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 Geoffrey Chaucer and William 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 aesthetic experience and gives voice to alternate ways of knowing.
Introduction: Voice in Medieval Soundscapes
1. "Clamor Iste Canor Est": Rolle's Heavenly Song and the Lay Theology of Noise
2. "Nota de Clamore": Echoic Mysticism and Margery Kempe's Clamorous Style
3. "Wondres to Here": Noise, Soundplay, and Langland's Poetics of Lolling in the Time of Wyclif
4. "Litel Sercles" of Sound: Resonance and the Noise of Language in Chaucer's House of Fame
5. "A Verray Jangleresse": Experience, Authority, and the Blisse of the Wife of Bath
Epilogue: Echoic Afterlives
Adin E. Lears is Assistant Professor of English at Virginia Commonwealth University.
An important study of a conceptual category—'noise'—that has received no extended treatment among medieval literary scholars, this book is sure to inspire new readings of noisy moments in medieval texts. Offering an introduction to relevant contemporary theories of noise and sound and innovative readings of medieval English literature written in an elegant and lively style, World of Echo practices a model of scholarship that is at once thoroughly grounded in historical reading and attentive to contemporary theoretical approaches.
~Studies in the Age of Chaucer
This study of the role of extra-semantic sound will be of great interest to historians of the senses, the emotions, religious mysticism and the public political sphere. It is a fascinating and richly textured topic, and the depth of the analysis here should inspire more discussions between literary scholars and historians.
~English Historical Review