Piers Plowman and the Radically Chic
In their study of the illustrated C text of Bodleian Library MS Douce 104 (Iconography and the Professional Reader: the Politics of Book Production in the Douce Piers Plowman: see YLS 13 : 243-45, item # 40), Kathryn Kerby-Fulton and Denise L. Despres postulate a democratic, progressive politics for the production team which produced the manuscript, a claim unsupported by any evidence, and one rendered prima facie suspect by the probable colonial interests of the producers. The desire to find a progressive politics at work in the manuscript derives from a chic interest in reading medieval figures as the precursors of modernity. Kerby-Fulton’s efforts to place the manuscript in the context of the circumambient literature is commendable, but incompletely executed. In prioritizing scribal reception of the poem, both authors ignore the extent to which L’s text itself highlights certain kinds of issues and stimulates certain responses. The pursuit of an imaginary “progressive” scribe-illuminator enforces either a willed ignorance or repression of contrary evidence, making the authors complicit in the same project of censorship they claim to abhor.