Opening Up: On Dinshaw’s Getting Medieval

I’ve a longer post planned, but for now, I offer this, a key moment (for me) in Getting Medieval, one I marked with “a passage to be quoted again and again.”

The queer historian…is decidely not nostalgic for wholeness and unity; but s/he nonetheless desires an affective, even tactile relation to the past such as the relic provides. Queer relics–queer fetishes–do not stand for the whole, do not promise integrity of body; they defy the distinction between truth and falsehood, as do ordinary fetishes, but they offer the possibility of a relation to (not a mirroring or completing of) something or someone that was, or that was thought, or that was specifically prevented from being or even being thought. Wrenched out of its context of hypocrisy and stagnant, nostalgic longing for wholeness, the queer Pardoner’s preoccupation with the matter of past lives can reinforce the queer sense of the need for and prompt the creation not of the kinds of books that would please ‘historians,’ as Foucault sneered, but rather of another kind of ‘felaweshipe’ across time. (142)

I also offer a few (undeveloped) questions provoked by rereading Getting Medieval with two things in mind: the phenomenological turn in queer theory, and Valerie Allen’s On Farting.

    • Twice, Dinshaw expresses (what looks to me like) impatience with Barthes’ phenomenological turn (see 40 and 51), yet I wonder how GM would have looked had Dinshaw attended more to the passivity phenomenology recognizes in touching. Touching brings together, sure, but it is also causes the toucher to be touched. Skin goes both ways, and even to speak of “both” is a limitation. We need a middle voice, a grammar neither active nor passive. Dinshaw of course speaks strongly of affect, but I also feel–at least for now–that speaking of “connection,” of “relationships,” by preserving the two (or more) separate things being brought into relation, occludes the great altering intimacy of being touched.
    • But we can get still closer. Dinshaw speaks of touching as a contrast to sight. Touching brings us into contact with someone or something, and, so long as it is a caress rather than a grasping, it has none of the pretensions to mastery that sight does. We are contaminated by touch (recall: contaminate from con + tangere), each one of us touched, the passive and the active mingled. I wonder, however, how an attention to smell–midway between sight and touch–a sensing at a distance, in which we are contacted by the thing sensed, a sense that seems particularly bodily because particularly animal, would have altered GM. Consider Valerie Allen:

      Like ears, nostrils never shut voluntarily. Permanently open for business, they are how we receive the world. Ears may be stopped for an indefinite period, but without inhalation, we die within minutes. The very act of drawing breath is one with smelling: ‘man only smells during inhalation….To perceive no smell without inhaling seems to be peculiar to man.’ For as long as we are alive, we sniff the world around us, including ourselves….Through every pore and orifice we wrap ourselves in smell, signing the air. As dogs well know, urine offers the most exact signature, shit and saliva close runners up. To smell the intestinal by-product of another brings one into extimate relation with them; more profound than psychoanalysis, it entails a knowledge of them more intimate than sight or hearing, more detached than touching or licking, a knowledge of the other where their very being participates in yours. (50-51)


Jeffrey, I like your multiple Dinshaw I’s, because it’s smart, and one more effort to remind us that thinkers do not stay static (there is no one Derrida, there is no one Dinshaw: think of the Dinshaw warning us in the GLQ Queer Temporalities that affective contact across time is not always liberating, that Marc Bloch spoke of Nazism as appealing to Germans who felt ‘out of time’), and also because it speaks to one of the posts I thought of writing. I had thought of writing on touching my own self across time in rereading this book. In part this was because of a phone number in the end papers of a friend who’s since died, and about whom I’ve thought little since. That reminder seemed all too appropriate to this book, especially the section on Barthes. In large part, however, I wanted to think through this encounter with myself because of my old, heavy annotations and what they did NOT say.

I had entered into this rereading with the memory of being violently impatient with theory “back then,” and expected to see the margins full of reactionary scorn. I have to say: I was a bit disappointed not to find evidence of the break I thought I had undergone between 2000 and now. Places where I was impatient–say, “fiction” as a verb (205), or the use of “imaginary” in the quote from Sharon Willis on 191–are still places where I am impatient. Otherwise, however, I seemed to have liked it without, apparently, getting it, being touched by it, however you want to think this, since I made so little use of it after the first reading. I’m glad I’ve come back, and I’m unsettled by the encounter with this strange, forgetful, disappointing, and surprisingly insightful reader whose body I still inhabit.

Anon: Thanks for bringing up questions of power, (implicitly) violence, and the capacity or possibility to get outside ourselves, our desires (strange to us though they may be), and our present moment. These are problems that have troubled me for some time. However, I do think there’s some way out. In part, I want to remember the concentration of other times in whatever object, whatever text, whatever writer we’re encountering. There’s more there than just our moment stretching out to it. There’s something there, say, a concentration of centuries, that in some sense reaches back to us. It’s not all in our mind. Similarly, I am trying to distinguish between grasping and the caress, where the caress at once lets the ‘touchee’ be and also cherishes it and also allows it to transform the toucher through the sympathy, the desire, of the caress. The (at least quasi) erotic element of that word is one I haven’t sufficiently thought through, though, but at least I can say that I don’t think of this touching as a mode of knowledge (which I think of as a kind of pretension to mastery) so much as a mode of being with (where supposed mastery allows itself to give way to what the being with does to each previously separate party). If that makes sense.

