Chaucer’s House of Fame: Part 2
Chaucer's Labyrinth of the Book of Memory -or- God Turn Every Dream to Good
"For never a man since I was born, Nor no man else who came before, Dreamed, I believe steadfastly, So wonderful a dream as me."
"Now hearken every manner of man That English can understand, And listen: learn from my dream here; For the first time now you'll hear So excellent a vision, lo, That Isaiah, no, nor Scipio, Nor King Nebuchadnezzar, Pharaoh, Turnus nor Elkanah, Ever knew such a dream as this!"
Geoffrey Chaucer, House of Fame
Chaucer belongs to the dead poets society, a literary school of thought we know as the Western canon. Tapping into the great dreams and literary masterpieces of Western civilization Chaucer's work embodies the epic synecdoche (whole and parts) of European philological literature. Homer, Aesop, Plato, Aristotle, Callimachus, Horace, Cicero, Virgil, Ovid, and Longinius are seen as the ancient Greek and Roman representatives of the epic philological schools of thought, composition, interpretation, reception, classical literary criticism, and more specifically, "memoria". Chaucer's "The House of Fame" lays the late Medieval corner stone for the mythic composition of fame's "Matter of Britain" (60,61), the English book of memory(62) and the critical understanding of the rhetorical geneology of the poetic diction of dream vision. From the perspective of the collective unconscious imagination (63,64), "The House of Fame" represents a "thought experiment" (65)of the Christian spiritual psychophysics of memory.
Chaucer employs Memnosyne's (66,67) daughter Calliope as the oneirographic muse of history on his prosopopoetic journey within the book of collective memory. Fame is an English styled oneiric picture writing masterpiece of hallucinatory historical realism, featuring the surreal frame story of fame, the history makers of the Western art of memory, and the epic hero's poetic journey. This historical tapestry of the prosopographic social network of the mythic heraldry of greatness, "great men" and fame (68) features an oneirogenic star studded historical cast of Alexander, Macrobius, Nebuchanazur, Josephus, Stratus, Boetius, Augustine and Dante to name a few.
In this collective optical theatre of archival memory, the great Medieval allegories of dream vision such as Dante's "Divine Comedy", Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun's "Roman de la Rose", Langland's "Piers Plowsman", and "Pearl" provide Eurocentric philosophical memoria perspectives. Chaucer's "The House of Fame" stands at the top of this book list, because, I believe it historically and artistically frames the philological reading of European collective art of memory (69) in the most accurate satirical fashion. "The House of Fame" can be seen as a Medieval philological allegory and a subversive Mennipean satire (70) of the European rhetorical composition of the past, present and the poetic utopian horizon of future (71) greatness, great work, fame and rumor however, it is also much more.
Chaucer's writer's journey (72,73) crafts the English uses of the rhetorical principle (74) of the creative imagination (75) and the art of memory. In this poetic sense, "The House of Fame" is a mythography of the Medieval allegory of Western literary memoria traditions and the epic history of the myth work of the creative mythological unconscious (76,77,78). In other words, Chaucer the master craftsman of the genre of dream vision, provides English and European readers with an allegorical synthesis of the foundation mythsof the classical and Biblical traditions.
Chaucer's Medieval Christian reader (79) is taken on a mythic hero's tropological adventure, which features a poetic libidinal path of desire (80), a continuous historical thread of setting, plot, characters, rhetorical dialogue, points of view, imagination, memory, fame and rumor. Chaucer's epic fame game features the "libidinal economy" (81,82,83) of "homo ludens" which is still being played by each generation on the epochal playing field of history (84,85,86,87). Chaucer clearly understood, that the "sundry folk" playing on this Christian ritualized cultural playing field are faced with the "egocentric" and the "narcissistic" rhetorical problems of the authority of memory, thereby creating the unreliable narrator (88,89,90,91). Such everyday Medieval "first person" flawed rhetoric of an assemblage of literary characters on a spiritual pilgrimage can be abundantly found in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (92).
Once inside "The House of Fame" Chaucer begins using his English rhetorical license (93) of philological (94) story telling (95,96), crafting his oneirological literary portrait of the folk character (97) theory of dream vision and the rulers rules of fames' game. Chaucer's poetic rhyme, "As if folk's complexions Made them dream their reflections" (98) can be seen as an allusion to the ancient myth of the rhetorical optics of narcissism (99). Chaucer's Medieval portraits are a mythological reflection of his philosophy of cultural unconscious (100,101) "as if" guiding folk fictions of history and memory, in which the "folk hero" plays a central social and mythical organizational role. Chaucer searches for the group narcissistic unity of humanity, finding it, in the universal ontological archive of dream vision (102). Chaucer's unified cultural folk archive of fame and the art of memory would become transformed and rhetorically inculcated by the Gutenberg print press revolution (103).
