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Extra info for Ratio and invention: a study of medieval lyric and narrative

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In the twelfth century, Conrad of Hirsau wrote a Dialogus super auctores, which was a major source in the development of medieval literary theorizing. 14 Conrad's purpose, though, was to write an introductory work. "15 One might add that Conrad did not intend it to be an especially profound study, either. The sources for literary theory in the Middle Ages are shaped, then, by the demands of purpose and audience. The categories and structures set out in the artes and commentaries exist with a discrete and illusive precision when we read them apart from the rhetorical context of the work, and it is a mistake to assume that works directed to different audiences can be generalized unreflectively to a common ground of literary theory.

My claim is not that medieval literary theory has little to offer for a historical reading of poetic texts. Rather, I want to emphasize that the use of medieval theory as a contextual tool depends on an analysis of theory that must follow the same interpretive procedures as the critical reading of a literary text. Page xviii Medieval literary theory is part of the same imaginative discourse that it aims to describe. It is not a metalanguage that holds a privileged position above the texts, nor is it a simple mechanism of cultural translation that directly reveals the assumptions of writers and their procedures of composition.

It will be thematized in various ways, incorporated in the text, and made to function as part of an internal economy of signification. In order to discuss lyric and narrative poetry under these limitations, I have begun each of the two sections of the book with an interchapter that examines the dominant commonplaces of the genres. These topoi are, respectively, the musical aesthetic that Augustine applied to lyric poetry and the rhetorical procedure of invention that was used to define the controlling idea of a narrative poem.

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