This volume brings together Lee Patterson’s essays published in various venues over the past twenty-seven years. As he observes in his preface, “The one persistent recognition that emerged from writing these otherwise quite disparate essays is that whatever the text . . . and whoever the people . . . , the values at issue remain central to contemporary life.”
Two dialectics are at work in this book: that between the past and the present and that between the individual and the social, and both have moral significance. The first two chapters are methodological; the first is on the historical understanding of medieval literature and the second on how to manage the inseparability of fact and value in the classroom. The next three chapters take up three “less-read” late medieval writers: Sir John Clanvowe, Thomas Hoccleve, and John Lydgate. Each is used to illuminate a social phenomenon: the nature of court culture, the experience of the city, and Henry V’s act of self-making. The following chapter explicitly links past and present by arguing that the bearing of the English aristocrat comes from a tradition beginning with Beowulf and later reinvoked in response to nineteenth-century imperialism. The next three chapters are the most literary, dealing with Chaucer and with literary conventions in relation to a number of texts. The final chapter is on the man Patterson considers one of the most important of our medieval ancestors, Francis of Assisi.
“This is a collection of essays published over the last twenty-seven years by an outstanding medievalist, one who has been exceptionally influential on medieval studies and whose work continues to be of the greatest importance. Patterson’s collection is informed by a fascination with the ways in which the past inhabits the present. This collection of essays provide us with an eloquent, forceful demonstration of the hermeneutic potentials of liberal humanism in a committedly historicist mode. It will provide a timely, welcome, and stimulating challenge to the field.” — David Aers, Duke University
" Acts of Recognition offers us Lee Patterson at his best, as we’ve come to know his scholarship over the decades. Fearless, wide-ranging, and startling in the acuity of its insights, the volume reminds us why there is always something to learn from this superb thinker, whatever our critical approach or field. From the famous opening chapter on historical criticism to the luminous meditation on St. Francis that creates the book’s ‘sense of an ending,’ Patterson brilliantly shows us how the past continues part of us, always, and why it is not a foreign country but our home." — Geraldine Heng, University of Texas at Austin
“This is a collection of essays that Lee Patterson has written over the past thirty years, and it is very welcome. Though he calls them ‘Essays on Medieval Culture,’ the theme is now, as it ever was, the relation of literature to history, not so much of literary texts to individual events in history, which is the character of the ‘old’ historicism, as the nature of literature as an embodiment, mediator, and exploration of the deeper political, social, and economic movements of history.” — Journal of English and Germanic Philology
“ . . . The essays reflect Patterson’s diverse scholarly concerns and eclectic literary critical interests. Discussions range across historical debates between Exegeticism and New Criticism, pedagogy, and more traditional modes of literary and historical criticism, while subjects under consideration extend from Virgil and Boethius, to Beowulf, the works of Chaucer and his near-contemporaries, and beyond to Milton and A. E. W. Mason’s The Four Feathers (1902). — Parergon
“In bringing together a selection of previously published work, this recent collection of essays by Lee Patterson offers both a snapshot of a field-shaping career and a reminder of the continued power of the historicist practices that Patterson so eloquently and forcefully championed.” — Modern Philology