© 2016

Reading Chaucer After Auschwitz

Sovereign Power and Bare Life


Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)

Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-ix
  2. William McClellan
    Pages 1-28
  3. William McClellan
    Pages 41-59
  4. William McClellan
    Pages 61-80
  5. William McClellan
    Pages 81-102
  6. Back Matter
    Pages 115-123

About this book


Drawing on the work of Holocaust writer Primo Levi and political philosopher Giorgio Agamben McClellan introduces a critical turn in our reading of Chaucer. He argues that the unprecedented event of the Holocaust, which witnessed the total degradation and extermination of human beings, irrevocably changes how we read literature from the past. McClellan gives a thoroughgoing reading of the Man of Law’s Tale, widely regarded as one of Chaucer’s most difficult tales, interpreting it as a meditation on the horrors of sovereign power. He shows how Chaucer, through the figuration of Custance, dramatically depicts the destructive effects of power on the human subject. McClellan’s intervention, which he calls “reading-history-as-ethical-meditation,” places reception history in the context of a reception ethics and holds the promise of changing the way we read traditional texts.


Chaucer studies Medieval Literature Holocaust Studies Giorgio Agamben Political Theory

Authors and affiliations

  1. 1.Baruch College, City University of New YorkNew YorkUSA

About the authors

William McClellan is Associate Professor of English at Baruch College, City University of New York, USA. He has written articles on medieval literature, the Holocaust, Giorgio Agamben, and political theory.

Bibliographic information