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John Zaixin Zhang

 
 
 

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Notes on Woman’s Space in "The Miller's Tale"  

2017-10-24 20:52:55|  分类: +乔叟 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Zhang, John Zaixin. Notes on Woman’s Space in "The Miller's Tale"

Bishop: Confusion of orifices – holes – a woman’s unknown secrets (Freud) elevated to God’s secrets – female genitals to God’s genitals

    “If for Augustine, the passage in Exodus figures God’s ‘back parts’ as a metaphor for corporeality, His face for divinity, and Augustine fits that corporeality into the larger question of relying on the body’s senses for knowledge, Chaucer’s humor plays upon Augustine’s exegesis by emphasizing bottoms and using confused body parts to ‘expose’ the limits of human knowledge. Nicholas and Absolon learn to their regret that the human backside does not provide incontrovertible knowledge of person, place, or thing. Chaucer makes laughable the importance of vision to knowledge by subverting visual and bodily knowledge in the Tale: bottoms are taken for faces in more than one instance” (Bishop 237).

 “The unknowability of ‘Goddes pryvetee’ in Exodus—the face refused to Moses or, more tellingly (by analogy to the ‘back parts’), the ‘front parts’ of God—becomes the ostensibly self-evident, yet persistent mystery of Alison.  The Miller’s Tale thus blasphemously—and deliciously—elevates Alison’s private parts and their unknowability to the level of God’s” (Bishop 240).

Leicester:  Medusa’s face (Freud) – Cixous’ “Laugh of the Medusa” to return the gaze (bottom’s eye in the middle of the “rough and long-haired thing” to return the gaze)

My argument:

 If Alison’s holes become God’s holes (back parts), her “concentric” (cunt-centric, bodily, spatial) discourse, equally mysterious and unknowable to the men in the tale, defies male logic and certainty. Alison’s nonverbal concentric discourse (although not preverbal) rebels against patriarchal history/time.

1. Woman portrayed as body, prey, commodity, as object, as other, but the tale is ambiguous about a man’s subject position, which is violated by the silence, rhythms, and noises of the female body (orifices). Although the concentric (cunt-centric) discourse of the tale itself is not preverbal but nonverbal, it plunges a man, burning with desire for a physical dalliance, back into a pre-Oedipal state where there’s no distinction between (male) self and (female) other (abjection).

Castration threat and confused genitals and gender roles - orifices/holes as female body parts (spaces) to threaten the male with lack, confused sexual parts (orifices with a “beard”) (Leicester)

2. Unknown body parts (Bishop) as unreliable sources for knowledge – nonverbal concentric discourse/herstory: female body/space defying male time/history (Noah's Flood).

Approximation of childbirth/maternal body as horror to the male subject (Kristeva, Zerilli) – “Help! Water!” (water broke?) - John in a trough (female symbol) – ax (male symbol) to cut the (umbilical) chord (to be released, to be discharged through a hole) – space/body vs. time/male past - comic masking of man’s fear of the maternal body/childbirth (as abjection) to mimic and demystify Noah’s Flood (church time)

Music and lovers’ revelries while doing “their business” – church music mixed up with love making noises and moans – bodily rhythms and sounds as female discourse to mock the celebrations of the soul (church time)

Page

79.    Host’s criticism of the miller’s manners and drunkenness

80.    Excuse for telling a vulgar tale; “a quick retort” – still keeps his wits, clear-minded (discredit the claim about his drunkenness); a wife’s secrets are unknown like God’s mystery; repeating the story; concerned with the vulgar language only (then you need to piece the “letter” to get the message or “sentence”)

81.    Fend off criticism; stars – sign reading, reading for secrecy of God’s will. Nicholas, “demure as a maid (gender confusion)

82.    near in space; locking up her youth (“kept her closely caged”); “ignorant and unschooled” about old wisdom as truth about youth/age; “wether” – male sheep castrated before sexual maturity – threat of castration? (gender confusion?)

83.    object of desire;  cuntcentric/phallocentric – woman reduced to a cunt and haunches – fragmented body; Alison – “as skittish as a frisky colt,” “shied like a colt being shod” (gender confusion?); Nicholas near in space gets his way with Alison

84.    sex kitten, object of desire; youth as spring, not necessarily misconduct to be sexually active

85.    woman as prey; Absolon won’t charge a woman for his songs; cat/mouse –male activity/female passivity; seems OK to serenade someone’s wife

