Gender and Text in the Later Middle Ages

By Jane Chance | Go to book overview
Written out of fear, the defense of women would then appear to be bound to write out this fear. Translated in a bold authorial voice that bears no trace of it, "fear" would be forgotten in the assumption of an authorial and even polemical voice. But fear, as the Epistre au Dieu d'Amours reminds us, can never be entirely written out. Or rather, in the very gesture of being written out, it finds itself all the more reinscribed. If Christine de Pizan's writing is distinctive, it is, I believe, to the extent that it calls us to read "fear" as the signature that underwrites and dissolves any authorial signature, any authoritative voice. Read from this perspective, her works exemplify a peculiar tension. On the one hand, they tell the story of the progressive self-assertion of a "woman author" who, overcoming her fear, succeeds in acquiring and affirming her "own" authorial voice. This new notion of a "woman author" modifies but does not radically challenge the notion of "author." It modifies this notion because it "genders" it and uses this gendering as a means to gain authority. It does not challenge it because it apparently still believes in the very authority of the authorial voice. On the other hand, her texts challenge the authorial voice that they pretend to seek. While apparently staging the fear of assuming the status of author, they implicitly redefine the authorial voice as a peculiar and unavoidable translatio of fear. The author becomes the prosopopoeia of fear, the fictional and altered voice that betrays fear, and this in two ways: by denaturing fear, but also by unknowingly pointing to fear. In other words, the assertive tone of the authorial voice is both an index and a displacement of the fear it signifies but cannot express. In what may be its most critical move, Christine de Pizan's defense of women calls us to read the name of fear in any authorial and authoritative name be it "Jean de Meun," "Ovid," "Cupid," or "Christine de Pizan." It also calls us to read "Creintis" anagrammatically dispersed in the very letter of the most polemical and authoritative texts written by the first "woman author" of French letters.
Notes
1. All further references are to the edition of Christine de Pizan's Oeuvres edited by Roy. The translations are from Fenster and Erler, eds., Poems of Cupid, God of Love.
2. Quotations are from Book of the City of Ladies, ed. Richards, hereafter abbreviated as BCL (184-85).
3. BCL, 5.
4. Ibid., 6.
5. For a reading of this passage in a different context, see Brownlee's article "Ovide et le moi poétique,"153-73. I borrow from Brownlee the description of this tale as being fabliaulike.

-304-

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