Words, Images, and the Self: Iconoclasm in Late Medieval English Literature
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CitationNi, Yun. 2019. Words, Images, and the Self: Iconoclasm in Late Medieval English Literature. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThis dissertation is a reexamination of idols, idolatry, and iconoclasm in late medieval English, French, German, and Latin literary and religious writings from the twelfth throughout the sixteenth century. These four hundred years witnessed ongoing debates over whether images have a place in religion. This debate grew in intensity from the twelfth century on and culminated in the massive destruction of idols, icons and artifacts fueled by the Protestant Reformation. The urge to undo images is theologically exemplified in Protestant iconoclasm as well as philosophically likened to Descartes’s cogito ergo sum, which seeks to wipe the mind clean of the inner idol by doing away with the phantasm.
The aim of the project is three-fold: first, it redefines theological iconoclasm from the philosophical perspective of “logic as imageless thinking”; second, it shifts the conceptual focus to the competition between the self and images; third, it redirects the attention of the current scholarship from Protestant iconoclasm in the sixteenth century to the period 1160-1490, which is conventionally regarded as an image-centered period in Northwestern Europe. This project aims to broaden the concept and timeframe of iconoclasm in England by investigating the ambivalent movement encapsulated in medieval texts that sought to ground narratives in imagery, while undoing their foundations at the same time.
This project addresses the philosophical underpinnings of the idols of the mind, but also to delineate the way in which historical and cultural pressures find voice in literature. My texts include the twelfth-century Anglo-Norman Arthurian romances and saints’ lives, the thirteenth-century allegorical poem Le Roman de la Rose, the fourteenth-century visions of Julian of Norwich, and the fifteenth-century The Croxton Play of the Sacrament. Though the project does not offer a teleological account of how the hidden anxiety over images across four hundred years leads to physical erasure of images in the sixteenth century, it claims that the outburst of crises in history (in this case Reformation iconoclasm) must have some forms of anticipation in the past. This array of ideas demonstrates how and why different eras treat the same threat of images in different forms.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:42029761
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