¡± birds exercise their ¡°human rights,¡± say, freedom of speech, in a common forum of demande d¡¯amour, ¡°question of love.¡±3) What interests me here is not the superficial subject matter fine amour Chaucer used for the debate of the birds, but the relationship of reading and writing, or to put it more precisely, the reporting of someone else¡¯s words and thoughts, an exercise of one¡¯s choice of one voice among a variety of the others ideally bearing equal values. In this essay, I wish to argue that the dreamer-poet in Chaucer¡¯s Parlement of Foulys was indeed having a vision, but it was a vision that constructed and institutionalized a particular set of values based on intellectual oppositions or conflicting views, for example, order vs. freedom, consensus vs. dispute, ¡°common profit¡± vs. ¡°singular profit,¡± and, particularly, the world we live in vs. the world of words/dreams. The world the dreamer-poet constructed was not a means for literary escape from the real. On the contrary, it was firmly rooted in the ¡°here and now,¡± constructed from a vantage point of socio-political criticism, and populated by visions of the power of words. To illustrate this, I¡¯d look into the dreamer-poet¡¯s desire of reading in both the beginning and the ending of the Parlement of Foulys and examine how words and thoughts are created and manipulated in the love-vision by Chaucer the poet. My overall attempt is to explore Chaucer¡¯s explicit and coherent notions about the nature of reading, about the function and purpose of poetry, and about poetry¡¯s social role so as to explain why, in the Parlement of Foulys, the realized presence of reading leads to more reading and writing and thus it becomes a certain discursive mode of existence in a society for the common good.4)
As a gathering to allow the interchange of speech, a parliament, like a pilgrimage or a marketplace, is the ideal locus for diverse speakers to gather freely at one time to exercise the freedom of speech and to exchange opinions. In recent decades, Chaucerians have generally agreed that the parliament scene in the Parlement of Foulys plays an important role in the poem, however, they neither agree on what is its significance nor on how this scene relates to the rest of the poem. While many argue that Chaucer addresses the question of love, yet he does not mean to answer the question (Brewer 12, 22, 38; Bertolet 8; 18; Cowgill 329), more focus on the limited or imperfect human knowledge of love on the part of Chaucer¡¯s dreamer/narrator in the poem (Lynch 7-11, Anderson 224, Cooney 366). One sharply remarks:
The poem proposes no topic for debate. Much of its humor lies in the fact that when all is clear and no room is left for uncertainty of rational decision, human (or avian) stupidity will still find matter for dispute.... The lesson is that every one¡¯s judgment is the slave of his ruling passion; no case is considered on its true merits; and most discussion is merely irrelevant. (Bronson 253)
Indeed, the avian parliament provides a common forum for an issue to be debated but not acted upon. On the surface level, the question to be debated on the agenda of the avian parliament, as in any administrative discussion, gets lost, due to the very fact that discussion always comprises various points of view and eventually goes astray, due to the lack of order/authority. In the meeting scene, where Nature, the deputy of God (and thus playing a role as just arbiter of the dispute), is ineffectual in that she must repeatedly call for peace and order (lines 563, 617), the dreamer-poet is not justifying any one point of view but recognizing the validity of all opinions and all voices by showing them as they appear in a public forum. Many critics have observed that, unlike other versions of the genre, Chaucer¡¯s dream poems significantly question the function of authority, such as Genius in the Confessio Amantis, who functions to minister to the Dreamer¡¯s disease (Bertolet 17; Lynch 55; Strohm ¡°Form¡± 30; Boitani 170). In the present case, Nature who is allegorically regarded as the viceroy of Order seems to be a medievalized figurehead of Authority impassé. The dreamer-poet only begins to discover an answer to his dilemma when he is abandoned by a figure of authority (Scipio) and he encounters the parliament of the birds at the poem¡¯s end. As Piero Boitani points out, similar to Virgil for Dante in the Purgatorio, Scipio can take the dreamer-poet as far as to the garden but can offer him no real help once he is there (170). In the garden of Venus, as in the world of words/dreams, the dreamer-poet can rely on nothing but his own resoun (line 564; 568) to make sense of anything there appealing to his ¡°bookish¡± mind.