And, Marian and Holly, thank you SO MUCH for reminding me of the historicity of sensation. It’s an anachronism, and not a useful one, to speak of sight (simply) as mastery for this period. We must remember that what is being looked at is, in some way, looking back, impressing itself on us, reaching out to us.

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Chaucerian Chromophobia? Beige Hengwrts and Bawdy Ellesmeres

Screenshot-Hengwrt Chaucer Digital Facsimile - Mozilla FirefoxI thank Michael Moon’s “Do You Smoke? Or, Is There Life? After Sex?” in After Sex? On Writing since Queer Theory (SAQ Summer 2007) for its reference to David Batchelor’s Chromophobia, a work that argues that:

The love of bright hues is an affliction as well as an alleged moral failing that has been routinely ascribed throughout the modern period to “orientals,” sensuous women, children, and “primitives” of “all stripes”…(Moon, 540)

I haven’t (yet?) read Chromophobia, but I like what I know about it (e.g., his observations on the privilege of drawing over coloring in), and in my gleanings from here and there, I’ve been happy to turn up gemlike prejudices from our foundational thinkers. Aristotle called color a “pharmakon” (31), Isaiah 1:18 aligns color with sin and whiteness with purity, and Goethe observed

that savage nations, uneducated people, and children have a great predilection for vivid colours; that animals are excited to rage by certain colours; that people of refinement avoid vivid colours in their dress and the objects that are about them, and seem inclined to banish them altogether from their presence (qtd 112).

I now have that feeling that I contract from some of my favorites works, suspicion coalesced into a master thesis. Call it paranoid desublimation. With Batchelor lodged in my brain, I compare the dangerous passion of the Big Orange Splot to the rational, calm, beige futurity of Swedish design (see the interiors in Scenes from a Marriage, or, if you’re an Ikeatiste, just look around).

I also consider the preference for the Hengwrt manuscript over the Ellesmere. At this point, and perhaps at all future points, I’ve only a hunch, a hunch, moreover, that’s not been validated by sprints through (only) three articles (the Linne Mooney Adam Pinkhurst piece in the Jan 2007 Speculum, Michael C. Seymour’s “Hypothesis, Hyperbole, and the Hengwrt Manuscript of the Canterbury Tales,” English Studies 68 (1987): 214-19, and Ralph Hanna’s “The Hengwrt Manuscript and the Canon of the Canterbury Tales), a hunch that has been validated, if we can call it that, only by a highly suspicious reading of Peter G. Beidler’s characterization of the differences between Hengwrt and Ellesmere (“…the Hengwrt manuscript, the oldest and most authentic” vs. “the lovely Ellesmere manuscript” (29)), by the predilection for the adjective “lavish” when describing Ellesmere, and by ill-remembered, misconstrued, or invented conversations and gestures from conferences, seminars, and, probably, clambakes.

Nevertheless: is it possible that the preference for Hengwrt over Ellesmere, even when expressed with hierophantic jargon of the codicologist, is fundamentally a preference for cool reason over vivid pleasures, pure judgment of the Aesopian body of one manuscript over the all too obvious lavish enticements of another? Are leading questions a valid substitute for research into critical discourse? By all means, no, but if I can’t offer my suspicions on a blog, how can I get them out of my head?

Thanks for the image, from here.


 

Jeffrey, thanks for the Fradenburg: I’m glad you had that thought at hand, and I’m glad to see that she wrote that (given that at times I think her such a psychoanalytic critic that I would expect her always to turn suspiciously on her pleasure). I remembered that I had quoted some relevant stuff here from my own work (from the written portion of my comprehensive exam!) (also see the conversation about creative writing here): so, right, I wrote:

“If we read Sir Gawain and ignore the Prick of Conscience except, perhaps, as it helps illuminate our favorite poems, we are not scholars: we are dilettantes. It is up to you to find ways to make these texts interesting, but you won’t succeed in this by attending to startling rhymes, unusual vocabulary, or any of these other purely aesthetic criteria. And if you were looking for these things in these texts, I doubt you would be successful. You may think I am arguing that scholarship requires you to suffer, but I would say that if you are bored by these works, the fault is probably yours because you don’t yet know how to read them. Scholarship—-and this is an ethical imperative—-requires that you try to apprehend cultures on their own particular historically, culturally, and materially specific terms and that as you read, as you think, you bring your own assumptions and categories under examination continuously.”

I think what saves the c. 2002 me here is the turn back to pleasure, how–if I can gloss my own work–I try to link ethics and pleasure, that in trying to recover why these terribly long, terribly alien works–the Cursor Mundi, Prick of Conscience, the Secretum Secretorum, the Wycliffite Bible(s)–should have been so popular, we might recognize ourselves as having arrived at a goal when we begin to enjoy them, when we affectively, unconsciously, account for their popularity. When we might feel the pleasure–sublimated or not–that drove so many hundreds of households to want their own Prick of Conscience.

