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Literary Criticism

Love Words: The Self and the Text in Medieval and Renaissance Poetry

"Love Words sets out to provide a 'new poetics' for the traditional medieval and Renaissance love lyric. Two theoretical chapters open the work and are perhaps the most important sections of the book. They deal with the problem of finding a 'central meaning in a text,' and Professor Regan's poetics hinges upon certain analogies she discovers between lyric poetry and the self (as defined in object-relations theory). In the psychic topography of the self a central self-object, like a central meaning in a lyric poem, is at the same time indispensable and illusory. This analogy leads to a discussion of a number of ways in which a literary text may be equivalent to self: 'in its birth, its involuntary motions toward Source and Void, its defining activity, its idiosyncratic texture, its interaction with other selves' (p. 35).

"Such a poetics is obviously indebted to psychoanalytic thinking, at least insofar as it presupposes the existence of certain basic human drives with parallels in literature.... For Regan, at the core of lyric poetry as well as at the core of the self, there is a universal human drive which attempts to transcend words: the longing for union with Source (the beloved), on the one hand, and the dread of Void (the absence of the beloved), on the other. This complex longing and dread is defined as 'Lover.' 'Poet,' on the other hand, is a term employed to refer to the 'word-work, the planing and the polishing' (p. 51), what traditional criticism might label craft, rhetoric, or style. Viewing the lyric text as an activity or work that results from these two forces of 'Lover' and 'Poet,' the lyric text is labeled 'Poet-Lover.'

"Regan then devotes four separate chapters to explications of the lyrics of Arnaut Daniel, Dante, Petrarch, and Shakespeare. Certain key categories generated by the analogy of text and self guide her close readings of these works: 'fusion' (the imagined merging of self with the beloved); 'symbiosis' (the self clings to the maternal presence as if to life itself); 'incorporation' (the self fantasizes a devouring of Source); and 'mimesis' (the self tries to become identical to Source). These four terms, taken from moments in the history of the self which parallel moments or tendencies in the activity of the lyric text, provide critical categories for the analysis of the lyric poem, much as a New Critic might stress the ambiguity of a lyric or a structuralist its binary oppositions. I have emphasized Regan's general poetics rather than her specific textual analyses, since she herself views Love Words primarily as a poetics of the lyric rather than as a more traditional historical or generic account of love poetry. In her capable hands, the theory yields some very satisfying readings of a number of poems, particularly those by Petrarch and Shakespeare....[T]he central concepts of Regan's poetics of the lyric...will serve the formalist critic of the medieval or Renaissance lyric very well.

"Love Words is an interesting, thought-provoking theoretical study, which combines a fresh poetics with a sensitive control of individual literary works. It should prove useful to anyone interested in the central tradition of Western literature that runs from the Proven├žal troubadours to the Romantics."

   Peter Bondanella, Indiana University, in Comparative Literature 36 (1984) 180-81.



"[Love Words] works toward a new theory of poetics that resolves the paradox between two opposing views of psychoanalytic literary criticism -- whether or not literary texts and selves move toward or away from a central meaning. Regan perceives that this paradox, which makes texts and selves puzzling to interpreters, is nonexclusive and essential to the human condition. In her approach to literary interpretation, she finds common ground among conflicting views and suggests how they might be more closely united."

   Diane Chaffee-Sorace, from her article "Mariann Sanders Regan's New Poetic Theory as Applied to Early Spanish Amorous Verse." Philological Quarterly 65:1 (Winter 1986), 1-21.