World of Echo

World of Echo

Noise and Knowing in Late Medieval England

by Adin E. Lears

Published by: Cornell University Press

248 pages, 152.00 x 229.00 x 23.00 mm, 6 b&w halftones

  • ISBN: 9781501749605
  • Published: October 2020



Between late antiquity and the fifteenth century, theologians, philosophers, and poets struggled to articulate the correct relationship between sound and sense, creating taxonomies of sounds based on their capacity to carry meaning. In World of Echo, Adin E. Lears traces how medieval thinkers adopted the concept of noise as a mode of lay understanding grounded in the body and the senses.

With a broadly interdisciplinary approach, Lears examines a range of literary genres to highlight the poetic and social effects of this vibrant discourse, offering close readings of works by Chaucer and Langland, as well as the mystics Richard Rolle and Margery Kempe. Each of these writers embraced an embodied experience of language resistant to clear articulation, even as their work reflects inherited anxieties about the appeal of such sensations. A preoccupation with the sound of language emerged in the form of poetic soundplay at the same time that mysticism and other forms of lay piety began to flower in England. As Lears shows, the presence of such emphatic aural texture amplified the cognitive importance of feeling in conjunction with reason and was a means for the laity—including lay women—to cultivate embodied forms of knowledge on their own terms, in precarious relation to existing clerical models of instruction. World of Echo offers a deep history of the cultural and social hierarchies that coalesce around the aesthetic experiences that accentuate ways of knowing outside proscribed models.