Day 5 – Marie de France, Animals, and Lineage

CaptureOur bit of animal news today is the recent, horrific report about factory-farmed pigs being fed the ground up corpses of piglets. One farmer’s response to this story made our head spin:

“Modern age agriculture nor confinement buildings have anything to do with pigs being cannibals. Pigs have been cannibals since the beginning of time. This is why criminals have used pigs as means of disposing of murder victims through the years.”

Well. Cannibals? Anthropophagous? Which is it? Both, actually. We did note that medieval people often remarked on the physical similarity between pigs (porcus) and humans (corpus); that pigs would eat human babies (see the Knight’s Tale, Temple of Mars); and that, as observed by one of us–who had in fact helped raise pigs–pigs are mean and bloodthirsty.

The Middle English version of “Androcles and the Lion” in a Gesta Romanorum (at least 2 versions) is quite unusual, and possibly invented by the translator. It’s not just that the story of the grateful lion is missing the clear exchange of favors we get in classic versions (including the apocryphal Acts of Paul). It’s that, of course, that the Emperor not only has sex with a bear (a bear? why?) but also that he impregnates her, three times, having first two sons, and then a daughter. Only the latter looks like a bear. When the Emperor escapes the bear, the lion helps him get away, and the bear (“like an ursine Medea,” as our presenter quipped) dashes her daughter to the ground (see also the story of the dwarf and the ape in the //Roman de Perceforest//). What’s up with this?

After discussing the playfulness of animals (as our Emperor loves to play with his hounds and hawks), our presenter offered an account of the differences between Galenic and Aristotelian accounts of impregnation and childbirth. Using Angela Florscheutz, among others, she explained the peculiarities of the species differences of the emperor’s ursine children. We asked the question of what being born from an animal source does for the human offspring. In this story, it presumably allows the two sons to be better at being human (might we add superhuman?) in that they have better adventures, and are stronger warriors and better swordsman.

Our conversation thought about the way that noble families liked an animal or fairy ancestor, to split themselves from the chains that bound them mundanely to every other human (here’s my Beowulf example, discussed), but then observed that this family goes nowhere. The daughter’s dashed to pieces in the woods, while the boys, despite becoming great knights, die and are buried together, with no indication of any progeny. What’s up with that? We also looked at “and the Emperour knew her flesshly, and she brought forth a sone, like the Emperour. than the Emperour would have fled, but he durst not, for the bere,” where the for might mean that he doesn’t want to hurt the bear’s feelings, or, more simply, that he’s afraid; but still, that double meaning of for must be noted.

And then there’s what’s on the tomb: “Here lieth .ij. sones of the Bere, whiche the Emperour gate with drede.” Though we know of nothing bear like about the children, we have them here marked as sons of the bear, and also a mark of what must be known as the Emperor’s fear of the bear. Who would write on the tomb that, essentially, the Emperor had been raped by a bear?

We discussed the kind of role reversal not just implied in the tombstones, but also in the “courting” (if you’ll humor me and let me call it that) between the Emperor and the bear. He is afraid at her arrival into the cave, but she brings home the hunt and lays it out for him, after which he “smote fire and araied it.” Honey, I’m home! In the proximity of preparing flesh, we find the fear of the character who prepares it; I wonder if this has anything to do with the daughter who is “rent all to pieces,” also because the bear “was aferde.”

Gender and Woods
We also considered the double desire and repulsion men express in these tales (and in Melion) for women and woods together. What is up with that? Your professor linked it to medieval neoplatonismwhere the primordial matter //nous// is rendered as //silva//, and where also Isidore of Seville derives (correctly) materia (matter) from mater (mother). There’s an easy way to link this to the Lacanian Real, but I think we could do still more here.

Geoffrey of Auxerre
His apocalypse commentary (collected 1188) provides a very early version of both the Swan Knight and Melusine stories, both of enormous importance to the Lusignan family. The work neatly illustrates Derrida’s point (which Crane makes good use of) that poetry is what philosophy must deprive itself of, as Geoffrey’s efforts to make sense of these stories fail so spectacularly that they can’t help but illustrate the radical split between poetry and neat commentary. Still, Geoffrey’s work, at least in these little bits, recalls the other great twelfth-century wonder collections of Gerald of Wales and Gervase of Tilbury (Otia Imperialia).

Most notably in Geoffrey’s version, the “Melusine” is a water creature, but not serpentine; rather, she has been enjoined to silence and when her husband demands she speak, then she flees. Later, she returns and snatches back their son, thus ending the developing monstrous lineage.

How to think of her silence? Geoffrey links it to the monstrosity of Waldensian women preachers (they’re noisy, and should be ashamed by the the silence of this demon), but we can link it to the intersections between animals, “muteness,” and women. Women who talk too much? Doomed. Too little or not at all? Like animals. But there’s a sense, at least here, that silence is something other than privation. The mystery of silence is something worth honoring rather than something to scorn.

**Alphabet of Tales on the Prince of Crete**

We rede of þe kyng of Crete he was a semelie man̛, & he had a nygromancier in his courte at hight Estus. And þis kyng had a doghter, and þis Estus happend to gett hur with childe. And when̛ it was born, for tene þis kyng hur fadur garte caste it oute in þe wud emang wylde bestis. So with-in a while after hunters fand it in a cafe emang wyle bestis, & þer it was nurisshid with hur mylk. And when̛ it was broght home in a strayte gate whar cateƚƚ vsyd̛ to com̛ by, and when̛ he saw þai wolde do it no skathe bod rather norysshid̛ it, he commaundid̛ at it sulde be casten̛ vnto hundis þat long had bene kepyd̛ fastyng, at þai mott destroy itt, & þai wold̛ do it no skathe. & þan̛ he garte caste it emang swyne at þai mott devowr̛ it; and þer it was nurisshid̛ on̛ a sew papp̛. And when̛ he saw þat, he garte caste it in-to þe occian̛; and when̛ it was casten̛ þer, þis Estus, þe fadur þerof, be his craft broght it vnto þe land̛ agayn̛ whikk̘; & þer it was nurisshid with a hynde. And fro thens furtℏ it wexid so swyfte of fute at whare at evur þe hartys went it wold̛ go with þaim. So at þe laste it was taken̛ in a snare, & broght to þe kyng & gyffen̛ hym̛ to a present. And onone he knew it & had compassion̛ þeroff, & garte name it & nurtur it; & þe name þer-of was Avidus. And afterward̛ he made it his successur. And þis kyng Avidus, as we rede, was furste þat evur garte tame oxen̛ & learn̛ þaim to draw; and he was furst þat evur fand pleugℏ, & he taght men̛ to plew & to saw whete & oþer cornys *.[A sidenote here has a small hand pointing to the words [Su]pra de [in]vencione aratri.] .

