The Limits of Apocalypse: Eschatology Epistemology, Epistemology, and Textuality in the Commedia and Piers Plowman
Portions of PPl, especially its apocalyptic passages, can be read as a “fiction of judgement: a work that claims access to divine revelation while acknowledging its status as a human artifact, and in which visions of order and meaning are presented by the author as if from a divine perspective.” The Tree of Charity scene sets in place an epistemological problem (much like the Fall of Humanity) that can only be addressed (but finally left unresolved) through eschatology, offered in the final four passs of PPl (C). In the scene of Christ’s passion, L draws from various scriptural and apocryphal accounts, which Will in turn narrates literally as one truth, thereby reducing what is the usual epistemology of the poem of presenting diverse and competing perspectives throughout. This literalist version of the passion is L’s way of articulating divinity unmediated by form, a divinity often occluded by allegory in other eschatologies, such as Dante’s. Yet passs 21 and 22 return to narratives of fragmented and partial truths in, respectively, the “cloudy” representation of Piers as Christ and the invasion of Antichrist and the advent of pestilences (22.97-103). L’s representation of the plague in the end times represents a marked rupture in eschatological epistemology in the post-Plague years in England and Europe (David Herlihy): L cannot find significance in the destruction of social order and is, unlike Dante, finally pessimistic of apocalyptic textuality as a form of metaphysical inquiry.