Forms of perspective and Chaucer's dream spaces: memory and the catalogue in The House of Fame.
Three of Chaucer's dream visions--The Book of the Duchess, The Parliament of Fowls, and The House of Fame--closely link interior spaces with subjectivity, inwardness, and problems of perspective, but this essay will focus primarily on The House of Fame, a dream narrative structured as a personal journey through a series of three interior spaces. (6) Each of these dream visions, however, follows its respective narrator-dreamer as he moves through various interior spaces, on one level reproducing the mise-en-abyme effect of framed dream narrative itself, a multiply embedded voyage within the mind. The temples, palaces, walled gardens, and stranger interiors represented in these dream poems are most often constructed through the literary device of the catalogue, in which the contents of a given room are listed at length but rarely placed in precise spatial relation to one another. Drawing uncritically on Stanzel's distinction between perspectival and aperspectival spatial representation, one might not hesitate to associate these dream visions with the uncomplicated aperspectivism of the early Victorian novels to which he points. Yet the contexts and complications of spatial perspective in medieval narratives like the House of Fame challenge the binary impulse of typologies like Stanzel's. The poem includes both aperspectival inventories and a handful of more perspectival depictions of spatial relations among objects, but the key technique of the list or catalogue, understood in the context of the medieval rhetorical arts, must be reevaluated as a unique organizing schema for representing and making sense of interior spaces. To employ the catalogue as the primary tool of spatial description may seem capable of producing only a jumbled, aperspectival representation of an interior, but the strategy aligns with the narrator's difficult task of organizing into narrative description and rendering intelligible the overwhelming profusion of information confronting his senses. In order to recall a complete list of objects, the classical arts of memory instruct readers to imagine them in relation to one another in a physical space. As a form of inventory, then, the medieval catalogue appears to omit details of spatial relation but originates in and reflects its narrator's own processes of cognitive spatialization of various sense data, also crucially encouraging the reader's subjective re-spatialization of the knowledge it contains. Each memory palace is a room of one's own.
The plot of The House of Fame, although sometimes described as oneiric or even surreal in its disorienting shifts of scene and surprising imagery, remains structured by a sequence of distinct interior and exterior spaces through which its narrator-dreamer passes. The poem opens with a long invocatory proem in which the narrator ponders not medieval memorial techniques but rather medieval dream theory, by expressing uncertainty about whether the images seen in dreams are mere "reflexions" of past events in a dreamer's quotidian life, or perhaps sometimes premonitions of "that ys to come" (22, 45). This proem establishes that the subsequent act of narration will likewise serve as a sense-making exercise for the narrator, perplexed as he is by the "wonderful [...] drem" that he has experienced (62). Once the inset dream narrative begins, the narrator-dreamer visits three interior spaces: from, a 1) temple of Venus he passes out into 2) a barren wasteland and is then carried to 3) the respective Houses of Fame and of Rumor by a loquacious golden eagle. As the eagle initially explains and the narrator soon observes firsthand, the House of Fame occupies the single locus in the heavens where all human speech rises and where it takes on the physical appearance of its speaker.
Before the narrator can fully explore the even more fantastical House of Rumor, the poem notoriously breaks off mid-sentence, just as a mysterious "man of great auctorite" (2158) arrives. Whether the fragmentary state of the poem owes to a deliberate aesthetic decision on Chaucer's part has become the subject of unending debates, but my analysis of space and inferiority in the poem does not necessitate taking any side in them. Complete in its incompleteness or not, the poem invites close attention to the interior spaces in which its narrative action both begins and ends.
As soon as the dreamer begins to recount his experiences, the narration of The House of Fame orients the reader in the dream space using the aperspectival technique of the catalogue that will come to dominate the poem. Awestruck, the dreamer breathlessly lists the contents of the temple in which he first "awakens":
But as I slepte, me mette I was [I dreamed I was] Withyn a temple ymad of glas, In which there were moo ymages Of gold, stondynge in sondry stages [on many stands], And moo ryche tabernacles, And with perre moo pynacles [And with precious stones more decorative pinnacles], And moo curiouse portreytures, And queynte maner of figures Of olde werk, then I saugh ever. (119-27) (7)
The narrator renders the interior space within the temple by means of an extensive if apparently aperspectival inventory of objects and images, but there may be more to this kind of medieval catalogue than meets the eye, as it were: this cluttered but vague inventory, which is so difficult for the reader to visualize in terms of its real spatial relations, also reflects the confusion of the narrator's perceiving mind as it attempts to organize the contents of the room into a form communicable in narrative and able to be preserved in memory.
