Modernity," explains that he has chosen to situate his study in the "modern" era becausemodernity can be defined through its privileging of the visual.
the visual in Cartesian perspectivalism, Jay suggests, was itself reflex to a"regime" or regimen of differentiation, in which techniques for representing space, andspecifically for representing space according to laws of natural perspective, came toprivilege a disembodied and exteriorized--and masculine--look: "The moment of eroticprojection in vision--what St. Augustine had anxiously condemned as 'ocular desire' waslost as the bodies of the painter and viewer were forgotten in the name of an allegedlydisincarnated, absolute eye. Although such a gaze could, of course, still fall on objects of desire . . . it did so largely in the service of a reifying male look that turned its targets intostone. The marmoreal nude drained of its capacity to arouse desire was at least tendentiallythe outcome of this development" (8).Martin Jay's very choice to study the "scopic regimes of modernity," resting as it does onthe premise that "modernity" can be defined in part through a splitting of subject fromobject, masculine gaze from feminine matter, offers a compelling invitation to step further back in the past to question whether the organization of vision in premodern Europe mightbe different from what we take as axiomatically "true" or even essential to structures of atranshistorical gender: an appropriative and aggressive "male gaze" projected from achangeless, always recognizable body of a "man," most often onto a female body.Following that lead and taking a look at structures of gendered representation that havebeen underexamined in the "new art history" and in sociopsychoanalytic studies of thevisual,
how may we speak of the "scopic regime" of this medieval past? The questions Iwish to raise in this article concern bodies that arouse "ocular desire," medieval and evenChaucerian bodies that precede Jay's marmoreal nude, drained vampiritically of her blood.In framing Griselda through a layering of private and public looks, does Chaucer in fact playout male fantasy enacted around a fetishized female body--or does this reading give us aback-formation, a reading of Chaucer through
desire, through a "scopic regime of modernity"?In this article I argue that medieval representational schema for framing the human body aspublic spectacle or object of a public gaze unsettle post-Cartesian formulations that readthe "meaning" of the female body through an inscription by male consciousness and vision.Late medieval accounts of the "focalized" female body, the feminine erotic form as it isseen, watched, and desired by a viewer in a narrative, are deeply nuanced, I will suggest,by anxieties about bodily images and by contemporary schema for representing the body inthe visual arts: the textual body, however overdetermined by the rhetorical tradition, is alsoa cultural body, regulated and exposed by lines of sight that are tightly bound to schema for representing the painted or the plastic body in
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contemporary manuscriptillumination, panel painting, or statuary. The article will then return to Chaucer's
to explore some implications of late medieval visuality for Chaucer's construction of lines of sight and especially for his figuration of the dynamic between male gaze and a female bodyin this tale.
The Gaze on Jesus Crucified
In medieval representation, the body at the center, the spectacular body, is not, of course,female at all. This is not to say that the female body is absent from medievalrepresentation--although the particular eroticized form of the female "nude," it has beenclaimed, was unrepresented or unrepresentable between the classical era and the Italianrenaissance,
effaced in the medieval rejection of the body as a subject of representationthat, as Michael Camille has said, "is one of the most crucial transformations in the historyof Western art."
Yet the body favored for display, consistently shown as naked andundressed, sagging with material weight of muscle and bone, and also the body thatconsistently focuses a collective gaze through its display before a crowd, is the body of Christ. In her aptly-titled recent study, Sarah Beckwith points to just this formation as a
, where Christ's body focuses a "complex symbolics of identification and role-playing" and serves as an "arena" for the negotiation of social identities.
The importanceof Christ's body as a spectacle to a wide public, male and female, clerical and lay, has been