The Personificational Face in Piers Plowman Rethought Through Levinas and Bronowski: Postmodern Philosophy Scientific Humanism and Problems in Late Medieval Personification Allegory, Scientific Humanism and Problems in Late Medieval Personification Allegory
This essay rethinks the cryptic depiction of the face of Anima in PPl B, passus 15, using a spectrum of postmodern theorists (including Paul de Man and Deleuze and Guattari) whom the author brackets between two unexpected thinkers: the rationalist and phenomenological philosopher Emmanuel Levinas and the mathematician, poet, historian of science, and great proponent of scientific humanism, Jacob Bronowski. The argument hinges as well on the two thinkers’ shared position as Jews who had survived or escaped the violence of the Holocaust only to build careers in response to that violence which grew from the collapse of reason in Europe under the Nazis. In opening up understanding of L’s striking personificational face, the essay implies that a prefiguration of the Levinasian Face could be construed in Bronowski’s 1973 thought experiment, and technologically contingent demonstration, about the face of another death-camp survivor, one Stephan Borgrajewicz, as it gets ‘viewed’ according to the spectrum of electromagnetic radiations (radio, ultraviolet, x-ray, etc.). The now somewhat neglected thinking of Bronowski might help us to better understand the key concept of Levinas’ Face and, in turn, the centrality of the allegorical device prosopopeia—the ‘making/unmaking of face’—in the poetics of L’s PPl. (JJP)
In Levinas and Medieval Literature: The 'Difficult Reading' of English and Rabbinic Texts, ed. by Ann W. Astell and J. A. Jackson (Pittsburgh: Duquense University Press, 2009), pp. 137-56.