As The House of Fame continues, these inventories only proliferate, and the poem becomes a kind of catalogue of catalogues, with list after list of furnishings, objects, monuments, and persons. Such ostensibly unordered lists appear throughout Chaucer's poetry, and The Parliament of Fowls contains what is perhaps the most famous of these, the catalogue of trees later imitated by Spenser (The Faerie Queene 1.1.8-9):
For overal where that I myne eyen caste Were trees clad with leves that ay shal laste, Ech in his kynde, of colour fresh and greene As emeraude, that joye was to seene. The byldere ok, and ek the hardy asshe; The piler elm, the cofre unto carayne [coffin for corpses]; The boxtre pipere, holm to whippes lashe [boxwood tree for pipes] [holm oak]; The saylynge fyr; the cipresse, deth to playne [lament]; The shetere ew; the asp for shaftes pleyne [shooter yew]; The olyve of pes, and eke the dronke vyne [olive of peace]; The victor palm, the laurer to devyne [laurel tree to divine]. (172-82) (8)
In this tree catalogue, as in the temple inventory, a narrator-character presents the list as a record of his personal perceptions, despite the obvious rhetorical stylization, and quite unlike the highest of classical precedents for such catalogues. The questions arise, then, of whether such a list should be read as an opportunity for poetic display while there is a kind of narrative pause rather than as a depiction of a real space corresponding to the narrator's perception and which the reader is invited to imagine. Why do Chaucer's perceiving narrators so consistently transform visual stimuli into the highly rhetorical inventory that is the catalogue, and how can the reader best make sense of the interior spaces that the narrative maps in this fashion?
Turning to the mnemotechnic practice of the memory palace, alternatively known as the method of loci, will begin to answer these questions. As Beryl Rowland puts it, "the art of memory was so widely practised in the Middle Ages as to constitute a social habit," but its origins were of course classical ("The Art of Memory" 164). Quintilian provides one of the clearest explanations of the concept in his Institutio oratorio: "Loca discunt quam maxime spatiosa, multa varietate signata, domum forte magnam et in multos diductam recessus [Some place is chosen of the largest possible extent and characterised by the utmost possible variety, such as a spacious house divided into a number of rooms]" (11.2.18, trans. Butler). (9) The memorizer must then create mnemonic images ("simulacra") with which to fill these rooms ("loci"), and future mental journeys through the palace will allow for the recall of vast amounts of information. As Cicero writes in his De oratore, the orator uses "locis pro cera"--the memory-rooms as the wax tablets on which to write--and "simulacris pro litteristhat is, the symbolic images as the letters (2.86.354, also quoted by Quintilian 11.2.21).
In the explanation of "Memory Artyfycyall" or "Ars memoratiua" presented in William Caxton's encyclopedic Mirror of the World, for example the author suggests that, to produce a suitable image for the word "walk," one could "ymagin a payre of legges" or, for wisdom, "an olde man wyth a whyt hed" (qtd. in Rowland, "Bishop Bradwardine" 42-43). (10) All verbal information becomes visual, with architectural interiors as the medium through which the memorized information becomes spatialized as a new language of object and relation. Architectural loci, however, function optimally when they are deeply personal: the Mirror recommends that places be chosen "As in some greate hous that thou knowest well" (qtd. in Rowland 42). The memory palace must take the form of a building of our private acquaintance because we will recall all of the information and in the proper order only by following a fixed and familiar path through the halls, observing each new image in successive relation to the ones before and after it. (11) In other words, the all-important principle of order corresponds to the preservation of the spatial relations between the memorized images: an aperspectival visual memory would be a nonfunctional one. As a memory palace, then, The House of Fame does not simply reproduce an optimal tool of artificial memory, with each room's interior rendered in careful perspective, but oscillates between perspectivism and aperspectival constructions of interior space in a way that dramatizes the interconnections of memory, space, and perspective.
