Smith 2001

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Smith, D. Vance. The Book of the Incipit: Beginnings in the Fourteenth Century. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001.

“Such practices suggest that incipits constitute a kind of documentary ritual in everyday life in the Middle Ages, and that they also designate something exception, irreducibly powerful, in their very repetition.” (4)

beginning of a medieval text is “a stunningly complicated Mobius wonder of reversals and negations” (5)

“The relationship between texts and the idea of beginning is a complicated one in the Middle Ages. A text not only exemplifies a particular beginning, but can also be thought of as a response to the problem of making a beginning. That is, every text is a liminal text, its beginnings both intrinsic and extrinsic to it, a problematic that is really just a dilation of the dilemma of human language itself.” (6)

“In the Middle Ages, beginning is not only an instant of time: it is a puzzle, a deeply compelling mystery. We cannot fully apprehend it, no matter how surrounded by beginnings we believe ourselves to be.” (6)

“The idea that the beginning represented in a txt somehow represents a real beginning, a beginning we all seem to long for, is something of a dream, a fantasy that hovers over the beginning of the medieval text. To associate it merely with the incipit is to anatomize it, to subject it to the temporality of language.” (7)

argues that Piers Plowman’s “composition out of multiple dream narratives” is “what most provokes puzzlement over the poem, and precisely what thwarts attempts to construct sustained accounts of its function. Because each of those dreams has its own beginning, PP is a medieval poem that massively concerns beginning, constructed as it is of multiple beginnings.” (8)

PP as “extended meditation on beginnings” (8)