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The Female ‘Jewish’ Libido in Medieval Culture

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 September 2012

Anthony Bale
Affiliation:
Birkbeck College
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Summary

IT IS ALMOST a commonplace that in its stereotypes a society articulates its rdeeply held desires; through strategies of symbolic violence medieval English people could express precious, secret and fragile thoughts. In identifying these desires there is necessarily a degree of speculation, a filling-in of the gaps in what is said and unsaid: what did people, from whom we are now distant, desire? How was this desire mediated? How do texts speak for the desires of their authors and audiences?

In answering these questions contemporary criticism has perceived sexual desire to be latent in medieval Christian portrayals of Jews. Jacob Press has argued that Chaucer, in ‘The Prioress's Tale’, uses antisemitic fictions of Mariology and corporeality to stage a homoerotic encounter. Kathleen Biddick's work on circumcision and temporality has likewise placed genitalia at the symbolic centre of Christian attempts to move beyond Judaism; for Biddick, via Freud, the prepuce is primarily an anxious sexual signifier. Steven Kruger has ‘queered’ the topos of Jewish-Christian religious conversion, using Judith Butler's conceptualisation of ‘gender as a kind of melancholy, or as one of melancholy's effects’. Robert Mills, examining images of the Passion, has described the extravagantly phallic modes of ‘Jewish’ torturers versus the feminised body of Christ. For Ruth Evans, the Jewish presence in virgin martyr narratives is part of a ‘violent production of Englishness’ connecting sexuality, nationalism and torture. Lisa Lampert has argued for a parallel reading of gender difference and Jewish difference (to which I shall return).

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2007

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