Several scholars have observed that the eponymous edifice in Chaucer's House of Fame can be understood to literalize a classical memory palace, but their arguments typically emphasize the role of memoria in poetic invention without commenting on the issues of perspective, visualization, and narrative spatialization considered here. (12) would argue that a self-consciously memorial catalogue like the temple inventory in The House of Fame represents, on the part of the narrator, a method of ordering images drawn from the personal storehouse of memory that engages with spatial perspective on a more fundamental level than its rhetorical form might suggest. In his invocation to the poem's second book, the narrator famously borrows an image of the mind-as-treasury from Dante, translating "mente," or memory/ mind, as "thought":
O Thought, that wrot al that I mette [dreamt], And in the tresorye hit shette [shut] Of my brayn, now shal men se Yf any vertu in the [thee, i.e. Thought] be To tellen al my drem aryght. Now kythe thyn engyn and might [Now make known your skill and power]! (523-28) (13)
Commenting on this same passage, Stephen A. Barney finds Chaucer justifying how an expansive poem like The House of Fame can range dreamily across disparate bodies of material: "one can select anything from the jumble of objects in the treasure room" (200). But this is not in fact the case with the classical arts of memory, which emphasized the necessity of keeping that treasure room in perfect order. For the narrator who necessarily composes the written version of his dream from some retrospective point after waking, the recall of what appears to be a random collection of images in fact relies on a private journey back through the halls of memory, where spatial relations proved essential to the production of the ordered catalogue itself. In other words, the aperspectival form of the catalogue conceals a different set of conscientiously established spatial relations within the parallel interior space of the mind. Chaucer's inventories in The House of Fame thus verbalize the visual, or rather re-verbalize the visual, reconfiguring the spatial relations of one "interior space," the memory palace, as a different set of spatial relations represented in the narrative.
In one sense, then, the narrator-author arranges the objects in the poetic catalogue not at random, completely aperspectivally, but according to new mnemonic rules based in the realm of the verbal. Rhetorical devices such as parataxis, anaphora, polysyndeton, asyndeton, and other parallelisms have come to govern the placement of the verbalized objects in relation to one another, all within the strictures of rhymed verse. The first inventory in the House of Fame even showcases an uncharacteristic amount of alliterative structure for Chaucer, with its "ymages ... stondynge in sondry stages," and "perre moo pynacles" (124). After all, in the concretized memory palaces brought to life in the narrative space of the dream, such verbal relations arguably become interchangeable with the spatial relations that the narration so often omits--or appears to omit.
To some extent, then, the inventories of objects in Chaucer's poem confirm Stanzel's argument that, in earlier narrative, interior spaces are most often represented aperspectivally. If, however, one remains content to divide all narratives into the two categories of those "texts with distinctly perspectival spatial presentation and texts with aperspectival spatial presentation," one will overlook the more complex operations and interactions of perspective(s) in the always-already doubled realm of medieval "interior space" (Stanzel 117). In a sense, the concept of the memory palace had already prepared medieval readers to develop their own version of Stanzel's observation that "narrative perspectivization as a rule aims not at the discovery and presentation of the spatial interrelationship between objects but rather at the selection of the objects represented in terms of their semiotic importance and at the accentuation of meaning attached to particular objects" (116). For Stanzel, the representation of spatial relations in narrative serves broader semiotic purposes, and, as I have argued, The House of Fame invites us to map spatial relations in one kind of "interior space" onto another. In Chaucer, then, the aperspectival inventory's elision of clearer spatial relationships in a given space can nevertheless serve to point towards other spaces beyond the immediate physical location under description, whether they are mental spaces or other narrative or conceptual worlds entirely.
Like the symbolic images fixed in a memory palace, entries in the narrator's catalogues come to signify more than their surface appearance. For example, after waking in the temple, the narrator finds himself able to identify the room as a temple of Venus by locating an image of the goddess within the very profusion of images he had catalogued, and he then proceeds to list each of her own telltale attributes and companions (128-39). As soon as the narrator manages to orient himself in this new space, however, his scrutiny of his surroundings vertiginously opens the room outward into other spaces by means of a closer examination of some of the other images that he had previously observed and catalogued as part of the larger collection:
But as I romed up and doun, I fond that on a wall ther was Thus written on a table of bras: "I wol now synge, yif I kan, The armes and also the man." (140-44)
This translation of the opening lines of Virgil's Aeneid accompanies what seems to be a series of murals depicting the better part of the action of that poem, beginning with the destruction of Troy. The narrator proceeds to relate his own mini-Aeneid based on these murals, an interlude at first consistently governed by phrases such as "sawgh I" and "Ther sawgh I grave"--in other words, by the narrator's direct perceptions of these images.
