- Ogling Ladies: Scopophilia in Medieval German Literature by Sandra Lindemann Summers
This slim volume has a visually stunning cover that reproduces an illustration from the Manesse manuscript in which poet and knight Walther von Klingen bests his opponent at a tournament before an audience of five admiring ladies. The women who gaze down upon the knight from their seats, their hand gestures appearing to indicate an active if not animated conversation, represent the “ogling ladies” [End Page 305] named in the book’s title: Ogling Ladies. Scopophilia in Medieval German Literature. The image on the book’s cover, then, serves not only as an invitation for the reader to pick up the volume and look inside but it also offers a visual summary of the book’s content. In Ogling Ladies, author Sandra Lindemann Summers explores medieval German literature and its apparent fascination with issues of the gaze. Studies of visuality, of seeing, and of sight are well established in the field of medieval German studies, following the publication of Horst Wenzel’s pioneering work Hören und Sehen, Schrift und Bild: Kultur und Gedächtnis im Mittelalter (1995); notable additions to the repertoire are recent studies, such as Visual Culture in the German Middle Ages, edited by Wenzel and Starkey (2005), and Visuality and Materiality in the Story of Tristan, edited by Eming, Rasmussen and Starkey (2012). Ogling Ladies offers a welcome addition to the growing list of works on visuality and sight in medieval German literature by examining not just sight but the phenomenon of the gaze from a feminist perspective; through the “lens” of the female gaze, the author uses psychoanalytic theory in a sociocultural context to produce a refreshing interpretation of medieval German literature. Drawing upon film studies and gaze theory (Laura Mulvey) as well as Freudian psychoanalysis through the perspectives of modern psychoanalytic theory (Nancy Chodorow, Donald Winnicott), the author treats an extensive body of medieval German conduct literature and courtly romance. The theoretical framework might threaten at times to overwhelm the textual analysis; however, as her title promises, the author focuses her discussion clearly throughout the book on “structures of identification and visual pleasure” (p. 5) in medieval German literature.
This is an ambitious project; indeed, for its size, the book tackles an ambitious catalogue of literary texts. The first half of the book focuses on conduct literature. Thomasin von Zerclaere’s Der wälsche Gast (Chapter 1) sets the standard for the regulation of the female gaze in courtly society. A discussion of “wild gazes” and a condemnation of courtliness follow in Chapter 2 with Hugo von Trimberg’s Der Renner and the anonymous poem Die Winsbeckin, which Summers provocatively interprets as a parody of courtly conduct. The discussion of the gaze in conduct literature concludes the first section of the book in Chapter 3 with a persuasive and original analysis of Heinrich von Melk’s von des todes gehugede in conjunction with Der Stricker’s Die eingemauerte Frau (Chapter 3). Summers pairs these two texts in the culminating chapter of her analysis of conduct literature, the one (Heinrich von Melk) encouraging the female gaze as “a critical agency” (p. 40) and the other (Der Stricker) discouraging the same agency by transforming the woman behind the wall finally into an object as she becomes a pilgrimage site, silent and compliant, “a passive warning sign” and “symbol of her husband’s authority” (p. 44). Chapter 3 offers a very compelling discussion of the gaze based on film theory and camera technology in analyzing Die eingemauerte Frau (pp. 43–44). Chapter 3 also allows Summers to highlight a significant original contribution to this book: a first translation of Die eingemauerte Frau that is found in the appendix of the book. The translation could also stand alone as a unique contribution to the project of finding a wider audience for medieval German texts, and it certainly offers an opportunity for further study.
The second part of the book turns from the...