The Romance of Origins: Language and Sexual Difference in Middle English Literature

By Gayle Margherita | Go to book overview

5. Historicity, Femininity, and Chaucer's Troilus

Throughout this project, I have argued that, in extracanonical texts as well as in Chaucer Book of the Duchess, the problem of literary origins is bound up with that of sexual difference. To the extent that she becomes associated with an irreducible and intractable materiality, woman embodies the losses and divisions wherein a poetic subjectivity originates. The significance of this assessment for an understanding of medieval poetry lies in its symptomatic reading of Christian dualism, and in its emphasis on the relation between origin and absence. This last has a particular resonance for the contemporary medievalist, whose perspective on the past is to a great extent conditioned by a nostalgic and melancholic critical tradition.1 The specter of a lost idyllic moment hovers on the border of much of the criticism in the field, resulting in what Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok have called "endocryptic identification," that is, an identification of the ego (in this case, the critical ego) with the lost object.2 This narcissistic mirroring accounts for several of the most persistent methodological and ideological obsessions in the field of medieval studies: the "fetishism of the source" that has literally and metaphorically bound Anglo-Saxon studies to archaeology for most of this century,3 the continuing dispute over anachronism, and, more generally, the widespread critical anxiety about history as a methodological tool and an epistemological category.

Within a field so informed by melancholic/narcissistic identifications, history is credited with enormous reparative and recuperative potential. To invoke history is thus to shore up the myth of critical exteriority and discursive potency, while at the same time fetishistically compensating for the loss that is at the root of any historicist subjectivity. In light of the first three chapters of this study, it may be suggested that the function of history within the field of medieval studies is similar to that of femininity within Christian theology: both are called upon to stand in for the absence at or indeterminacy of the point of textual origin. Psychoanalytic theory

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The Romance of Origins: Language and Sexual Difference in Middle English Literature
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgments xv
  • Introduction: the Psychic Life of the Past 1
  • 1. Margery Kempe and the Pathology of Writing 15
  • 2. Body and Metaphor in the Middle English Juliana 43
  • 3 - Women and Riot in the Harley Lyrics 62
  • 4. Originary Fantasies and Chaucer's Book of the Duchess 82
  • 5. Historicity, Femininity, and Chaucer's Troilus 100
  • 6. Father Aeneas or Morgan the Goddess 129
  • Afterword: the Medieval Thing 153
  • Appendix 163
  • Notes 179
  • Bibliography 203
  • Index 211
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