Manual Ecofeminist Subjectivities: Chaucer’s Talking Birds (The New Middle Ages)

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Divine Ventriloquism in Medieval English Literat…. His authority comes from that of his predecessors—Aristotle, Ovid, Jean de Meun—as conveyed in writing. Though he denies his own membership in this august body of male writers, the Manciple enacts it consistently throughout his tale. That is to say, the perspectives represented in the writings of the medieval past are those of people with significant investment in the status quo of the society they represent, the society that endows them with access to learning and textuality from which others are excluded.

It is also to say that the diverse voices we may hear in places like the Canterbury Tales are, all appearances to the contrary, the imaginative products of men born into a position of social, economic, and political dominance. However frustrating such a realization may be, thwarting our desire to hear from the marginalized, it is important to recognize that nearly all such representations in the medieval past were constructed by a voice personally representing the dominant few.

As a result, Margery Kempe and Julian of Norwich take on intense cultural significance, being the two women whose voices were directly captured in writing in English—though even in these instances, those voices come through the institutional framework of the Church and, in the case of Margery, through the hand of an amanuensis. The Wife of Bath as voiced by Chaucer calls attention to this very situation in her Prologue when she highlights the suffering she experienced while being read to by her husband, the clerk Jankyn, from his anthology of women behaving badly throughout history, what she calls his Book of Wikked Wyves WBP Chaucer thus, in the guise of his literary creation the Wife, insists that readers acknowledge the inevitable restriction on every representation that inevitably results from the subject position of its creator.

Indeed, all he can do is shake his head to express his disagreement, an action that contributes to his being thrown in the mud by his own horse MancP The physical dangers resulting from voicelessness recur, in different form, in the Tale to follow. Immediately thereafter, Phebus is full of regret and completely rewrites the story, creating for himself the true wife he wanted, an opportunity that he has only because he has killed her and thus stopped her ability to express her agency, even if only through her actions and not her words.

If defined only by her own words, she would not exist at all. MancT , , , , , , , , and continuing to the last sentence of the tale. As Jamie C. Here as there, Chaucer insists that the author as well as the scribe be careful in reporting what is. A number of other women appear in the Canterbury Tales , among the pilgrims and within the stories the pilgrims tell.

Bertolet, Craig E. Borch, Marianne. Chaucer, Geoffrey. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, Cox, Catherine. The Arthurian knight in restless sleep or atop his relentless steed embodies only one narrative trajectory. We possess no evidence of medieval readers.

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Modern canonicity came about only after Frederic Madden rescued the poem from obscurity through his edition of Jesse L. Much remains dormant, awaiting its season, so close to home as to remain unseen. How might turning to the past with a full sense of inhabited ecologies, medieval and modern, renew our acquaintance with a poem that has become too well known? How might love and life bring together a world of humans and nonhumans in which particularities of gender, body, desire, ability, tempo, thriving are not transcended or surpassed? I use the term eco-temps to designate a HERE that is at once a place, a temporality, and a climate — ephemeral expanses that through repetition endure to bequeath across time a multisensory archive.

Few medieval texts are more alert to climate change than SGGK, in the many senses of the word: location, atmosphere, inclination, affect. Climat is passion and psychology in place, feeling close to home. Season derives from sowing Latin serere , the casting of dormant seed on bare earth in uncertain hope, in the trust even within long cold of some green futurity.

Most of its action unfolds within two iterations of that season of short days and chill nights, of frost and hearthbound fire. Unlike some Arthurian tales, this romance opens with disaster rather than culminate in flames. Because they founded so many futures it is easy to forget that the Trojans were exiles and migrants, displaced from home by war. Burnt to brands and ashes : these dispersed peoples possess no city to which to return.

Camelot is a refuge built against fire and ice. The poem begins in wandering but moves quickly to the construction of new habitations. Toun also designates the community such buildings enable. A toun domesticates fire and banishes life-taking winter to its exterior. The Arthurian court is a shelter after catastrophe. Festive and snug, Camelot knows the inevitability of intrusion. Expectation hangs heavy in the air.

As readers and Arthur fans, we know what is coming.


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  6. Lancelot and Guenevere will betray their king. Agravain will betray the two lovers. Mordred will betray everyone. Yet when we realize that Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a prequel we can suspend our knowledge, ignore the approach of that calamitous future for a bit. The story is limned with darkness, harsh environments, and loss, but its narrative also holds vibrancy, promise, and unexpected life, even within what seems dead or forgotten.

