The quotation is from a letter by Charles Bertram, antiquarian, grammarian, and forger. In describing his interest in history, especially the Middle Ages, he repeatedly uses emotional terms, including ‘love’ and ‘pleasure’. Clearly, to Bertram, the study of history is first and foremost a pleasure, and one which he finds it difficult to do without. This paper investigates the pleasure taken in knowledge of the Middle Ages, as expressed in Bertram’s letters, and argues that it is, in his case, inextricably linked with a desire to belong.
The pleasures of reading, and sometimes of writing, were theorized and described, desired and feared, imagined and recorded throughout the Middle Ages. In this paper I discuss some desired medieval pleasures of reading in terms of ‘affective literacy’ and how those literate affects relate to personal pleasures, social displacements, and intersubjectivities. Devotional texts encouraged readers to skip around and actively engaging with as much of the text as they needed to kindle spiritual affections. Not a few romance narratives depicted secret lovers desiring to hold, kiss, and read written messages from their beloveds, and some poetic texts thematized the pleasures of reading as lyric or personal deformance. I concretize these intersections of emotional practices, the affect habitus and reading pleasures by focusing on the Roman de Flamenca (French, 13th century), Middle English lyrics, and the Book of Margery Kempe. The late medieval habitus of literate pleasures was co-constructed within a socio-pragmatic vocabulary of spiritual affects and erotic emotions. Responding to Deleuze’s thinking on affect images, Burger’s on queer medieval pleasures and recent work in the ‘history of emotions’, I argue that the recognized and misrecognized affective pleasures of reading and misreading perform a counterdiscourse to the anxiety of distributed literacy in the later Middle Ages.
This paper explores generic play in Chaucer’s Sir Thopas, arguing that it contrasts pleasures of imagined and realized acts of literary creation. The tale’s presentation of Thopas’ sugary diet, a pleasure born of post-plague mercantile success, renders it anachronistic in relation to the medieval romances the tale references, making Thopas’s adventures self-consciously perform an indulgent imagination of the past. The tale thus probes distances between pleasures of imagined and physicalized acts, between the revisited literary past and its narrated deeds, which Thopas cannot revivify. These contrasts frame Chaucer’s literary present, strategically shaping readers’ experiences of the Canterbury Tales generic creativity.