Seth Lerer - Literacy and Power in Anglo-Saxon Literature. PDF

PDF At the close of the ninth century Alfred the Great lamented the decay of teaming in England and proposed a program of official translations and scholarly study to set his country back on the path of intellectual inquiry. In his Preface to Pope Gregory's Pastoral Care, Alfred equated a knowledge of texts with the right governance of self and state. That document, rich in the history of Anglo-Saxon England and suggestive of the uses of literacy, has long been a canonical text in the teaching of the Old English language, and it begins Seth Lerer's study of the place of texts in the construction of the Anglo-Saxon literary imagination.Beowulf, the Old English Daniel, Bede's Ecclesiastical History, the Exeter Book Riddles—all contain scenes of reading and writing, moments of self-conscious inscription and decipherment that have the power to alter the reader's conception of the mythical and historical, the commonplace and the fantastic. Lerer analyzes these scenes, which, taken in sequence, contribute to a reassessment of Old English literature, its nature and social function. He seeks to understand the workings of the lit-erate imagination in the history and fiction of the Anglo-Saxons. In the course of the book he addresses questions about how a Christian literature evokes its pagan past; about the nature of authority in Anglo-Saxon history, politics, and literature; and he considers how scholarly approaches to these questions—whether by medieval or by modern readers—create canons of literary history.

Literacy and Power in Anglo-Saxon Literature is the first book-length study to consider the construction of an early English cultural mythology of writing. Lerer's philological and historical explication of the texts provides new approaches for assessing representations of reading and writing in pre-Conquest literature. His book is a timely and provocative addition to medieval studies.

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