Piers Plowman the Monsters and the Critics: Some Embarrassments of Literary History, the Monsters and the Critics: Some Embarrassments of Literary History
The purpose of this 1998 lecture begins, and ends, with embarrassment—as a critical response to, and ultimately as a clarifying perspective upon—and from within—PPl. Such an approach makes it possible to see how and why the poet renders this inconvenient emotion as a crucial point of leverage upon his vast and unruly project, ultimately as his threshold of disclosure of his principles of form, and of the specifically literary character and purposes of his project. In the third vision the poem stages a confrontation with the embarrassments of its own multiple ambitions, and the commonplace and humbling constituents of its making. The lecture sketches how the sequence that ends with Imaginatif’s paideia manages to bare the device of the poem as a whole, not only as a literary innovation but as a literary-historical intervention of signal importance—and why this sequence in the poem marks the poem’s pivotal disclosure of its own literary character with a significant blush, a sudden access of shame and embarrassment. It suggests that L’s fictive staging of embarrassment at this juncture has in turn something to tell us about the ‘present state’ of our own discipline today, and about the altered, but still vexed, relations between positive knowledge and aesthetic response in our terms of professional and pedagogical engagement with early English literature, and this poem in particular, since Morton Bloomfield raised this issue in his seminal 1939 article surveying the state of criticism on the poem. (AM; adapted from the introductory paragraphs on p. 94)
Donoghue, Simpson, and Watson, The Morton Bloomfield Lectures, 1989-2005, pp. 94-115.