Books in Progress

updated:  2016 April 16 

"Slips of Thought from Chaucer to Milton: Imagining the Stuff of Allegory" (in manuscript) stands squarely on the shoulders of C. S. Lewis (Studies in Words) and William Empson (The Structure of Complex Words); and, builds steadily on theories of language and culture put forward by Wilhelm von Humboldt (as a system which "makes infinite use of finite means"), Oswald Spengler ("the picture of history is a memory-picture"), and Ernst Cassirer ("the philosophy of symbolic forms"). By combining the approaches of philology, the memory arts, and iconography this book uncovers the wider implications of some terms that came to be taken for granted in everyday use and which thereby tended to slip their moorings - words such as "hap" and "hope," "dread" and "doom," "breath" and "death," "sovereign" and "foreign," "moors" and "morris," "handle" and "hoard," "inly" and "only," and, by way of a suggestive coda, "conjecture." Taken together, these five chapters provide a more critical understanding of the strata of English poetic culture brought back into view by virtue of this endeavor to take core samples from the moraine of received linguistic history. [CHAPTER OUTLINE BELOW]

"Chaucer Chiastically Conceived: A Reader's Guide," (second draft stage)

"Grace Resplendent: A Philological Study of 'Grace' in the English Literary Tradition (draft stage)

"'Tears such as Angels weep': Assessing Angelic Intelligence from Milton to Poe" (pre-draft stage)

"What the Pastoral Remembers: case studies from Theocritus to Walton" (in progress) looks at the allegorical face of nostalgia in works that simultaneously lament the passing of an idealized vision of life in the world and celebrate the inevitability of its passing. In some cases, such as Walton's Compleat Angler, the reader temporarily is made to forget that a radical shift in social and political order is the accidental midwife of this testament to the simple pleasures of rural life. For example there is more than "beast fable" at work in his chapter on the natural beauty and predatory finesse of the otter which also is characterized as the bane of fishermen and farmers alike. 

"Return to Round River" (on-going project) based on my experiences as a teacher, youth worker, and Assistant Director at summer camp, this book considers a model of learning that mobilizes ideas of the pastoral, giving priority to "teachable moments" in the course of authentic, hands-on learning experiences. This approach is offered as a corrective to the tendency to control and contain students in the service of "standards-based learning."

"Parallel Lives of Island Nations" (an on-going project) is modeled on the approach to writing popular biography pioneered by Plutarch. The lives of the notable and great were presented by weaving together what they were reported to have said and done. Jamaica, New Zealand (Aotearoa), and Iceland are the island nations whose stories this book sets out to tell. Among the exemplary lives paralleled are those of Marcus Garvey, one of the most powerful and controversial black rights activists of the twentieth century, and Bob Marley, the original ambassador of Reggae, whose music has become a symbol of unity and social change worldwide; Hone Heke, the Nhu Puhi warrior and first to sign the Treaty of Waitangi who later was to become the focal opponent of British occupation, and James Busby, the appointed British Resident who sought in earnest to broker peace between and among Maori tribes and the Pakeha commercial adventurers from Europe; and, from Iceland, Snorri Sturluson (born in 1179), writer of the oral Edda and Heimskringla, and Vigdis Finnbogadottir, the world's first democratically elected female president.

 _ _ _ _ _ _

CHAPTER OUTLINE for  "Slips of Thought from Chaucer to Milton: Imagining the Stuff of Allegory"

Chapter 1 establishes the historical grounding and main theoretical coordinates of this study by clarifying the affinity between lexical, textual, and mnemonic thinking in late medieval England. The first section offers a survey of Early English Dictionaries and "Hard Word Books," while the second goes on to consider the fortunes of the word "drede" from Chaucer to Skelton and then jumping ahead to Milton. Their works will allow me to test the thesis that striking patterns of lexicographical vitality emerged from the time of the first widely circulating Latin-English workbooks, Medulla grammatice (c.1460), to Thomas Blount's ambitious 11,000-entry Glossographia (1656).

Chapter 2 concerns two important movements in Chaucer's craft. First, a reassessment of his debt to the five-part structure of Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy reveals the extent to which a mnemonic itinerary guides Troilus and Criseyde from both within and without. Second, a critical rethinking The Canterbury Tales in terms of the Dance of Death and related iconographic tropes betokening contemptus mundi (specifically by Lydgate and later by Holbein) brings to light some stunning connections--such as accounting for the three riotous youths in "The Pardoner's Tale" in terms of the "le dict des trois vifs et des trois morts" [the legend of the three living and the three dead] and finally identifying the Old Man in the tale as an evanescent emblem of the Wandering Jew.

Chapter 3 addresses what might be termed "the stuff of allegory," by building on what the previous chapter disclosed about the effectual power of language in the world--whether prayers or curses, relics or talismanic objects. This chapter begins by pointing out how keys terms used in connection with the figuring of death, "morts" and "Mors," homophonically mirrored the term for black people generally in late medieval culture, "moors," and, also the name of the festive dance used to celebrate regeneration in general and marriage in particular, "morris." The chapter ends by examining the implications of a link (and a slip) between the emblem of Occasio, closely associated with Fortuna (in which the viewer is told to grab her by the forelock as she spins by with an open razor in one hand, riches in the other), and the dancing dead in Holbein's famous woodcuts.

Chapter 4, "Handling Goods and Memory," examines a link between and a slip in the way that vice and virtue, like mercantile exchanges, were spoken of in material terms. The basis of this connection is brought out by careful consideration of the root meaning of the German word for trading, Handel. The hand as an emblem for enacting one's will in the world is shown to be conditioned by markers associated with the ars memorativa, and this chapter will go on to investigate how it came to apply to the stages of confession and penance (for example in Mannyng's Handling Sin and Chaucer's "Parson's Tale"), the marking of sententiae (printed pointers in literary works later to be mined by their readers for moral tags), the labeling of goods to be traded (in tracts by Elizabethan factors operating on the continent, such as I.B.'s Marchants avizo), and simply implying facility and cleverness more generally ("handy" Nicholas, for example, in "The Miller's Tale"). Finally, the hands of Adam and Eve in Milton's Paradise Lost are an index to the mnemonic place holders in the poem, inciting readers to take note of the shift in the epic action.

Chapter 5 concerns "Milton's Poetics of Interiority" and is a case study in the use of Anglo-Saxon terms in Renaissance epics focusing primarily on Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. John Milton's use of Latin words and sentence structure has been well studied over the centuries. An indirect consequence of this has been to deflect scholarly attention away from the place of Old English in his poetic register. This chapter argues that distinctively Anglo-Saxon terms were used at decisive moments in Milton's poetry with startling - sometimes intentionally arresting - effects. Diverging from his usual practice, it calls attention to specific themes and terms that Milton highlighted as being absolutely fundamental to the human soul. Looking more closely at the Old English word "inly" (meaning "internal" or "secret") will help shed light on the lexical core of Milton's essentially mnemonic approach to composition. Notions of interiority will be shown to be linked conceptually to his understanding of the origins of English and thus can serve as an index to his awareness of the ground of his own poetic craft and vocation as a poet-priest. While the principal focus of this chapter is on the pulling inward to one's inmost self, the conclusion to the book as a whole examines the implications of the word "conjecture" (a casting outward) with special reference to Milton, Burton, Browne, and Walton, all of whom looked back self-consciously to earlier lexical and cultural models to frame their distinctively English literary projects.