A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century by Barbara W. Tuchman

By Barbara W. Tuchman

The 14th century offers us again contradictory photographs: a glittering time of crusades and castles, cathedrals and chivalry, and a gloomy time of ferocity and non secular pain, an international plunged right into a chaos of struggle, worry and the Plague. Barbara Tuchman anatomizes the century, revealing either the good rhythms of historical past and the grain and texture of household lifestyles because it was once lived.

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The jouissance of the abject echoes the victorious laughter of Bakhtin’s grotesque figures. As this chapter will show, two comedic women of medieval fabliaux delight in the subversive laughter that their excessively deviant bodies produce. In Mikhail Bakhtin’s Rabelais and His World, the theorist offers the Kerch terracotta figurines of laughing “senile pregnant hags” as exemplars of the grotesque body that populates carnivalesque literature. ”34 In Bakhtin’s notion of the carnivalesque, the grotesque body becomes central to carnivalesque’s literature’s ability to upset sociopolitical hierarchies through humor.

In the narrative slippage in between, I find, lies a challenge to misogynistic and ableist views of the female body. Finally, I consider Robert Henryson’s Testament of Cresseid, whose heroine is divinely punished with leprosy for her infidelity. indd 16 9/20/2010 2:50:28 PM I N T RO DU C T ION 17 masculine narrative drive). However, I assert that Cresseid’s punishment does not merely exclude her. Rather, it reveals the potentially transgressive power of the disabled female body to disrupt cohesive identities and narrative structures.

In particular, scholars like Cohen resist earlier scholarship that assumes a distinct opposition between the human and the monstrous. Working with the Lacanian notion of extimité (extimacy), Cohen reads monstrous figures as both familiar and Other to humans, as integral to the process of constructing individual and collective identities. For instance, he reads the giant as central to the construction of the human in Anglo-Saxon culture, a culture marked by shifting definitions of borders and communities.

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