Lumiansky’s Paradox: Ethics, Aesthetics, and Chaucer’s "Prioress’s Tale"

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R. M. Lumiansky's removal of Chaucer's "Prioress's Tale" from his 1948 edition of the Canterbury Tales demonstrates that ethical challenges exist for those studying anti-Semitic texts from the past. This essay suggests that such ethical conflicts don't emanate from the text itself but from the dual context of the historical past and the contemporary context of that reading. The obligation to account accurately for the past may not always sit well against the responsibilities issuing from contemporary events. "Lumiansky's Paradox" provides medievalists with an opportunity to judge how best to "respect" "The Prioress's Tale" (as well as other bigoted texts) by examining the unrecognized role aesthetics has played in historicist and non-historicist readings of the tale. The essay contends that the response should not be to reject aesthetics in favor of historicism but to dwell in "Lumiansky's Paradox" so as to explore the potential for an ethical aesthetics.


© 2005 by Westchester University Press