Your professor lost several hours yesterday trying to track the sources for this story, with some success. What follows will encapsulate that research. It appears (first?) in Justin’s //Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus//, 44,4, on a legendary Iberian King, Gargoris, and his son Habis (or Habidis). By the time we get to Middle English, the Cunetes become the people of Crete (older versions have Curetes, which are a people of Crete: see note 9 here), and “Habidis” becomes “Avidus.” While some 24 medieval manuscripts of Justin’s //Epitome// survive, the story probably — my guess — enters the Middle English Alphabet of Tales (or its sources) via the enormously popular thirteenth-century LHistoire ancienne jusqu’à César. No complete text available online, sadly, though anyone is welcome to dig through the manuscripts for me.

The story is NOT actually all that popular, at least not in the sources I usually check (no luck with Gargoris, Habis, or Habidis at the MGH, and searches for Avidus get no one using Avidus as a proper name). There’s a kind of analogue in the romance of //Caradoc// (where a necromancer tricks a king into sleeping with a series of animals — really, only kind of), but that’s about it. It is of some importance to medieval Spain and afterwards. There’s a 16th-century romance, for example. And we might also look at Gárgoris y Habidis. Una historia mágica de España, althoughits author seems to be kind of a disreputable character, and the book has been accused of antisemitisim.

The question is what this story might do once we bracket off the inevitable ad-libbed glossing the medieval preacher would have given it, and also its relevance to Spain, which it would (I think) not have carried into England. Do we just link it to the long history of stories of exposed children miraculously protected by beasts?

We observed primarily that even if we were to rationalize the story to account for the embarrassment of illegitimate birth (as in the Euhemerism like that practiced by Palaephatos), we still have a story that finds the origin of technology and thus of civilization in the extraction of surplus labor and even surplus charisma from the bodies of animals. Civilization and reason, in a sense, don’t have what it takes in themselves to lift humans up into humans. Hence the requirement to mingle with the animals somehow, and then, in the tale’s end, to dominate them. Notably, the Latin tag is ‘On the invention of the plow’ rather than ‘on the domestication of oxen.’ We also note the peculiar pronouns: “So at laste it was taken in a snare …
& þe name þer-of was Avidus,” which suggest an uncertainty about his status as human.

Marie de France
Today, we managed only to discuss Bisclavret, and not even the whole work. Guigemar and Yonec next week.

The very opening of Bisclavret continues to fascinate. Is she saying that Bisclavret’s NOT like the other werewolves, or that we’re not supposed to think he’s like that, but that since we’ve been warned, we can’t help but remember this model as we read through. We’ll always suspect him of anthropophagy as we read, then, which puts us in the subject position of Bisclavret’s wife.

No discussion of Bisclavret would be complete without talking about his wife’s nose. Here’s a long post reviewing some options for reading the loss of the nose. Generally, we went with Crane and Cohen that the loss of the nose locked the wife into being human, punishing her with the loss of animal freedom (or violence) the man in the tale enjoyed. Our presenter observed, using Tania Colwell’s work on Melusine, that her daughters could have been noseless because of medieval gendered ‘genetics,’ in which the mother would transmit her characteristics to her girls, and the father would transmit his characteristics to his sons.

There’s also something perhaps in Bisclavret’s response, early in the lai, to his wife’s first bit of wheedling. She says “I fear your wrath more than anything else” (Gallagher trans; mes jeo criem tant vostre curut / que nule rien tant ne redut), and he “took hold of her neck and pulling her close to him, he kissed her.” A controversial translation! Hanning and Ferrante do it as “When he heard that, he embraced her, / drew her to him, and kissed her”; and Burgess as “When he heard this, he embraced her, drew her towards him, and kissed her.” Here’s the French: “Quant il l’öi, si l’acola, vers lui la traist, si la baisa.” Nothing about grabbing a neck in there…except that //acola// comes from //col// (and from //collum// before that). Philologically speaking, there’s a bit of the neck in there. Whatever’s happening, she’s told him she’s terrified; he at once grabs her and then applies his mouth to her face. What’s happening here, then, is his control over her body, early in the lai and then, of course, reapplied later on, when, to make this perfectly clear, he again applies his mouth to her face, when he bites off her nose.

We plan to deal with Bisclavret’s violence in more detail next week. For now, we made a comparison with child psychology. If an adult is violent, typically we say it’s the adult’s fault; if a child is, clearly something must be wrong with the child, or someone or something has been cruel to it. With animals, well – none of us would have let our pet dogs get away with this. And when the courtiers say that the dog has never done anything like this before, when they see it ‘act out’ twice, well, they think something was wrong with it.

Then there’s the matter of gender: we observed that Bisclavret is “la beste” (274) and “ceste beste” (241): feminine! That’s just the way a beast is (a point Derrida works with very productively). In this king’s court of men, where the only woman to appear suffers sudden violence and then deliberate torture, who is the ‘feminine’ figure of the wolf who shares the king’s bed? What is la bête for the sovereign? More on this later, I hope.

We also built on Cohen and Crane to look at Bisclavret and clothing. If most medieval werewolves transform by ‘putting on’ a wolf skin (think of Gerald of Wales and Guillaume de Palerne, for example), then here’s an example of someone who becomes a wolf by putting OFF their HUMAN clothes. What’s the problem with putting on clothes, then? The shame of returning to a fallen, limited (Cohen) human condition

Feeding the Dogs

Images by Saiman Chow. Source, without words.

Images by Saiman Chow. Source, without words.

Ryan Judkins reminds me that:

during the curee, the dogs were usually fed on the innards of the deer, including the stomach, lungs (if they be hot) and the intestines, after they’d been washed, usually chopped up and all mixed together with blood and bread.

How to Make a Human talks about this too:

Humans’ mastery over their hunting animals is even more apparent in techniques that prevented dogs from killing or freely eating the prey. Dogs were allowed to slow, harry, and corner prey, while humans were meant to deliver the killing blow. Hunting rules required that the field butchery reserve a portion of the prey for the dogs, but they also required that the dogs eat only at their master’s command. In practical terms, the restrictions preserved the bulk of the carcass for the human hunters while ensuring that the dogs received the positive reinforcement of a reward. At the same time, to restrict dogs’ actions in hunting, restrain them from the kill, and permit them to eat only with human permission ensured that neither the dogs’ violence nor their necessity to human hunting might call human mastery into question. The ritual protection of human mastery encompassed even carrion birds, which were left the scraps from the carcass; as the Middle English Tristrem puts it, “þe rauen he 3aue his Ʒiftes, / Sat on þe fourched tre” (to the raven he gave his gifts, and set them on the forked branch; 502–3). The ravens now became beneficiaries of the hunters’ largesse, their appetite appropriated by a ritual that indicates that the control not only of violence but also of meat-eating concerned humans (64-65).

