Current Issue Article Abstracts
Fall 2016 Vol. 16.4
In our recent special issue on “Desiring History and Historicizing Desire” (JEMCS 16.2), editors Ari Friedlander, Will Stockton, and Melissa Sanchez reflected on how recent debates about temporality and historicism in early modern sexuality studies can lend the field vitality and continued methodological self-reflexivity (1–20). Indeed, we did not plan this issue of JEMCS to be devoted to any specific subject matter, but found that we had accepted a cluster of essays that all offered queer approaches to early modern material, prompting us to place them into more explicit conversation with each other. As the accidental nature of this special issue testifies, interest in early modern sexuality continues to inspire work across a growing variety of archives, methodologies, and fields.
Bradley J. Cavallo
This essay synthesizes the historiography of art history and sexuality/gender studies, while carefully navigating the difficulties inherent in historical sexual signification, in order to reveal the complexity of Albrecht Dürer’s The Men’s Bathhouse (Das Männerbad) (1496–97). Over time, the woodcut has accrued a wide variety of critical responses. Within this fortuna critica, some scholars have attempted to reduce the print to evidence of Dürer’s cognizance of classical aesthetics prior to his first trip to Venice in 1494–95, in that it seems to provide a stylistic precursor to his later, more overtly classicizing The Fall of Man (1506, engraving). Other scholars have implicitly or explicitly sought to employ the woodcut as supportive of arguments for the existence of a universal homosexual identity, in that the artwork proves Dürer’s homosexuality ergo an early modern homosexuality consonant with the way the modern terms “homosexual”/“heterosexual” conflate sexuality with identity. Arguably, classicism and eroticism simultaneously inform the full iconographic potentiality of Dürer’s print; and an analysis of it shows how he inverted the traditional imagery of bathers by imagining men as the sole object of display within an all-male space and then veiled that socially proscribed, same-sex desire behind the plausible deniability of the classically-derived, nude male figure.
Todd W. Reeser
Michel de Montaigne’s essay “On Some Verses of Virgil” is known for its discussion of Renaissance marriage, masculinity, male and female sexuality, and the nature and status of women. With this focus on what we might today call heterosexuality, this article treats the question of what the recurring references to ancient male-male eros are doing in the essay. It is not the case, however, that same-sex sexuality is simply discussed openly in this text treating the topic of candid descriptions of sex and sexuality more broadly: rather, it is half-hidden and half-visible, neither fully absent nor fully present. same-sex male sexuality functions as a queer purveyor of energetic masculinity that can help solve the problem of the essayist’s aging and limp masculinity. The use of erotic object choice in Montaigne’s essay pertains not so much to suppression or repression, then, but to the transmission of affect between same-sex eros and masculinity. This textual energy is created by virtue of an erotic game of absence-presence that mirrors a central idea of the essay, that ancient Latin poets’ descriptions of male-female sexuality have more erotic force when they do not represent sex too openly.
Mary Catherine Kinniburgh
The growing scholarly interest in erotic literature from the early modern period raises a rich debate on the question of normativity: do these works ultimately challenge or uphold the sexual and social order? Answers tend to address only human subjects, despite the presence of animals in certain erotic or pornographic images across the period. This essay integrates current animal studies research and early modern perspectives on bestiality to offer a reading of an engraving from the notorious erotic text attributed to Nicolas Chorier, L’Academie des dames, which shows a horse positioned erotically in relation to its riders. Situating this image alongside early modern legal codes on bestiality, equine manuals, and literature, this essay suggests that varied early modern perspectives on horses allow the possibility of animal pleasure in the erotic relationship between horse and rider in Plate Five, even as the acknowledgment of interspecies erotics threatens to destabilize the sexual and species binarism promoted by bestiality discourses. By rendering visible the spectrum of pleasurable interspecies interactions with horses in the early modern period, this essay seeks to recuperate a sense of historical interspecies queerness that challenges the notion of a clear separation of experience between human and animal subjects.
Jason S. Farr
This essay explores the vital role that disability plays in the history of sexuality and posits a pre-history of queercrip theory. It argues that Restoration and early eighteenth-century poems and letters from William Wycherley, from the Earl of Rochester, and from Colley Cibber depict people with physical disabilities as incapable of heterosexual sex. In these representations, libertine sexuality serves as the apotheosis of manhood. Ableist constructions of deformity, as these sources also suggest, shore up gender and sexual codes. In Deformity: An Essay (1753), William Hay, a self-proclaimed “deformed” writer, responds in a curious way to the mockery typical of his day by likening himself to various kinds of animals, including the lapdog. In so doing, he articulates a version of male sexuality that reconfigures the dominant libertine model of Restoration and early eighteenth-century England. Hay proposes a radical alternative to standard heterosexual practice of that time, in which robust male subject penetrates immobile female object, to a more expansive eroticism in which women play an active role. Hay’s peripheral post-postscript offers a glimpse into what this essay calls “hetero-deformity,” a significant re-imagining of the way that heterosexuality so often relies upon able-bodiedness for its coherence.
Ula Lukszo Klein
Eighteenth-century British narratives describing female cross-dressers often attempt to explain how the cross-dresser performs maleness despite her lack of certain physical markers of masculinity. One of the elements of masculinity that these texts often focus on is facial hair. This absence of a facial beard is overcome by the cross-dresser’s appeal to other women: the desires of other women become the cross-dresser’s “beards.” At the heart of these narratives, though, is an essential contradiction: although these texts posit that only a man can elicit desires from women, the cross-dresser appeals to other women precisely due to her gender ambiguity, not necessarily due to her performance of maleness. By portraying the female cross-dresser’s act of acquiring a metaphorical beard to disguise her lack of facial hair, such narratives destabilize categories of gender and sexuality and reveal the cultural fantasies of gender fluidity that fascinated the reading public of the eighteenth century. Further, the notion of “bearding” opens up new avenues for understanding and analyzing female same-sex desire in the early modern period, as the desires of the cross-dresser’s “beards” suggest that desire is not founded on traditional gender binaries but can, and often does, exceed them.