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Chaucer’s Queer Nation

Glenn Burger
Volume: 34
Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 296
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.cttttss4
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  • Book Info
    Chaucer’s Queer Nation
    Book Description:

    Bringing the concerns of queer theory and postcolonial studies to bear on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, this ambitious book compels a rethinking not only of this most canonical of works, but also of questions of sexuality and gender in pre- and postmodern contexts, of issues of modernity and nation in historiography, and even of the enterprise of historiography itself. Medieval Cultures Series, volume 34

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9283-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. IX-XXVI)

    Any book about a single author—especially one like this that treats the work of the first “great author” in the English literary tradition and whose critique situates itself within current sexual politics—raises particular and urgent theoretical questions. WhyChaucer? Why now? Why Chaucer’squeer nation?

    Contemporary gay/lesbian/queer readers are likely to ask why they should bother at all with a text and author at once premodern (and thus crucially outside current discourses of the body and nation)andfoundational for many of the hegemonic discourses of modernity that have shaped who we are today. Those who would not...

  5. 1 Shameful Pleasures
    (pp. 1-36)

    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 Tuttle 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...

  6. 2 Medieval Conjugality and the Canterbury Tales
    (pp. 37-77)

    In chapter 1 I argued that theMiller’s Tale“begins” the Canterbury project by foregrounding subjectivity and identity as richly productive questions, rather than as stabilizing presumptions. In particular, theMiller’s Tale“loosens” the class and gender hierarchies anchoring the body in theKnight’s Taleenough to imagine through its masochistic contract a body in motion, fluid and powerfully unpredictable in its representational flexibility. The identity positions offered by such an embodiment, however, bring with them both the reassuring prospect of participation in the construction of a properly dominant masculinity and the uneasy recognition of the instabilities that such an...

  7. 3 Modernity and Marriage in the Canterbury Tales
    (pp. 78-118)

    Although the Wife is not the first pilgrim to deal with marriage, or to focus on the importance of marriage in representing and deciding proper sex/gender relations and the social orders that rest on them, her tale does make visible a new desire to bring modernity, conjugality, and a new elite’s self-definition into some kind of proper alignment. Both theKnight’s Taleand theMan of Law’s Taleuse marriage to stabilize sex/gender relations in important ways, yet both also present a false consciousness about marriage that occludes crucial but troubling changes in medieval approaches to the institution and its...

  8. 4 Queer Performativity in Fragment VI
    (pp. 119-159)

    InThe Idea of the Canterbury Tales—still one of the most richly provocative readings of the Pardoner and his place in theTales—Donald Howard focuses on the perversity of Fragment VI as a whole: a fragment apparently uniquely isolated within the Canterbury project and curiously alienated from (or by) its ordering principles. Other tales and fragments fit together in spite of an admittedly unfinished “big picture” for theTalesas a whole. Characters introduce themselves and their tales from the frame (as with the Wife of Bath), tales are commissioned by the Host, estate and personal rivalries prompt...

  9. 5 Desiring Machines
    (pp. 160-185)

    Fragment VII returns to a number of the issues we have been considering in the previous chapters. TheMelibeeand theShipman’s Tale, and to a lesser extent, theNun’s Priest’s Tale, focus once again on the matter of woman and the relationship between conjugality and agency. As well, theMelibee, theMonk’s Tale, andNun’s Priest’s Taletake up issues relating to good government. Within the fragment, as with other moments in theTales, an unpredictable dynamic is created as the competing desires contained within the social order fictionalized in the pilgrimage frame come into contact with each other,...

  10. 6 Post-ality and the “End” of the Canterbury Tales
    (pp. 186-208)

    In this postscript to my discussion of theTales, I want to turn briefly to the question of their ending, and more specifically, to the common belief that in theParson’s TaleandChaucer’s Retractionwe find some kind of resolution to the Canterbury project itself. Certainly it seems fair to say that, despite the original tale-telling agreement the Host and pilgrims forged at the Tabard Inn—that each pilgrim “shal telle tales tweye /To Caunterbury-ward, . . . And homward he shal tellen othere two” (I.792–95)—theParson’s Prologue and Taleappear intent on radically reshaping the end...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 209-258)
  12. Index
    (pp. 259-264)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 265-268)