Another important aspect to look at the hotly and irreverent conversation at the heart of the debate of the lower birds, say, among the goose, the cuckoo, and the turtle-dove, is to see how the love-vision could be employed as a ritualistic expression of the dreamer-poet¡¯s way of controlling outward signs and inner meanings, of his voluntary love to construct an authorial function that was both elusive and allusive. The dreamer¡¯s desire to read more books in order to have better dreams is curiously aggressive (Lynch 91-93, Anderson 219-35, Cooney 339-76). His pleasure lies in his mastery of words, to control ¡°voys¡± (lines 191; 545). He gains a creative power that can manipulate at once words and meanings, verbal as well as allegorical. In this way, it is possible to modify the generic features of love vision and debate convention that are said to characterize the tradition of demande d¡¯amour. I¡¯d suggest that in Chaucer¡¯s Parlement of Foulys, solutions to the questions of love derive not from a divine order or natural laws, but from the dreamer-poet¡¯s ability to protract one¡¯s act of reading. In his close analysis of the debate of the birds at the parliament, Derek Brewer argues that ¡°the real interest of the debate is not in the immediate problem [demande d¡¯amour],¡¦. What they [the lower birds] really discuss is a more fundamental problem, to do with the nature of fine amour itself when confronted with the actualities of life¡± (22). I agree with Prof. Brewer in the sense that the dilemma derives not from the superficial question whom the former should choose, but from the practical concern of the ones who are rejected by the former: ¡°Should the suitors remain for ever faithful to their vows or should they go back on their words and love another?¡± (12, 23). The argument Prof. Brewer gives is important, but as insightful as that may be, the nature of such a dilemma in the issue at stake is too complex for a literary explanation. While fine amour is a chivalric matter, marriage and procreation is a socio-political one. Chaucer¡¯s concern about the nature of love could not, and should not, be socio-politically, even historically, innocent. I¡¯d further examine Prof. Brewer¡¯s argument that the question of love is at the core of the dream poem, but the debate leads to the wider problem of ¡°singular¡± conflicts, and ultimately of conflicts in society.
But then we would have to rethink the whole complex problem of knowledge and experience. The parliament scene implies that the community is made up of many kinds of ¡°birds¡± having separate ¡°singular¡± interests. So much so that this community is heterogeneous and diverse by nature. The scene envisions a society composed of members whose differing stations, functions, and ways of life yield different perspectives on the common world. I¡¯d suggest that this diversity, or rather, the actuality of differences and oppositions, is the ¡°certain thing¡±(line 22) of the poem Chaucer the poet aims to respect, to bring to mutual awareness, and to realize. The birds¡¯ ¡°natural¡± world itself might therefore appear, under certain conditions, as an object fit not for contempt but for study and delight.5) Such an attitude already appears in Macrobius¡¯ Commentary, where Macrobius says that the elements of the world are bound together by the creator in an unbreakable chain. Boethius expressed the same idea in a passage (Boece iii, m. 9) which Chaucer cited to describe Nature in the Parlement: ¡°Thow byndest the elementis by nombres proporcionables¡± (line 381). The questioning of love, or the desire for a thorough ¡°knowing,¡± a Summa, of human knowledge and experience, of the course of good and ill in the human life, is a feature of Chaucer as well as of all ¡°bookish¡± men of the High and Late Middle Ages.6) Here, in the avian forum we are invited to see how the most intense and private feelings can lead to common discord. How do we reconcile the conflicting views of love? How do we achieve the common good [commune profyt]?
