Langland’s Lives: Reflections on Late-Medieval Religious and Literary Vocabulary.
The late-medieval notion of “lives”-as ideal patterns or forms of living which transcend or minimize the determinative power of mere biological needs, or the means of providing for such needs -delimits the semantic field of PPl. The poem’s disposition of textual “voices” manifests the discursive history of religious models of self and society: subjectivizing models of reform (associated with the activity of the mendicants) serve as explicit critiques of earlier totalizing descriptions of the social body and the forms of thought of monastic spirituality. The new formations articulate themselves through oppositional practices; vertical or analogically parallel forms of expository development give way to the discursive practices of distinctio and the branching division; notions of “voice” and “persona” become increasingly important categories of literary analysis. Will as narrator is constituted by the struggle of discursive procedures; not so much a continuous narrative entity as a focal point of the claims of the lives that obsess and elude him, he is “the literate subject, done in the different voices that compose for his culture the authorized versions of selfhood, and the authorized narratives of self-realization.” Will acts to determine his genre de vie; WL’s project is to make his options visible as apologetic stories, conspicuously ideological, i.e. “inseparable from the institutions for which they frame the apologetics.”
The Idea of Medieval Literature: New Essays on Chaucer and Medieval Culture in Honor of Donald R. Howard, ed. James M. Dean and Christian K. Zacher. Newark: University of Delaware Press; London and Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1992. 227-42.