Summary and Info
Medieval Studies/Literary Theory An intriguing evaluation of the concept of beginnings in the medieval period. In the first book to examine one of the most peculiar features of one of the greatest and most perplexing poems of England's late Middle Ages-the successive attempts of Piers Plowman to begin, and to keep beginning-D. Vance Smith compels us to rethink beginning, as concept and practice, in both medieval and contemporary terms. The problem of beginning was invested with increasing urgency in the fourteenth century, imagined and grappled with in the courts, the churches, the universities, the workshops, the fields, and the streets of England. The Book of the Incipit reveals how Langland's poem exemplifies a widespread interest in beginning in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, an interest that appears in such divergent fields as the physics of motion, the measurement of time, logic, grammar, rhetoric, theology, book production, and insurrection. Smith offers a theoretical understanding of beginning that departs from the structuralisms of Edward Said and the traditional formalisms of A. D. Nuttall and most medievalist and modernist treatments of closure. Instead, he conceives a work's beginning as a figure of the beginning of the work itself, the inception of language as the problem of beginning to which we continue to return. D. Vance Smith is assistant professor of English at Princeton University.