The dreamer-poet¡¯s desire for reading seems to be an ¡°endless¡± knot. I¡¯d argue that this ¡°knotte,¡± as Chaucer says in the Squire¡¯s Tale, ¡°why that [the] tale is toold¡± (F 401), is the poem¡¯s crux, the motive from which all else follows. Chaucer prefaces the dreamer-poet¡¯s dream with his reading of another literary dream written by Cicero (lines 26-31), highlights his dream (lines 108ff) with what African had promised him, ¡°mater of to wryte¡± (line 168), and finally closes up with a coda where the dreamer-poet determines to read ¡°othere bokes¡± (line 695) so that he may someday ¡°mete som thing for to fare/The bet¡± (lines 699-700). In terms of structure, the dream poem starts where it ends, and it seems always, in lacking a substantial sense of progress or movement, to undo reading and love ¡°in dede¡± (line 8). In a certain sense, his zealous search in old books signifies a desire to search the meaning of love, a definition, an affirmation, and a way to ¡°justify the ways of God to men;¡±7) on the other hand, I¡¯d argue, the cause of human suffering, which must be endured by the rejected suitors, and wisely deferred, is, for Chaucer, a questioning parallel to and of no less significance than that of love, be it worldly or heavenly. But then again we are invited to take the complex relationship between knowledge and experience into more serious intellectual consideration as far as the Buridan¡¯s ass is concerned.8) My discussion will now shift more directly to the implications of Chaucer¡¯s focus on the relationship of reading to writing. What bearing overall does Chaucer¡¯s ¡°bookish¡± mind have for our interpretation of the common good?
The dreamer-poet¡¯s infinite act of reading and writing in the Parlement was not merely a daring narrative device, but also a ¡°sign¡± bearing serious theological as well as socio-political implications on the part of Chaucer with his singular interest in the hope to achieving a commune profit. As I previously pointed out, the dreamer-poet's act of reading meant not just to delight, but, artistically, to study, to fabricate, to compose: in writing about a vision. The desire of reading for better knowing is an eloquent illustration of the use of writing not only to reflect a ¡°real¡± world, but also to transcend it. As Ann Middleton remarks poetry reading is, for Chaucer, a mediating activity between ¡°solas and sentence¡±(101). The dreamer-poet's act of reading entices one's desire for knowledge, the power to ¡°see¡± reality in the light of God. To Chaucer and his contemporary audience, everything had a part to play in the divine plan of the ¡°perfection¡± of the universe, everything that existed was thought of as necessity, though graded in value. The farther away from God, the lower the value. More importantly, it was held to be a part of the perfection of the universe that the world should be fully populated with the utmost diversity of existence ¡ª as Theseus says in his great speech on the ¡°Firste Moevere of the cause above¡± (A 2987) in The Knight¡¯s Tale, one must make virtue of necessity. It is characteristic of this principle that the lower birds¡¯ ¡°ordinary desires for marriage¡± (Brewer 22) should be regarded as good in themselves, even benevolent. The desire for a ¡°knowing¡± of the Word and works of God is not confined to this dream-vision poem: echoes of it were already noted in Chaucer¡¯s other early dream poetry, The Book of Duchess and The House of Fame, where the dreamer-poets record the ideas of dreams from Scipio. In this way, Chaucer¡¯s reader is left to reflect on the opening lines and the inconclusive ending of the Parlement where the ¡°bookish¡± dreamer-poet practises what he preaches: he reads in order to learn ¡°a certeyn thing¡± (line 20) and resolves to go on reading in the hope that he may thereby ¡°fare/The bet¡± (lines 698-99).
However, the dreamer-poet¡¯s dream, like the books he read, is ¡°wonderful¡±(line 5), so much so that its ultimate meaning is beyond the limited wit of man to interpret. But if books, and by extension dreams, can provide him ¡°delights¡± (line 27) and ¡°comfort¡± (line 170), they do so right by bringing up ¡°wonders¡± and not by providing absolute answers. The Parlement is heavily indebted to previous writers whom the dreamer-poet read, not only to Cicero but also to Alain de Lille, Dante, Boccaccio, and others.9) As the dreamer-poet acknowledges, ¡°out of olde feldes, as men seyth,/Cometh al this newe corn from yer to yere¡± (lines 22-23). The dreamer-poet¡¯s report on the old stories of dramatic loves and deaths painted on the wall of the Temple of Brass therefore protracts his act of reading, as Chaucer the poet begins to explore the hidden meanings of the love stories in the ¡°older¡± literary tradition. The parliament scene, on the other hand, is immediately marked by the ¡°here and now.¡± The open-air parliament demonstrates, in contrast to Venus¡¯s temple, a special liveliness of the world of words/vision. In Nature¡¯s garden, Nature¡¯s ¡°rightful ordenaunce¡± (line 390) ¡°that hot, cold, hevy, light, moyst, and dreye/Hath knyt by evene noumbres of accord¡± (lines 380-81) is in a comic way undermined by the birds¡¯ ¡°besy cure¡± (line 369). The noise here is ¡°so huge,¡± ¡°erthe, and eyr, and tre, and every lake/So ful¡± that the dreamer-poet can find no place to stand (lines 312-15).
