Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Personal tools

Navigation

Arts of Possession

The Middle English Household Imaginary

2002
Author:

D. Vance Smith

Arts of Possession

Exposes the centrality of the household to cultural practices of the medieval period.

An innovative work of both economic anthropology and literary history, Arts of Possession draws on philosophical, theoretical, literary, historical, and archival sources and insights to situate the household at the center of the social and cultural imagination of fourteenth-century England.

Medieval Cultures Series, volume 33

“Arts of Possession is a landmark cultural study that reshapes our understanding of the workings of economic and domestic signifiers in Middle English narrative. D. Vance Smith presents a dazzling argument, brilliantly nuanced by Freud, Marx, and Lacan.” Sarah Stanbury, College of the Holy Cross

An innovative work of both economic anthropology and literary history, Arts of Possession draws on philosophical, theoretical, literary, historical, and archival sources and insights to situate the household at the center of the social and cultural imagination of fourteenth-century England.

D. Vance Smith argues that in a period commonly represented as precapitalist there actually existed a sophisticated economic discourse-and this discourse underlies common forms of representation and the writing of literary texts. His work provides a new historiography of capital and of the development of the relation between economic sophistication and cultural practices. Smith reads well-known and less-appreciated works-such as Winner and Waster, Sir Launfal, The Canterbury Tales, and Piers Plowman-for what they can tell us about the surpluses and economies that drew the medieval imagination, and about the complex ethics of possession at the heart of the fourteenth-century household. In bringing this to light, Smith’s book itself becomes an eloquent meditation on the poetics and ethics of possession.

Arts of Possession

D. Vance Smith is associate professor of English at Princeton University. He is the author of The Book of the Incipit: Beginnings in the Fourteenth Century (Minnesota, 2001).

Arts of Possession

“Arts of Possession is a landmark cultural study that reshapes our understanding of the workings of economic and domestic signifiers in Middle English narrative. D. Vance Smith presents a dazzling argument, brilliantly nuanced by Freud, Marx, and Lacan.” Sarah Stanbury, College of the Holy Cross

This rich, intelligent, probing book will be one to reckon with for some time to come.

Speculum

Arts of Possession

Contents

Acknowledgments

On the Threshold

1. Inescapable Economy
2. The Repeating House: Surplus and Dead Time
3. The Visible Investments of Winning and Wasting
4. Merchants in the Margin: Writing and the National Domestic of Piers Plowman
5. “How fer schall al þys good?”: Sir Launfal and the Sumptuary World
6. Exchanging, Changing, Corrupting: The Arthurian House of Death

Notes
Bibliography

Index