Which is to say: it’s usual to discover the pleasure in sacrifice, but, less suspiciously, I wouldn’t doubt if Blake (and thanks Stephanie for the reminder) somehow liked chucking the Canon Yeoman’s tale.

[and, BTW, am I the only one who’s heard the story of Manly and Rickert as a story of sublimated, frustrated, peculiar pleasure, sex turned (in)to the war effort and scholarship, uncannily moving on despite death?] –

Found another one, also in the Beidler WoB edition: “Many scholars now see even the lovely Ellesmere manuscript, copied by the Hengwrt scribe and arranged by a highly intelligent editor, as a distraction rather than an aid in understanding Chaucer” (91).

I just need about 20-30 more of these, and Chaucer Review here I come! –
See more at: http://www.inthemedievalmiddle.com/2008/02/chaucerian-chromophobia-beige-hengwrts.html#sthash.I5iw3JJK.dpuf

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: http://www.inthemedievalmiddle.com/2007/10/how-about-them-fightin-binaries.html#sthash.ww0GeXvV.dpuf

Is it wrong to spurn the gifts of nature?

I’ve been out of blogging for weeks now, self-pityingly swamped under the TT job that the current market demands I experience with gratitude or, at least, stoicism (edit: which is not to say that the BC job sucks. It doesn’t. My complaint is with the market itself and with the insidious nexus of deferred pleasure, the pleasures of stoicism, and reward). Here I dip in my 5 toes (holding 5 in reserve), having read through the recent posts on time, desire, and disaggregation by Eileen, Jeffrey, and Mary Kate, and having nearly finished the Kłosowska that all of us seem to be reading. I have, however, only a few questions for you, one of which I’m posting now. You must wait, perhaps forever, for my longer posts, one on the conservativism of students (why oh why do they resist understanding Pearl as oneiric sexual harassment? why do they demand the Nebuchadnezzar of the opening chapters of Daniel be the same person throughout, a mere character, rather than a shifting set of differing narrative machines?: have I just written my post?), and another on Karma Lochrie speaking, as last Saturday I saw Karma Lochrie speaking at my alma/amara mater, and my wondering about thinking with the “not present” as a way to circumvent or, better yet, to overflow the impasse of Reproductive Futurity.

Below, Eileen quoted Schultz quoting Boccaccio commenting on Dante’s placement of Priscian among the sodomites:

Dante put him there “to represent those who teach his doctrine, since the majority of them are believed to be tainted with that evil. For most of their students are young; and being young, are timorous and obey both the proper and the improper demands of their teacher. And because the students are so accessible, it is believed that the teachers often fall into this sin.”

In moral literature of (at least) the late Middle Ages, certain ages have certain appropriate or, rather, expected sins. Young people–Chaucer’s Squire, for instance–are expected to be lusty; and the old are expected to be backbiting and envious, likely because of their impotence (as one lyric runs, “Elde makiþ me geld and growen al grai (Old age makes me impotent (literally: castrate) and all grey)). This raises two questions: the first is whether the potent leeky old man (“hoor head and grene tayl”) would be monstrous or even queer because of its possession of a working cock it should not have: any medieval examples spring to mind? Is the lusty old man almost always an incestuous father?

The second, which drove me to this question in the first place, is on the naturalness of this desire for boys. Which, by the way Interpol, I am not endorsing. This is, Interpol, an academic question. Young women are presented as naturally desirable; old women as repugnant. Think of the Wife of Bath’s tale, where the possibility of marrying the old wyf shocks the rapist (and presumably the Wife’s audience, themselves faced with the desires–and desirability–of an older woman) into horror.

Are young boys, then, also naturally desirable? If the sin is expected, is Priscian’s crime not running against nature but rather not resisting nature by compelling himself into desiring the (im)proper object? I think of 4 Macabees, which I just taught, in which the tyrant Antiochus demands that Eleazar eat pork: he doesn’t demand that Eleazar sin or spurn God. He demands only this: “Why, when nature has granted it to us, should you abhor eating the very excellent meat of this animal? It is senseless not to enjoy delicious things that are not shameful, and wrong to spurn the gifts of nature” (4 Maccabees 5:8-9). My point, my little point for now, is this: Eleazar’s virtue is precisely his unnaturalness, and Priscian’s crime is being altogether too natural. In this, where do we locate the properly sexual?


 

JJC: what differentiates Chaucer’s senex amans from the frightening senex amans I imagine is their incapacity. They’re not entirely buffoons, no, but they’re still more victims (of age, of circumstance, of clerkly learning, and chiefly of their own desire) more than they’re actors. When the desiring old man is himself the actor, I’m inclined to think that the story falls into violence, revenge, or perhaps more often than not, incest. I think of The Testament of Cresseid, where in my understanding of the poem the impotent reader inflicts leprosy on the beautiful woman he alone cannot have; and I think of the Constance story, as in Emaré, where it seems the father fixates on the quality in his child that he himself has lost, her freshness (“Dowghtyr, y woll wedde the, / Thow art so fresh to beholde”).

