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Literary Criticism

Love Words: The Self and the Text in Medieval and Renaissance Poetry. Cornell University Press, 1982. 284 pp.


In Love Words, Mariann Sanders Regan advances a new theory of literary interpretation and demonstrates it through Renaissance love poetry, a tradition extending from the troubadour poets, through Dante and Petrarch, to Shakespeare.

Regan combines psychoanalytic interpretive techniques with contemporary literary theories to suggest some essential analogies between the literary text and the self. Various schools of literary criticism now debate whether definitive, central meanings can be discovered in literary texts. This debate, Regan believes, matches a paradox basic to object-relations theory: that in the psychic topography of the self, a "central meaning," or ideal self-object, is in one sense indispensable and yet in another sense illusory and impossible.

Regan builds a critical vocabulary -- clear, sensible, direct -- that expresses a set of resemblances between text and self. She applies her concepts to the work of four poets, devoting a chapter to each: the cansos of Arnaut Daniel; Dante's lyric poetry -- including the stilnovist lyrics and the rime petrose —- and the Commedia; Petrarch's Canzoniere; and Shakespeare’s sonnets. Everywhere, she supplies English translations of the Provençal and Italian texts.

Drawing upon a number of current schools of literary interpretation and suggesting possible bridges between them, Love Words proposes a new poetics and with it what Regan characterizes as a "maternal" theory of the text. Addressed "to all who study words of love, to all lovers who practice 'wording,' to all who love words, and to all who do not," it is a provocative contribution to the study of love poetry and to psychoanalytic and literary criticism.