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Queering the Middle Ages

Queering the Middle Ages

Glenn Burger
Steven F. Kruger
Volume: 27
Copyright Date: 2001
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 344
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttszw5
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  • Book Info
    Queering the Middle Ages
    Book Description:

    The essays in this volume present new work that, in one way or another, “queers” stabilized conceptions of the Middle Ages, allowing us to see the period and its systems of sexuality in radically different, off-center, and revealing ways. Contributors: Kathleen Biddick, Michael Camille, Marilynn Desmond, Garrett P. J. Epp, Gregory S. Hutcheson, Karma Lochrie, Peggy McCracken, Francesca Canadé Sautman, Larry Scanlon, Susan Schibanoff, Pamela Sheingorn, Claire Sponsler.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-5276-1
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. xi-xxiv)
    Glenn Burger and Steven F. Kruger

    Analyzing “the single and noteworthy exception of male-male sexual relations” in John Cleland’sMemoirs of a Woman of Pleasure,Lee Edelman calls attention to the ways in which a logic of normative gender and sexuality is called into question by Fanny Hill’s “scientific” description of the sodomitical scene—“His red-topt ivory toy, that stood perfectly stiff shewed, that if he was like his mother behind, he was like his father before”—summarized by her as a “project of preposterous pleasure.” Edelman focuses particularly on that last phrase

    because it signally condenses the disturbance of positionality that is located in and...

  5. PART I

    • 1 Queering Ovidian Myth: Bestiality and Desire in Christine de Pizan’s Epistre Othea
      (pp. 3-27)
      Marilynn Desmond and Pamela Sheingorn

      Christine de Pizan’sEpistre Otheaor Letter of Othea to Hector, composed and illustrated during the first decade of the fifteenth century, offers a highly visual adaptation of classical narratives, especially Ovidian myths drawn from theOvide moralisé.As a cinematic deployment of text and image, theOtheaprivileges the visual element as the component that challenges normative constructions of desire.² In the process, Christine queers the Ovidian obsession with metamorphosis and explores trans-species sexuality as a way of revising received notions of female sexuality and envisioning female desire. TheEpistre Otheawas produced in several luxury editions early in...

    • 2 Sodomy’s Mark: Alan of Lille, Jean de Meun, and the Medieval Theory of Authorship
      (pp. 28-56)
      Susan Shibanoff

      The opening meter or poetic chapter of Alan of Lille’sPlaint of Nature(ca. 1160-70) introduces its readers to the technical grammatical metaphors employed in this work to denounce the practice of male same-sex copulation, which Alan condemns on the grounds that it requires one of the two male partners to play an inferior passive—or female—role in sexual intercourse.¹ Alan’s first grammatical trope in thePlaintfigures this transgression in terms of misaligned subjects and predicates (verbs):

      The active sex shudders in disgrace as it sees itself degenerate into the passive sex. A man turned woman blackens the fair...

    • 3 The Pose of the Queer: Dante’s Gaze, Brunerto Latini’s Body
      (pp. 57-86)
      Michael Camille

      This moment of profound, human recognition in theDivine Comedy,when Dante is confronted on the burning plain of the seventh circle of Hell by his old friend and teacher, Brunetto Latini, has never been so evocatively, nor so daringly, visualized as in the lower margins of an early fourteenth-century manuscript in the Musée Condé, Chantilly. There he stands, the first “flaming queen” in medieval art and the most (in)famous sodomite in all of medieval literature, his figure posed prominently on the slightly curving parchment, his right arm raised to address Dante and Virgil. His left hand, even more audaciously...

    • Response Presidential Improprieties and Medieval Categories: The Absurdity of Heterosexuality
      (pp. 87-96)
      Karma Lochrie

      The 1999 impeachment trial of President Clinton for perjurious statements regarding his heterosexual relations reveals how medieval our perimillennial discussion of sexual acts actually is. Michel Foucault immortalized the premodern category of sodomy as “that utterly confused category,” which helped to inaugurate the current studies of medieval sexuality, including this volume.¹ If sodomy both was and continues to be “that utterly confused category,” as Janet Halley has argued in her analysis of the 1986 U.S. Supreme Court decisionBowers v. Hardwick,how much more utterly confused is andwasheterosexuality?² President Clinton’s denial of sexual relations withMonica Lewinsky,disingenuous...

  6. PART II

    • 4 The Sodomitic Moor: Queerness in the Narrative of Reconquista
      (pp. 99-122)
      Gregory S. Hutchison

      InDe la Andalucía islámica a la de hoy,historian Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz sums up the moral imperative of the Spanish Middle Ages thus: were it not forReconquista,the centuries-long crusade to reestablish Christian hegemony on the Iberian Peninsula, “homosexuality, which was so widely practiced in Moorish Spain, would have triumphed.”¹ It would be tempting to attribute such broad claims to the reductionisms of positivist historicizing, in this case to the notion that sexual vice is an inherent characteristic of all civilizations in decline. Such is Leopold von Ranke’s reading of history, as Vern L. Bullough and James A. Brundage...