Thanks much for the comments on Chaucer and their particularity and correction of my transhistorical noodling; “Chaucer gained from his wide reading many glimpses of human sexuality constructed and practiced otherwise than the ways in which his London practiced it” sounds like it can be very productive.

SH: thanks for the RR reference. There’s something similar in Selections from English Wycliffite Writings (ed. Anne Hudson), in the third of the “Twelve Conclusions of the Lollards”: þe thirdde conclusion sorwful to here is þat þe lawe of continence annexyd to presthod, þat in preiudys [prejudice] of wimmen was first ordeynid, inducith sodomie al holy chirche.” Is the argument here that samesex sex is more desirable? Or that it’s in some way “natural”? I don’t think so; it’s more that men must have sex, and when forbidden women, they will have sex with men. The desire is natural, even if the object becomes the object only through an artificial constraint. Nonetheless, it, like the RR, puts the natural under question, which is, I suppose, what I was hoping to get at in the first place.

Which point leads me finally into the nice distinctions NM draws, but I still must wonder about this: “the unnaturalness of human nature.” I wonder if imagining sex through technological metaphors–that is, cultural precisely not natural metaphors–is a way to sidestep this problem of the natural – See more at: http://www.inthemedievalmiddle.com/2007/10/is-it-wrong-to-spurn-gifts-of-nature.html#sthash.crkUBfHN.dpuf

À la recherche du temps bawdy

Yet another creepy Bush nomination. This time, it’s James Holsinger, nominated for surgeon general. While he isn’t nearly as bad as David Hager, his 1991 paper the Pathophysiology of Male Homosexuality has justly got the blogoglobe in an uproar. A favorite passage from his wisdom (borrowed from Sadly No!):

The logical complementarity of the human sexes has been so recognized in our culture that it has entered our vocabulary in the form of naming various pipe fittings either the male pipe fitting or the female pipe fitting depending upon which one interlocks within the other. When the complementarity of the sexes is breached, injuries and disease may occur as noted above. Therefore, based on the simplest known anatomy and physiology, when dealing with the complementarity of the human sexes, one can simply say, Res ipsa loquitur – the thing speaks for itself!

There’s also this, which surely resonates with anyone fortunate enough to have heard James Paxson’s paper at Kzoo (see reference here):

“It is absolutely clear that anatomically and physiologically the alimentary and reproductive systems in humans are separate organ systems, i.e., the human does not have a cloaca,” he said, referring to the posterior orifice that serves as the one opening for genital, urinary and intestinal tracts in amphibians, birds and reptiles. The surgeon general nominee wrote that “even primitive cultures understand the nature of waste elimination, sexual intercourse and the birth of children. Indeed our own children appear to ‘intuitively’ understand these facts.”

Mostly he’s talking about anal sex. Let’s put aside the strangeness of his implicit gendering of the anus (my elbow? Male or female?) and put aside (until your comments) his primitivism, and simply wonder: does he read fablieaux? Because I can’t help but hear, even from beneath the cotton batting, “Le Chevalier qui fist les cons parler.”


Arguments from nature assume a human continuity with nature, but Christian eschatology argues for an ultimate radical break of the human from nature: nothing ‘of nature’ will survive the Last Judgment except humans, which suggests that humans are extranatural. I like the point on Free Will, but remember–and this is a point made by Judith Butler (but as Uebel was quick to remind me, by many others)–the powers that be tend to give a great deal more respect for compulsion than choice (this is part of the reason I’m for immortality, bracketing off–if this is possible–questions of the persistence of the self or what comprises the self: what is more compelled than death?). Free choice is a kind of fantasy, insofar as making a free choice (let’s assume that such a thing is possible) necessitates breaking with causality, necessitates not letting oneself simply be swept along by the inhuman force of the past. Here’s Butler, more or less at random, from Undoing Gender:

Fantasy is not the opposite of reality; it is what reality forecloses, and, as a result, it defines the limits of reality, constituting it as its constitutive outside. The critical promise of fantasy, when and where it exists, is to challenge the contingent limits of what will and will not be called reality. Fantasy is what allows us to imagine ourselves and others otherwise; it establishes the possible in excess of the real; it points elsewhere, and when it is embodied, it brings the elsewhere home. (29)

Nice reference JJC. I’m fond of two flamingos, Carlos and Fernando, who adopted a chick. (Also fond of the penguins who did something similar).

I’m also fond of the sodomite medieval animals. Looking here at my Boswell, I see that the Epistle of Barnabas warned against hare-eating (makes you, in Boswell’s translation, a “boy-molester”). Has something to do with the hare’s natural propensity for growing a new anus every year (“For the hare grows a new anal opening each year, so that however many years he has lived, he has that many anuses.” Like counting rings, I suppose.). The hyena, says the Epistle (and a lot of other works), changes its gender every year. The weasel? Prone to oral sex (perhaps that’s why Giuliani hates ferrets so?). There’s also the viper.

