THE HETEROSEXUAL SUBJECT OF CHAUCERIAN NARRATIVE
Medieval Feminist Newsletter, Volume 13, Issue 1 (1992) Spring 1992
“I’m not sure what it has to do with Chaucer, but it’s interesting:” one response to the fIrst session of my graduate Chaucer seminar at Berkeley, a course I’ve titled “The Heterosexual Subject of Chaucerian Narrative.” The “it” bemusedly referred to was a discussion of three essays, by John Boswell, David M. Halperin, and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. The fIrst two argue with each other about how to do the history of sexuality; Boswell seeks to contribute to “the history of gay people,” arguing that there was something that we would call homosexuality (among people whose erotic object choices were of the same sex and who grouped themselves together on this basis) in antiquity and in the Middle Ages. Halperin, inspired by Foucault, maintains that sexuality-and thus homo- and heterosexuality are modem inventions; gay history to him is history from the point of view of gay people today, history that carefully delineates the terms in which sexual experiences were recorded in earlier times and that measures and assesses the differences between those terms and the ones we might use today. Sedgwick meditates on several “axioms” of gay and lesbian studies today, suggesting, among a great many other things, that Foucauldian historians, such as Halperin, who seek a “Great Paradigm Shift” tend to flatten out the varieties of homosexual experience today in their search for differentiations from the past.