Judkins’ forthcoming JEGP article on the royal hunt stresses the community around the breaking of the deer carcass, in which servants and colleagues, whether human or animal, receive their due. More and more, I’m slipping away from my strong paranoid reading of human mastery (see above!) and sliding towards readings like Judkins’, which consider affects other than anxiety and cruelty. Love, familiarity, conscientious attention to particular appetites, shared joy: these matter too.
This isn’t something as simple as a switch from negative to positive affect. Things are more complicated. Think of this brief encounter in Temple Grandin’s Animals in Translation:

Each boar had his own little perversion the man had to do to get the boar turned on so he could collect the semen. Some of them were just things like the boar wanted to have his dandruff scratched while they were collecting him. (Pigs have big flaky dandruff all over their backs.) The other things the man had to do were a lot more intimate. He might have to hold the boar’s penis in exactly the right way. There was one boar, he hold me, who wanted to have his butt hole played with. “I have to stick my finger in his butt, he just really loves that,” he told me. Then he got all red in the face (103).

Grandin aptly calls this section “How to Make a Pig Fall in Love.” Like all love, things can go awry. Our face might go red, maybe because the pig doesn’t love us anymore, or maybe because we’re a bit embarrassed. When intimacies that can hardly be named find their way into the public eye, things can be a bit disgusting or embarrassing for the guardians of human exclusivity. For more on love’s weirdness, see my post below, and also see Dominic Pettman’s Human Error77-101, which discusses the films Zoo and Tierische Liebe (Animal Love) as well as Haraway’s dog love in When Species Meet and J. A. Baker’s The Peregine to track love’s strangeness, how it can entail, don’t forget, “monomania, projective narcissism, and so on,” a “familiar libidinal economy, involving the kind of struggles around difference and recognition that can lead to passive-aggressive sulking because of perceived miscommunication” (95).
I have this in mind because I’ve just read Kathy Rudy’s Loving Animals: Towards a New Animal Advocacy. Rudy, a dog lover, says that “the task of coming out as gay was a piece of cake compared to coming out as–what?” She observes “there is not an adequate name for the kind of life I lead, the way my desires organize themselves around animals, especially dogs” (35), that “it’s not so much that I am no longer a lesbian…it’s that the binary of gay and straight no longer has anything to do with me. My preference these days is canine” (41). For more on this kind of love, we might look to “Michael Field” and their love for and through Whym Chow: perhaps start here and here.
Rudy cooks for her dogs. One loves any kind of meat, another needs a lot more food than you’d think to look at her, and another, Duncan, a yellow lab mix, goes nuts for oatmeal and scrambled eggs (when I told my wife, Alison, about this, she cried “he’s a breakfast dog!”). Rudy’s learned a lot more about her dogs by feeding them; it’s another way to “talk” to the dogs, to build affection and knowledge, another way to render “their subjectivity more visible” (184). She’s made a better love between them, which is to say, this queer animal lover is making love to them in a new, better way.
Feeding animals, eating with them–as Cuthbert did with his horse, you remember–makes us companions, a word Haraway often uses in When Species Meet. And companionship can be very intimate indeed. The scholar of How to Make a Human would claim that this is just bad faith: after all, look at Chaucer’s Prioress, so deeply sad about her dogs and mice, but still happy to feed her dogs roast meat. Charity begins and ends at home, says the old me. The scholar I am now isn’t so sure, and Rudy’s partially to thank for that. Because becoming companions (or concarnians, as I say in AVMEO) with animals might mean something’s not quite clicked with your human relations. It isn’t just hypocritical humanism. To be sure, animal companionship isn’t necessarily a better love; it’s just, perhaps, a love that disorients you from the community of humans. It’s a weird love, like any love, but weirder than most because it lacks the veneer of (human) normalcy.
After all, isn’t the Prioress a bit camp, what with her silly romance name, her (arguably) bad French accent, her fancy wimple, by which I mean, aren’t the Prioress and her dogs a bit queer?
I have in mind dog-feedings, like the one Judkins describes above. Or Yvain and his lion sharing meals when the lion may be the only one who knows who Yvain really is. Or even the willingness among the philosophers (of all people, generally the most obstinately human)–Albert the Great, Thomas of Cantimpré, Vincent of Beauvais–to repeat Pliny’s observation that certain cuts of deer meat disgust dogs, unless (as Vincent says), they’re especially hungry. Or Richard Wyche’s fifteenth-century account of his religious persecution, where amid his tortures, he “asked the bishop to have my horse taken to his stable, and I gave what I had in my purse to the man leading it there” (trans. Christopher G. Bradley, PMLA 127.3 (2012): 630 [626-42]). Yes, Richard asks this because the horse, a special kind of transportation machine, needs sustenance, but I have to think he asks also because he likes his horse, and he, a religious man (of all people &c.), remembers it, even with execution looming, with nothing mattering for eternity, we would think, but his imperiled soul.
So the shared affect of a meals draws my attention. The love the hunters and the dogs share matters, even as we must not forget the dismembered carcass of the deer around which this affect clusters.
One more thought on the queer love of dogs: if this particular project continues (and it could, if someone’s looking for a Kalamazoo paper to fill a slot?), think of the stories of knights who love hunting and disdain the love of women…until they’re forced to grow up. Guigemar, for example, but we could come up with dozens more. Think of how queer that love is, particularly when read with the compulsory erotics whose force draws the knight out of his pleasures with his horses, hounds, and hawks, and into his human, only human maturity.
(for more stuff on zoophilia, see James Goebel’s excellent musings over at “A Geology of Borders”)

GOT YOUR NOSE: Bisclavret defaces his wife

Plaster cast from the Palais de Chaillot

Plaster cast from the Palais de Chaillot

Recall that towards the end of Marie’s lai, Mr. B’s wife shows up at court, only to be attacked by her lupine husband:

Oiez cum il s’est bien vengiez!

Le nes li esracha del vis.

Que li peüst il faire pis? (Bisclavret 234-36)

“Just hear how successfully he took his revenge. He tore the nose right off her face. What worse punishment could he have inflicted on her?” (translation by Gallagher. My own translation would go like this: “Listen to how well he avenged himself! He tore her nose off her face. What worse could he have done to her?”)

