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Desiring Bodies

Ovidian Romance and the Cult of Form

Gregory Heyworth

Publication Year: 2009

Gregory Heyworth’s Desiring Bodies considers the physical body and its relationship to poetic and corporate bodies in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Beginning in the odd contest between body and form in the first sentence of Ovid’s protean Metamorphoses, Heyworth identifies these concepts as structuring principles of civic and poetic unity and pursues their consequences as refracted through a series of romances, some typical of the genre, some problematically so. Bodies, in Ovidian romance, are the objects of human desire to possess, to recover, to form, or to violate. Part 1 examines this desire as both a literal and socio-political phenomenon through readings of Marie de France’s Lais, Chrétien de Troyes’ Cligès and Perceval, and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, texts variously expressing social, economic, and political culture in romance. In part 2, Heyworth is concerned with missing or absent bodies in Petrarch’s Rime sparse, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and Milton’s Paradise Lost and the generic rupture they cause in lyric, tragedy, and epic. Throughout, Heyworth draws on social theorists such as Kant, Weber, Simmel, and Elias to explore the connection between social and literary form. The first comparative, diachronic study of romance form in many years, Desiring Bodies is a persuasive and important cultural history that demonstrates Ovid’s pervasive influence not only on the poetics but on the politics of the medieval and early modern Western tradition.

Published by: University of Notre Dame Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii

Several people have read and commented on this book in various stages of its ontogeny. The following list gives them public exemption from my follies and gratitude for their wisdom: John Fleming, Earl Miner, Larry Danson, Robert Hanning, T. P. Roche, Ivo Kamps, and Rosette Liberman. I am grateful as well to the anonymous readers from the University of Notre Dame Press. On matters classical, I owe ...

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Polemical Preface

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pp. ix-xvii

A preface, it seems to me, is an appropriate place to claim what a book is and does, to warn of what it isn’t and doesn’t, and to dispel misconceptions of how it does and aims to do. This book does not contribute to studies of classical influence in the traditional sense. It does not survey sources and analogues. The archeology of literary allusion falls ...

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pp. 1-21

How early Europe confronted the cult of Ovid, an author whose literary corpus is indelibly inscribed in the bedrock of European culture, is a question neither so vast nor so vague that it defies synopsis. Prospect on the answer may be found in a bit of faux Ovidiana entitled De vetula or De mutatione vitae that enjoyed wide ...

Part I: The Sociology of Romance

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1 Hunting for Civilization Marie de France and the Sociology of Romance

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pp. 25-58

Civilization is a myth. A squinting formula perhaps, but it serves nevertheless to suggest the paradox Ovid perceived in Augustan culture and Marie de France (via Ovid) in the twelfth-century court, that a society’s concept of its own achievements in art and politics exists only in the foundational fictions it tells about its own begetting. ...

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2 Economies of Romance Systems of Value in Chr

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pp. 59-102

When can we begin to speak of medieval “culture”? This question is essentially the same as asking when Western society became aesthetically self-conscious, when, like Narcissus before the pool, it first ventured a collective “Iste ego sum.” For Georg Simmel, the moment of acculturation is always narcissistic. It starts with an awareness of form in which bodies of practice and patterns of behavior, liberated ...

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3 States of Union Maiestas, Marriage, and the Politics of Coercion in the Canterbury Tales

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pp. 103-176

Ockham unshaved: the simplest solution is often wrong. Such is the case with the myth that the medieval polity was a confection of unity and homogeneity. Let the otherwise sophisticated Ernst Cassirer, in an aptly named essay “The Myth of the State,” be the mouthpiece of this hoary credendum: ...

Part II Romance Form and Formality

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4 Missing Bodies and Changed Forms Literal Metamorphosis in Petrarch’s Rime sparse

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pp. 179-227

“Genres,” as Derrida affirms to deny at the start of his essay on genre, “are not to be mixed.”1 This is a law whose value to genre theory resides more in the breach than the observance. Whereas in Part I of this book I have attempted to show how romance worries the complex unities of social form in metaphors of the body, in Part II my ...

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5 Playing for Time Generic Disunities and Ludic Dimensions in Romeo and Juliet

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pp. 229-259

In the last chapter, I laid the groundwork for an early modern Ovidian poetics, one that correlates narrative technique to generic purport. For Petrarch, the carmen perpetuum posed two related questions: (1) If an epic can be cobbled together from romance epyllions, can a romance be assembled from a sonnet sequence? (2) How does one create narrative continuity, an “unbroken song,” from disparate ...

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6 Legends of the Fall Epic Flights and Indecorous Descents in Paradise Lost

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pp. 261-293

“Decorum,” proclaims Milton in Of Education, “is the grand masterpiece to observe.”1 Strange, considering the outspoken heterodoxy of his politics, theology, metrical theory, and social and domestic mores, that he should choose a watchword so inimical to his temperament. 2 But while his standards of decorum may be idiosyncratic, the concept was conventional. A concern for decorum, for codes of ...


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pp. 295


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pp. 297-323


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pp. 325-347


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pp. 349-357

E-ISBN-13: 9780268081607
E-ISBN-10: 0268081603
Print-ISBN-13: 9780268031060
Print-ISBN-10: 0268031061

Page Count: 360
Publication Year: 2009