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The sacred and the secular in medieval literature have too often been perceived as opposites, or else relegated to separate but unequal spheres. In Medieval Crossover: Reading the Secular against the Sacred, Barbara Newman offers a new approach to the many ways that sacred and secular interact in medieval literature, arguing that (in contrast to our own cultural situation) the sacred was the normative, unmarked default category against which the secular always had to define itself and establish its niche. Newman ...
The sacred and the secular in medieval literature have too often been perceived as opposites, or else relegated to separate but unequal spheres. In Medieval Crossover: Reading the Secular against the Sacred, Barbara Newman offers a new approach to the many ways that sacred and secular interact in medieval literature, arguing that (in contrast to our own cultural situation) the sacred was the normative, unmarked default category against which the secular always had to define itself and establish its niche. Newman refers to this dialectical relationship as "crossover"—which is not a genre in itself, but a mode of interaction, an openness to the meeting or even merger of sacred and secular in a wide variety of forms. Newman sketches a few of the principles that shape their interaction: the hermeneutics of "both/and," the principle of double judgment, the confluence of pagan material and Christian meaning in Arthurian romance, the rule of convergent idealism in hagiographic romance, and the double-edged sword in parody.
Medieval Crossover explores a wealth of case studies in French, English, and Latin texts that concentrate on instances of paradox, collision, and convergence. Newman convincingly and with great clarity demonstrates the widespread applicability of the crossover concept as an analytical tool, examining some very disparate works.These include French and English romances about Lancelot and the Grail; the mystical writing of Marguerite Porete (placed in the context of lay spirituality, lyric traditions, and the Romance of the Rose); multiple examples of parody (sexually obscene, shockingly anti-Semitic, or cleverly litigious); and René of Anjou's two allegorical dream visions. Some of these texts are scarcely known to medievalists; others are rarely studied together. Newman's originality in her choice of these primary works will inspire new questions and set in motion new fields of exploration for medievalists working in a large variety of disciplines, including literature, religious studies, history, and cultural studies.
"As Barbara Newman points out, in the wake of the bruising debates about 'Robertsonianism,' scholars preferred to focus on different kinds of questions, but the work produced during the intervening decades can now fruitfully inform a return, with a somewhat different orientation, to the thorny questions of how the sacred and the secular interact in medieval literary texts, and indeed how and to what extent these categories functioned within medieval cultural imagination. Newman's book tackles these questions head-on in a variety of texts, and is sure to stimulate further research in this area." —Sylvia Huot, University of Cambridge
"In Medieval Crossover, Barbara Newman highlights the ways in which the premodern reader understood 'sacred' and 'secular' not as opposing points on a continuum but as what Newman calls a state of 'double judgment,' where transcendent truths could be understood through paradox or hermeneutic inversion. Exquisitely written, grounded in thoughtful readings of some of the most enigmatic texts of the Middle Ages, Medieval Crossover charts a new course in our understanding of premodern modes of interpretation." —Suzanne Conklin Akbari, University of Toronto
"This outstanding piece of scholarship makes an original contribution to the fields of medieval studies in general as well as more specifically to the study of medieval English and French, or better, francophone literature produced either on the continent or in England. Medievalists working in a large variety of disciplines—historical, sociological, religious, as well as cultural and literary—will find this book of great interest. The general argument for both is completely convincing: specialists as well as general readers of medieval works need to learn about and practice double judgment, and Newman's book gives them wonderful examples of how to do so and what is at stake in the process." —Matilda Tomaryn Bruckner, Boston College