"House of Fame" is a historiographic cultural house museum (also known as a "memory museum"), it is a place in which we can learn (104) to understand the rhetorical psychodynamics of the literary folk history enshrined in the ludic interface with memory's library housing the collective mythopoetic (105, 106,107) unconscious. Prosopographic portraits of famous ancient Greek and Romans including many of their dreams was undertaken by the Roman historian Plutarch in "Parallel Lives". Chaucer's poetic "exemplum" path of the portrait tradition featuring the rhetoric of group narcissism (108). Chaucer the master builder (109), uses the philosopher-poets tools of his craft to rhetorically (110,111) construct his story tellers' framework of the memory palace of Western civilization (112).
House of Fame's historical architecture of dream vision (113,114) can be seen in part through the epic lens of Thomas Cole's painting "The Architects Dream". Chaucer's Chartres Cathedral like architectural structures features the temple of Venus, House of Fame, and House of Gossip all of which are constructed to encompass a maze like European literary labyrinth (115,116) of the reading and writing of memory's archive. In the temple of Venus made of glass Chaucer finds a brass plaque which is inscribed with an English translation of the Aeneid (117) providing an English perspective of Virgil, much like Dante "Divine Comedy" (118,119) had done in the Italian vernacular.
The walls of the temple of Venus are painted with the war story of the fall of Troy and the flight of Aeneas towards the new Trojan homeland, namely Rome. Chaucer's temple of Venus personifies the epic philology, rhetoric and politics of gender relations (read, battle of the sexes) seen in a poetic portrait gallery of the love stories of men and women (120,121,122,123).The inner dialogical (124) structure of the "The House of Fame" poetically focuses attention on both the reader and the writer of the epic allegorical (125) fate of the religion of love, romance and sexuality (126,127). Chaucer deconstructs the epic rhetorical lens of masculine dominant narratives by fleshing out the women's perspective (128,129). In doing so, Chaucer subverts the male dominated poetic language and sexual politics (130,131,132) of the Western literary tradition (133). This critical discursive process finds its' voice and vehicle of expression in "feminist literary criticism" (134,135,136).
Leaving the temple of Venus, we journey on to the house of Fame, an architectural place where the poetic storehouse of collective memory of the famous is kept alive. Chaucer satirizes Fame because she provides a fickle unreliable picture, an untenable Christian cognitive map of the world. While Chaucer's cultural map of the world of love is both sacred and profane, his pilgrimage however is ever in search of Christ's religion of love. As an extension of fame, the literary architectural topos the house of gossip and rumors, we hear Chaucer tell: "With gossip and with murmuring Of war, of peace, of marriages, Of rest, of labour, voyages Of abodes, of death, of life, Of love, of hate, accord, of strife, Of fame, of loss, and of winning, Of health, of sickness, of building, Of fair winds, and also tempests, Of pestilence in folk and beasts, Of diverse transmutations Of power, and of kingdoms, Of trust, of fear, of jealousy, Of wit, of wisdom, of folly, Of plenty, and of great famine, Of dearth, of scarcity, of ruin, Of good or misgovernment, Of fire, and diverse accident." The modern reader asks, has anything really changed since Chaucer wrote these words over six hundred years ago? Searching our dreams today, we can still find visions of famous men and women, gossip (137, 138,139) and rumor (140) operating and circulating in our post-modern collective memory labyrinth of dream vision (141). Today like in Chaucer's time, the house of gossip offers no room for privacy.
Open societies featuring transparent (142) discourse is a rare inter-personal communication dynamic, most stories are rhetorically conflicted, veiled and clothed as Adam and Eve (143) well understood (144) after their own vision's loss of innocence (145). Chaucer's historical dream vision provides a naked mise en text (146,147,148) on an oneiric rhetorical path (149) in the search for interpersonal truth (150) and understanding. Chaucer's redressing of the social order of communication (151), amounts to the denuding of the oppressive rhetorical defense mechanisms of censorship employed against revealing the truth (152).