86.    reification of woman – gifts: riches, flowers (blows), kindness; space, near/far away from Alison (spatial center), proverb: ‘You’ll always see the nigh and sly/Cut out the lover who is far away’; presence/absence (“Because he wasn’t there, and out of sight,/On-the-spot Nicholas stood in his light.”); both are in it together, in the scheme to make a fool of the husband; “his desire, and hers also” - two consenting adults; no voice of her own, mimicking his voice, his desire (verbal)

87.    fakes his absence in presence; Nicholas becomes a presence in his absence (similar to a linguistic sign, language) –  absence or presence of the man (Nicholas), it pivots on the central position of Alison – her spatial centrality; nonverbal language: Nicholas playing the role of woman (both presence and absence), moonstruck, insane, in the peeping Tom scene through the cat’s hole, to pry into a “woman’s secret” (emasculate or feminize the man as a threat of castration, or as ambivalence of gender) – Bishop: gender confusion; insanity because of astrology (p. 88, “One shouldn’t pry into God’s mystery”) – the room with Nicholas in it as a dream image of the female genitals in Freud - he is being gazed at, he is waiting to be (re)born, another image of a “woman’s secret” to pry into, also an allusion to abjection

88.    irony of stargazing: fooled by God’s mystery, the way a man may be fooled by Alison if he wants to unlock her mystery (God’s secrets and a woman’s secrets equally mysterious); prize open the door – unlocking God’s mystery, synonymous with woman’s mystery: Bishop on the confusion of orifices; the sign of the cross to defend someone not in need of defending; mimicking Noah’s persona to satirize the Flood

89.    closed door as secrecy; door as a gateway to mystery (God’s secrets); pry into God’s mystery; Nicholas playing God in an allusion to Noah’s Flood (John as Noah) – verbal language/sign problematic: unclear if he’s personating God’s voice or it’s his own; “Don’t act without advice, or you’ll repine.” – verbal language put into question (old wisdom can be used both ways, for good and evil, Nicholas’ advice for evil)

90.    parody of Noah’s Flood – prediction of it based on astrology (which is discredited); “A kneading-trough, or else a brewing vat” – female symbols; “I wouldn’t tell the secrets God keeps hid” - Bishop: God’s back parts as genitals – Alison’s holes as God’s holes; containers as female images; male image (an axe); kneading tub (or water trough) breaking through a hole – “cut the rope” – cut the umbilical cord – approximation of childbirth to remind male subject of his corporeality (dream images in a displaced order)

91.    mockery of Noah’s Flood: rebirth of the world analogous to the rebirth of Nicholas and Alison in adultery, or the birth (in approximation) of the male subject as abjection to bring out the frailty and corporeality of the male subject; “white duck following its drake” (male duck) - male centered; Nicholas playing the role of God; near/far apart in space: “You and your wife must hang as far apart/As may be”; “Not one of us must speak a single word” – nonverbal language: silence inside the container (womb) – (re)birth – crying; two-faced woman and duplicity of woman in verbal language (unreliable medium of communication, although stable meaning as oneness, here the opposite of what she says)

92.    “He shut the door, and with no candle lit” - darkness; door – secrecy; “Then down his ladder tiptoed Nicholas,/And down hers, Alison as softly sped” - ladders as an equivalent for stairs (sex)

93.    Nonverbal language: “With no word uttered, they have gone to bed”: adultery sanctified as a religious ritual – glory; church music/songs/noises, moans converge in a celebration of God’s glory and physical passion (music, rhythm, moans as nonverbal concentric discourse)

94.    objectifying Alison; “I’m yearning like a lambkin for the teat”; “I yearn for you like any turtle-dove/After its mate; I eat less than a girl”: Absolon a feminized man (emasculated); can’t be intimidated by her verbal language; her idea to suppress verbal language and resort to silence and nonverbal language as discourse (“To Nicholas she whispered, ‘Hush your mouth/Hush now, and I’ll give you a real good laugh’” – like the laugh of the Medusa? - Leicester), a good laugh, but the joke is on Nicolas too later

95.    nonverbal language to fight back, where verbal language has failed her; men want to reduce me to a cunt/hole? And a hole is what you get; nonverbal language worked; “Some trollop, that I’ll bet,/Has been leading you a dance”…: woman leading a dance – dominant position of woman at the center

96.    for Nicholas, nonverbal language brings the joke on himself (only Alison comes out a winner; both men were beat in this game of unlocking the mystery of a woman/God, to expose the limits of human knowledge about God’s/a woman’s mystery; woman, for Bishop, has been elevated to the level of divinity – the limited access to the divine discourse of God becomes synonymous with the limited access to the mysterious concentric discourse of a woman’s body (rhythms, sounds, silence, etc.)

 97.    umbilical cord; broken arm – male image; lies as truth (verbal language – words and truth twisted); woman a winner

 

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