Saturday, August 13, 2005

Dissertation notes: Harbus on memory and images

From Harbus, Antonina. The Life of the Mind in Old English Poetry. Costerus New Series 143. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2002.

"Mind words occur frequently and are used with a sense of purpose in Beowulf because they are culturally significant in Anglo-Saxon England. The constant repetition of these terms suggests that human perception is presented as a series of mental impressions, rather than the unmitigated reception of reality. meaning is interpreted individually and is contingent upon circumstances. Naturally, this notion has some very interesting ramifications for our understanding of the Anglo-Saxon literary enterprise, particularly when it is considered in conjunction with the narrative structure and retrospective format of Beowulf. Contemporary reality slips into historical or legendary digression, the future becomes the past and logical connections are managed in an allusive rather than explicit manner. There is a series of narratives within the poem which comprises an admixture of stories and retrospective in a dynamic interrelationship with both other tales and the surface reality of narrative. This comes close to Roland Barthes definition of a text: 'A multidimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash'. The mind is the essential venue for this process of blending and clashing in Beowulf, and the reader's mind is as evident in this schema as are the minds of the protagonists. This process is described at work in the poem when one of the king's thanes improvises a new tale wrought from a collection of legends (867 ff)" (181).

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