The inevitable emerges in this issue as a name for the troubled intersection of agency and structural necessity. The most prominent medieval name for that intersection is sin. Far from grounding the medieval subject in a set of theological norms that give it stable coordinates for desire and action, sin indicates the subject’s splitting by the norms that organize it. Piers Plowman, which explores the medieval split subject through formal experimentation, repeatedly encounters the demands of political, ethical, economic, and spiritual life and repeatedly problematizes all its terms for representing the subject’s responsibility to those demands. The death drive offers a way of describing the trajectory of desire beyond anything representable, a trajectory that finds its most direct expression in the poem’s apocalyptic energies. But Piers Plowman treats even the apocalypse as an anticlimactic avoidance of the bind of desire. If desire drives beyond any terms in which its target can be represented, what compels William Langland is finally the unrelenting character of the demands to which the subject can never be adequate.

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