The Phenomenology of Frames in Chaucer, Dante and Boccaccio
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When an author produces a frame narrative, she simultaneously makes language both a represented object and a representing agent; when we imagine framed speech, we imagine both the scene its words represent and a mouth that speaks those words. Framed language is thus perfectly mimetic: the words we imagine being spoken within the fictional world are the same we use to effect that fiction's representation. Since its first function is to represent itself, the framed word acts both to push us out of the frame into our own temporality and to draw us into fictional times and spaces. This dissertation explores how first Dante and subsequently his successors, Boccaccio and Chaucer, deploy this structural feature of frames to engage difficult philosophical and theological disputes of their age. In the Divine Comedy, framed language allows Dante to approach the perfect presence of God without transgressing into a spatial conception of the divine. Intensifying Dante's procedure in his House of Fame, Chaucer forecloses the possibility of representation; he transforms every speech act into an image of its utterer rather than its referent, thus violently thrusting us back into the time we pass as we read. Boccaccio--first in his Ameto then in the Decameron--eschews this framed temporality in favor of the temporality of the fetish: while his narratives threaten to dissolve into their basic linguistic matters, the erotic energy of the people that populate those narratives forces them to cohere as fully imagined spaces and times. Finally the Chaucer who writes the Canterbury Tales fuses his initial reading of Dante with Boccaccio's response to it; he constructs the Canterbury pilgrims as grotesques who each open up a limited angle of vision on the time and space they collectively inhabit. These angles overlap and stutter over one another, unsettling the easy assignations of identity any given pilgrim would enforce on a tale or agent within the narrative. In doing so, Chaucer makes the temporality within his Tales strange and poignant in a way that fully mimics our own experience of extra-narrative time.