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The Canon's Yeoman's Environmental Body and Wasting Poetry

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Friday, March 22, 2019
4:00 pm - 5:45 pm
Eleanor Johnson

Chaucer's Canon's Yeoman is a notoriously difficult pilgrim to parse. He shows up late, sweaty, confused, and confusing in the Canterbury pilgrimage, and his tale speaks only in the barest of terms to any of the other tales to that point or after. Even so, this talk will suggest that the Yeoman is at the epicenter of the Canterbury Tales' emergent and urgent meditations on ecological precarity, environmental interimplication, and the vulnerability of human bodies to their surroundings, both natural and industrial. Through the Yeoman and his wasteful, wasting poem, Chaucer draws together multiple discourses on the nature and meaning of waste--both for an individual and for society--and shows how poetry itself participates in waste, whether to curb or hasten it.

Eleanor Johnson is Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. She specializes in late medieval English prose, poetry, and drama; medieval poetics and literary philosophy; law and literature in the Middle Ages; and vernacular theology. This lecture stems from her current book called Aesthetic Contemplation: Participatory Theology in Middle English Prose, Verse, and Drama.