Fellows' Presentation

Vernacular Poetics of Metaphor

Photo by Tony RinaldoPhoto by Tony Rinaldo

Part of the 2011–2012 Fellows' Presentation Series.

As a Radcliffe fellow, Cristina Maria Cervone will investigate how writers of the late 14th and early 15th centuries generated innovative vocabulary for thought experiments in Middle English. This historical moment is worth special attention because the semantic range of English words was particularly in flux, writers were capitalizing on that malleability, and the use of the vernacular in certain forms of discourse came increasingly under scrutiny. Intriguingly, metaphor seems to have been an important aspect of—perhaps even fundamental to—the emergence of the English vernacular at this time. By focusing on how writers used body-based metaphors to represent selfhood, both of individuals and of groups, Cervone will explore the nature of metaphor from medieval thought about self and community, working toward what she calls the “corporate subject” is grounded in poetic form and linguistic ingenuity. Taking into account recent work on metaphor, subjectivity, linguistics, and the “new formalism,” she will further consider the implications of a Middle English vernacular poetics of metaphor for questions of urgent contemporary interest: How does thought work? Is metaphor fundamental to thought? This project evolved from topics developed in her first book, Poetics of the Incarnation: Middle English Writing and the Leap of Love (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012).