Gower Bibliography

Men Behaving Badly: Linguistic Purity and Sexual Perversity in Derrida's Le Monolinguisme de l'autre and Gower's Traitié pour essampler les amantz marietz

Gilbert, Jane. "Men Behaving Badly: Linguistic Purity and Sexual Perversity in Derrida's Le Monolinguisme de l'autre and Gower's Traitié pour essampler les amantz marietz." Romance Studies: A Journal of the University of Wales 24 (2006), pp. 77-99. ISSN 0263-9904


Gilbert justifies her provocative juxtaposition of these two unrelated texts in this way: "Both aim to promote ethical action on the part of their audiences and use exemplary figures as central strategies in this enterprise. Both take as their subject-matter language, desire, law and taboo, and both express anxiety concerning the writer's own position in relation to these matters. More particularly, both draw a connection between a desired linguistic purity and a perverse masculine heterosexuality centring on the maternal body" (77-78). The comparison leads to a consideration of both similarities and differences in the two authors' deployment of their exempla and in the ways in which they associate sexual transgression with the breaking of linguistic norms. With reference to Gower, she finds the latter linkage in the final stanza of Traitié, in which the poet appears to apologize for his poor command of French. In one respect a typical modesty topos, intended to draw attention to exactly the achievement that he denies, Gower's statement is also a claim to be taken seriously as an Englishman, capable of producing a text that meets the highest standards of the "international courtly language" (85). "By declaring his own linguistic insecurity," furthermore, "the commoner Gower deferentially flatters [the] superior competence of his audience," the French-speaking English court. But he also betrays an unease about his treatment of his subject. He employs the metaphor of the "proper path" both with regard to linguistic correctness and, in an earlier passage, with regard to sexual mores. "The poet's concern for the purity of his language is thus shadowed by the uncomfortable suggestion that he parallels his exemplars in mistaking foldelit for droit amour, an error which would destroy the Traitié's didactic value. Anxiety about erotic deviancy (and perhaps even about the erotic as essentially deviant or as tending inevitably to deviancy) is coupled with a corresponding disquiet about linguistic deviation" (86). The parallels between Gower's project and Derrida's, however, suggest that by choosing to write in French, Gower consciously calls into question the naturalness of the norms that his text advocates. "Conceptual confusion appears to derive from Gower's inability when working in French to anchor the earthly as a morally valid sphere between the divine and the corrupt. This sphere and its value are therefore not asserted but questioned and explored. These (no less ethically serious) activities here rely on the representation of French as the language in which Gower acknowledges constitutive alienation, which Derrida claims is a necessary condition of ethical responsibility. The Traitié's ruin as a didactic project is, in a different light, the commencement of its poetic and ethical potential" (87). [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 26.2]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Language and Word Studies
Traité pour Essampler les Amants Marietz

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