Today’s post focuses on a book slightly different from those that came before, in that the previous four were recommended to me by advisors and mentors, but this book was, you might say, recommended to me by myself. When, in the process of revision of Chapter Two, my advisor recommended that I read Carolyn Dinshaw’s influential article on the kiss in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, I realized that I had never, in fact, read any of Dinshaw’s work, and decided that this was a problem I needed to fix right away. Therefore, three of the next six blog posts, including this one, will be on Carolyn Dinshaw’s books. The immediate impact on my research will be less obvious for these than for the books specifically recommended to me by my mentors, but I suspect that each book will, in its own way, shape my future scholarship.
The book at the focus of today’s blog post is Chaucer’s Sexual Poetics, a title I struggled a bit to explain to my mother while I was reading it over Spring Break. (By the way, anyone who ever tells you that teachers and academics are “so lucky” because they “get summers and other breaks off” is flat-out wrong: any breaks in the school year are either desperately filled with other sources of employment or frantic amounts of research and work, and usually both.) I struggled to explain the title primarily because I was still only 10 pages into the book, so I was still defining the term “sexual” in my mind incorrectly, or, rather, incompletely. While Dinshaw’s book does analyze romantic-sexual relationships in the works of Chaucer that are her focus, the term as used in her title, I now understand after finishing the book, refers more broadly to the ways in which Chaucer’s poetry understands and treats sexual identity, and interactions between the sexes.
What I found most compelling about Dinshaw’s work in this book was her exploration of the tangled interplays between men, women, and texts. Texts, she argues, were often spoken of and treated like women’s bodies, upon which men were to have control and analytic power. From this fact, Dinshaw moves on to considering the ways in which men and women approach texts differently; how characters like the Pardoner of the Canterbury Tales, notoriously either agendered or atypically gendered, approach texts; and how, in places in Chaucer’s poetry, characters approach each other, and each other’s bodies, as texts. From my own perspective, I am, of course, especially interested in this idea of treating each other’s bodies as texts. I intend to go back and more carefully re-read her analysis of Troilus and Criseyde, because I think its approach to Pandarus and Troilus’ reading of Criseyde can help me re-shape my analysis of the poem in Chapter One. How are women’s bodies read by men (and vice versa), and how in particular is that reading shaped by any wounding to the body being read (or the reading body, for that matter)?