Gower Bibliography

Amoral Gower: Language, Sex and Politics

Watt, Diane. "Amoral Gower: Language, Sex and Politics." Medieval Cultures, 38 . Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003 ISBN 978-0-8166-4027-0

Review

"Amoral Gower" is a rather short book--160 pages of text plus seven of preface. Its physical brevity is worth noting now, since in the future Watt's book may seem to loom much larger in the minds of those who come to know it only from its citation in what will be, doubtless and deservedly, a great many footnotes. Brief it is (to be fully accurate, it also contains 27 pages of notes and 17 of bibliography), but in that space it covers a great deal of ground, in disperse, rapid-fire chapters that, despite the care paid to summarizing and connection, more resemble individual essays or meditations (or, some might say, drive-by shootings) than a single argument. In every way, this is probably a wise strategy. Watt quite rightly perceives "Amoral Gower" to be a door-opening venture, not a final word. Her chief effort is to point up internal contradictions in Gower's poetry--primarily the CA, but with intermittent reference to the MO and the VC--and thereby call into question previous critical determinations that any unifying ethical vision exists in Gower's oeuvre. As she puts it: ". . . while it may initially seem unreasonable to suggest that Gower, or his poetry, rejects or even sidesteps ethical principles, I argue that the tensions, contradictions, and silences in Gower's text [i.e., the CA] expose the limitations of the ethical structures available to him and open up his text to multiple interpretations. A central argument of this study is that the poem destabilizes accepted categories of gender and sex, and that this has a profound impact on Gower's treatment of ethics and politics" (xii). The headings of sections and chapter titles convey Watt's targets, as well as hints of hommage: Introduction: "Social Gower"; Part I: Language: (1) "Gower's Babel Tower: Language Choice and the Grammar of Sex"; (2) "Writing Like a Man: Rhetoric and Genealogy"; Part II: Sex: (3) "Transgressive Genders and Subversive Sexualities"; (4) "Sexual Chaos and Sexual Sin"; Part III: Politics: (5) "Tyranny, Reform, and Self-Government"; (6) "Oedipus, Apollonius, and Richard II"; Epilogue: "Ethical Gower." "Hommage" is important in understanding what matters about "Amoral Gower" (major debts accrue to John Boswell, Carolyn Dinshaw, Georgiana Donavin, Patricia J. Eberle, Sián Echard, Richard K. Emmerson, María Bullón-Fernández, Joel Fredell, Marjorie Garber, Michael Hanrahan, Karma Lochrie, Eve Salisbury, Larry Scanlon, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Jan Ziolkowski, and Freud) because in many ways what is new and significant are not Watt's particular observations about Gower's writing--most have appeared elsewhere in print before--but rather two things: first, the happy polyphony she has made, bringing so many voices together so succinctly; and second (by far more importantly) her central assertion that the discord and contradiction she finds in Gower's work derive not from poetic ineptitude but rather from conscientious authorial inclusion of these issues as quintessential elements in his view of the human condition. To put it somewhat differently: "Amoral Gower" proffers a positive reading of examples of chaos, of failure to connect, of truth as simultaneously both sides of the coin, assiduously rooted out of Gower's works in thematic rather than sequential order. Watt strives to supplant the "familiar" cohesive, ethical, and moral Gower with this alternative image, while claiming it as an authorial strategy. This is new, and the result both challenging and valid. More than a few will disagree with Watt's conclusions, but it is a measure of the evolution of Gower studies that the time has arrived when they can be drawn and claimed. Not long ago imagining Gower in Southwark faced with feminist criticism and queer theory was painfully risible. Watt gives Gower a newer face, and creates the suspicion that, just maybe, he would have seen something in it, dark and kindred though it be. [RFY, Copyright JGN 23.1]

Item Type:Book
Subjects:Confessio Amantis
Mirour de l’Omme (Speculum Meditantis)
Vox Clamantis

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