Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Diane Watt, "Why Men Still Aren't Enough"

by J J Cohen

The latest issue of GLQ (16:3) contains a substantial book review essay by Diane Watt that is well worth your time (subscription required to access; I'm happy to share the PDF though if you email me).

Watt observes that the promise and challenge of the April 1993 issue of Speculum -- the one that, oh so belatedly, announced that feminism had arrived in medieval studies, and should have been agenda-setting -- seem not to have been fulfilled. Feminism's victories, she writes, "seem short lived." The history of sexuality, with its special emphasis upon queer sexualities, receives more scholarly energy and attention. In the course of reviewing four books, Watt argues cogently that too often the queer sexuality within this field is the same thing as male sexuality. Whereas Allen J. Frantzen wrote in that issue of Speculum that masculinity and femininity require feminist analysis (“When Women Aren’t Enough”), in the seventeen years that have followed the former term has eclipsed the latter: women might not be enough, but men have certainly become too much. Watt makes the excellent point as well that Judith Halberstam's challenge to see masculinity as not being the exclusive preserve of male bodies has also barely penetrated medieval studies.

Watt reviews Sahar Amer, Crossing Borders: Love between Women in Medieval French and Arabic Literatures; William Burgwinkle, Sodomy, Masculinity, and Law in Medieval Literature: France and England, 1050–1230; Lara Farina, Erotic Discourse and Early English Religious Writing; and Tison Pugh, Sexuality and Its Queer Discontents in Middle English Literature. She finds much to praise in each, especially as all four books challenge boundaries of various kinds (generic, national, sexual). She is an attentive reader, and therefore also finds much that is surprising -- arguing, for example, that despite Burgwinkle's male-centered project that he is a provocative interpreter of Marie de France as "lesbian-like," even though he does not use Judith M. Bennett’s term. Watt's favorite work is clearly Amer's, since Amer's scholarship truly gives erotic relations between women their due: "When it comes to writing the histories and literary histories of sexuality, men still aren’t enough" (463). And it is difficult not to agree. But I do wonder if the review would have been different had it included Anna Klosowska's Queer Love in the Middle Ages (MOR's ITM post on it here), a book that does admirably bring together male-male and female-female erotism in ways that mutually illuminate.


Anonymous said...

OMG does this resonate with my afternoon!!

Karl Steel said...

Sounds interesting, and will read, but of course we all have our pet book suggestions. Anna K's is one. So is Masha Raskolnikov's Body Against Soul.