    • 5 Chaste Subjects: Gender, Heroism, and Desire in the Grail Quest
      (pp. 123-142)
      Peggy Mccracken

      In a strikingly odd passage from the Old FrenchPerksvaus,an early thirteenth-century grail romance, the eponymous knight is described in terms that announce his extraordinary virtue, prowess, and sexual purity, while at the same time they seem to question the gender identity of the virgin knight. Perlesvaus’s sister describes her brother as “the chaste knight from a holy lineage. He has a golden head, the gaze of a lion, the navel of a virgin maiden, a valiant heart, and the highest virtues.”¹ The “no[m]blil de virge pucele” describes the virgin male body with the image of the intact female...

    • 6 The King’s Boyfriend: Froissart’s Political Theater of 1326
      (pp. 143-167)
      Claire Sponsler

      One of the most striking of the historical events recounted by Jean Froissart in hisChroniquestook place in 1326, the year Edward II of England was deposed.¹ A central figure in the king’s downfall, in Froissart’s version of the story, was Hugh Despenser with whom Edward had been brought up from his youth and who by virtue of his close ties to the king had become, along with his father, one of the richest, most powerful men in England. Edward’s troubles, Froissart claims, began shortly after the battle of Bannockburn in 1314, when Robert Bruce reconquered Scotland and defeated...

    • Response “Just Like a Woman”: Queer History, Womanizing the Body, and the Boys in Arnaud’s Band
      (pp. 168-190)
      Francesca Canadé Sautman

      I would like to begin with one of Judith Butler’s most incisive essays, “Gender Is Burning.”¹ It provides a useful, and challenging, frame to the response I am attempting to make to the preceding three essays, one that successfully delineates how the subjectivated can disobey normative performative discourse—can, in fact, disembody it. I say “attempt,” for these three essays cover a great deal of ground and raise challenging possibilities for the project of devising a queer theory operating in medieval contexts. All three propose such useful contours for charting road maps across the unexplored territories of medieval queerdom that...

  7. PART III

    • 7 Translating the Foreskin
      (pp. 193-212)
      Kathleen Biddick

      This essay does not attempt to be either a chronological study or a social history of eunuchs, although John Boswell wrote in 1991 that such a history was “badly needed.”¹ Rather, I come to focus on how eunuchs often appear as a kind of “period piece” at sites of conflict between conventional historiographic periodization (the straight and narrow of “that was then and this is now”) and queer temporalities emergent in the interstices of periodization. Histories of sexuality, in spite of a seemingly growing impulse to categorize, have mostly avoided a consideration of eunuchs.² Foucault’s rhetorical disdain of the eunuch...

    • 8 Shameful Pleasures: Up Close and Dirty with Chaucer, Flesh, and the Word
      (pp. 213-235)
      Glenn Burger

      Throughout their many disciplinary manifestations, Chaucer and Chaucerian fictions have played a preeminent role in defining, grounding, and maintaining “English literature” and the discourses of heterosexuality and modernity that depend on it. As Elaine Turtle Hansen succinctly puts it: “Chaucer has been known and valued differently in different ages, but he has always been read, talked about, and more often than not singled out for praise as the precursor to be emulated, the forebear to be revered, the Father of English poetry. . . . Present or absent, Chaucer matters.”¹ What has been at stake here is the ability of...

    • 9 Ecce Homo
      (pp. 236-251)
      Garrett P.J. Epp

      The anonymousTretise of Miraclis Pleyinge(ca. 1400) is hardly unusual in its condemnation of theater as conducive to lechery. A brief glance through Jonas Barish’s bookThe Antitheatrical Prejudicereveals that much, even if the book’s index makes no mention of the subject. On the other hand, Barish barely mentions lechery in his chapter on theTretise,stating only that the author “devises a fantastic analogy between the playing of miracles and the worship of the golden calf to show that miracle plays, by encouraging gluttony, lechery, and covetise, constitute a dreadful ‘maumetrie’.”⁴ Clifford Davidson, in the Introduction to his fine...

    • 10 Medieval/Postmodern: HIV/AIDS and the Temporality of Crisis
      (pp. 252-283)
      Steven F. Kruger

      One of the most productive insights of poststructuralist thought, and more specifically of queer theory, has been the recognition that normative regimes depend on the very terms they attempt to exclude: masculinity requires a devalued femininity and effeminacy for the maintenance of its power and stability; heterosexuality relies on a disavowed and ab- jected queerness that continues to inhabit its margins. The process of fixing an identity or establishing a norm creates an outside characterized by all that is not allowable within normative identity. Repudiated, this outside is nonetheless necessary to that which disallows it, its presence maintained in order...

    • Response Return of the Repressed: The Sequel
      (pp. 284-302)
      LARRY SCANLON

      On 31 January 1882, Oscar Wilde gave a lecture at the Boston Music Hall. He had been in the United States less than a month, but as the self-proclaimed “Apostle of Aestheticism,” he had already created a sensation. Hordes of reporters followed him wherever he went, faithfully reporting his epigrams, and even on occasion ascribing to him epigrams they had actually invented themselves.¹ While most took his critical claims seriously, some were also scandalized by the ambiguous sexuality his dress and demeanor seemed to imply—so much so that Mary Warner Blanchard has suggested that Wilde’s yearlong lecture tour constituted...

  8. Contributors
    (pp. 303-308)
  9. Index of Proper Names and Titles of Anonymous Works
    (pp. 309-318)