Susan Morrison

title.none: Classen, Discourses on Love, Marriage, and Transgression (Susan Morrison)

identifier.other: baj9928.0602.005 06.02.05

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Susan Morrison, Texas State University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2006

identifier.citation: Classen, Albrecht. Discourses on Love, Marriage, and Transgression in Medieval and Early Modern Literature. Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies , vol. 278. Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and renaissance Studies, 2005. Pp. 374. $40.00 0-86698-321-X. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 06.02.05

Classen, Albrecht. Discourses on Love, Marriage, and Transgression in Medieval and Early Modern Literature. Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies , vol. 278. Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and renaissance Studies, 2005. Pp. 374. $40.00 0-86698-321-X. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Susan Morrison
Texas State University

Albrecht Classen's new volume is a valuable addition to any university library. It is, moreover, a vital one for scholars of courtly love, not only for the many perceptive essays that appear in this volume, but even more for the essential summations of issues in the field and the extensive secondary material in the notes. Sixteen essays (one in French, all others in English) follow Classen's introduction, which seeks to situate the analysis of erotic and romantic love around discourse. "Discourse...represents the most fundamental feature of courtly love" (41). Admitting the impossibility of finding one definition of courtly love, though C. S. Lewis's problematic one is quoted, Classes goes on to deftly present past and current problems scholars face when confronted with courtly love texts. While some articles strain a bit to link their readings to the word "transgression," the definition of what constitutes the "transgressive" includes the usual suspects: homosexuality, cross- dressing, rape, and gender trouble. Of course, "gender transgression" (36) suggests that there is a normative and stable gender performance agreed on by a culture, which is problematic in itself, something Classen admits (38).

Some problems: Classen refers to the complexity of "[t]rue literature;" (9) while admittedly arguable, I tend to shy away from such overarching pronouncements. After all, "true literature" not so long ago did not include, for the most part, texts by women. Additionally, a statement such as "the driving force behind literature of all times and of all cultures" (26) makes one a bit leery. Still Classes writes fluidly, clearly, and convincingly on courtly love and how it draws together many key issues of medieval culture. As Classen writes, "This might well be the decisive hallmark of engender dialogue...allowing the individual reader/listener to get involved, to take a stance, to grow intellectually, and to learn how to love. In this respect, the timeless conflict between marriage and adultery, between love free of any social constraints and obligations on one hand, and marital contract and dutiful exchanges with the sexual partner for life, on the other hand, represents one of the key issues in medieval and early modern literature, if not of all Western Literature since the early Middle Ages" (25-6). Indeed, his term of "erotic heteroglossia" (42) is provocative and suggestive. Finally, Classen, given his comparative approach, introduces English readers to texts often ignored by those researching in the Chaucerian tradition who limit themselves to the French and Italian canon. Rather, Classen seamlessly invokes texts from other traditions, especially German, as his own essay on Heinrich Kaufringer concentrates on, teaching us to read outside of our limited textual worlds.

The papers come originally from a symposium entitled "Love, Marriage, and Transgression in Medieval and Early Modern Literature" which took place in May 2003. While the title of the volume suggests the integration of Early Modern Literature stemming out of a discussion of medieval literature, Elizabeth C. Zegura's essay on Marguerite de Navarre's Heptaméron seems the most thoroughly integrated into the issues brought up in previous essays dealing with medieval literature, focusing as it does on the "dialogic discourse on love" (356). Still I applaud Classen's maneuver to refuse to talk about this material in a medieval vacuum which only (further) ghettoizes medieval literature. More joint ventures in the future by medieval and early modern scholars are to be welcomed.

I will cite just a few of the essays that I found particularly stimulating. Virginie Greene's "The Knight, the Woman, and the Historian" provides a fascinating analysis of Georges Duby's career with special attention paid to his attempt to understand medieval women. "It seems that by forbidding historians to speak about medieval women, Duby triggered his own desire to do so" (49). Duby becomes obsessed by his own self prohibition. Greene's reading both honors Duby and teaches us how to learn from Duby's own intellectual evolution. Lynn Shutters's work on Floire et Blancheflor not only provides a convincing assessment of how "cultural negotiations" (108) concerning gender and religion take place, in particular complicating the conventional binary of Christian/masculine and non- Christine/feminine, but her extensive research allows other scholars to dig along in the same scholarly well.

Two articles on Marie de France's "Lanval" will certainly alter how I will teach the work in the future. Karen Jambeck's analysis of legal and mythic discourse, along with her key reading of Ovid as rewritten by Marie, provides an intertextual reading allowing us to see how the lai comments on marriage conventions. Sharon Kinoshita's article uses postcolonial theory to read "Lanval" and "Milun," both Welsh lais, "as offering opposed visions of the colonial encounter" (148-9). Both smart readings, Jambeck's and Kinoshita's essays provide a valuable diptych for Marie scholars.

Suzanne Kocher's reading of Roman de la Violette is very good, though her insistence on using the anachronistic "gay" throughout the article was distracting. She cites John Boswell's Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality in a note (198, n. 5), but doesn't follow it up with even a brief mention of the criticism of that work. Still, her conclusion, "[T]he adventures are over, because the necessary condition for adventure is transgression" (210), is clever and suggestive. Penny Simons's essay on Joufroi de Poitiers has excellent notes guiding the reader to the appropriate and pertinent research.

James Rushing provides a finely nuanced close reading of Hartmann von Aue's Erec, focusing on uxoriousness as transgressive and linking the text to The Aeneid. Louise O. Vasvári is typically smart, highly theoretical yet comprehensible. Her concern is to looks at textual moments of wife-battering "to 'depoeticize' these texts in order to assess them from a feminist perspective." Like Rushing, she suggests that there existed a "deep anxiety in the Middle Ages and Renaissance about heterosexual love, which--rather than homosexuality --was seen as representing a threat to masculine identity" (326). Jean Jost's close reading of Chaucer's "The Manciple's Tale" is likewise thoroughly convincing.

A few minor errors: Why the small type for Jambeck's article? And b[sic]ell Hooks is referred to as Bell Hooks (335, n. 40). There are certain statements I take issue with, such as Classen's mention in the Introduction about an anonymous parody of "Unter den linden." "It would make more sense to analyze the literary strategy behind this parodic operation, which deliberately aims to provoke the reader, than to worry about the allegedly positive projection of violence against the female character" (17). An essay in his own volume by Vasvári offers us a way to disagree with this poeticizing of the poem. But perhaps this is what Classen would want. After all, like the courtly love material he argues is meant to provoke dialogically, so does his own volume, and it does so in an exceedingly smart way.