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The Text Incarnate: Imagining the Book in Reformation England.

The Text Incarnate: Imagining the Book in Reformation England. By James Kearney. Material Texts. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009. x + 309 pp. $65.00 cloth.

James Kearney, an assistant professor of English Literature at the University of California, Santa Barbara, presents with The Text Incarnate a revised version of his 2001 doctoral dissertation, Matters of the Book: The Incarnate Text in Renaissance England (University of Pennsylvania). In a lengthy introduction of more than forty pages, which often sounds like an anticipated review of the text that follows rather than an prologue to it, Kearney reiterates under multiple forms a central thesis: the sixteenth century experienced a "crisis of the book" (8); this crisis had the character of "a crisis in representation and language" (2); it happened as "a response to a crisis of scriptural authority, a crisis in language and representation that we tend to call the Reformation" (49).

The purpose of his book is thus to "explore the ways in which this crisis in representation both returned to ... core concerns of Christian thought and anticipated the modern world." To do so Kearney analyzes "a handful of texts written by a handful of writers" (5). The first chapter discusses the views on the book of Erasmus and two very different kinds of Erasmians, Thomas More and William Tyndale. The following chapters present three case studies of literary texts published between 1604 and 1620: Book I of Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene (partly published in English Literary Renaissance 32, no. 1 [Winter 2002]: 3-30), Thomas Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, and William Shakespeare's The Tempest (partly published in Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 32, no. 3 [Fall 2002]: 433-68). An epilogue dedicated to a commentary of Francis Bacon's New Atlantis serves as a conclusion. All these examples are read in the spirit of Ernst Robert Curtius's chapter on "the book as a symbol" (Europdische Literatur und lateinisches Mittelalter [Bern: A. Franke, 1948]) and according to three key concepts: the Reformation notion of idolatry, the nineteenth-century concept of fetishism, and the idea of "disenchantment " put forward by Max Weber as a defining feature of modernity. Hence, after opening remarks on the "scriptural crisis" (49) opened by Erasmus's edition and translation of the New Testament in 1516, The Legend of Holiness in the Faerie Queene and Doctor Faustus are analyzed as tom between the bibliolatry that the "Scripture alone" doctrine seems to imply and iconoclastic leanings of the Reformation. The Tempest is a "privileged object in the emerging discourse of fetishism" (38), and the New Atlantis a utopia that "evokes the disenchantment of the book through an impossibly enchanted book" (41).

Unfortunately The Text Incarnate falls short of its ambitious goals, mainly because the medieval background against which Kearney sets off his "Reformation crisis of the book" is schematic and often flawed, which directly affects his demonstration. Some well-chosen quotations by Saint Augustine or Saint Francis, and general considerations about the iconoclastic nature of the Christian image, taken from Joseph Koerner's The Reformation of the Image (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2004), cannot replace direct knowledge of the actual iconoclastic crisis of the seventh and the eighth centuries and its consequences. The Libri Carolini, which purported to establish a Western doctrine of religious images against the conclusions of the Second Council of Nicaea at the end of the eighth century, do not even receive a passing mention although they were an essential reference of the reformed debate about idolatry especially after Calvin inserted some passages from them verbatim in his Institutes of Christian Religion. Nor do the De Laudibus Sanctae Crucis of Raban Maurus, almost contemporary to the Libri Carolini, which attempt to go beyond the opposition of word and image in Christian literature with their twenty-six shape poems that represent Christ, the emperor, or the cross itself by means of verses only. It was not a marginal extravaganza but the medieval text of which we keep the greatest number of manuscripts, from the ninth to the sixteenth centuries. As it was published in 1501 by the humanist Jacob Wimpheling, a sympathizer of Luther until his death in 1528, a consideration of it would have been useful to Kearney's evaluation of the "crisis in language and representation." Apart from these specific aspects of the symbolism of the book, Kearney's lack of command of things medieval leads him to affirmations as peremptory as they are stupefying, such as "it is important to remember that [the] vision of the Bible as a single text ... would have been alien to most Christians prior to the Reformation" (269 n. 63). This would have indeed come as a surprise not only to the scriptores of the great Carolingian one-volume Bibles produced in the abbeys of Fulda, Bobbio, or Saint-Martin-de-Tours, but also to the lay scribes of Paris, Bologne, or Salisbury, who turned out so many small format one-volume Bibles in the thirteenth century that they can still be bought today on the Antiquarian market at a reasonable price--not to speak of the Dominican and Franciscan friars who used them daily in their preaching.

All in all this brilliant book leaves the reader with the strange impression that it was published too soon, before its obviously gifted author had acquired sufficient command of fields that should have been essential to support his thesis. It is paradoxical to write three hundred pages about the symbolism of material books and to show such cavalier neglect of the materiality of books as studied by codicologists and bibliographers--Kearney does not discuss or even mention Jean-Francois Gilmont's classic books on The Reformation and the Book (Brookfield, Vt.: Ashgate, 1998) and John Calvin and the Printed Book (Kirksville, Mo.: Truman State University Press, 2005). Because of too many inaccuracies, lacunae, and unsubstantiated statements, The Text Incarnate runs the risk of irritating historians of the Reformation book so much that they would not pay attention to the subtlety and insightfulness of a number of its literary analyses, and to the importance of its central theme.

doi: 10.1017/S000964071000079X

Francois Dupuigrenet Desroussilles

Florida State University
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Author:Desroussilles, Francois Dupuigrenet
Publication:Church History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 1, 2010
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