As this story-within-the-story continues, the narrator appears to depart from strictly relating his perceptions of images in that space, saying, for example, "But let us speke of Eneas, / How he betrayed [Dido], alias," with no reference to any image to prompt this change in subject (293-94). Towards the end of this section, speech tags such as "quod she" appear in Dido's long soliloquy, and the narrator intriguingly reports, "In suche wordes gan to pleyne / Dydo of hir grete peyne, / As me mette redely-- / Non other auctour alegge I" (311-14). What began as a simple, aperspectival catalogue of images in a room has transported us into the space of another narrative entirely, a narrative itself always-already spatialized because made visual on the page and on the wall. The narrator "reads" the story by viewing images on the walls, as if reading down a page, and in fact the poem remains ambiguous about whether the narrator has been reading letters or images on the mural at any given moment. Any discussion of spatial relations in the poem, then, must recognize this equivalency of word and image in the mental construct that is the memory palace and, for that matter, the dream vision: not by coincidence does an iconographic image of Venus lie adjacent to an iconographic depiction of the story of the tragic love between Dido and Aeneas. The proximity of the two images for the dreamer is both physical/spatial and a function of their more abstract relationality, and the catalogue, as a traditional device of amplification in the sense of accumulation, also allows for a kind of magnification, a telescoping between its distant perspective on the collection of items in the list and the much closer examination of an individual item.
The House of Fame does not suppress all spatial relations in favor of implying the role of mental spatial relations, (14) but the more perspectival passages in Chaucer call attention to the poem's predominant asperspectivism through contrast: the tension between the two drives the dreamer's journey through the branching interior spaces of the narrative and his own memory. In many ways, The House of Fame is a narrative of perpetual disorientation, and the poem's preference for the superficial aperspectivism of the catalogue is but one of several deliberate manipulations of perspective that shape the narrative. Although the narrator begins to order the contents of the temple, a reflection of his own memory palace, the first book of the poem concludes with a powerful image of disorientation that questions the efficacy of that rudimentary ordering system: "But not woot I whoo did hem [them, i.e. the images] wirche, / Ne where I am" (474-75). Upon exiting the building, the dreamer fares no better:
When I out at the dores cam, I faste aboute me beheld. Then sawgh I but a large feld, As fer as that I myghte see, Withouten toun, or hous, or tree. (480-84)
The ordered collection of images in the closed space of the temple turns out to have been a private island of meaning and sense in a great desert, in which the narrator must now struggle to find any bearing at all.
After he is rescued by the eagle and transported to the House of Fame itself, the principal allegorical figure in the poem--the personification of Fame adapted from Virgil and other sources--herself comes to embody perspective in flux:
Me thoughte that she was so lyte [small] That the lengthe of a cubite Was lengere than she semed be. But thus sone in a whyle she Hir tho so wonderliche streighte [stretched herself so wondrously] That with hir fet she erthe reighte [reached], And with her hed she touched hevene. (1368-75)
The narrator's first encounter with Fame is the central scene in the poem, a scene that significantly contains the most perspectival description of an interior space. Upon entering Fame's palace, the narrator at first perceives only a formless crowd of heralds impossible to describe due to both their number and the semiotic complexity of their garments. After relegating their regalia to a short catalogue, the narrator can then move past the press to notice a place where the crowd has thinned; perceiving this change in the layout of the interior space prompts him to look up and observe a rising dais with the goddess Fame enthroned on it (1356-65). Only after spatially locating arbitrary Fame as the principle governing the crowd in the room--"Tho was I war, loo, atte laste, / As I myne eyen gan up caste, / That thys ylke noble quene / On her shuldres gan sustene / Bothe th'armes and the name / Of thoo that hadde large fame" (1407-12)--does the narrator notice and describe the pillar-lined corridor leading down to the hall's wide doors (1419-22). Upon closer examination, these pillars are revealed to bear up the fame of ancient authors, and they each generate further descriptive catalogues: the perspectival description of Fame's great hall has led us back to an archetypal memory palace, where images such as the pillars concretize large quantities of information. Fame's physical form confounds perspective, continually shifting in size and shape, but the narrator gradually makes some sense of her place in the space she occupies. His perspective becomes the clearest when what comes into focus is the relationship of Fame to the authors she has blessed with the greatest fame, and tellingly his ability to understand the space perspectivally diminishes when that fame recedes, as for example in the narrator's declared inability to name every author of "olde gestes"--they are as numerous as rooks' nests in trees:
What shulde y more telle of this? The halle was al ful, ywys, Of hem that written olde gestes As ben on trees rokes nestes But hit a ful confus matere Were alle the gestes for to here That they of write, or how they highte. (1513-19)
What proves confusing to the narrator's eye proves equally confusing to the narrator as a reader and writer in his contemporary literary culture, which has already swelled to such a size as to be unmanageable in memory and communication. No memory palace, or at least no well-ordered memory palace, can hope to contain them.
