Lollard Ekphrasis: Situated Aesthetics and Literary History
The second half of this response to James Simpson’s Reform and Cultural Revolution (see ‘Annual Bibliography, 2003’, YLS, 18 , item 23; linked below) focuses on Pierce the Plowman’s Crede. For Simpson, the Crede exemplifies the allegedly deleterious effects on literary form of revolutionary writing. ‘The disjunction between the revolutionary political affiliation of the Crede and the brilliantly intricate poetics that embody this affiliation, by contrast, argue for an attention in the writing of literary history’ to what Holsinger calls a ‘situated aesthetics: the self-conscious, particularist manipulation of conventional literary form and style (not theme or argument alone) to the advancement of even the most radical social and political agendas’ (p. 74). His focus is the ekphrastic mode, which Pierce the Plowman’s Crede recruits ‘as a means of channeling in a dissident direction through poetic language its audience’s visual and aesthetic response to clerical wealth and the worship of the decorative arts’ (p. 83). Even I playne Piers (c. 1550) ‘suggests how writers of even the most radical, “revolutionary” productions—prosaic, regular, and discursively unchallenging though they might seem at first glance—will often resort to complex poetic and stylistic strategies in order to render their voices intelligible within a wider domain of literary affiliation’; by ignoring such productions, Simpson ‘has left unwritten a history of “revolutionary” writing that would grant its makers their own share in weaving the intricate tapestry of poetry and prose that we have come to call the history of English literature’ (p. 84).