The Medieval Review 16.04.08

Lazikani, Ayoush: Response to TMR 16.03.10, Albrecht Classen's review of Ayoush Lazikani, Cultivating the Heart: Feeling and Emotion in Twelfth- and Thirteenth-Century Religious Texts. Religion and Culture in the Middle Ages. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2015. .

Reviewed by:

Ayoush Lazikani
Hertford College, University of Oxford

A recent review of Cultivating the Heart: Feeling and Emotion in Twelfth- and Thirteenth-Century Religious Texts was written for this journal by Dr. Albrecht Classen, Distinguished Professor in German Studies at the University of Arizona. The only positive assessment in the review was with regard to the book's "excellent discussions of the various forms of emotional compassion," a comment appreciated by the book's author. However, this comment was found in an otherwise negative review. The reviewer stated that the book is "satisfactory" but lacking in depth and innovation, that it "does not steer clear of simple paraphrasis," and that, overall, it has little to offer in the rich field of the history of emotions.

With all due respect to the reviewer, in this response I wish to provide some insights that may suggest otherwise.

Cultivating the Heart was the first book to examine, in detail, affective reading practices in twelfth- and thirteenth-century Middle English religious texts--rather than the later medieval centuries, which have received significantly more attention. This fact is foregrounded from the first page of the book, and yet it was not mentioned at all in the review. Instead, the review gave the impression that the book is on a general "late medieval" period, which is not the right portrayal of the purpose of the book and the contribution it seeks to make.

Very little work has been done on the affective strategies of early Middle English homilies (and indeed, vernacular homilies in general); as such, chapter 1 of the book does provide new readings. This was not mentioned in the review. The review also refers to the Lambeth and Trinity homilies incorrectly as "two Middle English homiletic texts"--they are in fact two collections of homilies, as made clear throughout the book.

The review later provided this description of chapter 2, on hagiographical writing:

"Major topics prove to be sorrowful heart and hands, bodily pain disintegrated into spiritual narrative, the affirmation of pain and its spectation, which is all rather typical of hagiographical literature both in England and on the continent".

This information appears to be based on the subtitles of the chapter alone. The subtitle "sorrowful hearts and hands" (a phrase used only as one subtitle and nowhere else in the book) was simply a titular expression to gesture towards the complex dynamic of affective engagement in the South English Legendaries: one that is based both on involvement with, and withdrawal from, affective pain. This chapter on hagiographical writing does not only discuss "affirmation of pain"; it also investigates the denial of pain, which was a dominant part of this chapter and yet unmentioned in the review.

There has actually been limited research into the affective strategies of hagiographies, and so Cultivating the Heart does make a contribution in this respect. In addition, the reviewer took issue with the fact that Jacobus de Voragine's Legenda aurea was only "mentioned in passing." As explained in the Introduction to the book, the Legenda aurea shares an undefined relationship with the South English Legendaries, which were the main focus of this chapter. In any case, Jacobus is in fact discussed in the Introduction and then referred to again in chapter 2.

The Wooing Group, examined in detail in chapter 3 of Cultivating the Heart, is still an under-studied group of texts. Only in recent years has this group of meditations been the subject of substantial research. There is also cutting-edge editorial work on these texts underway by Catherine Innes-Parker (2015), among others. It is thus surprising that this chapter was still seen as "simple paraphrasis": on the contrary, this chapter seeks to contribute to what is very much a new area of inquiry in devotional literature, raising questions in this fresh terrain for future researchers.

In a passing comment, the reviewer suggests that chapter 4 (on thirteenth-century Middle English lyrics) merely shows "a very strong emotional culture." Again, this is arguably not a right description of the chapter. There are specific techniques unique to the lyrical mode stated explicitly both in the introduction and conclusion to the chapter, and demonstrated throughout. More importantly, it is made clear that the lyrics' multilingual context is crucial to their affective strategies--an approach situated in scholarship by Ardis Butterfield (2011) and others. The multilingual contexts explored at great length in the book were not mentioned at all in the review.

The review also claimed that "the endnotes contain considerably more critical reflections than the actual text would have revealed." This is another surprising comment, given that more than seventy distinct critics are discussed in detail in the text-body of the book (not including any of the endnotes). And the selective bibliography "which leaves out more than it includes" is due to the fact that the author of Cultivating the Heart had a word-limit which included the bibliography. This is common practice among many publishers.

I hope that I have shed new light on Cultivating the Heart and the contribution it seeks to make to the history of emotions.

Copyright (c) 2016 Ayoush Lazikani

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