The characteristic device of spatial description in The House of Fame is thus finally not the catalogue as such but more properly the truncated catalogue, a list that aspires to comprehensiveness but terminates in one or more rhetorical protestations such as the inexpressibility topos. For Chaucer's narrator, the catalogue becomes at once a strategy to organize and narrate an otherwise unnarratable profusion of objects--and, more importantly, their numerous semiotic associations--but also a way to limit that profusion to the list's conclusion, a means of rendering such material manageable in human memory. The final abbreviated inventories in the poem appear in the descriptions of both the exterior and the interior of the House of Rumor, also known as the Whirling Whicker, a massive rotating structure out of science fiction. The narrator scarcely has "a fote-brede of space" to stand among the personified rumors flitting about the place (2042), and his ability to make sense of interior space in a way other than a series of necessarily abbreviated lists has almost disappeared. The last images in the poem become images of overflow, the space "ful of shipmen and pilgrims" and pardoners and messengers, carrying bags themselves bursting with lies (2122).
If The House of Fame is a deliberately unfinished work, the poem itself stands as a truncated catalogue of sorts, an incomplete edifice standing in as the memorial record of some impossible whole. From one perspective, The House of Fame does not collapse under the weight of the multiplicity of meanings it contains precisely because it ends abruptly. As fervently as Chaucer's narrator struggles to organize, remember, and communicate his memories, perhaps--like Themistocles in Cicero's famous account--he also wishes that the arts of memory could teach him how to forget, or at least to forget that so much exists beyond his power to master in memory. (15) The catalogue, like the memory palace, is never complete because it cannot be complete. Both memory and the narrative catalogue prove useful but ultimately inadequate techniques of preserving and communicating the tremendous quantities of information generated by experience in the world of letters and in life.
If, as I have argued, Chaucer's narration is capable of perspectivism although the major species of aperspectival poetic catalogue in The House of Fame conceal the spatial relations among images in the memory, then one must finally ask why the narrative sometimes suppresses the spatial relations of objects found in the dream's interior spaces. The answer could lie in the poem's overarching thematic concerns about the fickleness of fame, the erosion of truth by false rumors, and the other failures of memory: The House of Fame is a fundamentally memorial poem, but also a pervasively anxious one, which problematizes its own ideals of sense-making for both the narrator and his audience. (16) Through their failure to provide unambiguous spatial relations in favor of mere verbal accumulation, Chaucer's lists, grounded in the tradition of the memory palace, compel the reader to reorder and re-spatialize the catalogue's contents in their own minds. "Bare lists of words are found suggestive to an imaginative and excited mind," writes Emerson in "The Poet" (454), and Robert E. Belknap echoes the sentiment in his monograph on the literary list: "Lists are personal constructions that invite different interpretations from different readers" (xv). As Stanzel argues, drawing on the work of Roman Ingarden, areas of indeterminacy in the narrative depiction of space are particularly numerous (116-17), and Chaucer's catalogues leverage this indeterminacy in the service of advancing larger points about the workings of memory both public and private. The three interior spaces in The House of Fame, like medieval memory palaces, require its narrator to perform an act of retrospective perception, constructing a place for each piece of information that may differ from the place it comes to occupy in the mind of the reader. Much of the burden of spatial arrangement Chaucer leaves to the reader in a way that reflects how Chaucer expects his readers to process and store all information, not simply details of spatial relation. In this poem that spectacularly dramatizes failures of public memory--in the courts of fame, rumor, and other public spaces of power--the catalogue stands as a bold attempt to reclaim the value of the private, personal memory, a necessarily more limited but more ordered and orderable space.