The loss of the nose has long been a rich interpretative site in Bisclavret criticism. We can divide the readings into several groups:

  • psychoanalytic ones, which pun on vis [face] and vit [penis]: e.g., Bloch, Labbie, and Dolores Warwick Frese, “The Marriage of Woman and Werewolf: Poetics of Estrangement in Marie de France’s ‘Bisclavret'” in A. N. Doane’s and Carol Braun Pasternack’s anthology Vox Intexta: Orality And Textuality in the Middle Ages, rooted, I believe, in Jean-Charles Huchet, “Nom de femme et ecriture feminine au Moyen Age: Les Lais de Marie de France,” Poetique 48 (1981): 407-30. Essentially, Ms. B had illegitimately taken on the phallic function and has it torn from her. This helps explain why only her female descendants are noseless;
  • claims that nose-removal was a common torture in the Middle Ages, which I think is a wild exaggeration: I’m looking forward to seeing Larissa Tracy‘s further contextualization: I believe she’s arguing that the court of Henry II, being antipathetic to torture, would have found the scene repugnant;
  • claims that the nose-removal makes the wife more bestial: for reasons I’ll explain (far) below, I disagree; I’m more in the neighborhood (less in the same block than on the same bus line) as Laurence M. Porter’s proposal in Women’s Vision In Western Literature: The Empathic Community that “Wolves have prominent muzzles and the missing nose makes Bisclavret’s wife’s face resemble a human skull more than a wolf’s head, suggesting the skull underneath the skin, the illusoriness and transcience of sexual delight”;
  • interconnections with many, many stories of Roman virgins and, in particular, virgin saints, who cut off their noses to make themselves unattractive to the Barbarian invaders [see Claude Thomasset, ‘La femme sans nez’, Littérature et médecine II, ed. Jean-Louis Cabanès, Eidolôn, 55 (Bourdeaux: Université Michel de Montaigne, Bourdeaux III, 2000), 57-52 and Jane Tibbetts, ‘The Heroics of Virginity: Brides of Christ and Sacrificial Mutilation,” Women in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance: Literary and Historical Perspectives Ed. Mary Beth Rose. Syracuse: Syracuse UP, 1986]: implicitly, then, Bisclavret’s assaulting his wife’s attractiveness;
  • and finally, most influentially, a great many claims that losing the nose [or losing the nose and ears] was a punishment for an adulterous wife. See Stith Thompson Q451.5.1, Nose cut off as punishment for adultery. This requires a lot of detail.

Stith Thompson’s most frequent citations here are to the Kathasaritsagara, “The Ocean of the Stream of Stories,” an enormous 11th-century Sanskrit tale collection in which adulterous wives often lose their noses (or their noses and ears), sometimes while embracing the reanimated (and bitey) corpses of their executed lovers. Anna Kłosowska suggested to me that the stories could have made their way to Latin Europe: I want to know more about this: perhaps via Iberia or Norman Sicily?

Saxo Grammaticus tells the story of Hjalte, who’s with a ladyfriend while his king’s being betrayed. When Hjalte hears the sound of battle, he decides to leave her to rescue his lord. His ladyfriend asks him “si ipso careat, cuius aetatis viro nubere debeat,” if she should lose him, how old a man ought she to marry? He answers her by cutting off her nose.

Robert Stanton directed me to the laws of Cnut, which punish a female adulterer with the loss of her nose and ears. Frederick II of Sicily (1194-1250) commanded that an adulterous woman’s nose be amputated, unless her husband didn’t want this: otherwise, she would just be flogged (“adultera convicta de adulterio traditur viro, ut in recompensationem thori violati, truncetur ei nasus, & si maritus ei truncare non vult, fustigabitur”; h/t Shulamith Shahar The Fourth Estate for this reference).

Still earlier law codes might be referenced, with increasingly remote chances of relevance: Ezekiel 23:25 hints at the loss of nose and ears for adultery: medieval Biblical commentaries might profitably be consulted; the Byzantine Ecloga of 726 punishes adulterers of both sexes with nose-slitting; and  Diodorus of Sicily’s 1st c. BC universal history says that in Egypt, “In case of adultery, the man was to have a thousand lashes with rods, and the woman her nose cut off. For it was looked upon very fit, that the adulteress that tricked up herself to allure men to wantonness, should be punished in that part where her charms chiefly lay” (thanks to Sharon Kinoshita for proposing the web search that led me to these sources).

Looking ahead, Valentine Groebner Valentin Gröbner ‘Losing Face, Saving Face: Noses and Honour in the Late Medieval Town,” trans. Pamela Selwyn History Workshop Journal 40 (1995): 1-15 (in work that I expect appears in some form in her his 2009 Defaced: The Visual Culture of Violence in the Late Middle Ages) talks about a 1479 case in Nuremberg in which a certain Fritz Schreppler tried to cut off his wife’s nose in the marketplace. We have several others like this from the same period, including multiple instances in which a husband and wife teamed up to cut off still another woman’s nose.

Groebner Gröbner also records fourteenth-century denasatio punishments against prostitutes in Augsburg, and then, finally, she he cites evidence of pan-medieval texts that link the loss of a nose to public humiliation and punishment for sexual crimes: there’s Du Cange, where “the examples under the adjective denasatus alone fill an entire column,” and Aenied VI.496-7, where Deiphobus’s terribly mutilated in his face, perhaps for the crime of sleeping with Helen of Troy. And, finally, the Knight of La Tour Landry speaks of a husband who breaks his disobedient wife’s nose and “all her lyff after she had her nose croked, the whiche shent and dysfigured her uisage after, that she might not for shame shewe her uisage, it was so foule blemisshed.”

We might also look to the witness of medieval translations and adaptations of “Bisclavret.” In Biclarel [warning: pdf], Mr. B just mutilates his wife’s face (373-74), with no specific reference to her nose, and then she’s walled up, presumably to be crushed or to starve to death (454-5). In the Icelandic version, he tears off her clothes and nose, and in the Old Norse version, “Bisclaret,” he tears off his wife’s clothes, but her female descendants are still born noseless. Incidentally, “Bisclaret” ends in a tantalizing way for werewolf scholars: “Nothing that happens now is more true than this adventure we have told you about, for many strange things happened in olden times that no one hears mentioned now. He who translated this book into Norse saw in his childhood a wealthy farmer who shifted his shape. At times he was a man, at other times in wolf’s shape, and he told everything that wolves did in the meantime. But there is no more to be said about him. The Bretons made a lai, ‘Bisclaret’, of this story which you now have heard” (translation by Robert Cook and Mattias Tveitane).

And that would seem to be that: Ms. B loses her nose as a sign of her marital infidelity, or to humiliate her, or to disfigure her. Absent legal or (other) narrative evidence particularly from the court of Henry II, we don’t have firm ground for these explanations, but we probably have enough to make our claims with sufficient confidence, and to say, as well, that any further interpretation would just be fanciful, evidence only of our critical ingenuity in this ongoing professional party game we call “producing a reading.”