Does anyone know of an article on medieval unnatural animals? I’m inclined to say that the argument against using these animals to support the ‘naturalness’ of same-sex sex, sexuality, or unions would run aground on the Fall: since animals (for most exegetes) started eating each other after the Fall, why not assume that sin changed them in other ways too. I see in my notes on a Lynn Thorndike article of 1956 that at least one commentator thought hyenas are born of human corpses, and I recall that such creatures–gnats, for instance–did not come into existence until after the Fall. So perhaps hyenas were, at least in certain instances, also extranatural?

Another bleg: I recall a medieval story on the crucifixion in which, at the moment of Christ’s death, all the sodomites died and the animals started talking. I thought it was in the Golden Legend–no dice–or the Historia Scholastica (not apparently). I can look harder, but perhaps someone remembers? – See more at: http://www.inthemedievalmiddle.com/2007/06/la-recherche-du-temps-bawdy.html#sthash.pLMkcn2I.dpuf

Let Hodain have his fun

134035512_431aae06d4_mOriginally uploaded by mivox.

Earlier today, I started to write a post on the Middle English Ser Tristrem. In this version, as in several others, Tristan and Iseult fall in love because of a magic potion. In an odd, funny touch, Tristan’s dog, Hodain, also has a taste of the love potion. Here’s what happens:

Tristrem in schip lay
With Ysonde ich night;
Play miri he may
With that worthli wight
In boure night and day.
Al blithe was the knight,
He might with hir play.
That wist Brengwain the bright
As tho.
Thai loved with al her might
And Hodain dede also. (1684-94)

That last line’s quite a shocker, isn’t it? I read it, initially, as a hint of bestiality, a sort of menage à chien, and rushed–in my desultory way–to write a blog post, before I caught myself up short: what if the medievals knew this was funny?* In the spirit of our various posts about reuniting pleasure and scholarship, and in honor, too, of Wiley, I decided I wanted to try to allow the past a bit of unadulterated pleasure. While I’m sufficiently disenchanted to know there can never be such a thing, nonetheless I think we–or certainly, I–all too often treat all things in our field as pathological: the crisis of this and that, everything and its discontents, and so forth. It’s as if what we study merits our attention only in direct proportion to its danger: it must threaten everything we know and are, it must keep its world under control only by strenuous disavowal, it must not be just a silly obscure pig joke or an article about farts (warning: pdf). Otherwise, we’re wasting our time, letting ourselves and the medievals have too much fun, while real scholarship stomps past, fixing us with its baleful eye, upholding its sense of importance in a world that daily views us (perhaps justifiably so!) as less and less relevant.

Of course, we can ask why the hint of Hodain mixing himself up in this way is funny. In part, it’s recognition. I think we’ve all had a cold dog nose meet us where we’d rather be left alone. But there’s also the mixup, the fact that nonhuman animals should not be involved–whether alive or dead–in sex. At least not with us. Why that is certainly merits a suspicious investigation into the psychopathology of the human–which is precisely the post I initially meant to write–but for now, I just want to let well enough alone. I had a laugh, shockingly, while reading a Middle English chivalric narrative. For that laugh, much thanks to whoever’s responsible for Ser Tristrem, and much thanks to Alan Lupack for his excellent introduction to the TEAMS edition and his argument for its parodic content.

Now, an invitation, for the weekend and following, as we stumble towards the end of the semester. Either talk a bit about humor and scholarship, or, if you have something in mind–and I know this will be particularly difficult for the Anglo-Saxonists–give us a few medieval bits that you’ve decided to let be funny. Extra credit if it’s not from Chaucer or Deschamps.

* Update: Okay, I know it probably means “And Houdain loved her too,” in the sense of some kind of canine agape. And that’s why the dog was so loyal to the two of them. But that joke is all the funnier, I think, for not being as straightforward as all that. Ok?


The wanted to refuse, for a time, to see the joke about Houdain’s participation in Tristan and Iseult’s lovemaking as some kind pathology. If I didn’t “just” let the joke be funny, I’d want to consider the reason for this being a joke at all: it’s because sex between humans should be only between humans. The fact that the dog’s participation is funny, in other words, is a function of what I think the psychopathology of the human, the defense of the human through, among other means, erotic boundaries.

Part of what’s interesting about this set up is that animal eros is typically thought to be irrational, but also, because of this lack, not subject to the whimsy of choice. Because animals don’t make a decision about sex, they tend (to be thought) to make better decisions (not that what they’re doing can be thought a decision). By contrast, humans make choices, which means they can make mistakes; the gift of reason, in terms of eros, seems to be, first, the introduction of superfluity into the erotic object–there’s something irreducibly more than instinct guiding us–and, second, because of that superfluity, the possibility of a mistake. Among the many things that is appalling about Evolutionary Psychology is its effort to strip all eros of choice, the boil off its superfluity, to eliminate the ‘mistakes’ of reason, of responsibility, and of the inexplicable elements that, by preventing any decision from being straightforwardly “ours,” prevent any decision from being able to be perfectly fixed as our responsibility. Thank goodness we literary types don’t have that positivist arrogance!

