- Women, Marriage, and Family in Medieval Christendom. Essays in Memory of Michael M. Sheehan, C.S.B. ed. by Constance M. Rousseau, Joel T. Rosenthal (review)
- University of Toronto Quarterly
- University of Toronto Press
- Volume 69, Number 1, Winter 1999/2000
- pp. 179-181
- View Citation
- Additional Information
HUMANITIES 179 whose letter on monastic women is presented as a seriously pro-feminine work that establishes women's parity, priority, exclusivity, and even supremacy. What is God's gender? Claire Fanger uses Judith Butler's theory of performativity alongside Platonic and esoteric sources to explore issues of gender and language in Bernard Silvestris's Cosmographia. This illuminating , revisionist essay reminds us that gender - in divine realms as well as in nature - is less an issue of ontology than of epistemology. For Silvestris, language is a source of paradox and play; can it be that the prolific Hildegard von Bingen was indifferent to such Latin nuance? In her report on the habits of Hildegard's various scribes, Joan Ferrante argues that, for Hildegard, Latin- 'mere Latin' - was an empty instrument rather than (like music) a vehicle for intellection. The two final essays are paradigms for the pluri-disciplinary enterprise of theoretically grounded postmodern cultural studies. On the one hand, cultural fixations reveal themselves in local moments and are always subjectively situated, as evidenced by David Townsend's brilliant reading of one brief scene (8.1-48) from Walter of Chatillon's great Latin epic Alexandreis (a medieval piece of 'cultural tourism' available in full in Townsend's vivid and reliable translation) in which the Amazon queen Talestris negotiates for Alexander's sperm despite his 'meagre body' that 'ill fit his fame.' Though the learned intertextual references in Alexandreis 'often undermine its self-sufficiency/ the lines Townsend plumbs are clear enough: they query Alexander's 'normative virility' and establish how Talestris's cauterized right breast denies the patriarchal ideology of female phallic 'lack.' (Townsend might be more dubious about Laqueur's one-sex model). On the other hand, cultural fixations are writ large, as suggested by Bruce Holsinger's very ambitious, almost unbounded final essay on the rhetorical and allegorical underpinnings of crusading ideology. St Bernard's 'somatic blackness' serves as a provocation for a study of the rhetorical registers in which it is finally the 'western male subject himself whose body paradoxically represents the ultimate object of colonialist desire.' (BONNIE WHEELER) Constance M. Rousseau and Joel T. Rosenthal, editors. Women, Marl'iflge, and Family in Medieval Christendom. Essays in Memory ofMichael M. Sheehan, C.S.B. Studies in Medieval Culture 37. Medieval Institute Publications. Western Michigan University. xviiC 432. us $45.00, liS $20.00 To honour Michael Sheehan and illustrate his place in scholarship, the editors of this volume invoke Bernard of Chartres's famous image of 'standing on the shoulders of giants.' Not only has Sheehan contributed to the body of knowledge that constitutes the Western tradition, but his 180 LETTERS IN CANADA 1998 teaching and methodology have formed a new generation of scholars to carryon the tradition. The eleven contributors, all his students, exemplify 'the Sheehan school of social history.' Classified chronologically and thematically, the essays are sorted by subject into three groups, women, marriage, and the family. The volume opens with essays on Sheehan himself by the late Walter H. Principe, who contributes a 'Personal Profile' of his friend, and by J. Ambrose Raftis, who places his career within the changing context of the academic restructuring of the last half century. In the first group, David Pelteret provides an analysis of Bede's attitude towards the women whom he created from whole cloth in his writings. Most prominent is a series of abbesses. Although not overtly misogynist, Bede chose to describe these clearly prominent women as spiritually and morally impressive but politically ineffectuaL Pelteret speculates on what Bede eliminated from their careers and argues that they served his purpose to downplay the role of Bishop Wilfrid. Focusing on Frances of Rome and her confessor Jolm Mattiotti during the 14305, Dyan Elliott treats the lay female mystic of the late Middle Ages and the male clerical inscriber of her visions. Labelling this ubiquitous relationship as 'compulsory heterotextuality / Elliott demonstrates the cleric's invasive influence on female autonomy_ Intended to authenticate the unique female experience and to facilitate its inscription, such a cleric increasingly disciplined and even tortured the visionary, thus compromising her utterances and relegating female spirituality to a passive and obedient role. Audrey Douglas's subject...