Chaucer's House of Fame and other medieval dream visions present a challenge to diachronic theories of spatialization that would dismiss premodern narrative as aperspectival or otherwise simplistic in its representations of interior space. Reading the interiors of The House of Fame as fallible memory palaces, reliant on the potential correspondence at all moments of word and image, testifies to the complexity of Chaucer's poetics of space and frequent manipulations of perspective, as well underscoring his conception of poetics and indeed literary history as necessarily spatialized in memory and understanding. While the poem relies on orderly verbal accumulation as a form of perspective that can point beyond the immediate physical details of a space, both the memory palace technique and the poem itself insist that the ability to recall and make sense of particular details relies on an ability to apprehend specific spatial relationships, both in the material world and in the spaces of the mind. In The House of Fame, Chaucer suggests that, because of the arbitrariness and fallibility of both the collective human memory (fame) and even the most highly trained individual human memory (the private memory palace), these ever-proliferating relationships cannot always be preserved, and the corresponding catalogue must necessarily terminate without encompassing all that it might. A list is never finished, a catalogue never complete; it always points beyond itself. But the eternal risk is also that a catalogue will become nothing more than a list, a collection of images lacking loci, a space or a narrative with no perspective at all. The accumulative form of the catalogue--which for Chaucer tropes the memory palace--aspires to impose order on two kinds of interior space but finally leaves the reader with the burden of continuing the efforts of the internalization and spatialization of its overflowing contents. The memory palace can contain worlds but remains a private space, a place for merely local triumphs over chaos.
T. S. Miller
University of Notre Dame
(1) The most important classical articulations of the memory palace technique appear in the Pseudo-Ciceronian Rhetorica ad Herennium 3.16-24; Cicero's De oratore 2.87.357-58 and passim; Quintilian's Institutio oratoria 11.2.17-26; and Augustine's Confessions 10.8-13. Frances Yates's The Art of Memory remains the classic monograph on the memory palace, but Mary Carruthers's The Book of Memory has quickly become the canonical study of medieval mnemonic techniques and their significance.
(2) See, for example, Woods, Chaucerian Spaces; Strohm, "Three London Itineraries," the first chapter of his Theory and the Premodern Text; Brown, Chaucer and the Making of Optical Space: and Evans, "The Production of Space in Chaucer's London," the latter of which emphasizes the relationship between social space and "the political tie between sovereign and subject" (43).
(3) Stanzel observes a trend towards greater perspectivism in more recent novels and provides a simple test for distinguishing between what he defines as perspectival versus aperspectival spatial presentation, an attempt to draw a sketch of the interior described: "In a predominantly aperspectival narrative, the interior of a room is never depicted in such a way that a graphic sketch can be made of it, even if the reader is given a more or less complete inventory of objects in the room" (120).
(4) Romance dominates Evelyn Birge Vitz's important book Medieval Narrative and Modern Narratology, although she also writes on the narration of La Roman de la Rose. See also Shafik-Ghaly Towards a Medieval Narratology. Monika Fludemik's essays on "The Diachronization of Narratology" and "Narrative Discourse Markers in Malory's Morte d 'Arthur" both emphasize medieval romance, but, for an analysis of medieval lyric, see her "Allegory, Metaphor, Scene and Expression." For a narratological survey of medieval genres less the dream vision, also see Fludernik, Towards a 'Natural' Narratology, 92-120.
(5) Medieval studies and narrative theory still have much to offer each other. Fludemik's work, referenced above, has done the most to bring narratological perspectives to bear on English medieval literature. While she announces her own project as fundamentally diachronic, I am interested here not so much in tracing the historical development of narrative in or from the Middle Ages but rather in reading particular medieval texts in the context of intellectual traditions rarely incorporated into contemporary narrative theory. Further work could be done in this vein, for example, by analyzing medieval dream visions in light of medieval dream theory: for medieval readers, the ontological status of a given act of narration might shift in ways unintelligible to a modern reader not acquainted with medieval codes of authorship and interpretation. For the best analysis of medieval dream theory, see Kruger, Dreaming in the Middle Ages.
