Robert McMahon

Robert McMahon is professor of English at Louisiana State University. He is the author of Thinking About Literature, The Two Poets of Paradise Lost, Augustine's Prayerful Ascent: An Essay on the Literary Form of the Confessions Hardcover – January 1, 1989; Understanding the Medieval Meditative Ascent: Augustine, Anselm, Boethius, and Dante Hardcover – February 8, 2006. The author uses literary analysis to discover new philosophical meanings in the work of various authors (including Eric Voegelin). He presents interpretations of literary structures and hidden meanings in history with reference to the contemporary world.  

"The Confessions, Proslogion, and Consolation of Philosophy, like the Divine Comedy, all enact Platonist ascents. Each has a pilgrim figure, guided dialogically on a journey of understanding. Each rises to progressively higher levels of understanding and culminates in a supreme intellectual vision. The higher levels contain and surpass earlier understandings and thereby reconfigure them, but implicitly, for the questing pilgrim rarely stops to reflect on the stages of his ascent. Augustine's conclusions about time in book 11, for example, embrace memory as "time past," but he does not reconsider his account of memory in book 10 from this new perspective. He leaves this task for his reader's meditation, as a spiritual exercise.

In this way, a Platonist ascent generates implied meditative meanings, which scholars have explored only in part. Each work calls us to read forward, on its journey of understanding, and to meditate backwards on the stages of the ascent and the relations between them. Augustine, Anselm, Boethius, and Dante wrote for readers experienced in meditating on the Bible, adept at exploring relations between far distant passages. They designed these works as spiritual exercises for the same kind of reading and meditation.

Understanding the Medieval Meditative Ascent uses literary analysis to discover new philosophical meanings in these works. Clearly written in nontechnical language, its account of their literary structures and of the hidden meanings they generate will inform nonspecialist and specialist alike.