But I can’t help myself: I have to propose one more possibility. Recall how my previous Bisclavret post takes the lai’s opening as structurally analogous to a bestiary. From that, I’m led to illustrations in the bestiaries of Adam naming the animals:

Aberdeen Bestiary f 5r, detail

I know I’m stretching things, but I’m struck by the protuberance of the animal faces in this and other medieval illustrations of Adam before the animals, and by Adam’s comparatively flat face. Had the deer, or even the round-faced lions lost their noses, they would have a face that more resembled Adam’s than that of any other animal. That is, as Laurence M. Porter observes, the loss of a nose doesn’t make Ms. B more “bestial” (despite what’s commonly said in the criticism) but rather less bestial. Porter takes the injury as making her face more skull-like, turning her into a kind of vanity figure somewhat avant la lettre. However, I take the injury as one that traps her in being only human, denying her the freedom of movement, and of the freedom of ontological (or, for that matter, ethical) positions enjoyed by her husband and by the masculine court to which he belongs.

She had been afraid of a husband able to shift from man to wolf; she wanted to be married only to a human, and nothing more; and for that, she’s punished with nothing less that an inescapable humanity. In a lai, it’s hard to imagine a worse punishment! She and her daughters, barred from the dangerous fun of men, have been made…well, boring.

More to come, perhaps, if you think this is worth developing.

You’ll remember how “Bisclavret” begins:

Quant de lais faire m’entremet

ne voil ubliër Bisclavret.

Bisclavret a nun en Bretan,

Garwalf l’apelant li Norman.

Jadis le poeit hum oïr

e sovent suleit avenir,

hume plusur garwalf devindrent

e es boscages maisun tindrent.

Garwalf, ceo est beste salvage;

tant cum il est en cele rage,

humes devure, grant mal fait,

es granz forez converse e vait.

Cest afere les or ester:

del bisclavret vus voil cunter. (Bisclavret, 1-14)

[In my effort to compose lays I do not wish to omit Bisclavret–for such is its name in Breton, while the Normans call it Garwaf. In days gone by one could hear tell, and indeed it often used to happen, that many men turned into werewolves and went to live in the woods. A werewolf is a ferocious beast which, when possessed by this madness, devours men, causes great damage, and dwells in vast forests. I leave such matters for the moment, for I wish to tell you about Bisclavret” (translation by Gallagher)].

Frightening, no? Well, no, not really, since we never see our werewolf hero [hereafter Mr. B] eat anyone. Or really, anything (barring, perhaps, his estranged wife’s nose). When Mr. B’s wife wheedles him into giving up his secret, lupine life, he confesses that when he becomes bisclavret he goes into the great forest, into the deepest part of the woodland, and there lives on prey and plunder (“vif de preie e de ravine“).

This is violent language, but there’s nothing here about his explicitly eating humans. At least not so far as he tells his wife, or us, for that matter. Jeffrey will remark on the vagueness of Mr B’s account of his diet in a forthcoming piece in Studies in the Age of Chaucer; Burgwinkle’s talked about it too (“As he ceases to be dangerous – no devouring of men that we know of – his wife appears ever more treacherous” (166); no doubt there’s more: I don’t have Bynum’s discussion on hand, for example (although I don’t think McCracken and Kinoshita discuss this matter in their recent critical companion to Marie).

Readers of my AVMEO essay would expect me to suspect Mr. B of anthropophagy: wolves like to eat people, and Marie’s already told us werewolves eat people. Only special pleading could get Mr. B off the hook: maybe, some might say, Mr. B would be unlikely to find many humans to eat in the deepest part of the forest. That’s not much of a defense. It’s easier to accuse Mr. B of hiding the nastiest truth from his wife, who nonetheless proves that she understands him perfectly well by immediately plotting to get rid of him. More sympathetically, we might even suspect Mr. B not of being duplicitous, but of being too self-deluded to admit, even to himself, what he’s really doing.

Maybe we can suspect worse. For while there’s something marvelous about not being confined by the armor of an alienating (human) identity, there’s also something horrific (to us) about letting the human frame slip. Again following the path laid by my AVMEO essay, I suggest that Mr. B’s own vagueness hints at the consequences of giving up on human supremacy, namely, that once human supremacy doesn’t matter, humans fall under the general category of “prey and plunder.” There’s no need for Mr. B to conceal anthropophagy, but neither does he need to disguise it with a euphemism, because, for him, human flesh is just like other fleshes. There’s violence here; there’s a wrong being done, to someone or something; but it’s not a particular violence, or a violence that quite knows what it’s injuring, unless it’s the particular violence through which a nobleman sustains his position within the state of exception.

The dehumanized point of view isn’t the only stance the lai takes, however. Its opening doesn’t forget about the specificity of human flesh, not at all. I propose that we read the opening lines as modeled on a bestiary, not at all an inconsequential genre for the late twelfth-century England in which Marie wrote. See the Aberdeen Bestiary’s entry on the wolf, for example. Like Marie’s lai, we have an initial discussion of names, followed by a summary of behavior. To be sure, I may be over-reading the resemblance, but I suggest it to call attention to the generic difference between the lai’s narrative and the lai’s opening. Marie opens with what we might call a scientific and humanist voice, maybe like a bestiary, maybe not. Whatever the voice, it’s knowledgeable, distant, one that looks out at the nonhuman world, always thinking of how it might help or hurt people. To this voice, a werewolf, like wolves in general, can only be a threat.

(Monday edit: I really do need to say, here, that Susan Crane’s Animal Encounters will be doing interesting stuff with bestiaries and Bisclavret in ways that will be enormously important to my own developing Bisclavret argument)

The narrative voice, on the other hand, doesn’t care so much about human supremacy. For this point, in the next few months, look for Cohen and, as well, Susan Crane’s Animal Encounters; also see McCracken on translation and movement. The narrative voice concerns itself with gender and sexuality (see Burgwinkle and Tovi Bibring), and with feudal loyalties, but not with humanity, except to observe how it’s slipped. Note that when the King meets (the) bisclavret, he declares, first, that “ele [i.e., this beast] a sen d’ume” [154; this beast has human intelligence], and then revises himself three lines later: “ceste beste a entente e sen” [157; this beast has understanding and intelligence]. Beasts, he realizes, have their own intelligence, not a wan imitation of human reason, but rather their own. When anthropocentrism collapses, what dangers follow?

We might therefore hear Mr. B’s “preie e ravine” as at once being aware of the violence of appetite and unaware of the specificity of human flesh as compared to the flesh of deer, or pigs, or sheep. Mr. B may be hiding something from his wife; or he might just have forgotten, like most eaters, that what he eats has any significance apart from how it benefits him. After all, he’s concerned mainly with his own safety, not hers, and not with–it seems–ours.

Or he might be observing that eating means subjecting someone or something to prey and plunder; that it means taking someone’s “better part” (again, my AVMEO essay), regardless of what that thing is. This is a lai, in other words, that knows what it is to eat in a world without the comforts of a naturalized, absolute human privilege.