(6) The Book of the Duchess is generally believed to have been written between 1368 and 1372, The House of Fame around 1379 or 1380, and The Parliament of Fowls at some time shortly after The House of Fame (Benson in Chaucer 994).
(7) This opening within an enclosed room recalls a scene from The Book of the Duchess, in which the narrator awakens into an interior chamber, here "Ful wel depeynted" with images from both the story of the Trojan War and the influential Continental dream vision The Romance of the Rose (322). Much of the later action of the poem transpires in exterior spaces, but, as in The House of Fame, the catalogue remains an abundantly visible organizational structure for making sense of the images confronting the narrator; in William J. Farrell's estimation, "In this short poem of 1,334 lines, the highly rhetorical catalogue appears eighteen times" (66).
(8) While Chaucer's Parliament of Fowls may seem a pronouncedly exterior poem, with its celebrations of springtime and the cacophonous natural world, walled gardens represent a kind of bounded enclosure not so different from an interior in some respects. On the precedents and parallels for Chaucer's catalogues of trees, see Piero Boitani's aptly titled essay "Chaucer and Lists of Trees."
(9) I use the translation from the Loeb edition of H. E. Butler here, but translations of shorter phrases are my own.
(10) The discussion of artificial memory appears only in the third edition of the Mirror, possibly not printed until approximately 1527; see Wilbur Samuel Howell's transcription and commentary for the passage in Logic and Rhetoric in England, 1500-1700, 88-89.
(11) On order and the necessity of establishing a fixed sequence for the loci and images, see Ad Herennium 3.17 and Quintilian 11.2.20.
(12) Rowland's pioneering essays argue not only that the poem represents "an extemalization of this memory process" ("Bishop Bradwardine" 48), but also that "memory is the power that makes the poem" ("The Art of Memory" 162). Elizabeth Buckmaster explores how the poem may also draw on image-making practices from the meditative tradition, but she arrives at similar conclusions: "The poem is a meditation upon poetry and a summation of the poet's knowledge which is the material from which both poetry and reputation are made" (283). Hanne Bewemick's reading of the buildings in the poem as memory palaces additionally argues that the House of Fame evokes the disorder of natural rather than artificial memory and may serve as a negative exemplar of a memory palace (52-59). The argument of Maria Beatriz Hernandez Perez about Augustine, Dido, and the House of Fame also relies on an understanding of "the journey as symbolic of the memorial process" (108), and Ruth Evans has rightly pointed out that the poem is not simply influenced, but rather "obsessed by late medieval technologies of memory and archiving" ("Chaucer in Cyberspace" 44).
(13) Cf. Dante's Paradiso 1.10-12: "Veramente quant' io del regno santo / ne la mia mente potei far tesoro, / sara ora materia del mio canto" ["Nevertheless, so much of the holy kingdom as I could treasure up in my mind shall now be the matter of my song"] (trans. Singleton 3). In Confessions 10.8, Augustine similarly speaks of calling up images "ex eodem thesauro memoriae," or "out of the (same) treasury of memory." Dave Tell has argued that Augustine ultimately finds classical models of the memory-as-storehouse theologically unsatisfactory, such that memory must yield to confession, "a way of remembering that which cannot be placed in memory" (234).
(14) The narrative's broader interest in spatial relations is such that, speaking of the narrator's flight with the eagle, Linda Tarte Holley can argue that in the poem, "reality comes to be expressed by means of spatial relationships that can be measured" (113).
(15) See Cicero, De oratore 2.74.299. For more on the shadow art of forgetting, see Weinrich, Lethe: The Art and Critique of Forgetting.
(16) Lara Ruffolo even interprets the poem's multitudinous lists as part of a skeptic's strategy for decentering all authority: "Chaucer's poem is riddled with lists that present secular lore and miscellaneous matter in juxtapositions that subvert the traditional definition of literary authority, the only intellectual construct that could conceivably unite all the various listed material into a meaningful whole" (326).
Augustine. Confessions. Trans. William Watts. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1912. Print.
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|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2014|
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