Dinshaw, Carolyn. 2001. “Got Medieval?” in Journal of the History of Sexuality 10:2 pp.202-212
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This, and next week’s article, appear to come out of a conference session inspired by Dinshaw’s book Getting Medieval: Sexualities and Communities, Pre- and Postmodern. Which I have not yet covered. In general, this article is meta-commentary on the topics of the book, rather than discussing new data or interpretations.
Dinshaw discusses the context in which she wrote the book, including as a response to John Boswell’s Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality in conversation with Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality. A central theme is the search for an “affective connection” with history, not necessarily a mimetic identification.
In this paper, Dinshaw addresses three questions about queer history and community raised in the papers of the session. [The paper appears to be something of a cumulative response presented at the end of the session--a not uncommon format for such conferences.] 1. How do you write about the daily lives of women in history without erasing their particularity in the construction of a unified Other? 2. If queer historians are identifying and constructing a queer community across time, who gets to be in that community and who decides? 3. Where can this historic queer community be identified and “how can its power be unleashed?”
In addressing these questions of queer identity and community throughout the past, Dinshaw notes conflicting positions, interpretations, and evidence. Foucult tended to view queer men in the past as isolated and connected only by their exclusion. Boswell, in contrast, believed he had found positive, self-aware communities. But so much of this prominent theorizing was founded exclusively on male lives and male experience. What about the lives of medieval nuns that illustrate loving erotically-tinged relationships that were integrated with their religious communities? And what counts as “queer” once the concept expands from same-sex relationships? Who--or what--is queer in the context of queer history? (This ties in with Hollywood’s 2001 discussion of normative versus “natural” in the definition of queerness.)
The last part of Dinshaw’s essay is something of a call to action in how to use the concept of queer history and queer community across history as a force for developing a self-image that goes beyond the history of oppression and persecution.
As I say, meta-commentary, but interesting to see the discussion among those who are producing the literature I review here.