Influential accounts of European cultural history variously suggest that the rise of nominalism and its ultimate victory over realist orientations were highly implemental factors in the formation of Modern Europe since the later Middle Ages, but particularly the Reformation. Quite probably, this is a simplification of a state of affairs that is in fact more complex, indeed ambiguous. However, if there is any truth in such propositions - which have, after all, been made by many prominent commentators, such as Panofsky, Heer, Blumenberg, Foucault, Eco, Kristeva - we may no doubt assume that literary texts will have responded and in turn contributed, in a variety of ways, to these processes of cultural transformation. It seems of considerable interest, therefore, to take a close look at the complex, precarious position which literature, as basically a symbolic mode of signification, held in the perennial struggles and discursive negotiations between the semiotic 'twin paradigms' of nominalism and realism.
This collection of essays (many of them by leading scholars in the field) is a first comprehensive attempt to tackle such issues - by analyzing representative literary texts in terms of their underlying semiotic orientations, specifically of nominalism, but also by studying pertinent historical, theoretical and discursive co(n)texts of such developments in their relation to literary discourse. At the same time, since 'literary nominalism' and 'realism' are conceived as fundamentally aesthetic phenomena instantiating a genuinely 'literary debate over universals', consistent emphasis is placed on the discursive dimension of the texts scrutinized, in an endeavour to re-orient and consolidate an emergent research paradigm which promises to open up entirely new perspectives for the study of literary semiotics, as well as of aesthetics in general. Historical focus is provided by concentrating on the English situation in the era of transition from late medieval to early modern (c. 1350-1650), but readers will also find contributions on ChrÉtien de Troyes and Rabelais, as well as on the 'aftermath' of the earlier debates - as exemplified in studies of Locke and (post)modern critical altercations, respectively, which serve to point up the continuing relevance of the issues involved. A substantial introductory essay seeks to develop an overarching theoretical framework for the study of nominalism and literary discourse, in addition to offering an in-depth exploration of the 'nominalism/realism-complex' in its relation to literature. An extensive bibliography and index are further features of interest to both specialists and general readers.