by J J Cohen
The latest issue of Arthuriana (20.1, Spring 2010) has a good cluster of essays on Guenevere that concludes with Amy S. Kaufman's "Guenevere Burning." The issue is worth reading in its entirety, but I'm especially fond of Kaufman's piece, with its challenge to stop deploying universalizing tropes of Otherness to write Guenevere out of agency and desire.
Kaufman's essay opens with these sentences:
Metacritical endeavors in which scholars explore their own pleasure have coaxed medieval studies into a delightful and perpetual swoon as of late. But pleasure is tricky business for the feminist reader of medieval Arthurian literature, mostly because we are always told that we are not supposed to be having any. Our time period is considered inaccessibly patriarchal, our writers deemed misogynistic, and the characters on whom we focus rendered marginal, artificially constructed, or worse yet, abstracted into the nebulous 'feminine' ... Contemporary discussions of pleasure suffer from the deficit of a notion of feminine desire; not an essentially feminine desire, but desire instigated by a subject positioned as feminine.The article gives a quick overview of Guenevere's disappearance in contemporary criticism, then reads at greater length her movements -- her svadharma [soul's true calling], love -- in Malory. At the close of the essay Kaufman posits that our critical true calling is not all that different from Guenevere's: "We, too, have embarked on a path of of self-sacrificing, indulgent love, even if our object of devotion is the past."
Bonus: the first footnote cites the BABEL pleasure panels at SEMA and Kalamazoo.