Fall 2017 English Graduate Courses

350:532 - Sin and Sexuality in Later Medieval Writing

Course No:  350:532
Index: 15063
Distribution Requirement:  A1, C
Thursday - 1:10 p.m.
MU 207

Sin and Sexuality in Later Medieval Writing

Lawrence Scanlon

The current moment is an unsettled one for sexuality studies. After two decades of vibrant and expanding inquiry and debate, for many practitioners, queer theory and related approaches seem to have reached something of a crossroads—or even a dead end, depending on the observer. Has queer theory run its course? Has it lost its political edge? Has it achieved a common methodology? Should that even be a concern? Has its understanding of sexuality been too narrow, or too theoretically tendentious? Has it been too cavalier in relation to empirical standards?

This course will provide an introduction to the problem of gender and sexuality in later medieval culture. Contrary to long-standing received opinion, medieval Christianity was intensely interested in sexuality. This course will attempt to chart that interest as it reveals itself in a wide variety of genres, including romance, allegory and dream vision, penitential manuals, hagiography, spiritual autobiography, mystical and contemplative treatises, and biblical paraphrase.

The course will engage with the wealth of scholarship on this period of time, but it will also engage with the pressing theoretical questions I noted above. It will offer its inquiries in dialogue with the most influential contributions to queer theory. We will be particularly interested in the tension between theoretical models and empirical evidence, and throughout we will be putting particular pressure on the status of historicism as a methodology and its relation to historical understanding. More specific topics of inquiry will include ideals of Christian transcendence and their conceptual dependence on sex and gender; gender specific understandings of sin and the body; the reception of the Sodom story; the notion of natural law; identity formation and the construction of narrative, the penitential sources of medieval sexual thinking and their subsequent influence.

Two short papers and a presentation.

Reading:
Alain de Lille, Complaint of Nature (ed. Wetherbee)
Amis and Amiloun, (ed. Foster)
Benedict of Clairvaux, Commentary on “The Song of Songs” (selections)
Geoffrey Chaucer, Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale, Second Nun’s Tale
John Gower, Confessio Amantis
Thomas Chester, Sir Launfal
Peter Damian, Book of Gomorrah (Letter 31)
The Book of Margery Kempe
Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun, Romance of the Rose, tr. Frances Horgan
Julian of Norwich, The Writings of Julian of Norwich (ed. Watson and Jenkins)
Marie de France, Lanval
McNeill and Gamer. Medieval Handbooks of Penance
Poems of the Pearl Manuscript, ed. Andrew and Waldron
South English Legendary (selections)
Leo Bersani, Is the Rectum a Grave? and Other Essays
Judith Butler, Antigone’s Claim, Undoing of Gender (selections)
Michel Foucault, History of Sexuality, v. 1
José Esteban Muñoz, Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity
Gayle Salamon, Assuming a Body: Transgender and Rhetorics of Materiality