Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Getting Medieval: Sexualities and Communities, Pre- and Postmodern

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Getting Medieval: Sexualities and Communities, Pre- and Postmodern

Article excerpt

Carolyn Dinshaw, Getting Medieval: Sexualities and Communities, Pre- and Postmodern, Q Series (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999). xii + 345 pp. ISBN 0-8223-2330-3, L37.00 (hard covers); 0-8223-2365-6, L12.95 (p/b).

This is a queer book - explicitly, self-consciously, and politically. Its rationale, as Carolyn Dinshaw states on the first page, and frequently restates, is 'a queer historical impulse, an impulse toward making connections across time between, on the one hand, lives, texts, and other cultural phenomena left out of sexual categories back then and, on the other, those left out of current sexual categories now' (p. I). It seems odd to present homosexuality as excluded from current categories, when queer ideology is strongly defined enough to produce its own critical theory and practice. The notion of alterity, however, is crucial to queer theory, for it is this that allows for a `historical touch' that brings together the disparate, that validates a subjective, even emotive, attitude, and underpins a peculiarly tangential approach to literary and cultural study. In fact, Dinshaw's statement reduces the discussion of the book, which moves beyond 'other' sexualities to discuss different kinds of marginalization, in particular, heresy. This is, as well, a scholarly book, but it is symptomatic that for the most part its scholarship is relegated to the more than ioo pages of discursive footnotes and bibliography, which follow the zoo pages of text, and form what almost amounts to a separate book, written for the medievalists whom Dinshaw perhaps does not perceive as her first readership.

In part, the book is a response to the American congressmen who attempted to cut the National Endowment for the Humanities in the United States, and who cited Dinshaw's seminar on `Sex and gender in the Middle Ages' as an instance of useless public funding (pp. 173-82); in answer, we, like Christ and Margery Kempe, are to say `don't touch me', turning the attitudes of those who fear queer contamination back on themselves. This kind of playful reversal is typical of the way in which Dinshaw writes, so that we move back and forth between the suggestion and suspicion of sodomy, heresy, and alterity in a series of 'communities' - though often consideration of these focuses on one figure. …

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