Next-Day Edit: that should read “without the comforts of a naturalized, absolute privilege, human or otherwise.” For some recent discussions of posthuman ethics, relevant to my post, see Levi Bryant and Scu at Critical Animal. I think Scu gets it exactly right when he says “Ethics is not a pathway for innocence. Rather, it is about how to live after innocence, how to exist in a fully post-lapsarian world.” I think that “Bisclavret” might answer Levi’s statement that he’s “not even sure what a non-anthropocentric ethical theory would look like.” Well, here’s one, and it’s lycanthropocentric. It’s not a flat ontology (edit of the edit: or rather, not a flat ethics), because–as Bogost reminds us–there’s no escaping -centrism, of whatever sort. But to eat from the perspective of the wolf (as I suggest the Wolf-Child of Hesse does) or the werewolf (as Mr. B does), is certainly to be non-anthropocentric. Edit of the edit: although I may be speaking far above my pay grade, and certainly far outside my expertise, while we might be able to conceive of a flat ontology, I’m not sure we, or anything else, can conceive of a flat ethics.

And one more next-day edit: I know that going into the deep woods to “vif de preie e de ravine” essentially describes the life of a poacher, which matters, of course, in late twelfth-century England, given the rising importance of royal forest privileges. But I just don’t see that observation leading to an interesting reading. I’m willing to be convinced otherwise.

That’s all I have for now, though I have notes on hand for talking about the eaten nose. Those who looked at my book two proposal might suspect (correctly) that this material will probably form the introductory section to second chapter, leading up–of course–into my Wolf Child of Hesse discussion. Time, and effort, will tell. For now, though, I’m planning to learn what the latest issue of postmedieval has to say about about lepers.

(video from Emilie Mercier’s animated Bisclavret)

“Nature”; also Guigemar‘s Hermaphroditic Cervid

1) Point the First: saw an excellent paper (“Lost Geographies and The Awntyrs off Arthure”) by Kathleen Coyne Kelly at the MLA in the “Alliterative Romances” session, where something struck me: When did “nature” become a place? When did it become possible to go out into nature? When did nature cease to be, primarily, a synonym for “kynde,” or a word meaning “all of creation”? The Middle English Dictionary, the OED, the Anglo-Norman Dictionary, and Glossa aren’t helping me here.

2) Point the Second: On the topic of Nature: I recently read Timothy Morton‘s The Ecological Thought (for a hit-and-run review, see here). Enjoyed it enormously, not least of all for his take-down of heteronormative, hearty, unironic “nature.” Morton says, for example:

Rugged, bleak, masculine Nature defines itself through extreme contrasts. It’s outdoorsy, not ‘shut in.’ It’s extraverted, not introverted. It’s heterosexual, not homosexual. It’s able-bodied–‘disability’ is nowhere to be seen, and physical ‘wholeness’ and ‘coordination’ are valued over the spontaneous body (81)….Masculine Nature is unrealistic. In the mesh, sexuality is all over the map. Our cells reproduce asexually, like their single-celled ancestors or the blastocyst that attaches to the uterus wall at the beginning of pregnancy. Plants and animals are hermaphrodites before they are bisexual and bisexual before they are heterosexual. Most plants and half of animals are either sequentially or simultaneously hermaphorditic; many live with constant transgender switching. A statistically significant proportion of white-tailed deer (10 percent plus) are intersex (84)….The ecological thought is also friendly to disability. There are plentiful maladaptions and functionless phenomena at the organism level (85)

Follow the link, the source for Morton’s observation about the frequent intersexuality of white-tailed deer. If you’re a medievalist, and this doesn’t remind you of something, I recommend you reread my post’s title.

En l’espeisse d’un grant buissun

vit une bisse od sun foün.

Tute fu blanche cele beste;

perches de cerf out en la teste (89-92)

In the densest part of a great thicket, he saw a doe and her fawn. this animal was completely white; it had a rack of antlers on its head. (5)

Morton, via Joan Roughgarden, talks of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), not native to Europe, and certainly unknown to Marie (but not unknown in their intersexed form to American hunters). But Roughgarden goes on to speak about several other species essential to the high-class hunting culture of twelfth-century Northern Europe:

a male morph in black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus) called cactus buck may be a form of intersex as well. Elk (Cervus elaphus, also called a red-tailed deer), swamp deer (Cervus duvauceli), Sika deer (Cervus nippon), roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), and fallow deer (Dama dama), all have a male morph with velvet-covered antlers, called a peruke, that is described as nonreproductive. (36-37)

Now, Marie’s white deer with a fawn doesn’t quite correspond to the so-called male morphs of Elk or red-tailed, fallow, or roe deer; but the mixture of secondary sexual characteristics (at this point, would you please turn in your hymn-book to hymn #25, “All Sexual Characteristics are Secondary (Praise J. Butler)”) in/on a cervid would not have been entirely unknown to Marie. It would not have been purely fantastic, nor purely symbolic. However, my sense from my dipping into Marie criticism is that this hermaphroditic deer’s characteristics tend to be taken this way. If we take this as a known variant in cervid bodies (again, thanks, this time with the hymn book, “All Bodies Are Variants”), if we accept that what we tend to think of as “nature itself” “will not be pitched into binary assignations” (thanks Richard Maxwell, via Amy Hughes), then we, and Guigemar, ought not to take this critter as being as much a wonder, or monster, as we perhaps have been prone to do. Please do more with this if and as you like.

(image via the post “Something is missing on this 10-point ‘buck,'” here)

Pedagogical Journal: Some small points on Marie’s Prologue

Today was the first day of class for my Undergrad Comp Lit course (where I’m doing Marie Lais, a Life of Cuthbert, Voyage of Brendan, Lai d’Haveloc, Grettir’s Saga, the Gawain Poet (SGGK, Pearl, & Patience), the Hebrew King Artus, Amis e Amilun, and the ME “Debate of a Christian and Jew”). After my dreadful pocket introduction to the MA, I distributed the prologue to the lais, and asked them to keep a few basic questions in mind: “How does she claim authority or the right to speak? What is the purpose of literature? Why is she writing? And who is her audience?” Surprising me with their enthusiasm, as good students always do, they would never have left the first question had I not interrupted them with a few of my favorite points. For example:

Li philesophe le saveient,
Par eux meïsmes entendeient,
Cum plus trespassereit li tens,
Plus serreient sutil de sens
E plus se savreient garder
De ceo k’i ert a trespasser. (17-22)

Philosophers knew this
they understood among themselves
that the more time they spent,
the more subtle their minds would become
and the better they would know how to keep themselves
from whatever was to be avoided. (Hanning and Ferrante trans; here’s another one)

You probably recall that Marie is here speaking about the deliberate obscurity of ancient texts, and the necessity of glossing them, and that she implicitly links her own literary production to that of the ancients. This is what I told my students, anyhow, but I also observed that the verb “trespasser” means, in its first use, to spend time, but in the second use means much more like what we mean, now, when we say “trespass.” Since the AND doesn’t allowing linking (easily?), click on this image for more: Screenshot1

What is she up to here? What do you do in your classrooms? (I know more than a few of you have handled the Prologue, although I’m told not typically on the first day of class). I suggested that she’s at once claiming the mantle of the ancients and disputing the social value of literary interpretation: perhaps all glossing, she suggests, is a waste of time (or worse!). If, however, she’s sinking, she plans to take the whole literary edifice down with her at the same time.