Over three hundred and fifty years after Chaucer's death, Jacob de Wit's painting Allegory on Writing History (1754) unwittingly expresses Chaucer's desire for naked truth to keep an eye on all writers of history (153,154,155). Is it a small wonder that being nude and exposed in public is still being dreamt by modern dreamers? Chaucer clearly understood that each person, including himself, has a rhetorical fictional "persona" (156,157), a public relations image to defend. This first person alethophobic persona, fears scandalous secrets and concealed truths being revealed. Chaucer is philologically driven to denude the false persona, making bare the social psychology of story telling that can perhaps be best satirically exemplified by the tale of the Emperor's New clothes.
Chaucer is skeptical of all historiographers who write history, authorities writing history as if it were fact. Nakedness and the masks of the persona are rhetorical ways of writing history found in memory's library (158). Using rhetorical criticism of dream vision as a poetic vehicle, Chaucer's fideism (159) asks the reader to subvert the rhetorical strife and babble (160,161) of voices who appeal to traditional authority (162). Chaucer's rhetorical appeal to the English reader amounts to the subversion of the ideology (163), doctrine and conformity to the normative influence of authority (164). Chaucer can be seen as helping to rhetorically create what Gaston Bachelard calls an "epistemological rupture" (165,166). Chaucer ruptures conventional Medieval dream vision, the European philosophical vision of the universe (167) and the hermeneutic culture of reading and writing of literature (168,169).
Chaucer's rhetoric (170) can be seen as a call for an ontological paradigm shift (171) in the English subject and the European interpersonal foundation of the poetic praxis of the epic discursive machinery. In turn, Chaucer intends the English language to change the historical (172) inheritance of conditioning of the mind, consciousness, art of memory and fame's housing of the cultural archive of fiction and non-fiction (173). Chaucer's cultural archive of dream vision, memory, subjectivity and social order is in part organized by the concept of "estates" (174), a key rhetorical feature of Canterbury Tales. The rhetorical base and superstructural framework of Canterbury Tales can be seen as a satirical catalogue of estates (175). Chaucer's
Taking Chaucer's linguistic turn (176,177) to remedy this European communal situation, we can hear his opening appeal, "God turn every dream to good! For it's a marvel, by the rood", which is clearly an English literary allusion to the Christ's cross (178) and the "Dream of the Rood". Chaucer's "The House of Fame" allegory is based and constructed upon the Christian symbol of the rood. To reinforce this allusion, reading further we hear Chaucer again using his mantra, "Except that the holy rood Turn our every dream to good!" The Holy Rood is seen as a Christian relic and immanent symbol of Christ's cross. The Dream of the Rood has been attributed to Caedmon among others. Christ is seen as the unchanging source of authority, the good, divinity, wisdom, truth, grace and the Christian sublime (179). Some have argued that Chaucer would have been sympathetic to the Protestant reformation (180).
Much like Chaucer, we are still gazing (181) at the picture puzzle of the dream and gothic nightmare of history, dream vision mysticism (182,183,184), and history's epic dream of humanities pilgrimage towards the conscious revelation of the workings of creation, albeit in a modified philosophy of science form (185). Chaucer's dream vision story telling is a "dream argument" thought experiment of the manifold social aspects of the cultural imagination, in hope of providing the English and Europeans with their "topos" (place), their "world view" in the Christian poetic Biblical (186) scheme of cosmology. In this poetic sense of cultural geography (187,188) "The House of Fame" is framed by the Medieval mappae mundi. We hear Chaucer's words; "Of famous folk that there have been In Europe, Africa, Asia's three", and in this cultural geography sense, "The House of Fame" represents a Medieval T and O map, a Christian liminal (189 190,191) cognitive map of the territory of the allegorical (192) dreamer's path on the pilgrimage (193) to the Holy Land (194), and Jerusalem (195).
"The House of Fame" is a European geocritical cultural map of real and meta-fictional spaces (196), in a few words, it embodies Saint Augustine's Christian vision of the liturgical pilgrimage (197) of the mind's eye to New Jerusalem, "The City of God" (198,199, 200,201,202). Chaucer understood full well that European literature and the history of the world was wrought with unresolved "agons" (203), deadly social conflicts, and the dramatic language of antagonism (204). The enduring cultural house of fame is filled with graphic rhetorical antagonisms which fosters the theatre of everyday cruelties (205) having its'misanthropic basis in hate speech, rhetorical violence, the war of words (206). Many of the historical rhetorical conflicts of religion, race, gender, class and nations have been unresolved, repressed and forgotten, seen only in nightmares, erupting into collective consciousness at a later date, only to breed more rhetorical violence, hatreds and often wars. The Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung had one such recurring European nightmare well before the outbreak of World War I (207).
