Medieval Crossover: Reading the Secular against the Sacred

Overview

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 ...

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Overview

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

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Prolific medievalist Newman (English, religious studies, Northwestern Univ.) argues that though the sacred was the default perspective in medieval thinking, the sacred did not exclude the secular: there was ample creative room to blend the two perspectives. In a series of tightly argued studies, she examines writings in French (and Picard), English, and Latin to show how medieval writers played with sacred images to create a variety of new tropes. Among the devices used to double-read texts were the hermeneutics of "both/and" (thus Galahad was both saint and sinner), the mingling of pagan and Christian meaning, saintly romance, and parody. The book ends with translations of two little-known late 14th-century to early 15th-century texts. VERDICT A textual study at its best, Newman's work attempts to set the field back on track after years of debate over how to read a medieval text and whether medieval writers used the holy texts literally or could deploy them creatively at times. This book will prove indispensable for scholars but is unlikely to attract other readers.—David Keymer, Modesto, CA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780268036119
  • Publisher: University of Notre Dame Press
  • Publication date: 5/15/2013
  • Series: ND Conway Lectures in Medieval Studies Series
  • Edition description: 1st Edition
  • Pages: 392
  • Sales rank: 1,018,066
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Barbara Newman is professor of English, religious studies, and classics at Northwestern University. She is the author of a number of books, including God and the Goddesses: Vision, Poetry, and Belief in the Middle Ages and Frauenlob’s Song of Songs: A Medieval German Poet and His Masterpiece.

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