Skip to main content
Anticipating Alienation: Beowulf and the Intrusion of Literacy
Modern Language Association (1993)
  • Michael Near, Occidental College
Implicit in Beowulf's thematic involvement with language is a marked and persistent hostility toward the epistemological foundation underpinning the practice of literacy. While the poem seems to acknowledge the psychological posture conditioned by, or at least compatible with, literate practices, the acknowledgment characterizes that posture as a clear, direct threat to the ordering structures-and thus to the basic survival-of the poem's central system of personal interdependencies. Beowulf confronts the psychological demands of the reading experience by persistently reaffirming those idioms of speech and patterns of interaction that require the open immediacy of spoken exchange. The confrontations set in conflict not simply the characters of the poem but the psychological structures that the characters epitomize and thus the linguistic practices most compatible with those structures.
Publication Date
March, 1993
Citation Information
Michael Near. "Anticipating Alienation: Beowulf and the Intrusion of Literacy" Modern Language Association Vol. 108 Iss. 2 (1993)
Available at: