The Genres of Piers Plowman.
The Visio’s pilgrimage to Truth is a search for a genre “that will accommodate an authority neither abusive nor idiosyncratic.” WL signals narrative progress toward religious authority through choices of genre that progressively abandon claims to poetic authority and move toward an explicit imitation of biblical narrative. The gyrovagus tradition suggests that satire is itself a potentially sterile, self-referential literary abuse. Holy Church cures Will of satire, but represents interpretive authority possessed merely by the individual author. The deliberative genre of the Meed passus commits the poet to public responsibility, but comes into being through WL’s autonomous decision, rather than through narrative logic. The force of the genre of the confessional manual, based on the therapeutic pedagogy of institutional authority, is qualified by the fallible instrument of historical humanity. After WL resolves the problem of authority in human writing by settling on biblical narrative (specifically, the exodus as it is figured in B.6-7), traditional literary genres disappear, and the Vita turns to the question of meaning and interpretation.
Viator 19 (1988): 291-306.