To return to Ser Tristrem, we have the animal joining in, naturally enough, because Tristan and Iseult’s reason has left them; they’re compelled by a (super)natural force not their own. On the one hand, Tristan and Iseult have made a terrible mistake in loving each other; on the other hand, because of the potion, they’re not responsible. Because of their lack of responsibility, but also because they’ve made the choice they should have made–Tristan is the best knight, Iseult is the best lady, so they belong together–Tristan and Iseult have become like animals. They’re not responsible; they’re guided by an eros not their own; they’re beyond or below or whatever special metaphor you think best the capacity to make “mistakes.” Houdain’s love–which is, even without the magic potion, the natural state of a dog, proverbially “man’s best friend” as far back as Isidore, at least–is, then, “just” a materialization of this (un)natural irrational eros.

Something like that. I’m modeling the kind of reading I might do if I wanted to lean on the episode as pathological (although I would expect that if I developed this reading, it would be a bit more direct, less opaque). But I was wondering in my post what we get if we just allow the episode to be funny. If we imagine, for a while, that not so much is at stake. If we don’t show off by dragging the joke away from its humor up into the grim realm of critique, where every effort at identity, every articulation, is evidence of a crisis. What would happen if we just let Hodain have his fun? What would we gain as critics?


I want to say thanks, everyone, for all your examples, and fiction too. It’s been a lot of fun to read. Here’s one more example, from the early 12th c. outlaw/resistence story of Hereward. Hereward is fighting Letold, an contemptuous Saxon knight. Here’s how the fight ends:

“[having lost his first sword] Hereward drew from its sheath a second sword which he had forgotten, and attacked his opponent more vigorously. And at the first blow, while feigning an attack on the head, he struck the man in the middle of his thigh. Still the soldier defended himself for some time on his knees, declaring that for as long as there was life in him he would never be willing to surrender or look beaten” (A Book of Medieval Outlaws 57). I think we’re all fans of Monty Python here: I’d be surprised if I’m the only one who read this and thought, “None shall pass!” or “It’s just a flesh wound.”

(can’t remember, JJC, if you discussed Hereward in ODM. This work is marvelous for England and its cultures. We have Frenchmen doing parodies of English dancing, discussions of the English style of knighting (English knights must be dubbed by monks), Frenchmen speaking French around people they suppose peasants, (mis)figuring they won’t be understood, “English-style feasts in the monks’ refectory” of Ely, &c., much complaining about foreigners, King William using a “Scandinavian” mode of witchcraft, and eventually, Hereward joining the court of William) –

Let’s just say I wonder what a criticism that allowed for non-pathological pleasure, both in ourselves and in the texts we study, would look like. I don’t know. It would still be a disenchanted reading, it would still be suspicious: I’m not asking for a “return to beauty” or something like that, but neither am I pushing some kind of post-secular critical line. I’m just wondering if it’s possible to replicate, in criticism, the pleasure I felt–that I shared with the past–when I laughed at the Houdain line. The only way I’ve been taught to go at such things is to push the laughter back, to ironize it at the least, to fit it into some pathological model. Certainly that’s going to produce a good reading–with all due respect to my crappy example–but because it’s been the model of criticism, at least the really exciting stuff, for ages, I wonder if there’s something else we can do to respect* an aspect of reading, of living, that the criticism has been singularly unable to handle.

* Tellingly, I have no idea what verb should go here. That’s how far I feel from what this criticism might be. –

See more at: http://www.inthemedievalmiddle.com/2006/12/let-hodain-have-his-fun.html#sthash.AQPvuHTS.dpuf

101 Uses for a Dead Deer

deerI’ve been driven to write about carrion for the past few months because of an early thirteenth-century English forest law that goes like this:

If any dead or wounded beast should be found and it does not belong to a herdsman. First, there should be an inquiry in the four closest towns, which should be recorded; and the finder should be put by six pledges [i.e., the finder needs people to attest for him or her]; the flesh however should be sent to the nearest house of lepers, if there is one nearby in those parts, and this by the witness of the forester and the jury. If however there is no such house nearby, the flesh should be given to the sick and the poor. The head and skin should be given to the freeman of the nearest town; and the arrow, if one was found, should be given to the forester, and this should be recorded with his oath.

There are a number of ways to approach this law’s peculiar (but, as I’ve discovered, widely enforced) approach to poaching. I’ve been at it through the ideological utility of hunting to England’s thirteenth-century elites, but there’s also an approach that jives with discussions we’ve had repeatedly at this blog, namely, the power that the dead have over the living. When can a corpse finally be put to rest? Because of its illicit death, the carcass has become an uncanny, all too incarnate mockery of elite pretensions to inviolate mastery of violence. The illicit violence that the carcass suffered requires that it be ritually humiliated — or so I argue — by being fed to lepers. It is only then that the carcass becomes truly dead to the living. Here’s what I have to say in the chapter itself:

Through this dual activity of rejection and distribution, the elites reestablish their control over violence in hunting preserves, perhaps the most privileged space for elites to practice, demonstrate, and uphold their exclusive right to violence. Through these two actions, the carrion laws protect the community—of humans or elites, depending on the law—from contamination. The double action also reforms the disrupted power over life and death by substituting the right of distribution and the right of denying consumption for the temporarily lost control over human space and its killings. While the meat itself is lost to dogs, pigs, bestial men, the poor, or lepers, the combined refusal and distribution returns what really matters, the control of meat and, in a broader sense, of death, to the realm of lawgivers and their agents.

