Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Pardoner's present -- and future

Teach long enough and it is bound to happen: in the midst of pontificating along in your oh so hip and cutting edge Chaucer class, you realize that the handout you've been relying on to show how critically up to date you are actually demonstrates the opposite. You now hold a ticket to the Museum of Fossilized Xeroxes, and you realize you'll soon be interred in the Museum of Ossified Professors.

That happened to me today as I was teaching the Pardoner's Tale. Look at this thing (below): I'm stuck in the 90s! (Does VH1 produce a version of that for medievalists?). Some of my omissions are glaring: the psychoanalytic Pardoner that Patterson critiqued in Speculum; the Pardoner as incarnation of gender theory in Robert Sturges's book; the Pardoner as epistemological void from Dinshaw's Chaucer's Sexual Poetics. What other "recent" Pardoners am I missing? Has there ever been, for example, a postcolonial Pardoner?

Here's my Jurassic xerox. It's supposed to show the oscillations of love and hate that have always animated Pardoner scholarship.

Interpreting the Pardoner

1. "The one lost soul among the Canterbury pilgrims" (George Lyman Kittredge, "Chaucer's Pardoner," The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 72, 1893, pp. 829-33)

2. eunuchus ex nativitate ["eunuch from birth"] (Walter Clyde Curry, Chaucer and the Medieval Sciences, 1926) [sympathy]
• "testicular pseudo-hermaphrodite of the feminine type" [Beryl Rowland, Neophilologus, 48, 1964, 56-60]

3. allegory for spiritual impotence (Robert P. Miller, "Chaucer's Pardoner, The Scriptural Eunuch, and the Pardoner's Tale," Speculum 30 [1955] 180-89) [not sympathetic]

4. homosexual (Monica McAlpine, "The Pardoner's Homosexuality and How It Matters," PMLA 95 [1980] 8-22; Steven Kruger, "Toward a gay reading of the Pardoner's Tale," Exemplaria 6 [1994])

5. effeminate / randy and "enthusiastically heterosexual" (David Benson, "Chaucer's Pardoner: His Sexuality and Modern Critics," Medievalia 8 (1985 [for 1982]) 337-46; Richard F. Green, "The Sexual Normality of Chaucer's Pardoner," Medievalia 8 (1985 [for 1982]) 351-57; R. F. Green, "The pardoner's pants (and why they matter)," Studies in the Age of Chaucer 15 [1993]).

6. queer (Glenn Burger, "Kissing the Pardoner," PMLA 107 [1992])


JKW said...

VH1: Back to the (13)90s. It'll be the next big thing on cable.

How odd that you mention this xerox, which you deployed in the Chaucer class that I took with you in the autumn of 2001. Just the other day I was thinking about that list of half a dozen or so definitions scholars have given the Pardoner over the years, and I was wondering if you still use it and if you've added to it.

Guess I got my answer.

Karma said...

Under "queer," you could file

Zeikowitz, Richard. “Silenced But Not Stifled: The Disruptive Queer Power of Chaucer’s Pardoner.” The Dalhousie Review:Medieval Culture Issue. Halifax: Dalhousie University, 2002. 55-73.

I'll be watching this spot for the emergence of the postcolonial Pardoner!

Eileen Joy said...

Oh, so your handout is a little out of date, but you *knew* all those other references already and you *do* know how to use the copy-and-paste function on the computer, right? I thought so. Your topos of "false ossification" just isn't working for me today, Prof. Always-Cutting-Edge Cohen. I do love some of those older essays on the Pardoner, though [like Benson's and Green's readings] that are so insistent on making the Pardoner "straight," as if, somehow, that makes his barely-masked aggression, self-loathing, and perversity more palatable. He flirts with women--he *must* be heterosexual! Yeah. Right.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Eileen: Ouch! I'd be nothing without my modesty topos. I'm a medievalist, I can't help it.

I like that anti-gay version of the Pardoner isn't just heterosexual but "enthusiastically heterosexual." That is such a great phrase -- and makes you think, as opposed to what? Hesitantly heterosexual? Judiciously heterosexual? Wanly heterosexual?

JKW: Glad to stir the embers of memory. As you can tell, the class is pretty much what it always was.

kdegruy: Thanks for the Zeikowitz reference. He has a very good book on the medieval queer as well.

RaeRae said...

I have to agree with you Prof. Cohen, how is one enthusiastically heterosexual? Do they wear a sign proclaiming this state of being? Or maybe they are enthusiastically heterosexual versus boredly (I am not sure that is a word but I am using it anyway) heterosexual. Perhaps they are preventing themselves from becoming bored with themselves.

RaeRae said...

by the by one should never listen to bill engvall ranting about stupid people while reading blogs on the internet... leads to all sorts of madness

and this whole idea of enthusiastic heterosexuality is still bothering me hours later, I want to do research on the topic and I don't have time to do it! Or at least reread Chaucer and again there is no time...

where or where did time go?

I'm gettng silly so I'm leaving

Karl Steel said...

I have to agree with you Prof. Cohen, how is one enthusiastically heterosexual?

Well, I think it'd be a matter of not keeping your body in check. Certain kinds of masculinity are predicated on control of powerful forces. Abandonment of yourself to your own forces ("precious bodily fluids") creates a kind of queer (hyper)masculinity.

There's also the Pardoner as the quarantined site of queer readings, as if the normative sexualities of the other pilgrims was invisible to analysis ((mis?)remembering a diss chapter I read by Shayne Legassie).

theswain said...

one could be ambivalently heterosexual I suppose....