Reading to Chaucer, as we have seen, in the very structure of the dream poem, is thus defined as a problem of experience rather than of knowledge. In this he draws upon poetry¡¯s social role, a notion that involved the glorification of écriture in the tradition of great ¡°bookish¡± minds, of action/experience in the world of words/vision: to read is to know the known good (¡°a certeyn thing¡± line 20) in the hope of doing well, doing better, and doing best (¡°fare/The bet¡± lines 698-99). The dreamer-poet¡¯s ¡°insatiable¡± need to read more indicates that he is an intellectual who is caught in time and place of the human world where all can be at best partially known or observed, like an on-looker at a wrestling match (lines 164-66). After all, Chaucer¡¯s concern here is with the problem seen from man¡¯s perspective, not God¡¯s. Nevertheless, a ¡°humanistic¡± treatment of the problem of knowledge and experience does not mean that Chaucer the poet is not profoundly influenced by the thought of his time, or that such influence is exercised only in an oblique or imprecise way. While nominalistic thought makes an intellectual aware of the limitations of human perception and the likelihood of one¡¯s being prisoner to his own ideas, Chaucer, as a poet, is conscious of his poetry¡¯s social role, namely, his authorial function to demonstrate artistically the difference/deférence between the literary reality of his works and the greater reality of the things being (re)presented in his works. Like Cicero, who recommends the love of ¡°commune profyt,¡± Chaucer suggests how a poet¡¯s ¡°singular¡± interest in reading and writing can direct itself more profitably and effectively to the difficult task of achieving timeless values. The process, from the viewpoint of William of Ockham (and other fourteen-century thinkers at Oxford like Richard FitzRalph, Robert Holcot, Walter Burleigh, Thomas Bradwardine, John Wyclif, and Chaucer¡¯s friend Ralph Strode), begins in experience, or rather, in the intellective perception of experience. And, society, as Saint Thomas Aquinas points out, depends on the turning of these ¡°singular¡± interests to the common good, the bonum commune.10) This would also help to explain Chaucer¡¯s interest in Cicero¡¯s Scipio. Cicero¡¯s Africanus teaches Scipio to ¡°know oneself immortal,¡± to know oneself as responsible and self-controlled. Although Chaucer¡¯s allusion to this passage is elusive, the phrase ¡°know thyself first immortal¡± urges the dreamer-poet to ¡°loke ay besyly thow werche and wysse¡± (line 74) and thus stresses the dreamer-poet¡¯s love of ¡°commune profyt¡± (line 75). Later, Chaucer¡¯s African rewards the dreamer-poet for his ¡°labour¡± in reading (line 112), its ¡°wonderful werkynge¡± (line 5). Here, Chaucer¡¯s allusion to the Somnium offers us advice not only about the dreamer-poet¡¯s authorial function, but also about his voluntary love to transmit what he learns from ¡°olde bokes¡± into ¡°newe science¡± (lines 24-25).
