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The Invention of Heterosexual Culture

The Invention of Heterosexual Culture

Louis-Georges Tin
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    The Invention of Heterosexual Culture
    Book Description:

    Heterosexuality is celebrated--in film and television, in pop songs and opera, in literature and on greeting cards--and at the same time taken for granted. It is the cultural and sexual norm by default. And yet, as Louis-Georges Tin shows in The Invention of Heterosexual Culture, in premodern Europe heterosexuality was perceived as an alternative culture. The practice of heterosexuality may have been standard, but the symbolic primacy of the heterosexual couple was not. Tin maps the emergence of heterosexual culture in Western Europe and the significant resistance to it from feudal lords, church fathers, and the medical profession. Tin writes that before the phenomenon of "courtly love" in the early twelfth century, the man-woman pairing had not been deemed a subject worthy of more than passing interest. As heterosexuality became a recurrent theme in art and literature, the nobility came to view it as a disruption of the feudal chivalric ethos of virility and male bonding. If feudal lords objected to the "hetero" in heterosexuality and what they saw as the associated dangers of weakness and effeminacy, the church took issue with the "sexuality," which threatened the Christian ethos of renunciation and divine love. Finally, the medical profession cast heterosexuality as pathology, warning of an epidemic of "lovesickness."Noting that the discourse of heterosexuality does not belong to heterosexuals alone, Tin offers a groundbreaking history that reasserts the cultural identity of heterosexuality.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-30593-8
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. Part I: Chivalric Opposition to Heterosexual Culture

    • 1 The Middle Ages: From a Homosocial to a Heterosexual Culture
      (pp. 3-32)

      The courtly ethic that came to prominence in the West fostered the emergence of a culture based on man-woman relationships. All-male friendships—the very stuff of heroic legend—were increasingly suspect, widely criticized, and often maligned. This transition from a formerly homosocial world to a modern heterosexual culture merits detailed examination. The process of substitution was protracted, complex, and onerous, and there was considerable and diversified opposition to the new heterosexual culture. It is perhaps for this reason that the culture’s emergence is nowhere more evident than in the resistance it engendered, most notably in the form of the chivalric...

    • 2 The Renaissance: The Continuing Conflict between Homosocial Tradition and Heterosexual Culture
      (pp. 33-46)

      The onward march of heterosexual culture was everywhere in evidence during the Renaissance, not least in poetry written in the Italian manner to celebrate the peaks and troughs of courtly love. It is indicative of the age that Roland—who, in his eponymousChanson, had been born into a homosocial world order and was the epitome of male heroism and a model of male friendship—should become a hero of love in Pulci’sMorgante Maggiore, Boiardo’sOrlando innamorato, or Ariosto’sOrlando furioso. That Roland might fall head over heels in love with a woman would have been unthinkable in the...

    • 3 The Seventeenth Century: The Triumph of Heterosexual Culture over Chivalric Opposition
      (pp. 47-50)

      The historical perspective laid out in the previous chapters should enable fresh light to be shed on the era of classic French literature and on two of its leading exponents.

      The entireoeuvreof French dramatist Pierre Corneille may be seen as a dialectic between disappearing homosocial values and the new and dominant heterosexual culture of courtly convention. That he was instinctively drawn to the traditional heroic ideal of virility and the sense of tragicdignitasis confirmed in his discourse “On the Purpose and the Parts of a Play”:

      The dignity of a tragedy requires some great interest of...

  5. Part II: Ecclesiastical Opposition to Heterosexual Culture

    • 4 The Medieval Church versus the Heterosexual Couple
      (pp. 53-72)

      Christianity was ill-placed to accommodate the notion ofcourtois. Christian tradition had deep roots in the image of a virgin mother who gave birth to a child who grew up celibate and who repeatedly enjoined his apostles and disciples to leave their wives and children to follow and serve the son of God.¹ In other words, the notion of man-woman relationships was a priori incompatible with Christian experience. In his First Epistle to the Corinthians, Saint Paul, coming after Jesus Christ, expressly affirms the primacy of celibacy over marriage:

      It is good for a man not to touch a woman....

