Relational Chaucer: Intersubjective Identity and Ricoeurian Narrative Hermeneutics
This dissertation applies Paul Ricœur’s theory of narrative identity to Chaucer’s poetry. The idea of a narrative subjectivity addresses gaps and synthesizes key movements in Chaucer studies, engaging with key scholars such as George Lyman Kittridge, Carolyn Dinshaw, A.C. Spearing, and Mary Carruthers. Using Ricœur’s hermeneutic phenomenology, the chapters articulate how narrative is necessary to the construction and expression of both individual and collective identity and experience. Each chapter focuses on a key element of Ricœur’s narrative hermeneutic phenomenology and how that modality of narrative is used to construct a particular kind of identity. I argue for a self-in-relation: the self as constituted through relations to others, or intersubjectively, which is expressed in and as narrative. Ricœur’s hermeneutic distills several of Chaucer’s key interests: time, history, fictionality, and poetics; selfhood and alterity; the significance of language and of fidelity to one’s word; and agency, passivity, and suffering. By applying that heremeneutic, we can consider the extent to which Chaucer’s poetry may use narrative to represent or resolve those interests and their connection to identity.
Chapter 1 explores the identity construction of three Chaucerian women by identifying patterns of yielding discursive authority that either subvert or redirect narrative structures of masculine authority. I argue that women like Criseyde have more control over their own lives and a more positive subject-position than previously recognized. In Chapter 2, I argue that racialized narratives shared by the Canterbury pilgrims structure their community by defining what kind of identity is acceptable—in this case, a white Christian identity, shared by all the pilgrims, that reproduces a Western hegemonic whiteness. In chapter 3, I argue that in Chaucer’s talking-animal poetry, the recognition and response that narrative facilitates results in an ethic of care that is invested in principles of solicitude and friendship. In Chapter 4, I argue that Chaucer’s dream visions represent narratives of poetic subjectivity that are embedded in issues of memory and sociality that take shape in and as space. Finally, in conclusion I tie these arguments back to a question asked of the fictional representation of Chaucer himself: Who are you? This question animates much of Chaucer’s poetry and I have endeavored to show how Chaucer answers that question with and in narrative.