Louise M. Bishop

title.none: Jager, The Book of the Heart (Louise M. Bishop)

identifier.other: baj9928.0109.011 01.09.11

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Louise M. Bishop, University of Oregon,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2001

identifier.citation: Jager, Eric. The Book of the Heart. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000. Pp. 248. $32.00. ISBN: 0-226-07858-0.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 01.09.11

Jager, Eric. The Book of the Heart. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000. Pp. 248. $32.00. ISBN: 0-226-07858-0.

Reviewed by:

Louise M. Bishop
University of Oregon

"The way psychic metaphors have evolved and metamorphosed suggests that, in our centuries-long attempt to describe (let alone explain) the human mind or consciousness, we have been playing a kind of shell game, using one metaphor after another to contain this elusive entity." (172)

You can see from the above quotation, taken from the final chapter of Eric Jager's The Book of the Heart, that this book, immersed in the Western tradition ("we" and "our"), tackles the "elusive" interface between being and understanding. Jager argues that to this day we readers, like those in the centuries before us, use the book--not just it, but its wider cultural meanings--to produce a metaphorical understanding of the ontological self. Jager wields his ideas precisely and readably, using pungent, well- historicized examples to convince the reader of the book-self metaphor's reach and power. While The Book of the Heart begins with scrolls and ends with computers, the heart-shaped codex, pictured in its various forms among the book's twelve black-and-white illustrations, provides the center--the heart-- of Jager's argument. Jager demonstrates, as he did in his 1996 Speculum article, the way the heart's centrality to medieval ideas about consciousness, the somatic effects of reading, and Christianity produced not only the heart-shaped book but a reciprocal pattern of heart- and book-driven consciousness that continues to provide current metaphors of self.

Jager's phrase the "textual metaphorics of the self" (78) will become, like Nicholas Watson's "vernacular theology", the common coin of future discussions of medieval textual subjectivity. Jager's book analyzes book culture in terms of the bodily effects of reading and, reciprocally, in the role of the heart--as organ and metaphor--in the creation of book culture, including actual heart-shaped books. Jager pays attention to the interplay between "science" and material culture such that, in his book's conclusion, he considers ways our modern metaphors of knowledge and reading have begun to reflect the computer. Yet, as Jager indicates at the close of hi s book, heart-felt and bookish metaphors of the self resist expiration, despite their loss of historical specificity. In other words, even as computer lingo pervades our metaphors of self, so the older forms of "learning by heart" (rather than "learning by disk") persist; Jager argues that our manipulation of such metaphors creates our idea of self.

The compact size of Jager's book belies its wide sweep across Western intellectual history. Jager discerns a pattern of "interior writing" as metaphor for self (2) beginning with the Greeks and the Bible. His book argues for the West's deep resonances between text and self through an exploration of bodily metaphors for memory. His discussion, informed by the work of Mary Carruthers and others, recognizes literate culture's anxieties about, and desire for, written words. That the "self" is a metaphor--it's made of words--and that words' metaphoricity infinitely regresses once we contemplate "the real" appears most tellingly in a note with which Jager introduces his book's Index: "Terms in quotation marks refer to metaphorical use, except for titles of works, which are also capitalized." Differentiating metaphoric from "real" use in an index--a list of words which are more than words--fits the book's ontological underpinnings and demonstrates reality's, and the self's, tantalizingly elusive, thoroughly metaphorical nature.

In the midst of his theoretically-informed discussion, Jager provides details assembled from a history of reading and its material culture. "To complicate" uses parchment's folds to metaphorize difficulty (48); "recordatio" is a heart-based term for recollection. (28) The motif of saints' hearts containing "literal" words may be familiar to medievalists who have worked with or simply encountered hagiography's written and pictorial accounts, but Jager's discussion and his illustrations (93, 96) persuade. Jager contextualizes the sacred, profane, and scientific so that their overlap, evident in his somatically- centered analysis of reading, both fits and suggests more than a definition of the reading consciousness .

