Desire and the Scriptural Text: Will as reader in Piers Plowman
Will represents the locus of human desire, and critical moments in his moral experience are represented as moments of desire-inspired reading of Scripture. His confrontations with Scripture become increasingly unmediated and affective. From passively receiving texts mediated by the institution of the church, Will passes to an academic, rationalist deployment of Scripture, which results in a period of disillusionment with the moral value of reading. His moral crisis is resolved when he responds to the austerity of Scripture’s sermon on multi vocati by refusing to read literally, and arrives at a reading which satisfies, and is measured to, his own desire for the possibility of God’s mercy. This “voluntarist hermeneutic” accords with Augustine’s injunction that interpretation contribute to the “reign of charity,” and is deployed in opposition to the academic hermeneusis of the established clergy.
Copeland, Criticism and Dissent in the Middle Ages, 215-43.