To conclude, I would like to review the reasons why I attach a certain importance to the dreamer-poet¡¯s seemingly infinite act of reading and writing in the Parlement. There are theoretical reasons. First, given that contemporary theories emphasize the discourses set in motion, I believe that it is time to study Chaucer¡¯s dream poems not only in terms of their expressive value or formal transformations, but according to the manner in which they are articulated in the activity of modifications where the modes of Chaucer¡¯s dream poetry vary and are modified within different cultures in time. To put it more precisely, Chaucer¡¯s Parlement can be studied not only as love-vision and debate poetry, but also in terms of ¡°modes of production,¡± as an ideologeme, or ¡°a socially symbolic act.¡±11) Second, there are reasons dealing with the ¡°death¡± of the author. In the Parlement, the author is not an indefinite source of significations which fill a book, on the contrary, he serves a certain functional principle by which the reader/critic limits, excludes, and chooses; in short, by which the reader/dreamer exercises free manipulation, free composition, decomposition, and recomposition of a dream/book.12) I think that, as the dreamer-poet changes in reading ¡°olde bokes¡± (line 24), at the very moment when the ¡°certain thing¡± (line 20) of a book is in the process of changing, we are invited to experience its ¡°wonderful werkynge¡± (line 5). Poetry functions, for Chaucer, within a system of knowledge, not to be determined but experienced. Reading is, therefore, for Chaucer (and his contemporary ¡°bookish¡± men), man¡¯s most godlike tool13) in his search for understanding ¡°the ways of God to men,¡± while writing serves to exercise the knowing, to deliver its ¡°wonderful werkynge¡± (line 5), and to love ¡°in dede¡± (line 8). In brief, the intellectual oppositions within the Parlement open up an intellectual space in which more reading and writing can be vigorously performed. In the act of reading Chaucer¡¯s Parlement, we are invited to experience the way how the Parlement evolves from an individual¡¯s ¡°singular¡± interest through écrit to the society¡¯s common good.
(National Chung Cheng University, Chia-yi, Taiwan, R. O. C.)
¢Â Works Cited
Aers, David. ¡°The Parliament of Fowls: Authority, the Knower, and the Known.¡± The Chaucer Review 16 (1981): 1-17.
Anderson, J. J. ¡°The Narrators in the Book of Duchess and the Parlement of Foules.¡± The Chaucer Review 26.3 (1992):219-35.
Benson, Larry, ed. The Riverside Chaucer. Boston: Houghton, 1987.
Bertolet, Craig E. ¡° ¡®My wit is sharp; I love no taryinge¡¯: Urban Poetry and the Parlement of Foules.¡± Studies in Philology 93.4 (1996): 365-89.
Boitani, Piero. ¡°Chaucer: the Dream Poem.¡± English Medieval Narrative in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries. Trans. By Joan Krakover Hall. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1982. 133-192.
Brewer, D. S. ¡°Introduction.¡± The Parlement of Foulys. London: Nelson, 1960.
Bronson, Bertrand H. ¡°The Parlement of Foules Revisited.¡± ELH 15.4 (1948): 247-60.
Cooney, Helen. ¡°The Parlement of Foules: A Theodicy of Love.¡± The Chaucer Review 32.4 (1998): 339-76.
Cowgill, Bruce Kent. ¡°The Parlement of Foules and the Body of Politic.¡± JEGP 74 (1975): 315-35.
Foucault, Michel. ¡°What Is an Author?¡± The Foucault Reader. Ed. by Paul Rabinow. New York: Pantheon, 1984. 101-120.
Jameson, Frederic. ¡°On Interpretation.¡± The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1981. 17-102.
Kretzmann, Norman, et. al., ed. The Cambridge History of Later Medieval Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1982.
Lohr, C. H. ¡°The Medieval Interpretation of Aristotle.¡± In Kretzmann. 80-98.
Lynch, Kathryn L. The High Medieval Dream Vision: Poetry, Philosophy, and Literary Form. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1988.
. ¡°The Parliament of Fowls and Late Medieval Voluntarism.¡± The Chaucer Review 25.1 (1990): 1-16; 25.2 (1990): 85-95.
McDonald, Charles O. ¡°An Interpretation of Chaucer¡¯s Parlement of Foules.¡± Speculum 30.3 (1955): 444-57.
Middleton, Anne. ¡°The Idea of Public Poetry in the Reign of Richard II.¡± Speculum 53 (1978): 94-114.
Olson, Paul A. ¡°The Parlement of Foules: Aristotle¡¯s Politics and the Foundations of Human Society.¡± Studies in the Age of Chaucer 2 (1980): 53-69.
