Abstract

Abstract:

This article considers medieval and early modern strategies of racialization and periodization through the figure of the hold and the critical lens of empathy. I take as my test case The Squire's Tale by Geoffrey Chaucer that reimagines the medieval Mongol empire. Empathy, the act of feeling into a strange aesthetic object, person, or situation, characterizes the affective similitude interposed between the tale's heroine, Canacee, and the wounded falcon. Canacee's empathic lap is one figuration of the premodern hold that attempts to contain and erase difference. Empathy as an approach to history and cross-racial encounters, however, is deeply problematic. Next, I examine periodization as the historiographic equivalent to racial passing, arguing that classification and recognition do not always align. The empathic scene is often a failed encounter marked by the noncoincidence of subjects or objects. The falcon in Canacee's lap signifies whiteness as racial capital in the guise of European courtliness. I then turn to the reception history of The Squire's Tale, in which readers have constructed a modern, Orientalizing Part 1 vis-à-vis a medieval, de-Orientalizing Part 2. The critical periodizing impulses extend to early modern assessments of Chaucer. Milton's designation of the tale as "half told" is a Foucauldian contre-practice that emblematizes all sorts of modernist and Orientalist efforts at periodizing and racializing texts, bodies, and histories. Finally, I consider the limits of figural approaches to periodization and racialization and advocate the practice of critical implication in place of interpellation.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-661X
Print ISSN
0028-6087
Pages
pp. 535-561
Launched on MUSE
2022-02-04
Open Access
No
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