Journal of the History of Sexuality 10.2 (2001) 165-166
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History's Queer Touch:
A Forum on Carolyn Dinshaw's Getting Medieval: Sexualities and Communities, Pre- and Postmodern
Elizabeth A. Castelli
In November 2000, at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion (staged at that most unlikely American pilgrimage site, Opryland, just outside of Nashville), a forum was held to review and engage Carolyn Dinshaw's groundbreaking book Getting Medieval: Sexualities and Communities, Pre- and Postmodern. The papers that were presented on this panel, including Dinshaw's response to her five reviewers, are collected in this published forum. The AAR forum was the result of a salutary collaboration between the Lesbian-Feminist Issues in Religion Group and the Gay Men's Issues and Religion Group, and it was the occasion for a lively exchange among scholars whose voices may not regularly be heard in the same setting. In this sense, it was an appropriate homage to a book that makes a compelling argument for collaboration and coalition building across disciplinary and other divides.
The papers collected here approach Dinshaw's important book from a range of vantage points, and all invoke Dinshaw's powerful image of queer history as "the touch across time." Medieval historian Rosemary Drage Hale reads Dinshaw through a late medieval hagiography about two cloistered German nuns who form a complex bond equally erotic and ascetic; their devotion to God and to each other is preserved for us only because the abbess of their community thought their story would be a suitable model for other members of the community. Amy Hollywood, a scholar of medieval mysticism, asks about the historical specificity of categories of "norm" and "nature" and how they relate to Dinshaw's reading of Margery Kempe's queerness. Historical theologian Mark D. Jordan explores Dinshaw's [End Page 165] privileging of the abject in the narration of queer history, situating his discussion in terms of his own work on Christian pastoral scripts. Cultural theorist Ann Pellegrini focuses on the historiographical impact of Dinshaw's work, drawing especially on the political uses to which "history" is so often put. Meanwhile, anthropologist Angela Zito invokes The Carnal Prayermat, a seventeenth-century Chinese erotic novel, in order to enact a version of the translation that Dinshaw advocates. Together, the papers offer a kaleidoscopic vision of what Getting Medieval might mean and provoke. The papers themselves provoke a lively response, titled "Got Medieval?", from Dinshaw.
Those of us involved in the panel are very grateful to the editors of the Journal of the History of Sexuality for providing such a welcoming setting for this discussion of Getting Medieval: Sexualities and Communities, Pre- and Postmodern.
Elizabeth A. Castelli is Assistant Professor of Religion at Barnard College. She is interested in asceticism and martyrdom in early Christianity and feminist studies in religion. Her publications include The Postmodern Bible (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995); Women, Gender, Religion: A Reader (London: Palgrave/St. Martin's, 2001); and, in progress, Martyrdom and Memory: Early Christian Culture-Making.