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Figuring the Feminine

Figuring the Feminine: The Rhetoric of Female Embodiment in Medieval Hispanic Literature

Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 320
  • Book Info
    Figuring the Feminine
    Book Description:

    Figuring the Feminineexamines the female body as a means of articulating questions of literary authority and practice within the cultural spheres of the Iberian Peninsula (both Romance and Semitic) as well as in the larger Latinate literary culture. It demonstrates the centrality in medieval literary culture of the gendering of rhetorical and hermeneutical acts involved in the creation of texts and meaning, and the importance of the medieval Iberian textual tradition in this process, a complex multicultural tradition that is often overlooked in medieval literary scholarship. This study adopts an innovative methodology informed by current theories of the body and gender to approach Hispanic literature from a femininst perspective.

    Jill Ross offers new readings of medieval Hispanic texts (Latin, Castilian, and Hebrew) including Prudentius'Peristephanon,Gonzalo de Berceo'sMilagros de Nuestra Señora, Shem Tov of Carrión'sBattle Between the Pen and the Scissors, and several others. She highlights ways in which these texts contribute to the understanding of gender in medieval poetics and foreground questions of literary and cultural import.Figuring the Feminineargues that the bodies of women are crucial to the working out of such questions as the unsettling shift from orality to literacy, textual instability, cultural dissonance, and the resistance to cultural and religious hegemony.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8810-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-15)

    Much ink has been spilled in discussing the place of the body in philosophical and critical writing. Feminist thought has challenged the Western, Cartesian philosophical attempts to free the mind from the tainted materiality of the body, and has attempted to liberate the body, especially the female-gendered body, from the bonds of a biological determinism imposed by a society and consciousness where the abstract and disembodied come to exert power over an inert, receptive, ‘feminine’ matter.¹ Implicit in this debate is the thorny issue of language. For the inheritors of the Platonic tradition, which privileged mind over body and voice...

  5. 1 Carnal Knowledge: Metaphor, Allegory, and the Embodiment of Truth
    (pp. 16-49)

    ‘Sicut enim corpus humanum ornatus vestibus, ita rudis materia ornatur verbis’ (Just as the human body is adorned with clothes, so rude matter is adorned with words). This description of the poetic process by a thirteenth-century commentator on Geoffrey of Vinsauf neatly compresses key medieval concepts about the writing of poetry, the nature of figurative language, and the equivocal presence of the body at the heart of imaginative communication. The notion of the essence or meaning of a poetic text as a body dressed in the beautiful ornaments of style (figures and tropes) fashioned by the poet was a commonplace...

  6. 2 Dynamic Writing and Martyrs’ Bodies in Prudentius’s Peristephanon
    (pp. 50-80)

    One of the earliest and most compelling examples in the Iberian Peninsula of the use of the figure of metaphor to stage the contestation of textual power through the conflation of writing and embodiment is the early Christian collection of martyrdom poems,Peristephanon, written ca. 405 by Prudentius, a Hispano-Roman poet. Prudentius’s privileging of the imaginative re-creation of narratives of torture and textuality of martyrs from the Roman province of Hispania attests to his close identification with his birthplace of Calahorra and neighbouring regions. Of the fourteen narratives in thePeristephanon, six are dedicated to Hispanic saints whose later medieval...

  7. 3 Macho Words: Writing, Violence, and Gender in the Poema de mio Cid
    (pp. 81-107)

    The words of defiance uttered by Eulalia and Agnes before their bloodthirsty judges result in the penetrative textualization of their bodies by the instruments of torture, a writing that is then harnessed and disseminated by the pen of Prudentius. The question of the relationship of verbal presence and its textual reenactment that Prudentius so deftly negotiates by means of the metaphor of female embodiment is subtly recast in the anonymous early-thirteenth-century Spanish epic poemPoema de mio Cid. As in Prudentius’sPeristephanon, the bodies of women function as the arena in which the parameters of linguistic authority and culturally coded...

  8. 4 The Metaphorics of Mary: Language and Embodiment in Berceo’s Milagros de Nuestra Señora
    (pp. 108-144)

    The struggle over discursive authority and mastery played out on the bodies of women in thePoema de mio Cidmust be staged in a very different way when the female body becomes the condition and source of all language. The body of the Virgin Mary becomes both the enabler of language and the linguistic creation of Gonzalo de Berceo in hisMilagros de Nuestra Señora. Berceo, a thirteenth-century Castilian poet, fuses text and body as a strategic means of exercising control over both the textualization of Mary and the interpretive strategies required for appropriating her.¹ However, unlike the bodies...

  9. 5 Undressing the Libro de buen amor
    (pp. 145-180)

    TheLibro de buen amor,written during the second quarter of the fourteenth century in Castile by Juan Ruiz, archpriest of Hita, shares in the same imagistic nexus of bodies, garments, and texts as does Berceo’sMilagroswhen issues of poetic composition and interpretation are raised. However, unlike theMilagros, whose source and meaning are the stable and determinate truth of Mary, theLibro de buen amorundermines the belief in an immanent, transcendent referent of poetic language. Berceo used the language of metaphor and allegory to embody truth in words and to guide the reader to an interpretive practice...

  10. 6 Configuring Culture: Writing the Hybrid in Shem Tov of Carrión
    (pp. 181-203)

    At the same time that theLibro de buen amorwas disseminating its message of wanton textual instability, Rabbi Shem Tov ben Isaac Ardutiel of Carrión (or Santob as he is known in Spanish) was examining the nature of textuality and the consequences of linking writing and sex. Like Juan Ruiz, Shem Tov exploits the trope of a woman’s body covered in layers of words to refer to texts and their interpretation and, astonishingly, he also celebrates textual ambiguity by fashioning a text whose lack of integrity is figured as literal raggedness. Where Juan Ruiz is the tailor who patches...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 204-210)

    Hispanomedievalism, like medieval studies within the larger humanities curriculum, is a field struggling to maintain its footing within larger departments of Romance languages and literatures, or within departments of Spanish that tend to privilege the modern and the Latin American over the archaic language and arcane texts of medieval Iberia. As Lee Patterson has trenchantly observed, the reintegration of medieval studies into the human sciences as a whole is contingent upon its ability to ‘expound the powers and prerogatives of the past in ways that will command attention only when we acknowledge the mutual claims that past and present lay...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 211-268)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 269-294)
  14. Index
    (pp. 295-305)