Close Listening: Talking Books, Blind Readers and Medieval Worldbuilding.

Hsy, Jonathan.

Close Listening: Talking Books, Blind Readers and Medieval Worldbuilding.

Hsy, Jonathan. "Close Listening: Talking Books, Blind Readers and Medieval Worldbuilding." postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies 7 (2016): 181-92.

Hsy addresses the medievalism of Bruce Holsinger's “The Invention of Fire,” in which John Gower stars as detective/protagonist. Hsy brings together disability and literary scholarship in his discussion of Gower's works and Holsinger's. For Hsy, Holsinger's depiction of protagonist Gower's failing sight in the novels and the multi-modal ways in which one can access these novels reflect on poet Gower's eventual blindness and the tension surrounding assistive technologies in the fourteenth century. Vision in Holsinger's narrative, argues Hsy, serves "as a rhetorical conceit and tool for thought" (186). Hsy then shifts his attention to the audiobook version of Holsinger's text, asserting that is "an opportunity to attend to the story differently" and that, as a result, "the book's sonic artistry became its salient feature." (188) Listening to the audiobook, Hsy writes, "revealed how a text and the performing body become mutually constitutive through a technological surface." (190) This conflation of text and body corresponds to Gower's experience as a blind poet, experiencing the written word through the voice of another. At this point, Hsy discusses fourteenth-century assistive technology: eyeglasses. Eyeglasses, Hsy reminds us, "provoked anxious and unprecedented meditations on the relationship between impaired masculinity and perceived notions of intellectual capacity" (190). The cultural associations with these devices made their users uneasy, and Holsinger's novel reflects this unease when he has protagonist Gower refer to them as "crutches." For Hsy, the character Gower's response typifies disability theorist Robert McRuer's concept of "spectral disability": "Gower interprets the spectacles as a prosthetic device or assistive technology that delays an inevitable specter of disability" (190). Hsy's discussion of "multi-modal textual consumption," then, reflects doubly on Gower. In Holsinger's book, we experience a fictional account of what the poet Gower's struggle with failing vision may have been like, and if we listen to “An Invention of Fire,” perhaps then we are closer to how the poet Gower would have experienced texts in his later years. [JS. Copyright. The John Gower Society. eJGN 38.2.]


Gower Subjects
Influence and Later Allusion
Biography of Gower