Forest animals that suffer proper deaths live on uncannily too. In Gottfried von Strassburg’s Tristan, Tristan explains how a deer’s carcass should be treated after its dismemberment:

 

Ride two and two together and keep close beside one another, preserving the shape of a hart. Let the horns go ahead, the breast follow in their track, the ribs come after the fore-quarters. Then arrange for the hind-parts to follow on the ribs. After that, you should see to it that the quarry and fourchie bring up the rear–such is true huntsmanship. And do not be in too great a hurry–ride in due order, one behind another.

In field butchery, human elites grant dogs and ravens little dainties, so emptying the flesh and body of the deer of its valueless portions. With this elimination, the deer becomes perfected, for nothing remains but what elites want for themselves. The deer has been made ready for a procession in which the very ritual that broke its body into pieces now grants it a return to a bodily integrity that is also a perfect materialization of elite power and its meaningful, absolute, creative violence. The reassembling of the dismembered carcass reminds me of the Japanese puppet theater of Bunraku, but perhaps still more strongly, because of the simultaneous fragility and completeness of the animal form, of those collapsible toy ponies of my childhood (when I depressed part of the statuette’s platform, the elastic holding it upright would go slack, and its knees would buckle). I might not have been able to control my own bodily integrity, but at least I could take it away from others and grant it once more (under my terms).

I’m inspired to this little post by an astonishing case of necrobestiality (sfw) that our friend JKW sent to me:

Prosecution of a Douglas County case involving alleged sexual contact with a dead deer may hinge on the legal definition of the word “animal.”Bryan James Hathaway, 20, of Superior faces a misdemeanor charge of sexual gratification with an animal. He is accused of having sex with a dead deer he saw beside Stinson Avenue on Oct. 11.

A motion filed last week by his attorney, public defender Fredric Anderson, argued that because the deer was dead, it was not considered an animal and the charge should be dismissed. …

A judge should decide what the Legislature intended “animal” to mean in the statute, he said. “And the only clear point to draw the line in that definition, I believe, is the point of death.”

Assistant District Attorney James Boughner said the court can use a dictionary to determine the meaning of the word, but it doesn’t have to.

“The common and ordinary meaning of a word can be found in how people actually use the word,” Boughner wrote in his response to the motion.

When a person’s pet dog dies, he told [Judge Michael] Lucci, the person still refers to the dog as his or her dog, not a carcass.

“It stays a dog for some time,” Boughner said.

He referred to the criminal complaint, in which Hathaway told police he saw the dead deer in the ditch and moved it into the woods. Hathaway called it a dead deer, Boughner said, not a carcass.

“It did not lose its essence as a deer, an animal, when it died,” he said.

Anderson argued that the statute, which falls under the heading “crimes against sexual morality,” was meant to protect animals. That would be unnecessary in the case of a dead animal.

JJC has told us about fancy lawyers borrowing his professional expertise to map the history of one-eyed monsters. If only this case in Duluth were a bit, uh, fancier, I’m sure I could offer my services. I work cheap, even if it means going to Duluth (I’ve been a few times, and it would take a case like this to get me back). I might talk about what kinds of intimacy we are allowed with animals: why killing an animal to eat it is acceptable, even encouraged, while necrobestiality (or indeed any kind of necrophilia) is anathema. I might cite Cora Diamond, who observed in “Eating Meat and Eating People,” that the prevention of distress may have little to do with our dietary decisions, since, after all, “We do not eat our dead, even when they have died in automobile accidents or been struck by lightning, and their flesh might be first class….We also do not eat our amputated limbs…It is not a direct consequence of our unwillingness to cause distress to people. Of course, it would cause distress to people to think that they might be eaten when they were dead, but it causes distress because of what it is to eat a dead person.” With the weekend approaching, if you’re willing, I open the conversation up to you: about the undead demands of carcasses (and corpses) on the living, of bestiality, of the common medieval puns on the games of Venus and the venerial games of the Hunt, and of the justness of the prosecutor’s claim that allowing Hathaway to get away with his pleasure would encourage others to kill animals for sex.

Works

Assizes of the Forest, in The Statutes at Large from the Second Year of the Reign of King George the Third to the End of the Last session of Parliament. … With a Copious Index. And an Appendix, Consisting of Obsolete and Curious acts, … Volume the Ninth. London: Printed for Mark Basket and by the Assigns of Robert Basket; and by Henry Woodfall and William Strahan, 1765, 25-6.
Diamond, Cora. “Eating Meat and Eating People.” Philosophy 53 (1978): 465-79, at 467 (original emphasis).
Gottfried von Strassburg,
Tristan, with the surviving fragments of the Tristan of Thomas. Arthur Thomas Hatto, trans. New York: Penguin, 1960, 83.


