In the Skin of a Beast: Sovereignty and Animality in Medieval France

University of Chicago Press
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In medieval literature, when humans and animals meet—whether as friends or foes—issues of mastery and submission are often at stake. In the Skin of a Beast shows how the concept of sovereignty comes to the fore in such narratives, reflecting larger concerns about relations of authority and dominion at play in both human-animal and human-human interactions.

Peggy McCracken discusses a range of literary texts and images from medieval France, including romances in which animal skins appear in symbolic displays of power, fictional explorations of the wolf’s desire for human domestication, and tales of women and snakes converging in a representation of territorial claims and noble status. These works reveal that the qualities traditionally used to define sovereignty—lineage and gender among them—are in fact mobile and contingent. In medieval literary texts, as McCracken demonstrates, human dominion over animals is a disputed model for sovereign relations among people: it justifies exploitation even as it mandates protection and care, and it depends on reiterations of human-animal difference that paradoxically expose the tenuous nature of human exceptionalism.
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About the author

Peggy McCracken is the Domna C. Stanton Collegiate Professor of French, Women’s Studies, and Comparative Literature at the University of Michigan. Her many publications include The Curse of Eve, the Wound of the Hero: Blood, Gender, and Medieval Literature and The Romance of Adultery: Queenship and Sexual Transgression in Old French Literature.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
May 17, 2017
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Pages
240
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ISBN
9780226459080
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Europe / Medieval
Literary Criticism / European / French
Literary Criticism / General
Philosophy / Political
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Peggy McCracken
In The Curse of Eve, the Wound of the Hero, Peggy McCracken explores the role of blood symbolism in establishing and maintaining the sex-gender systems of medieval culture. Reading a variety of literary texts in relation to historical, medical, and religious discourses about blood, and in the context of anthropological and religious studies, McCracken offers a provocative examination of the ways gendered cultural values were mapped onto blood in the Middle Ages.

As McCracken demonstrates, blood is gendered when that of men is prized in stories about battle and that of women is excluded from the public arena in which social and political hierarchies are contested and defined through chivalric contest. In her examination of the conceptualization of familial relationships, she uncovers the privileges that are grounded in gendered definitions of blood relationships. She shows that in narratives about sacrifice a father's relationship to his son is described as a shared blood, whereas texts about women accused of giving birth to monstrous children define the mother's contribution to conception in terms of corrupted, often menstrual blood. Turning to fictional representations of bloody martyrdom and of eucharistic ritual, McCracken juxtaposes the blood of the wounded guardian of the grail with that of Christ and suggests that the blood from the grail king's wound is characterized in opposition to that of women and Jewish men.

Drawing on a range of French and other literary texts, McCracken shows how the dominant ideas about blood in medieval culture point to ways of seeing modern values associated with blood in a new light, and how modern representations in turn suggest new perspectives on medieval perceptions.
Arthur Rimbaud
One of the most written-about literary figures in the past decade, Arthur Rimbaud left few traces when he abandoned poetry at age twenty-one and disappeared into the African desert. Although the dozen biographies devoted to Rimbaud’s life depend on one main source for information—his own correspondence—a complete edition of these remarkable letters has never been published in English. Until now.

A moving document of decline, Rimbaud’s letters begin with the enthusiastic artistic pronouncements of a fifteen-year-old genius, and end with the bitter what-ifs of a man whose life has slipped disastrously away. But whether soapboxing on the essence of art, or struggling under the yoke of self-imposed exile in the desert of his later years, Rimbaud was incapable of writing an uninteresting sentence. As translator and editor Wyatt Mason makes clear in his engaging Introduction, the letters reveal a Rimbaud very different from our expectations. Rimbaud—presented by many biographers as a bohemian wild man—is unveiled as “diligent in his pursuit of his goals . . . wildly, soberly ambitious, in poetry, in everything.”

I Promise to Be Good: The Letters of Arthur Rimbaud is the second and final volume in Mason’s authoritative presentation of Rimbaud’s writings. Called by Edward Hirsch “the definitive translation for our time,” Mason’s first volume, Rimbaud Complete (Modern Library, 2002), brought Rimbaud’s poetry and prose into vivid focus. In I Promise to Be Good, Mason adds the missing epistolary pieces to our picture of Rimbaud. “These letters,” he writes, “are proofs in all their variety—of impudence and precocity, of tenderness and rage—for the existence of Arthur Rimbaud.” I Promise to Be Good allows English-language readers to see with new eyes one of the most extraordinary poets in history.


From the Hardcover edition.
Peggy McCracken
In The Curse of Eve, the Wound of the Hero, Peggy McCracken explores the role of blood symbolism in establishing and maintaining the sex-gender systems of medieval culture. Reading a variety of literary texts in relation to historical, medical, and religious discourses about blood, and in the context of anthropological and religious studies, McCracken offers a provocative examination of the ways gendered cultural values were mapped onto blood in the Middle Ages.

As McCracken demonstrates, blood is gendered when that of men is prized in stories about battle and that of women is excluded from the public arena in which social and political hierarchies are contested and defined through chivalric contest. In her examination of the conceptualization of familial relationships, she uncovers the privileges that are grounded in gendered definitions of blood relationships. She shows that in narratives about sacrifice a father's relationship to his son is described as a shared blood, whereas texts about women accused of giving birth to monstrous children define the mother's contribution to conception in terms of corrupted, often menstrual blood. Turning to fictional representations of bloody martyrdom and of eucharistic ritual, McCracken juxtaposes the blood of the wounded guardian of the grail with that of Christ and suggests that the blood from the grail king's wound is characterized in opposition to that of women and Jewish men.

Drawing on a range of French and other literary texts, McCracken shows how the dominant ideas about blood in medieval culture point to ways of seeing modern values associated with blood in a new light, and how modern representations in turn suggest new perspectives on medieval perceptions.
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