    • 5 The Renaissance: The Enduring Conflict between the Church and Heterosexual Culture
      (pp. 73-92)

      As the Renaissance dawned, there was every indication that the Roman Catholic Church had dealt skillfully and effectively with the spread of heterosexual culture. The courtly tradition was on the wane. It was perhaps a sign of the times that Guiraut Riquier (1254–1292)—whom many historians agree to have been the last of the great troubadours—had already turned toward mysticism and against earthly pleasures, not least those of the flesh. An epoch was coming to an end.

      In the France of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the culture of courtly love was anything but dominant. In part, this...

    • 6 The Seventeenth Century: The Triumph of Heterosexual Culture over Ecclesiastical Opposition
      (pp. 93-100)

      The seventeenth century saw the Roman Catholic Church still locked in battle against the steady advance of a heterosexual culture that was perceived to be progressively propagating license and eroding ecclesiastical authority. It was accepted that poetry had fallen prey to the cult of love, but the novel still remained, admittedly a lesser known literary form in the preceding century but now fêted in thesalonsof Paris and increasingly popular among women, where titles such asAmadis, L’Astrée, Clélie,andPharamondwere all the rage. Many of these novels were voluminous, and some were racy swashbuckling tales that captivated...

    • 7 The Twentieth Century: The Last Traces of Clerical Opposition
      (pp. 101-112)

      In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Roman Catholic Church mounted no substantive challenge to the overall legitimacy of heterosexual culture but seemed content to condemn isolated instances of excess. In the absence of a full-scale assault on heterosexuality, the Church identified other priorities, coming out forcefully in opposition to thephilosophesand the French Revolution in the eighteenth century, for instance, or against the de-Christianization of France in the nineteenth. But an impotent Christian church could only watch helplessly as the fabric of French society was seemingly damaged virtually beyond repair. Up to a point, Catholics suffered in silence,...

  6. Part III: Medical Opposition to Heterosexual Culture

    • 8 Heterosexual Love and Medieval and Renaissance Medicine
      (pp. 115-124)

      Love and leprosy were so closely associated in the medieval mind that it was frequently asserted that the peasant underclass typically contracted the disease (among others) as a result of excessive sexual activity. Jacques Le Goff quotes from a sermon delivered by Caesarius of Arles in the first half of the sixth century in which the bishop cautions his flock against sexual incontinence on the grounds that it may result in leprous, epileptic, or even demonic offspring.¹ Accordingly—and not least since spiritual and physical well-being were held to be analogous—love and the pleasures of the flesh were regarded...

    • 9 The Seventeenth Century: From Lovesickness to Curative Love
      (pp. 125-128)

      The antieroticism that was once universally advocated in certain medical circles was progressively offset by currents of philoeroticism in others. Whereas physicians such as Aubéry and Ferrand looked on love as an affliction, others saw it as a potential remedy. When a woman was “sick with love,” a growing number of physicians had, as early as the sixteenth century, already started recommending heterosexual intercourse as a potential cure.

      InLa Curiosité naturelle, Scipion Dupleix argued that as soon as a young woman started to look wan and out of sorts, it was high time her parents thought about marrying her...

    • 10 The Twentieth Century: The Last Traces of Medical Opposition
      (pp. 129-154)

      Although medical opposition to heterosexual culture decreased progressively with the passage of time, it never disappeared entirely. The medical profession continued to treat with suspicion certain aspects of love and its societal manifestations.

      At the close of the nineteenth and the start of the twentieth century, the profession was particularly alarmed byamour fou, the “collective insanity” that the poets of the day seemed intent on professing and promoting. It appeared that the surrealist André Breton and others like him had been infected with—and, worse, were wholly oblivious to—the “love madness” that Jacques Ferrand had once described. On...

  7. Conclusion
    (pp. 155-164)

    Several of my friends have at one time or another taken me to task for writing so frequently about homosexuality. Since I have been instrumental in setting up several not-for-profit associations in that sector and have produced two books and given numerous interviews on the subject, I take their point. At the same time, however, I have also been much occupied by French literary studies, devoting my dissertation to that area of interest and publishing four books and numerous articles in what has since emerged as my principal field of expertise. (To date, none of my friends has ever called...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 165-178)
  9. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 179-182)
  10. About the Author
    (pp. 183-184)
  11. Index
    (pp. 185-197)