Understanding Chaucer’s Intellectual and Interpretative World Nominalist Fiction

Author: Foster, Edward
The problem of “undecideability” has long been a major preoccupation of Chaucer criticism. This study, while noting but not trying to ‘account for’ each and every prior approach, proposes the positive alternative that in making his fictions, Chaucer gibes a shape to the Ockhamite nominalist approach to human understanding of the world. By interpreting Chaucer’s fictions, we share his imaginative attempt to understand the splendors and imponderables of God’s fictions.

“Foster is conversant with medieval theology and philosophy, and this gives authority to his exposition of his largely new theory. He is also thoroughly familiar both with the Chaucerian corpus and with its voluminous secondary literature. He writes with an engaging variation of level and tone, philosophically informed or critically complex when necessary, with moments of down to earth judgment and the occasional joke which will commend the book to student and Chaucer scholar alike. It is a remarkable conspectus, drawing on mature scholarship and long and hard critical thinking, and its thesis has much to offer even the most experienced reader of Chaucer.” – Michael Alexander


"Foster's solid and gracefully written explication of Chaucer's major works, the dream visions, The Canterbury Tales, and Troilus and Criseyde, sets these works within the context of 14th-century nominalism--particularly that of William of Okham, who separates the spheres of faith and abstract speculation from that of individual experience. Russell Peck made the connection between nominalism and Chaucer's fictions. Foster (Whitman College) extends this connection, arguing that totalizing interpretations cannot be set on Chaucer's inconclusive fictions. Rather, Chaucer aims, through the use of narrative techniques that self-consciously draw attention to the processes of fiction, to direct the reader's attention to the act of interpretation itself and to the exploration of the dilemmas of human experience to which the absolutes of faith do not always provide satisfying answers ... Foster makes a valuable contribution to the understanding of the indeterminacy of knowing in Chaucer's texts." - CHOICE

“.. . . he manages the remarkable feat of covering almost all of Chaucer with informed but unencumbered clarity. Unlike many recent studies, the book is as readable as the studies of Howard and Burlin. At the same time, Foster advances our understanding of Chaucer’s complexity. . . . Both the newcomer to Chaucer’s work and the veteran will find this text stimulating and satisfying. Following generations of readers who have loved Chaucer’s wit, open-eyed piety, and humaneness, foster reminds us also of the poet’s intellectual and artistic courage.” – Carolynn Van Dyke “this concise and elegant study contains a great deal of matter in a small space. . . . One of the great strengths of this study is that Professor Foster is both able to locate Chaucer’s work within fourteenth-century philosophies, particularly the nominalism of William of Ockam, and to present the ways in which Chaucer is, in his time and place, uniquely self-conscious as a writer. . . . This is an enjoyably lucid book, never less than entertaining, and often a great deal more: it wears its learning lightly, and is serious more often than it is solemn, but it has a great deal more than wit to recommend it.” – Peter Davidson

“The book’s argument is reasonable, straightforward and compelling: that Chaucer intentionally has produced a text-world markedly different from the ‘real’ world of the fourteenth century. . . . The author avoids trendy critical jargon in favor of a straightforward style that is easy to follow.” -- Robert Forman

Table of Contents

Table of Contents:
Foreword, preface
1. A General prologue
2. The Interpretation of Dreams
3. The Approximation of Truth
4. Gentilesse
5. The Limitations of Teachers
6. The Tellable Truth
7. Paradigm Lost – Troilus and Criseyde
8. Epilogue
Notes, Bibliography, Index