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Keefer, Sarah Larratt, Karen Louise Jolly, and Catherine E. Karkov, eds.: Cross and Cruciform in the Anglo-Saxon World: Studies to Honor the Memory of Timothy Reuter.

Keefer, Sarah Larratt, Karen Louise Jolly, and Catherine E. Karkov, eds. Cross and Cruciform in the Anglo-Saxon World: Studies to Honor the Memory of Timothy Reuter. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2010. 403 pp. Paperback. ISBN 978-1-933202-50-1. $44.95.

Sarah Larratt Keefer, Karen Louise Jolly, and Catherine E. Karkov s Cross and Cruciform is a down-to-earth and hardworking exercise in medieval and Old English literary scholarship. It comes out of the proceedings of the Cross and Cruciform in the Anglo-Saxon World Conference in Winchester, Hampshire, England, 2003, which set out to analyze the motif of the cross in Anglo-Saxon literature and instances of "cross and cruciform" in Anglo-Saxon culture, particularly in Christian poetry, prayers, charms, homilies, a cruciform church, and a carved stone cross. Discursively archaeological in scope and tone, it makes occasional dips into stylistics and layered textual analysis. The reader will learn much about the function of acrostics in Anglo-Saxon poetry, particularly in The Dream of the Rood and the eighth- and tenth-century Latin verses of Boniface and Aelfric. She will discover how densely encrypted with symbol and significance patterns of letters can be in the cross-carpeting illuminations of the eighth-century Lindisfarne Gospels. She will also find that a sculptured stone cross when seen from different angles or through different digital representations is a more mobile figure than she had previously thought. After such recondite, dry, and painstaking analyses, the mention of a dragon and a basilisk in a footnote on page 274 comes as something of a shock.

If the fantastic is necessarily either marvelous or uncanny, then Cross and Cruciform in the Anglo-Saxon World will not bring much joy to the reader, unless she is an avowed and conscientious atheist. If the fantastic, especially as we know it in popular culture, draws inspiration from medieval culture and life, then this book might prove something of a resource for those seeking an explanation for the runic figures, spells, and gargoyles of Hogwarts. But only something. The book s real audience is the academic reader, most particularly the scholar of Anglo-Saxon language and literature, be he historian, art historian, literary critic, philosopher, theologian, or simply old-fashioned philologist. Its home is not on a bedside table but on a stack-aisle shelf in a university library.

The contributors to this the third volume in a series addressing the image of the cross in the Anglo-Saxon world approach their subject from a heterogeneous range of academic perspectives--from old-fashioned formalistic textualism to New Media theory--but all are united in getting to the crux of the matter in early Christian art. The book is divided into three parts, the first ("Image and Emblem") dealing with the "planar design" of the Christian cross on the page, the second ("Meaning and Word") with the "oral or textual understanding of the cross s lexical or allegorical implications," the third ( "Gesture and Structure") with the "physical incorporation into buildings, monuments, gestures or objets d 'art of the cruciform in its wider applications" (8). The editors provide a helpful and succinct account of the three-volume project from its beginnings in questions about medieval liturgy to its ends among "multiple areas of study" (4). They note that the project quickly expanded to include "political historians, literature specialists, art historians, numismatists, archeologists, paleographers, and experts on religion, as well as scholars outside the field of Anglo-Saxon studies" (4). The third volume, which is the subject of this review, has a much narrower focus however, featuring, in the main, literary specialists and art historians.

In the first part, Michelle P. Brown gives an account of the aesthetic practices underlying the making of the Lindisfarne Gospels' so-called "carpet" pages--pages whose cross illustrations resemble continental and even Middle Eastern carpet designs--while David Pelteret analyzes Boniface s poem "Versibus en iuvenis," noting its cruciform structure and acrostical effects. The last essay in this section by Catherine Karkov explores Abbot Aelfwine s understanding of the cross as it is represented to his community in his Prayer book and in other relevant contexts. Each essay is accompanied by extensive, rich, and dense illustrations.

The second part contains four essays that work in pairs contrapuntally, one pair addressing The Dream of the Rood, the other dealing with words used to signify "cross" or "cruciform," and any performative signifiers in Anglo-Saxon culture. The first pairing produce the most interesting arguments, the essay by Eamonn O Carragain finding liturgical precursors for the monumental Old English poem, the second by Helen Damico reading the work as a "figured poem" within the context of carmina figurata (word poetry or poetry whose shape or lines emulates the thing described). The other two pieces are largely pragmatistic, quantitative, and statistical exercises, leaving the reader with little more than an impression of hardworking medieval synonymy and a dusty, faintly repellent taste in the mouth.

The third and last part deals with alternative applications of cross and cruciform in Anglo-Saxon society, moving from a discussion of cereal production and bread-making to an arcane, even metaphysical examination of something which does not exist--a crucifix said to have belonged to Edward the Confessor. Along the way, the reader finds out the difference between a "rick-cup" and a "rick-top," the virtues of hearth-baked bread over the oven-baked variety, what the function of a "reliquary chapel" might be, how the Nunburnholme Cross is better served by digital representation than a photograph, and why Edward I was buried with a bejeweled golden crucifix stashed behind his right shoulder.

The essays in the book are mostly clearly written and lucidly presented so that the non-specialist reader will only stumble over a few oddities or linguistic fantasticks. Terms like "phonological attrition" (263) or the crunchy style and elaborate referencing of stuff like "becomes most evident in the one instance of a post-posed instead of a pre-posed genitive in the F-version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (London, British Library MS Cotton Domitian A. viii; s. xi/ xii) for the year 796" do not lend themselves to readerly pleasure (252). Nevertheless, one or two nuggets can be found studded amid the jargonistic deposits: this reader will hasten away to shine the term "apotropaic" with a gauze rag and a dash of turps. There are one or two moments of comic incoherence, such as Martin K. Foys s claim that his essay is different from its companions as it addresses "the transitive, transeunt, trans-historical, transcultural and transdisciplinary qualities of the Anglo-Saxon cross" (perhaps the author was trying to mimic the alliterative style of medieval poets) and the egregious and nonsensical statement that the focus of his essay, the Nunburnholme Cross, "stands as particularly clear proof ... of the difficulty that earlier media forms ... have in capturing the diachronic and synchronic matrices of meaning that must limn our understanding of such objects" (340). But the book as a whole will prove a useful, largely clear-headed resource for those seeking an understanding of the social and cultural contexts behind earlier Anglo-Saxon attitudes.
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Author:Smith, Piers Michael
Publication:Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2012
Words:1153
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