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Middle English Contemplation

Middle English Contemplation

Forming Vernacular Participation

(p.1) Introduction Middle English Contemplation
Staging Contemplation
Eleanor Johnson
University of Chicago Press

The introduction explains the concept of participation, historicizing and theorizing why participation matters so much to the late medieval texts studied in subsequent chapters. The introduction also makes an argument for putting cognitive experience—not just, and in fact not primarily, affective experience—at the center of a consideration of what contemplation means and entails in the late Middle Ages. The type of cognitive experience the chapters will focus on is an aurally or sonically based experience of poetic language and patterning; that sonic experience will, in all cases, be designed to provoke a feeling or sense of likeness, kinship, or similitude between the would-be contemplative and God. That experience of likeness, borne by the encounter with literary language, is the first stage in the kind of contemplative knowing that the texts want to inspire in and model for their audiences. The introduction also briefly introduces the texts it will discuss—The Cloud of Unknowing, Julian of Norwich’s Revelations of Divine Love, Piers Plowman, Mary, Wisdom, and Mankind—suggesting how these texts each rely on the particularities of the Middle English vernacular to achieve their contemplative goals, and, increasingly, to suggest how contemplation plays a role in social life.

Keywords:   participation, Augustine, drama, comedy, poetics, contemplation, cognition, literary experience

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