Off the Shelf: Anthony C. Spearing

January 14, 2013

Anthony C. Spearing, William R. Kenan Professor of English at the University of Virginia, recently published a new book, “Medieval Autographies: The ‘I’ of the Text” (University of Notre Dame Press). He described it as an exploration of the late-medieval development of writing in the first person.

Deborah McGrady, an associate professor of French at U.Va., writes in a review that the book promises to spark conversation that extends beyond the medieval English circle to include French medievalists, who will find a worthy cross-disciplinary discussion initiated, and literary theorists, who will discover a sorely understudied corpus whose relevance is made manifest.”

From the publisher:

In “Medieval Autographies,” A.C. Spearing develops a new engagement of narrative theory with medieval English first-person writing, focusing on the roles and functions of the “I” as a shifting textual phenomenon, not to be defined either as autobiographical or as the label of a fictional speaker or narrator.

Spearing identifies and explores a previously unrecognized category of medieval English poetry, calling it “autography.” He describes this form as emerging in the mid-14th century and consisting of extended nonlyrical writings in the first person, embracing prologues, authorial interventions in and commentaries on third-person narratives, and descendants of the dit, a genre of French medieval poetry. He argues that autography arose as a means of liberation from the requirement to tell stories with preordained conclusions and as a way of achieving a closer relation to lived experience, with all its unpredictability and inconsistencies. Autographies, he claims, are marked by a cluster of characteristics, including a correspondence to the texture of life as it is experienced, a montage-like unpredictability of structure and a concern with writing and textuality.

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