    Camelot is built against a human world that loves to incinerate and a natural world aligned with chill; against story tellers who culminate their tales in devastation; against flame that will gladly ally itself with human hands to consume structures of dwelling, of meaning, of remembrance ; against an icy climate in which life is precarious and pained.

    And yet the court knows it cannot keep these forces at its exterior. The marvel is awaited. The outside must enter, or reveal itself as having always been within. Sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference between an ally and an enemy, a host and a guest, protagonist and prey, a parasite and a symbiont, the fecundity of decay and the silent thriving of life, the death drive and cyclicality, between things which contradict and things that are simply entwined. He is sudden, flamboyant, immense -- and so very green. We will learn later in the poem that he is intimate to a story long unfolding at the heart of Camelot- toun.

    Morgan does not much like her half-brother Arthur, an animus that tells a story close to home, lying dormant, springing to life only retroactively next winter. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a poem that demands to be read at least twice before it is possible to know how full its story is with alternative narratives from the very start, seeds lying dormant the first time through, awaiting a second season.

    A little history. Geoffrey describes Morgan as wise in medicinal botany, astrology, and shape changing she can fly through the air like Daedelus, and so is an intimate of birds. She studies with Merlin and masters much of his lore. She is married against her will.

    She is called le Fay the Fairy in recognition of her learning and power. Yet she may also simply be an immensely learned woman whose stories and desires are not fully knowable. Geraldine Heng pointed out in that Morgan tends to be noticed only to diminish her back into the masculine story, a proclivity that remains true today. The poem diverts us from its intricacies then rebukes us for having been so distracted.

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    Yet the Green Knight is an ecotone of vegetal and animal, leaf and silk, tendril and embroidery, the work of nature and artisans. Viridescent glare can blind us to how much gold is woven into the ornamentation, precious substance and entangling thread.

    Sir Gawain will dress in rather similar clothing later in the poem, when he sets off in search of this stranger. The fierce guest challenges the court to a beheading game possibly the least fun game ever invented. Noble Gawain volunteers to take the axe, sparing his king that perilous duty.

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    Once severed from its body the head remains alive, a survival beyond death that declares green entanglement within a world exceeding and frustrating the human. The severed head commands Gawain to receive his promised return blow at the mysterious Green Chapel within a year. Unlike this uncanny visitor, Gawain has no reason to suspect that he will survive the return stroke: twelve months as terminus, not the restarting of a cycle.

    Can we blame him if he hesitates at Camelot while the seasons change? And they change rapidly. Within three brisk but beautiful stanzas winter will yield and return. We expect winter to be hard, but more difficult still are the earliest arousals of spring. Lenten thoughts, for that austere time of year when the first stirrings of plants yield little nourishment, when winter is almost gone but the ground is brown and the trees stripped still of ornament.

    You could starve to death at Lent. But not irrecoverable. The human body is an environmental mesh. Subjectivity is a material, multiensory extension into time, atmosphere and eco-temps. Affect is shared macrocosmically. Climate is weather and mood together, the human as meteorological interface, the ephemeral made flesh and feeling, the impress of an environing.

    The seasons pass swiftly as Gawain lingers at Camelot. Lush thoughts intrude. The soundtrack to this glorious greening is birdsong, as these creatures build their houses with industry Later in the poem we will see and hear such birds in the depths of winter, as Gawain moves through a tangled forest, half frozen, no prospect of the Green Chapel at all. Hi3e hillez on vche a halue, and holtwodez vnder. Of hore okez ful hoge a hundreth togeder;. Wandering a wild forest of entangled oak, hazel, hawthorn, Gawain beholds unhappy birds complaining against the chill.

    Maybe they are just allegories for how he feels. But maybe this is another moment when we might behold the human weather report, and wonder why Gawain does not apprehend in these miserable creatures a shared pain, a shared precarity. Those lines create a microclimate, a winter environing in which life and death intertwine, where misery is shared even when that atmospheric interpenetration goes unrecognized.

    Trees are entangled, oak with hazel, hung with moss. Unhappy birds perch in their bows, their soundtrack a reduction to bare life, to creaturely misery. Pain of the cold.