The evolution of a paper. I really enjoyed this research, and am considering doing more work in Arthurian stories.
This paper begins four years ago in English 302, in the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, with Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s concept of male homosociality, which exists on a “continuum between homosocial and homosexual” (2435). It takes root in various Women’s Studies classes, with the exciting prospect of uncovering queer readings and recovering feminine histories. The first green leaves of this paper, the first iteration of the thesis, is that the female homosociality of Dame Tryamour and Gwenore in Sir Launfal and Morgan le Fay and Guinevere in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is both a queer presence within the texts and an indication of the anxiety and tension between hegemonic Christianity and the paganism represented by the fairy women. This homosociality exists, said the original thesis, and it is as conflict-driven and violent as the homosociality that Sedgwick articulates for men. It was a reach towards collapsing the gender binary, recognizing women’s power and violence, and recognizing the potential for women’s queerness in restrictive Christian social contexts. It was founded on the idea that Christian conceptions of gender must necessarily be heterosexual and heteronormative, and that reading queerness into the text – a queerness that is dependant on the heteronorm – would be a form of resistance to the contemporary norm, and would contribute to a history of feminist scholarship that uncovers queer histories and exposes the ways in which patriarchy is always already undermining itself.
But this paper, an analysis of these texts, cannot flourish in the homo/hetero binary that the original thesis was planted in, because as James Schultz points out, “the heterosexual norm… clamps down on the present and… colonizes the past” (20). Both Schultz and Karma Lochrie argue convincingly that “[t]he heteronormativity of modern scholarship ends up creating its own modern categories where they did not exist before… flattening the gender dynamics of medieval sexualities” (Lochrie xvi). This paper, then, becomes an effort at decolonizing my own scholarship, at freeing my thesis from the contemporary constructions of sexuality that battened it down into intelligible, articulable binaries.[i] It shifts, and in the shifting comes back to Louise O. Fradenburg, and the productive scholarly practice of recognizing and accepting the “undecidability” of a text. My thesis tracks along both an ‘endless knotte’ of contemporary binaries and a tangled web of complexities and undecidabilities.
[i] Although Schultz and Lochrie have convinced me that an uncritical, unintentional projection of contemporary categories of identity into medieval texts is problematic, I am not convinced that an intentionally anachronistic reading doesn’t have a place in contemporary scholarship. For example, although “bisexuality” is not a category that would hold any meaning for a medieval poet, and reading bisexuality into Sir Gawain and the Green Knight would perform exactly the “colonizing” that Schultz warns again, a bisexual reading of Gawain and Bertilak could have multiple positive outcomes for both queer and medieval scholarship. We read these texts within our own time, and the ability to see ourselves represented – even if the original author may never have conceived of our identities – is invaluable. But that’s a different paper!
And here is the paper I actually wrote: