by EILEEN JOY
"How is it that in a society like ours, sexuality is not simply a means of reproducing the species, the family, the individual? Not simply a means to obtain pleasure and enjoyment? How has sexuality come to be considered the privileged place where our deepest 'truth' is read and expressed? For that is the essential fact: since Christianity, the Western world has never ceased saying, To know who you are, know what your sexuality is. Sex has always been the forum where both the future of our species and our 'truth' as human subjects are decided." (Michel Foucault, 1977 interview)
This semester I am wading into new territory, teaching-wise, with an M.A.-level seminar on sex and sexuality in the Middle Ages. Although I have, for a while now, been doing an awful lot of reading and research in contemporary queer and critical sexuality studies and some reading in critical medieval sexuality studies [primarily, Carolyn Dinshaw, Glenn Burger, Anna Klosowska, Karma Lochrie, James Schultz, Cary Howie, Michael Camille, Jeffrey, Clare Lees, Lara Farina, Tison Pugh], when doing further research for this syllabus, I realized how much scholarship I am not familiar with, and so, this seminar will partly be a crash course in the subject for myself as well as for my students. The syllabus was both fun but also frustrating to put together--for example, why do we not have more scholarship on sex and sexuality in the lais of Marie de France? But then again, what might be missing on my syllabus that I simply don't know about? I've tried to cover different cultural traditions [Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-Norman, French, and German] and I've left things out, like Heloise and Abelard, which I am sure many will find strange [but as the Ur-couple of the Middle Ages, they also seem, in my mind, to be "done to death" on syllabi such as these], and also Roman de la rose [partly because I am just not prepared this semester to teach too many texts that would be too new for me]. It was difficult to decide which Chaucer tales to include--the "Wife of Bath's Prologue" and "Tale" is the obvious pick, and I did include her, but I have also included the "Man of Law's Tale" as that makes a nice parallel story with the Old English translation of "Apollonius of Tyre," which is where I begin the course. Overall, the the syllabus felt unwieldy to me [and I did a lot of cutting, in the end, that pained me, but I have to be realistic about how much students can read in a week, of course], partly because I am trying to offer "samplings" of four inter-related things, as it were, in this seminar: 1) how sex and sexuality are treated in medieval texts (literary and otherwise), in both "official" and more subversive registers; 2) how sex and sexuality in the Middle Ages are analyzed in contemporary medieval scholarship; 3) how sex and sexuality are historicized in contemporary critical sexuality studies; and 4) how sexuality and sexual identity have been taken up by some contemporary artists [in ways that highlight the complex inter-relations of past and present], such as in the films of Lars von Trier and Pedro Almodovar and also in Jeffrey Eugenides's novel Middlesex. I'm likely trying to do too much, but I thought I would share the syllabus here with everyone, and any critical comments you might have for me would be greatly appreciated. Have I overlooked something important or interesting, either primary or secondary text-wise? [Since I'll teach this course again, I'll be more than happy to make major adjustments to the syllabus next time I offer it.] I'm including here, also, a link to the working bibliography for the course, and if there's something I've not included there that you think is important, please let me know and I'll add it.
ENG505 Seminar in Medieval Literature: Medieval Sex
ENG505 Seminar in Medieval Literature: Working Bibliography