 

I also think that what we have with the 13th-century carrion law is a case of inexclusion: the exception has been folded into the law. Does the escape from power, now marked as a violation, bring the lacuna into the law with it? Inevitably, yes, because “managing the panic” of the illicitly killed high-status animal at the same time marks the death as an occasion for panic. In other words, having to manage the carcass creates the carcass as crisis. It’s no wonder, then, that poaching was thought a species of insurrection, both by the elites and by hoi polloi (at least in later medieval and post-medieval England).* I think of potty-mouthed children whose parents overreact, and the children, masochistically anxious for attention or just sadistic, return to cursing just to get their parents’ goat(s).

*Here’s a bit from my notes to I. M. W. Harvey “Poaching and Sedition in Fifteenth-Century England,” in Ralph Evans, ed. Lordship and Learning: studies in memory of Trevor Aston. 2004. 169-82:

Notes the way that poaching and protest assumed similar forms in SE England (175). False names: “during the second decade of the fifteenth century a Sussex chaplain under the assumed name of Friar Tuck led a poaching gang which made itself notorious for taking venison and burning foresters’ houses in Surrey and Sussex” (175). Eastern Kent Thomas Cheyne went by name of Hermit Bluebeard, and his captains named King of the Fairies, Queen of the Fairies (!), and Robin Hood (175). –

what fascinates me so much about the necrobestiality is that Hathaway’s act becomes a way to recognize the way carcasses are not quite dead. Necrobestiality, because it is a crime, necessitates a taxonomic effort that unravels certainties about the distinction between the living and the dead, about the ontologic (or at least symbolic) status of a carcass, about what counts as an animal, and so forth. If I wanted to condemn myself to the career path of the dirty minded, the Hathaway case could be folded into a discussion of the weird attention to “skull fucking” in pop culture over, say, the past 10-15 years. But no way am I going there. All I want to say, following you EJ, is to point out the perhaps unique, shocking force of sexuality to clarify or muddle things.

If I had to decide, right now, on my third book project (first: animals; second: meat?), I do something with corpses, beginning with Augustine’s On the Care for the Dead, going into the undead stories found in, say, Geoffrey of Auxerre’s On the Apocalypse,* going into the Cosmas and Damien story, and, of course, dead animals. –

* from my notes on the Joseph Gibbons trans.:

In Tripoli, a child dies who had been ordained as a cleric, and his uncle, consumed with grief, gives the boy over to an old woman: “No one knows what she said or did, but subsequent events proved that she cut the skin of his arm, and in the little opening she inserted certain written marks.” (163). Boy enters the choir, but after a while, another clergyman hears the boy singing and says, ” ‘I hear the voice not of a living man but of one already dead'” (164). He decides to prove that this is a soulless body: “…he set the naked boy on a rug and carefully felt his body in their presence. Under the skin of the arm he felt the little piece of paper which the wicked old woman had inserted. Without delay he opened the skin and took out the paper. Skin and flesh turned immediately to powder, and the bones fell apart from one another in a heap. Thus he showed that this was only a fantasy life that fooled onlookers, and that the boy was dead while he seemed to be alive” (164). –

I’ll start with my hesitance about generation, if generation is understood as reproduction: thinking sex reproductively is heteronormative (I’m thinking of Carolyn Dinshaw’s reading of Chaucer’s General Prologue in Getting Medieval, 117-21).

That said, the corpse is, as you point out, generative. What I think it “generates” is its own constitutive parts, heretofore held together and kept hidden by an imaginative force of desire for a self-same identity. The corpse, then, might be thought the truth of the body. In other words, I locate the problems of the corpse, not in the rotten body, but in the living body itself and what it must disavow in order to be produced as the site of a self.

In my perverse or playful or whatever attention to the living body as “really” a corpse (one of my tattoos simply says “dead flesh”), I’m thinking, too, of these points:

“So the word “fetish” fetishizes itself, in the same manner as do other words that speak of the false, the phony, the tawdry, the lustrous, the artful, and of course the simulacrum of art” (6).

“Behind the unveiled secret, another more convoluted secret cloaks itself—-one that perhaps will never be revealed absolutely: it is that of presence in general, which might never be exempt of fetishism.” (6).

“The fetish is better named than it appears. It is an artifice, a fact, something made: it is produced. It is the production of desire according to the double genitive: produced by desire and producing desire, namely, the desire of presence.” (7)

Jean-Luc Nancy, “The Two Secrets of the Fetish,” Diactritics 31 (2001): 3-8 (trans. T. C. Platt).

That said, once we start thinking of the sacred dismembered corpse–whether of saints or secular magnates–we have to go at these problems, probably, in a different way, since these bodies seem to acquire more power, more presence, the more widely they are scattered. One might even think of exemplary punishments, too, of bodies quartered and displayed through the realm–a particularly early modern punishment?–and the way this display is a spectacle, not so much of the dismembered body, or the body paradoxically made more potent through being scattered, but of power of Law to remake bodies into whatever form it likes. And this brings me back to the ritual in Tristan, in which the dismembered deer is a better deer than the living deer. The upshot of all this musing is to observe (not point out, since I’m sure you’re aware of all this), the multiple ways to understand corpses, dissolution, and dismemberment. – See more at: http://www.inthemedievalmiddle.com/2006/11/101-uses-for-dead-deer.html#sthash.jV6JINNq.dpuf