Pearsall, Derek. The Life of Geoffrey Chaucer: a Critical Biography. Cambridge: Blackwell, 1992.
Peck, Russell A. ¡°Chaucer and the Nominalist Questions.¡± Speculum 53 (1978): 745-60.
. ¡°Love, Politics, and Plot in the Parlement of Foules.¡± The Chaucer Review 24 (1990): 290-305.
Reed, Thomas L. ¡°The Parlement of Foules.¡± Middle English Debate Poetry and the Aesthetics of Irresolution. Columbia: U of Missouri P, 1990. 294-362.
Schless, Howard H. Chaucer and Dante: A Revaluation. New York: Norman, 1984.
Sklute, Larry M. ¡°The Inconclusive Form of the Parliament of Fowls.¡± The Chaucer Review 16 (1981): 127.
Spearing, A. C. Medieval Dream Poetry. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1976.
Stump, Elenore. ¡°Topics: their Devleopment and Absorption into Consequences.¡± In Kretzmann. 273-99.
Strohm, Paul. Social Chaucer. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1989.
¡°Order, Freedom, and ¡®commune profyt¡¯ in Chaucer¡¯s Parlement of Foulys¡±
Denise Ming-yueh Wang
In the Parlement of Foulys, the noble birds and the ¡°cherle¡± birds exercise their ¡°human rights,¡± say, freedom of speech, in a common forum of demande d¡¯amour, ¡°question of love.¡± What interests me here is not the superficial subject matter fine amour Chaucer used for the debate of the birds, but the interaction of reading and writing, or to put it more precisely, the reporting of someone else¡¯s words and thoughts, an exercise of one¡¯s choice of one voice among a variety of the others ideally bearing equal values. In my paper, I argue that the dreamer-poet in Chaucer¡¯s Parlement of Foulys was indeed having a vision, but it was a vision that constructed and institutionalized a particular set of values based on intellectual oppositions or conflicting views, for instance, freedom vs. order, consensus vs. dispute, ¡°common profit¡± vs. ¡°singular profit,¡± and, particularly, the world we live in vs. the world of words/dreams. The avian world the dreamer-poet constructed was not a means for literary escape from the real. On the contrary, it was firmly rooted in the ¡°here and now,¡± constructed from a vantage point of socio-political criticism, and populated by visions of the power of words. To illustrate this, I shall examine the dreamer-poet¡¯s desire of reading in both the beginning and the ending of the Parlement of Foulys so as to show how the words are created and manipulated in the love-vision by Chaucer the poet. My overall attempt is to explore Chaucer¡¯s explicit and coherent notions about the nature of reading, about the function and purpose of poetry, and about poetry¡¯s social role so as to explain why, in the Parlement of Foulys, the realized presence of reading leads to more reading and writing and thus it becomes a certain mode of existence in a society for the common good.
Key words: Chaucer, Parlement of Foulys, demande d¡¯amour, fine amour, medieval love-vision, Later Medieval Philosophy.
1)* This essay was written for the 8th International Conference of Medieval and Early Modern English Studies of Korea, at Korea University, Seoul, Korea, which I here gratefully acknowledge. I also thank participants at the MEMESAK conference, who offered suggestions on an earlier version of this paper, especially my discussant, Prof. Hi Kyung Moon of the Korea University, who pointed me in the direction of the parliament scene within a larger social context of Chaucer¡¯s dream poetry. I also thank Prof. Morris Wei-hsin Tien and Prof. Derek Pearsall for their suggestions for the improvement of the style and phrasing of this essay.
2) In this essay, all references to Chaucer¡¯s Parlement of Foulys, The Knight¡¯s Tale, The Squire¡¯s Tale and his early love-vision poems are from The Riverside Chaucer, edited by Larry Benson (Boston: Houghton, 1987).
3) The definitions of demande d¡¯amour and fine amour are given by many critics, however, the exact nature of the genre and the question of love, or the medieval ideal of courtly love, is hotly debated and unresolved (see Brewer, Cowgill, Bertolet, Lynch, Anderson, Cooney, Bronson and Spearing). In this essay, I want to claim that, at the core of the Parlement, the concept of écriture overrides the debate of love.