The thought that we intentionally forget is not a new idea, the ancient Greek and the Roman rhetorical practice of "damnatio memorae" (208) and its framing effects on collective verbal and visual consciousness and memory speaks for itself. Nietzsche once said; 'I have done that', says my memory. 'I cannot have done that' - says my pride, and remains adamant. At last - memory yields." How much of archival history has been violently erased from collective memory and has been forgotten is impossible to accurately determine. It could be argued that Chaucer saw the culture of forgetting and amnesia as causing a symbolic dissociation of collective memory and dream vision when he states; "But trust well, at my beginning I will anon make invocation with special devoutness, to the god of sleep, who dwells in a cave of rock by a stream which comes from Lethe, which is a bitter riser of hell." (209). Chaucer's hell (210) is fed by the stream of Lethe (211), memories that have been repressed and forgotten, reminiscences that will return to haunt their oppressors' dreams and nightmares.
Chaucer's English historical art gallery (212) of memory's museum features the liminal "dream spaces" (213) of Western Civilization. In this museum of dream vision, we discover the epic archetypal history of the virtual process of involuntary memory, and the dramatic movement of creative and destructive manifold aspects of cultural symbolic libido. Chaucer's canon creates a new English ut pictura poesis composition to explore the literary process of the art of memory's poetic framing of dream spaces, dream spaces which historically house the biocultural language of dream vision. The museological study and archeological research of cultural memory and dream vision is the essence of the psychodynamic journey in dream space, where the expressive individual and the collective mass medium of the biographical production of dream vision intersects.
Chaucer's "The House of Fame" acts as a historiographic story telling (214) bridging and salvation (215) device for everyone to consciously enter the collective unconscious museum which displays the historical philosophical novel of dream vision's art of memory. The story telling occupants of the "The House of Fame" writing about collective memory may change over time, however the epic frame story of fame will continue until humanity reaches its' poetic memory vanishing point and the end of the hermeneutic road of history. On this road, Chaucer's authority (216) and memory will continue to socially influence (217) our collective symbolic unconscious productions of the English language. In this optical unconscious space of the individual and collective art of memory, we can find many reception rooms of commons remembrance within the English mansion built by the Chaucerian tradition (218). The Chaucerian poetic tradition of dream vision memorializes the epic literary collection of English masterpieces found in collective memory of the Western canon. We can trace the English epic horizon of expectation and changes in collective memory to the present dream vision moment. Can we begin to see and hear fame's literary golden thread (219) in the English writers collection of the frame story of the art of memory starting with Chaucer and moving to Spencer (220), Shakespeare, Milton, Bunyan, Swift, Defoe, Blake, Wordsworth, Jane Austen (221), George Eliot (222), James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, C.S. Lewis (who are but a few of the names)?
We are the living English critical historiographic heirs of Chaucer's "The House of Fame". Now, in the digital technoromantic (223) age of cyberspace (224,225), Chaucer can help to make the meta-cognitive poetic organization (226) of visual memory, attention (227) and dream vision visible. The digital revolution has transformed dream vision into a post-modern memory theatre (228,229,230). Field Notes of a Dream Researcher provides readers living in the global theatre with a technoromantic re-collection of the frame story of dream vision. Field Notes traces the Western philosophy of history of fame, and how fame and infamy is culturally defined. Field Notes provides a technoromantic organic and mechanical geocritical world view, a planetary visualization (231) of Fame's panopticon, supplied by her 1001 visual culture windows (232). Can we now see the cultural involuntary memory museum of dream vision which symbolically houses the optical unconscious language of vision (233,234,235)? A dream vision memory palace museum which displays a literary hyperreal (236) montage of the history of cultural movements, a generational social network of people, and the social order of communication. In the post-modern exhibit, dream vision has been transformed into the global postmodern condition (237,238,239,240) of storytelling (241).
