Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Invention of Heterosexual Culture/Invention De la Culture Hétérosexuelle

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Invention of Heterosexual Culture/Invention De la Culture Hétérosexuelle

Article excerpt

Louis-Georges Tin, The Invention of Heterosexual Culture (Cambridge, Mass., and London: MIT Press, 2012), orig. published as Invention de la culture hétérosexuelle (Paris: Editions Autrement, 2008). Translation provided by Translate-a-Book, Oxford, supervised by Michaël Roy. xii + 197 pp. ISBN 978-0-262-01770-1. $21.95.

It might seem odd to include a review of Louis-Georges Tin's book in a journal of medieval studies, but the fact is that the Middle Ages figure prominently in this short and polemical overview of the birth of a new sexual category: some 75 of its 164 pages of text, in fact. Tin moves from classical material to medical manuals and the French debates on homoparentalitéand, for the most part, does an excellent job of presenting his topic to an uninitiated audience. French scholars, despite the beacons of Foucault, Wittig, Eribon, et al., have been slower to study the history of sexuality, especially from a queer theory stance, and this short book strikes back. Tin turns the table on the homo/hetero debate by putting heterosexuality under the microscope and diagnosing its liabilities. The rise of heterosexual cultures begins more or less in the twelfth century with the rise of romance and Occitan poetry, he claims, though both were met with denunciation of what was thought to be a heterosexual ailment. Love-sickness, loss of virility and salvation - all of these result from heterosexual rhetoric and its celebration. In the schema he proposes, the Renaissance then medicalizes what had been diagnosed in the medieval period and it isn't before the seventeenth century that the heterosexual plot becomes standard. By the nineteenth century, the tables have turned and it is homosexuality, rather than heterosexuality, that attracts the ire of the state apparatuses: the Church, the scientific community, education, and the military. Heterosexuality is henceforth proclaimed as 'normal' rather than pathological and this leads directly to the gender battles of the twentieth century. None of this is particularly new, though Tin's challenge to the French academic establishment - to enact an epistemological revolution that moves heterosexuality from the order of nature to the order of history - couldn't be more timely. …

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