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STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER features of Piers Plowman, Mandeville’s Travels, and The Book of Margery Kempe. Among these, he notes ‘‘a looseness and ability to accommodate diverse materials and genres’’ (p. 115), an abiding interest in public venues and spectacles, and the tendency to publicize interior life or elite thought. In chapter 5, ‘‘Public Art: Parish Wall Paintings,’’ the book’s strongest chapter, he shows how wall paintings inform Langland’s ‘‘artistic grammar’’; especially illuminating are the parallels he draws between paintings of the Day of Judgment and Truth’s Pardon (pp. 174–76). As he demonstrates in this chapter, the similarities between the two artistic mediums have to do with the ways that they translate theology into aesthetic practice. In chapter 6, ‘‘Public Life: London Civic Practices,’’ he argues that London practices are central to Piers Plowman, and especially those religious, commercial, and judicial practices that characterize Cornhill. Benson focuses on Cornhill not simply because it is mentioned in Piers Plowman, but rather because it embodied those urban characteristics that inform the values of the poem, including love of neighbor and strict justice. In sum, Public Piers Plowman is a thought-provoking study of a difficult poem and its scholarly traditions. Readers new to the poem will appreciate the book’s reviews of Langland scholarship, and more experienced readers of the poem will enjoy arguing with its local readings and critical methods. Emily Steiner University of Pennsylvania Glenn Burger. Chaucer’s Queer Nation. Medieval Cultures 34. Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press, 2003. Pp. xxv, 264. $49.95 cloth, $19.95 paper. Queer medieval studies up to this point has been largely concerned with mapping sodomy as an abjected medieval cultural formation and as the historically specific site of the queer for the Middle Ages. In literary, religious, and historical studies of medieval sexuality, sodomy has provided the main location for Foucauldian revisions of medieval culture as well as more traditional scholarship. As a result of this focus, along with a curious tendency of medieval scholarship to transport modern heteroPAGE 294 294 ................. 11491$ CH13 11-01-10 14:02:22 PS REVIEWS normativity to the past, the current map of medieval sexuality is oddly polarized between sodomitic vices and normative heterosexuality— oddly, given Foucault’s clear assumption of the ‘‘normal implantation’’ alongside the ‘‘perverse implantation’’ in his first volume of The History of Sexuality. This is where the theoretical framing and structural design of Burger’s book makes a critical entry into queer medieval studies: Burger contests the assumption of medieval heteronormativity for Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (and by implication, for medieval culture generally ) and argues instead for dislodging the queer in medieval texts from the heterosexual or the implied identities associated with the binary oppositions of normal and deviant. Burger draws on Homi Bhabha ’s work to insist on a ‘‘middle’’ position in queer medieval studies that resists modern cultural formations, such as heterosexuality, nation, and canons. This then allows him to intervene in such traditionally ‘‘heteronormative ’’ sites as the so-called Marriage Group of the Canterbury Tales to queer conjugality even as it is being used ‘‘to identify and ground a community of new ‘gentils’’’ (p. xxii). What this means is that the Wife of Bath, that notorious figure of heteronormativity, ends up being queer (contra Carolyn Dinshaw in Getting Medieval: Sexualities and Communities, Pre- and Postmodern) in Burger’s analysis. This is just one example of how utterly, well, queer, Burger’s work is and how challenging to Chaucer studies it promises to be. The other crucial move that Burger makes in the book is to pose his discussion of Chaucer’s ‘‘queer nation’’ as a challenge to modern identity categories and discourses of empire and nation. Identity categories, medieval as well as modern, come under Burger’s scrutiny from a number of angles. Like Jeffrey Jeremy Cohen in Medieval Identity Machines (University of Minnesota Press, 2003), Burger follows the theoretical lead of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari by treating the category of identity itself as a ‘‘machinic assemblage.’’ Rather than a unified finished product, identity is unfinished and multiple, and, in this sense, also queer. The Miller’s Tale provides Burger with...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1949-0755
Print ISSN
0190-2407
Pages
pp. 294-297
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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