Field Notes and its' 1001 dream vision windows will highlight the cultural framing platform of interpersonal communication and the archive of individual and collective memory (242). Field Notes provides a historical mise en hypertextual memory palace platform of the great semiotic reception code of the dream visions of philosophy, literature, art, science, music, religion, politics, economics, and medicine. Field Notes is a Chaucerian estates satire (243) of the polyphonic history of the art of memory (244) on a grand polysemous meta-narrative scale. The European estates conflict would escalate until it reached its' historical peak in the "American Revolution" then the "French Revolution" and later spreading to the East and the "Russian Revolution". Since Chaucer's time, the Medieval idea of the three estates has been augmented by the "fourth" and the "fifth" estate, Field Notes reflects these folk psychological estate changes, focusing on the cognitive-behavioural priming by commercial media with the resultant media colonization of the mind and its' influence on collective dream vision. Walter Benjamin's The Work of Art in the Mechanical Age of Mechanical Reproduction shows us that poetry, art, music, and high and popular cultural tastes are merely an epochal cultural media reflection of the folk complexion of their verbal and visual dream world. Walter Benjamin in his Arcades Project envisioned our mass media (245) produced consumer dream world (246) and our post-modern visual culture.
Field Notes provides a behavioral economic enterprise (247) perspective, making transparent the first person reader-response priming process (248) of the ontological "zone of development" of executive functions of working and long term memory. Field Notes are a dream research response to Daniel Kahneman's appeal to social science researchers. By making light of the rhetorical (249) framing of the hermeneutic dialectic of positive (dream) and negative (nightmare) priming aspects of fame's game, we can begin to understand the psychodynamics (250) of individual and communal "prospects" (251,252,253).
James Joyce "Ulysses" had his character Stephen Dedalus say; "History is a nightmare, from which I am trying to awake." Field Notes traces the psychodynamic philosophy of the gothic nightmare of history seen via medical case study portraits of the ontological psychopathology of symbolic consciousness (254). This forensic e case study (255) profiles diverse personalities and cultures (256, 257) featuring the schizotypal dark romantic malaise of the individual's and the collective memory archive (258). In terms of contemporary dream visions and collective memory, think of the nightmaric framing effects of 9/11. From a clinical psychology perspective (259), the dream then becomes a medical humanities vehicle for the research of the epic anamnesis of psychopathology (260), featuring a schizotypal variety and intensity of individual and collective oneirophrenic (261, 262, 263,264) symptoms.
T.S Eliot's "The Waste Land" opens with a reference to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales thereby framing the mythic romantic ritual (265,266,267) frame story of the modern pilgrimage and storytelling about the human condition. The Waste Land is a elegiac literary description of the traumatic ravages of World War I on English and European society, a society whose broken historical Humpty Dumpty like literary fragments of collective memory lacks a unifying narrative, a Chaucerian Rood narrative in which "God is dead" (268). The Waste Land reworks the literary past (269) by re-placing the dark Melencholie I (270,271) like romantic (272, 273) textual fragments (274), and placing them into a cubistic literary canvas portrait of the gothic tapestry of the poetic ruins of time (275). In essence, Eliot's Waste Land asks; Is world literature (276) broken and beyond philosophical repair? Field Notes pragmatically uses dream vision to give an epic "Angel of History" mind's eye view of the philosophy of the art (277) of involuntary memory answer. The Field Note "The Hero with 1001 Faces" provides a small mythopoetic glimpse into the vast historiographic memory museum (278, 279) of dream vision found in the Gutenberg Galaxy of Eastern and Western civilization (280, 281,282).
On a few final notes, returning to the ideas about the dead poets society and the Chaucerian(283) poetics of literary history, we hear Chaucer's invocation; "Show me your favour at this time! And help me to create and rhyme You, who on Parnassus dwell, By Helicon the crystal well O Thought, that all I dreamed composed, And in the treasury enclosed Of my brain, now shall men see If any virtue in you there be To tell all my dream aright; Now show all your skill and might!" Writing the history of dream vision as a literary form of poetic justice (reward "virtue", triumph of good over evil) (284), Chaucer clearly subscribed to the poetic visual "treasury" of the School of "Parnassus" whose Classical source of inspirational musings flowed from the "crystal well" of "Helicon" (285,286). From an artistic perspective, Raphael's painting "The Parnassus" in the palace of the Vatican would embody fame's gallery of poetic memory and the ontological flow of history. Chaucer's rhetoric of the philosophy of history was given a scientific literary form (287) when Giambattista Vico wrote his "The New Science" (288). While there are so many more oneiric aspects of Chaucer's poetic memory theatre (289,290,291) that I could point out, let us give Chaucer a few final words; "All good things must>