Diane Watt

title.none: Dufallo and McCracken, eds, Dead Lovers (Diane Watt)

identifier.other: baj9928.0707.019 07.07.19

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Diane Watt, University of Aberystwyth,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2007

identifier.citation: Dufallo, Basil and Peggy McCracken, eds. Dead Lovers: Erotic Bonds and the Study of Premodern Europe. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2007. Pp. 180. $60.00 (hb) ISBN-10: 0-472-11560-X, ISBN: 13: 978-0-472-11560-0 (hb). ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 07.07.19

Dufallo, Basil and Peggy McCracken, eds. Dead Lovers: Erotic Bonds and the Study of Premodern Europe. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2007. Pp. 180. $60.00 (hb) ISBN-10: 0-472-11560-X, ISBN: 13: 978-0-472-11560-0 (hb). ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Diane Watt
University of Aberystwyth

Annie Leibovitz's photographs of Susan Sontag, taken at the end of her long illness and after her death in 2004, are compelling, tender, enriching and beautiful. Published in A Photographer's Life: 1990-2005 (London: Jonathan Cape, 2006), they appear alongside images of pregnancy, birth, mourning, friends, family, politicians, film-makers, actors, musicians, war, terrorism, landscapes, cityscapes, collections of shells and collections of stones. Blurring the boundaries of public and private, political and personal, these images are testimony to the continuity of love, and of life: Susan dies, Susan and Samuelle are born. Leibovitz not only creates Sontag's final portrait, but she also describes how, with careful deliberation, she chose Sontag's final outfit. The photographs are of their time--the end of the second millennium and the beginning of the third--and, in their expression of grief and joy, they transcend it. These are photographs concerned with human experience and at the same time they are intensely, and profoundly, feminine. But what do cultural representations of death, such as these photographs, signify, and in what ways do such representations signify differently to different cultures and in different times?

The essays in Dead Lovers offer insight into the cultural expression and meaning of desire, longing and loss in classical antiquity and early modern Europe. According to the volume's editors, Basil Dufallo and Peggy McCracken, dead lovers "occasion mourning and other rituals and seem to be intrinsically bound up with changing ideas of subjecthood itself" (1). Indeed, the final essay in the collection, by Michael Schoenfeldt, which examines the physiology of sorrow and grief in Early Modern England and looks at medical texts alongside works by Shakespeare, finds evidence in the plays of the emergence of modern "notions of identity and emotion" (161). Going back to classical antiquity, however, Basil Dufallo traces a very different tradition in his examination of the Roman poet Propertius's elegy on the ghostly spirit of Cynthia, which he argues serves a political as well as a personal purpose. Moving forward into the Renaissance, Alison Cornish offers a reading of Francesco Petrarch's poetry that finds his necrophilic longing for the dead Laura intersecting with his nationalist wish to see the restoration of the glory of Rome, and his own imperial desire to win the laurel.

Dead Lovers is a volume concerned primarily, although not exclusively, with masculine desire and loss, "from Eurydice to Laura and beyond" (1). This focus on male subjects is not simply oversight. Rather it (arguably) reflects pre- and early-modern culture. David M. Halperin, in his survey essay, which the editors acknowledge to be a continuation of the introduction, explicitly acknowledges that "canonical expressions of male eroticism in Western literature privilege dead lovers--male or female--over living ones" (9). When Halperin claims in his next sentence that "the best a dead lover" he makes it clear that this really only applies to men; women, however bereft and inconsolable, do not comfortably fit this tradition. For Halperin, Eurydice (a rather tedious figure in Halperin's view) is certainly more useful and interesting when she is plunged back into the Underworld. Helmut Puff's analysis of Albrecht Dürer's drawing The Death of Orpheus--in which Orpheus, cruelly bludgeoned to death by two angry women, is inscribed as "the first bugger"--certainly suggests that, following Eurydice's demise, Orpheus gained a new lease of life, only for it to be cut short by female rage. Yet there is evidence that, at least in exceptional cases, women too could make grief and mourning work for them, not only in terms of forging a new personal identity, but also in terms of politics and power. This is vividly illustrated in Samuel Sánchez y Sánchez's study of Queen Juana I's travels with her husband's disinterred corpse. We should also be wary of assuming that while men and a few women may grieve for their lovers, only women lament their children. As Silke-Maria Weineck points out in her reading of Ben Jonson's epitaph "On My First Sonne" there is also a strong tradition of paternal mourning that extends from the Old Testament to the present day.

Dead Lovers is a wide-ranging collection of essays. Halperin moves expansively between literature, film, theology and opera, from Orpheus, Plato, Augustine, and Proust to Dennis Cooper and Pedro Almodóvar. J. D. Reed offers an exploration of Wilfred Owen's reworking of Bion's Adonis in "Disabled". Catherine Brown weaves together the words of Heloise, A. S. Byatt, Howard Carter, the Tremulous Hand of Worcester, the Elder Pliny, Shakespeare, Roland Barthes, Henry James, and many others, to capture the ghosts of the past that drew her and draw us to history. Inevitably Dead Lovers is not without its exclusions and occlusions. Despite, or perhaps because of the chronological sweep, the Middle Ages are not properly represented. The introduction makes reference to Nicholas Watson's essay, "Desire for the Past," first published in Studies in the Age of Chaucer 21 (1999) and to the important medieval tradition of Christ as dead (and resurrected) lover. The longing for Christ that figures so largely in the affective devotions of female mystics in particular deserves scholarly attention in this context. Similarly, female same-sex love, such as that captured so evocatively in our own time by Leibovitz, is overlooked. Given the willingness of some of the essays to work across and between periods it would have been interesting to have found some discussion of Sappho. Sappho was, after all, depicted as a woman rendered suicidal out of love (albeit for a man) in poetry from Ovid through to Pope, while, in Fragment 31, she describes herself as suffering to the point of death in her desire for a woman. Sappho--whose fragmentary poetry has been mistranslated and whose erotic life has been disputed, misconstrued and misappropriated--exemplifies many of the problems, and promises, inherent in our academic desire for dead cultures. Yet if Sappho and her sisters do not appear in this volume, the essays in Dead Lovers nevertheless offer thoughtful, engaging, scholarly, and at times highly innovative introductions to this important and previously overlooked theme.