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Fortune's Faces

, 224 pages
December 2004



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Fortune's Faces

The Roman de la Rose and the Poetics of Contingency

Arguably the single most influential literary work of the European Middle Ages, the Roman de la Rose of Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun has traditionally posed a number of difficulties to modern critics, who have viewed its many interruptions and philosophical discussions as signs of a lack of formal organization and a characteristically medieval predilection for encyclopedic summation. In Fortune's Faces, Daniel Heller-Roazen calls into question these assessments, offering a new and compelling interpretation of the romance as a carefully constructed and far-reaching exploration of the place of fortune, chance, and contingency in literary writing.

Situating the Romance of the Rose at the intersection of medieval literature and philosophy, Heller-Roazen shows how the thirteenth-century work invokes and radicalizes two classical and medieval traditions of reflection on language and contingency: that of the Provençal, French, and Italian love poets, who sought to compose their "verses of pure nothing"in a language Dante defined as "without grammar," and that of Aristotle's discussion of "future contingents" as it was received and refined in the logic, physics, theology, and epistemology of Boethius, Abelard, Albert the Great, and Thomas Aquinas.Through a close analysis of the poetic text and a detailed reconstruction of the logical and metaphysical concept of contingency, Fortune's Faces charts the transformations that literary structures (such as subjectivity, autobiography, prosopopoeia, allegory, and self-reference) undergo in a work that defines itself as radically contingent. Considered in its full poetic and philosophical dimensions, the Romance of the Rose thus acquires an altogether new significance in the history of literature: it appears as a work that incessantly explores its own capacity to be other than it is.

Daniel Heller-Roazen is an assistant professor of comparative literature at Princeton University.

"Daniel Heller-Roazen's elegant book is a model of theoretical acumen and critical sensibility, and it demonstrates brilliantly how philosophy and philology can work together to offer an entirely new reading of a classic work."

"Beautiful language... and an elegant, intricate presentation of argument."

"A valuable asset to those interested in discovering fresh interpretations of one of the most remarkable literary works of the Middle Ages."

"A sustained and highly original philosophical tour de force."

"Heller-Roazen's mastery of medieval philology and philosophy is impressive, and representative of a new generation of medieval studies."

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