On Bells and Rebellion: The Auditory Imagination and Social Reform Medieval and Modern, Medieval and Modern
Contrasting elite and lay forms of aural understanding, Lears turns to T.S. Eliot’s coinage for a deeply felt, affective form of listening— the “auditory imagination” (88). Texts associated with the cacophonous unrest of 1381 had to concern themselves with the sounds of the mob—were they wild and untamed or part of the embodied understanding of everyday people? While authors such as Gower distrusted and policed the squawks and howls—the empty sounds—of the crowd, using terms like “vox fera” (“wild voice”) and “ore sonus” (“sounding voice” or “sounding mouth”) (88) to describe them, Lears argues that this alternate, lay mode of understanding operates in both the Rebel Letters and PPl. Turning to the former epistles, she contends that the sound of these texts “made meaning at the material level” (90). They “invite rhythmic and physical engagement” (90-91) from their readers, offer scholars an opportunity to glimpse the affective hearing of late-medieval people. Then, turning to PPl, Lears connects these ideas to the rat parliament, the belling of the cat, and these scenes’ transition to the ambient noise of the medieval cityscape. In her view, L shares some of Gower’s suspicion but also invites the physical engagement through hearing found in the Rebel Letters. Finally, she traces these strands through Victorian medievalists, especially William Morris. His A Dream of John Ball imagines the middle ages as a time more susceptible to immediate experience than his own, a fact that leads him to connect this mythologized past and its mode of being with his own utopian socialist vision. (CP)
Vernacular Aesthetics in the Later Middle Ages: Politics, Performativity, and Reception from Literature to Music, ed. by Katharine Jager (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), pp. 87–115
Lears, Adin E.