Chapter One, "Origins", weaves together Greek, Latin, and biblical analyses to certify the ubiquity of writing as metaphor. Jager mentions Plato's distrust of the written word (6) before introducing twinned concerns within the Latin tradition (with, of course, earlier roots): Christianity and the book's relationship to the physical body. Christianity's position within this history cannot be overstated, and Jager's second chapter treats in full "Augustine" (the chapter's title) and an Augustinian phenomenology of reading and conscience. Essentially, as body is to spirit, so letters are to meaning. Yet, for the Augustinian Christian, the individual conscience demands both understanding and meaning, the real and the symbolic. The medium of confession--especially heart-felt for Augustine--provides, through its textuality and self-awareness, a vital layer for Jager's history of heart and book reciprocity.

Chapter Three, "The Scriptorium of the Heart," amplifies this theme of the written conscience and traces the creation of the textual self's "inner scribe," called upon on Judgment Day to justify the sinner's soul. Jager's illustrations include this chapter's "Opened hearts at the Last Judgment" (60) from a thirteenth-century Apocalypse commentary manuscript; it effectively anticipates a fifteenth-century Italian fresco of the Last Judgment (118) that Jager uses in Chapter Six, "Everyman", to illustrate the spread of the idea of the textual self. That chapter is preceded by two more chapters' discussion of the written-heart-self metaphor in the medieval period. Chapter Four, "Lovers", gives us the secular sphere, while Chapter Five, "Saints", gives us sacred ideology. Jager makes sure we recognize that the areas overlap. Chapter Four begins with an eleventh-century nun's Latin verse to a monk (67):I put [your] letter under my left breast--they say that's nearest the heart....At last, weary, I tried to get to sleep,but love that has been wakened knows no night....I lay asleep--no, sleepless--because the page you wrote,though lying on my breast, had set my womb on fire. As a nun finds ardor in a page touching her body, so the thirteenth-century Henry de Suso, one of Jager's richest examples, "in a fit of pious fervor" takes "a stylus to his own flesh" (97) to inscribe God's words. Here Jager treats the role of the pen in both picture and text via analyses of the pen's gender from Carolyn Dinshaw and others. The somatic effect of word and page on heart and body affects, if not creates, ideas of self. Jager refers to Karma Lochrie and Caroline Bynum (88) to remind us that the medieval categories of self sometimes fit, but often explode, modern conventions of body and soul, male and female: the self as text is no exception.

Chapter Seven, "Picturing the Metaphor", analyzes the literalizing of the reading heart. The complex of metaphors Jager has explored boils down here to "the heart as a book, the human subject as a text, and subjectivity as reading and writing". (136) Jager illustrates that reading's effect on the heart has produced not only the heart-shaped book but the heart-shaped song (85) and the pen writing internal letters. (51) Chapter Eight, "After Gutenberg", casts the revolution of print culture in terms of Protestantism and the refocusing of thought's seat from heart to head. Again Jager includes bodily science in his contextualization, using the "empiricist self" (156) to denote the wide-ranging shifts print culture wrought on earlier metaphors of writing, feeling, and thinking. The idea of personal identity situated in the brain, rather than the heart, affects language, thought, metaphors, and books.

Jager takes bold steps in Chapter Nine, "Codex or Computer?", by using these shifts in metaphors both to catalogue our changing vocabulary of self and predict what those changes will mean in the future for the ontological interface between self and material culture. Jager is aware of the challenge this chapter, let alone his book, poses: his "subject" is elusive and metaphorical and, like irony, can disappear into an infinite regress or be swallowed up by an overabundance of proof that might prevent the flow of idea and suggestion Jager obviously values. Even with an occasional overreach, such as likening the ribbon ties on a pictured subject's gown to a suture line (135), Jager's book succeeds in making suggestively apparent the book-self metaphor throughout Western history.