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Amoral Gower: Language, Sex, and Politics

Diane Watt
Volume: 38
Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 240
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttv946
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  • Book Info
    Amoral Gower
    Book Description:

    Drawing on a combination of queer and feminist theory, ethical criticism, and psychoanalytic, historicist, and textual criticism, Diane Watt focuses on the language, sex, and politics in Gower’s writing. She demonstrates that Gower engaged in the sort of critical thinking more commonly associated with Chaucer and William Langland and contributes to modern debates about the ethics of criticism.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9412-9
    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. A Note on the Texts
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xi-xviii)
  6. INTRODUCTION: Social Gower
    (pp. 1-18)

    Relatively few documents relating to Gower’s life have survived.¹ His birth is generally dated to 1330 or thereabouts. He may have been born in Yorkshire, but was brought up in Kent and West Suffolk. His social background was similar to Chaucer’s in that he was from an affluent middle-class family and connected in some way to the royal court.² Like Chaucer, he held the rank ofesquier.However, unlike Chaucer, he does not seem to have been a member of the king’s household, or to have been in the employment of the government. Gower himself was most probably a lawyer...

  7. Part I. Language
    • 1 Gower’s Babel Tower: Language Choice and The Grammar of Sex
      (pp. 21-37)

      It is appropriate that a reading ofConfessio Amantisshould begin with a broader investigation of the gender politics implicit in Gower’s poetry. Gower wrote substantial works in Anglo-Norman and Latin before turning to the vernacular. Here I will argue that, within Gower’s corpus as a whole, the authority of prestige and vernacular tongues alike is undermined by queer gender play that connects sexual indeterminacy with linguistic confusion. An immediate context for Gower’s anxieties concerning language is the contemporary dispute about the role of the vernacular in communicating truths, especially religious truths, to lay and nonaristocratic readers. Gower is concerned...

    • 2 Writing Like a Man: Rhetoric and Genealogy
      (pp. 38-60)

      In one of the best-known passages ofInferno,Dante unexpectedly encounters the Florentine magistrate, rhetorician, and poet Brunetto Latini amongst the sodomites in the innermost ring of the seventh circle of Hell. The poignancy of this episode, in which Dante greets his former teacher, suggests a degree of sympathy with the sinner on the part of the narrator that the modern reader might well not anticipate:

      E io, quando il suo braccio a me distese,

      ficcai gli occhi per lo cotto aspetto

      sì, che il viso abbruciato non difese

      la conoscenza sua al mio intelletto;

      e chinando la mia a...

  8. Part II. Sex
    • 3 Transgressive Genders and Subversive Sexualities
      (pp. 63-81)

      The relationship between confessional discourse, interiority or self-consciousness, and the regulation of sexuality is well established.¹ Yet, while in orthodox Christian thought the soul itself was held to be sex-less, the penitential literature of the Middle Ages was gendered: it was written by and primarily for men. As Jacqueline Murray has explained, “confession and penance was in itself a singularly androcentric sacrament . . . whenever women enter the discussion it is as a marked category, a signal of difference, exception or emphasis.”² Further, if, as Michel Foucault famously claimed, confession is “one of the West’s most highly valued techniques...

    • 4 Sexual Chaos and Sexual Sin
      (pp. 82-104)

      In the previous chapter, I challenged Karma Lochrie’s conclusion that the gender ideology ofConfessio Amantisis fundamentally conservative, in that Gower’s narratives do not defy traditional gender hierarchies.¹ However, in many other respects, my reading is in accordance with that of Lochrie and supports her succinct summary of the relationship between sexual politics and sexual ethics in the text as a whole. According to Lochrie,

      What is useful is the way in which Genius’s instruction exposes the perverse within the normative and the very instability of the normative itself. The violence against women, the selfishness, the feminization of men,...

  9. Part III. Politics
    • 5 Tyranny, Reform, and Self-Government
      (pp. 107-126)

      In the Prologue toConfessio Amantis,Gower’s integration of estates satire and biblical prophecy is reminiscent of his earlier Anglo-Norman and French works,Mirour de l’OmmeandVox Clamantis.The Prologue toConfessio Amantis begins, as we saw in Chapter 1, with an account of the poem’s origin, and of its intentions. This is followed by a discussion of the decline of the world, which focuses on the corruption of each of the estates in turn: those who govern, the church, and the commons. Explaining that this corruption comes not from God, nor even from Fortune or the stars, but...

    • 6 Oedipus, Apollonius, and Richard II
      (pp. 127-148)

      Near the end ofConfessio Amantis,the poet famously inscribes his own name into his vernacular poem. When Venus, the goddess of love, asks her supplicant, Amans, to identify himself, he replies, “John Gower” (VIII. 2322). This revelation is startling for two reasons. First, both reader and lover are shocked by the recognition of what the latter is, or at any rate what he has become. Like the poet, Amans is now old, decrepit, and almost blind. Shortly afterwards, Venus holds up a mirror to his face (VIII.2820–23). In this reversal of the Lacanian mirror stage, the viewer does...

    • EPILOGUE: Ethical Gower
      (pp. 149-160)

      Confessio Amantisconcludes with a long colophon, which provides a summary of Gower’s three major works:Mirour de l’Omme, Vox Clamantis,and, of course,Confessio.¹ This colophon, like theConfessioitself, went through a series of revisions (some after Henry IV’s accession), and according to Derek Pearsall, represents “his final statement concerning the content and purpose of his three major works.”² It gives us a sense of what Gower intended to achieve by composing these “tres libros doctrine” (three books of instructive material) (Col.5). We are told that theMirour,referred to here asSpeculum hominis/Speculum Meditantis,was written for...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 161-188)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 189-210)
  12. Index
    (pp. 211-220)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 221-221)