I also played with the metaphor of blooming by linking it with her address to the King. Cf.:

Quant uns granz biens est mult oïz,
Dunc a primes est il fluriz,
E quant loëz est de plusurs,
Dunc ad espeandues ses flurs. (5-8)

When a great good is widely heard of,
then, and only then, does it bloom,
and when that good is praised by many,
it has spread its blossoms.

to her praise of Henry (?): “e en qui quer tuz biens racine” (46; in whose heart all goods [nb: “biens” means goodness, as in l. 5, and also wealth or property] take root [modified trans.]) and to Marie’s description of her heart, which thinks and decides (“mun quer pensoe e diseie” (49)).

Hers is the heart that thinks; his is the heart in which she means to plant her flower. In other words, he is the reproductive body, the recipient of her rational seed, the biens, the flurs, she gives him. Typically, we speak of the writer as pregnant with the work he or she brings forth (“my hideous progeny”), but here, reversing Mary’s impregnation by the Verbum Dei, she herself fertilizes the king!

How About Them Fightin’ Binaries?

“False Accusations” in Anita Guerreau-Jalabert’s Motif-Index of French Arthurian Verse Romances XIIth-XIIIth Cent. lists two entries under K2119(G), “Man Falsely Accused of Homosexuality”: Escanor 1636-1858, and Lanval 221-326. I don’t have Escanor handy (nor have I ever read it), but for convenience’s sake I can at least give you a bit of Lanval. When Lanval spurns Guinevere’s advances, she famously accuses him of preferring something other than women:

Vus n’amez gueres cel delit. Asez le m’ad hum dit sovent Que des femmez n’avez talent. Vallez avez bien afeitiez, Ensemble od eus vus deduiez.You don’t much like this delight. Men have told me often that you don’t like women. You prefer to please yourself with a group of well-hung (or “well-bred,” “well-trained,” or even “well-dressed”: see See the Anglo-Norman Dictionary, s. v. “afaiter”) servants (or ‘young man of noble birth (serving a lord).’ ‘boy, male child,’ ‘(young) gentleman (below the rank of knight),’ ‘man of rank below squire and above craftsman,’ &c. s. v., “vadlet”).

The accusation in Éneas is equally well-known. Upon learning of her daughter’s love for Eneas, the queen of Latium tries to scare her off her love by reminding her of Dido and by declaring “il n’a gaires de femme cure” (he doesn’t care at all for women), but that he rather “prise plus lo ploin mestier,” that is, that he prefers “garcon.” (Yunck does this as “he prefers the opposite trade,” which, with James Schultz in mind, I’m not convinced is a good trans. But I can’t quite figure out how to translate “ploin,” even with the Godefroy dictionary (available online through the BNF). Help? Does anyone have Simon Gaunt’s Gender and Genre handy to compare his translation of this passage?) Here’s what’s troubling me: last weekend, I saw Karma Lochrie speak, and I learned about the ahistoricality of “heteronormativity” as a category for doing medieval studies. This morning, I read the James Schultz essay Eileen transmitted to us through James Paxson’s suggestion (see here, and for another discussion of Schultz, see Nicola Masciandaro here), where I read that Thomas Aquinas, for example:

arranged the species of lust according to their relation to reason (children must be raised by married parents) and to nature (the natural end of sex is procreation). Best are those “venereal acts” that respect reason and nature (the union of husband and wife desiring children), worse are those that violate reason, since they are outside marriage (fornication, seduction, adultery, rape), and worst of all “is the vice against nature, which attaches to every venereal act from which generation cannot follow” (masturbation, sodomy, bestiality).

In other words, Aquinas did not arrange sex–or nature for that matter–on a hetero/homo continuum, but predominantly along one oriented or disoriented towards reproduction in marriage, which, as Schultz takes great pains to emphasize, does not equal heterosexuality. I remember how many ways there were to being sexual in the Xian Middle Ages. Sex acts need not determine sexual orientation. Certain objects–young boys–inspire samesex acts in certain situations without, however, demanding that the sexual actor possess a sexual identity. Furthermore, as Kłosowska demonstrates, Lanval does not defend himself by declaring himself “straight”: nothing in his language distinguishes his own love as not samesex (135). Masculinity might require that the clothes of a man be bedecked with flowers “as it were a meede” or even that a man be “meeke as is a mayde,” while in Bérinus handsome King Agriano banishes all women from his kingdom and ‘presents his men with a hundred good-looking men’; the realm eventually fails, not due to some feminine lack of prowess, but for lack of children (see the discussion in Kłosowska at 88 and elsewhere). Some ways of being sexual were of course not being sexual: refusing sex in marriage; refusing to get married; refusing to get remarried. There were erotic unions with Christ. We should think, too, of alternate familia in the Xian Middle Ages: communities of hermits, of nuns, of beguines, of monks, of Christina of Markyate, who becomes head of her own family after setting up a kind of family with Abbot Geoffrey. All these family arrangements looked in many ways like the reproductively oriented family of opposite sex couples, but they also presented a variety of challenges to the presumptive naturalness or superiority of that model. With all this in mind, of course it’s ahistorical to think in terms of medieval sexual binaries. Yet I’m troubled by the accusations of loving garcon or vallez. I’m troubled that Guerreau-Jalabert has no entry on “Man falsely accused of being a vowed widower” or “Woman falsely accused of being a beguine.” I’m troubled, in short, because when push comes to shove, the spurned women of medieval romance often resort to accusations of, well, let’s not call it sodomy, but they never (?) select a charge from any of the other medieval ways of being or not being sexual. Is there, in other words, a binary at work? Certainly compared to Eileen and Jeffrey, and also certainly compared to some of our readers, I’m woefully under-read and underthought in both gay and queer history and thought, so I may be asking a foolish question. Better I be foolish here than someplace I can’t thank you right away. Yes? == Interesting note (to me) on Lanval: in the Middle English “Sir Launfal,” Guinevere says only this:

Fy on the, thou coward! Anhongeth worth thou hye and hard! That thou ever were ybore! That thou lyvest, hyt ys pyté! Thou lovyst no woman, ne no woman the – Thou were worthy forlore! (685-90)

Can we make a good guess to account for the change from Marie? — (ps: a scene from my youth)

