The Necessity Of History: The Example Of Chaucer’s “Clerk’s Tale”

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


As Karl Marx famously said, “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.”1 And as Friedrich Engels added, when man “become [s] master of his own social organization” he will, “with full consciousness, make his own history. It is humanity’s leap from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom.”2 Marx defined “the true realm of freedom” as the “development of human powers as an end in itself.“3 Trained as most of us are in the Kantian aesthetic tradition, for us the clearest instance of human power used as its own end is art—including literature. So here is the familiar, insoluble paradox: literature is simultaneously created within the kingdom of necessity and yet seeks always to leap into the kingdom of freedom. The task of the critic is to negotiate between historical necessity and aesthetic aspiration.


Human Power Medieval Literature Historical Necessity Sacral Nature Unquestioning Obedience 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Bonnie Wheeler 2006

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  • Lee Patterson

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