4) The phrase ¡°discursive mode of existence¡± is from Michel Foucault. In ¡°What Is an Author?¡± he remarks that ¡°the author function is therefore characteristic of the mode of existence, circulation, and functioning of certain discourses within a society¡± (108).
5) The full significance of Nature to Chaucer and his audience involves the general philosophy and the whole attitude to life of classical and medieval writers, of which obviously little can be said here. But it must be understood that the general dominant attitude in the Middle Ages was the contemptus mundi, contempt for the world, which is quite strongly conveyed in the Dream of Scipio. However, this negative attitude was never exclusive nor uncontested in light of the great chain of being. For further discussion on natural philosophy and philosophy of mind and action, see The Cambridge History of Later Medieval Philosophy, edited by Norman Kretzmann (Cambridge, 1982), especially Chapters VII and VIII.
6) Brewer, Cooney, Lynch and Peck discuss Chaucer and the Nominalist questions and argue that Chaucer, like most of his contemporary medieval ¡°intellectualists,¡± was curious about the relationship between knowledge and experience, most notably in the need for salvation along certain codes of philosophy of the mind and nature. In this essay, I have not the space to provide a fuller discussion of the ¡°bookish¡± men of the High and Late Middle Ages in relation to the present argument, but it is worth noting how Chaucer deliberately turns the ¡°intellective¡± question of knowledge and experience into a love-vision. Similarly, it is significant that Chaucer deliberately calls our attention to the dreamer-poet¡¯s desire to read, a central part of Chaucer¡¯s transformation of the love-vision and debate conventions.
7) I am indebted to Kathryn Lynch for this point, however, my emphasis is on Chaucer¡¯s idea of écritur, other than his ¡°theodicy of love.¡±
8) St. Thomas Aquinas¡¯s summary of the problem of the Buridan¡¯s ass is significant as a contribution to the debate over free will. The problem of the Buridan¡¯s ass presents a donkey suffering from extreme hunger, offered at once two identical bales of hay, or in some versions, a bale of hay on one side and a container of water on the other. Curiously enough, the donkey disappears without taking either of the bales, due to his ¡°inability¡± to decide. For further discussion on the medieval ¡°intellectualist¡± questions, see Peck, Schless, Linch, and Lohr.
9) The major sources for Chaucer include Le Roman de la Ros, The Dream of Scipio, Macrobius¡¯s Commentar, Alanus¡¯s De Planctu Natura, Boccaccio¡¯s Teseid, and Dante¡¯s Divine Comedy.
10) For more information on Ockham¡¯s Summa logica and the Oxford school under the influence of Aristotle through Boethius to scholasticism, please see Stump¡¯s ¡°Topics,¡± 273-99.
11) Fredric Jameson argues in The Political Unconscious:Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act that the difference between his critical approach to literature and ¡°that of ordinary explication de text, or individual exegesis,¡± is that ¡°the text,¡± the object of study, is ¡°grasped essentially as a symbolic act¡± (76). He defines ideologeme as ¡°the smallest intelligible unit of the essentially antagonistic collective discourses of social classes¡± (76).
12) In Michel Foucault¡¯s idea, the author function is the principle by which freedom of interpretation is confined not released because we [readers] fear the proliferation of meaning (119). I argue here that Chaucer¡¯s idea of the author, or rather, his idea of the relationship between author and reader, is more ¡°dialogic¡± or ¡°carnival¡± than our (post)modern concept of the author. I thank Prof. Derek Pearsall for pointing me to the opposite direction of Foucault¡¯s idea of the author.
13) Here, I borrow and adapt Russell A. Peck¡¯s concluding remark on Chaucer as a ¡°nominalist¡± thinker. In ¡°Chaucer and the Nominalist Questions,¡± he concludes, ¡°Language is for Chaucer, as it is for Ockham, man¡¯s most godlike tool in his search for understanding. The problem lies in how language is used¡± (760).