Part of what’s troubling to me is that I fall into the language of sexual binaries even as join others in putting them under question (e.g. [guilty example]: “looked in many ways like the reproductively oriented family of opposite sex couples”). Sloppy and sad! == Re: NM, Of course there is a binary at work, given the fundamentally dual nature of sex. Not convinced. And whether or not sex tends in many? most? medieval writing and practices to resolve into male and female, sex acts do not, in many cases, resolve into male or female or even into passive and active. And, following Eileen, medieval genders could be a great deal more complicated than a mere binary (see Sharon Farmer, Surviving Poverty in Medieval Paris, where she writes, “we need to…follow the examples of feminists of color and post-colonial feminists [by] analyzing medieval gender categories within the hierarchical ‘grids’ of difference that medieval people constructed” (41), for example, in the class difference by which “propertied individuals–both male and female–where strong in virtue than [poor] men” (42), but even though the poor were thought more embodied (or, better, differently embodied) than the propertied, it would be epistemologically clumsy to see embodiment here necessarily map onto male/female). So what I wonder, again: defined in terms of nature and reason such that the absence of one introduces the possibility, the felt absence of contradiction (whence grounds for false accusation) of the other. But why this particular other when there were so many other ways of being sexual, including not being sexual, including the ways that Aquinas describes (pace, of course, JJC, I actually see Éneas and Lanval as more sexually constrained than Aquinas, at least insofar as Aquinas arranges binary/binaries along something more complicated than the single het/homo line)? One could say it’s genre, that most romance is oriented toward het couplings, but it’s not as if even romance doesn’t include other ways of being sexual. What’s a romance without a hermit? And surely hermits, some of them former knights, spurn women, but this spurning doesn’t open them to the accusation of desiring men. Is it because no one (unless we’re in Boccaccio) desires hermits sexually, so no one thinks to accuse them? And why not the (likely more accurate?) accusation, namely, that the knight (Guigemar for instance, and many, many other knights) prefers to hunt rather than to woo? The privileged binary in these works, at least, is samesex sex vs opposite sex sex (but again, this is NOT the privileged binary in Aquinas). Also unsure about this: Heterosexuality is not “straight” in this sense, as sexual love of the other always already encompasses a sexual love of oneself through the other. Does it? Well, yes, there’s the reference to the mirror in Erec and Enide that you cite over at the Medieval Club blog, but I tend to think that narcissistic love (say, in the Roman de la Rose) is emblematically love of the same, and if not queer, at least homo. Which I suppose is just your point! That there’s a homo element in so-called het love, and that desire itself can undo or at least remap the boundaries of persons, and so is in that regard, queer. This is surely an important consideration! I do know that romance does not always resolve sex acts into het/homo binaries. Yonec, which I’m teaching on Friday, arranges sexual desire along a binary of desire and disgust, along youth and old age, and it is aware that this desire can come from anywhere and attach itself to anything, so long as that thing is young and beautiful. Remember that the old man keeps his young wife from the company of all young people, men and women both. To be sure it does seem a tale that privileges reproductivity (which again, does not equal heterosexuality). Nonetheless, I think of the scene in which the hawkman, Maldumarec, demonstrates his bona fides by receiving the Eucharist. To trick the chaplain, he takes on the appearance of his lovely girl lover. After “li chevaler l’ad receü” (187; the knight received it), he and his love are left alone: la dame gist lez sun ami: unke si bel cuple ne vi. quant unt asez ris e jüé e de lur priveté parlé, li chevaler ad cungé pris (191-95) (the lady lay beside her love: a couple so beautiful has never been seen. When they had laughed and played enough, and spoken intimately, the knight took his leave [hilariously enough, I planned on doing my own translation, and it ended up pretty much the same as Hanning and Ferrante’s]). Two things strike me: that the girl is besides and not beneath (or on top) her lover, which itself suggests a certain equality (or uncertainty) about her gender position (would need to supplement the dictionary with a concordance here); second, we don’t know what form the knight has. By referencing him with male terms (“li chevaler”; “sun ami”), Marie seems to fix him as fundamentally male; similarly, when the old woman spies Maldumarec later in the lai, he’s “hume..e pus ostur” (l. 278, a man…and then a hawk). But hume might mean merely “human being” (see Anglo-Norman Dictionary, s.v., “home”), and, more notably to me, during the first meeting with his love, we never see Maldumarec resume a male form. With that in mind, I think we can reread Marie’s “unke si bel cuple ne vi,” turning it from a romance cliché, a mere space filler, into a (possible!) version of the invisibility, the unclassifiability of samesex sex acts between women in, uh, dominant taxonomic systems. Here at least is a tale in which nothing like heteronormativity obtains, and in which sex acts take place that might very well be something other than simply samesex or hetsex, in which we might be witness to the unseeability of gender fucking But I’m afraid my question still stands: even in romance, we see a lot of ways of being sexual, but the spurned female lover always (?) reacts in a way that privileges hetero-sex, where the opposites are not chaste/married, vowed to God/vowed to marriage, or even sodomitic (in the terms Aquinas spells out)/reproductive, but rather male/female. Why is that? But I should be more careful, here with JJC’s warning in mind, to remember that generically Yonec (a Breton lai) is not the same as Éneas (“national?” romance?) is not the same as Eric et Enide (a romance) is not the same as the Summa Theologica. While accounting for the difference genre makes, we can nevertheless track the accusation of the spurned woman through a variety of works and genres, yes?, and the accusation seems to assume two forms only (the Potipher’s Wife accusation–rape–and the charge of preferring boys). You know else is hilarious? In my continuing effort to transform my mind into an amalgam of Jeffrey’s and Eileen’s (or at least in my continuing effort to understand them), I received today, through ILL, Cary Howie’s Claustrophilia. It looks like it’s going to be a great read. Especially because he and I have arrived at a reading of Yonec that points at some of the same things, maybe. I’d like to say that his is better because it’s been refracted through years of reading and editing, and mine’s only a few days old, but, well, here’s part of it: Howie cites Stephen Nicols’ reading in which Maldumarec and his lover fuse in a version of the Eucharist. “Yet what must complicate such a reading is the crucial preposition ‘delez’ or ‘lez,’ beside or alongside; on two occasions here it spatially configures the relationship between the knight and the lady as one less of identity than of contiguity. Their adjacent, proximate bodies do somehow get inside each other–and they will get inside each other sexually as well, in the lines that follow–but not without Marie’s insistence on their simultaneous separateness” (127). He goes on to say that “they are not fused so much as immediate to one another in the strongest sense, the sense of im-mediacy, what is most internal to mediation, the simultaneously shared and continually negotiated difference according to which it is possible to speak of identity and alterity at all. There is between them only that fraught, tenuous ‘vus,’ opening up the space between as and to, articulating identity as address. It is the smallest, slightest, most crucial space” (127). – See more at: