Unspeakable pleasures: Alain de Lille, sexual regulation and the priesthood of Genius.
With the appearance of Alain de Lille's De planctu Naturae sometime between 1160 and 1180, the figure Genius became a priest.(2) Originally a Roman tutelary god, he had already been elevated to an important cosmic functionary in Bernardus Silvestris's Cosmographia, where his office was the originary "union of form and matter."(3) But Bernardus also used the term at the end of the work to describe the testicles, the "twin brother's" in charge of propagation.(4) As Winthrop Wetherbee remarks in his still indispensable Platonism and Poetry in the Twelfth Century, the sacramental role Alain assigns Genius conflates these disparate significances, and confirms the completeness of man's intellectual, moral, and sexual participation in cosmic life."(5) One measure of the power of this synthesis can be found in its considerable posterity. Genius plays a similar priestly role in two of the later Middle Ages' most influential vernacular poems, the Roman de la Rose, and the Confessio Amantis of John Gower. Moreover, this tradition provided an important staging point for the modern notion of genius: that secular deification of intellectual creativity, which, as Christine Battersby has shown, retains strong conceptual links to "male procreativity."(6) Perhaps the death of the author will mean the death of genius. If so, however, this will no doubt be a death like Nietzsche's death of God: its shadow will linger for a long time to come.(7)
Modernity's debt to the medieval figure may have been obscured in part because the coherence of the medieval tradition itself has proved elusive. For many scholars the problem has been the disjunction between the figure's moral significance and its rhetorical variability. The conclusion to De planctu presents Genius as the voice of orthodoxy, while his sermon advocating procreation in the Roman de la Rose is clearly parodic. Gower's Genius is less clerical than Alain's, but nevertheless clearly a moralizer. It is possible to argue that the figure conveys orthodoxy from start to finish.(8) However, that requires reading him entirely straight in the De planctu and the Confessio, and as a simple burlesque in the Roman-that is, insisting on the figure's ideological coherence to the complete exclusion of its rhetorical specificity. (Is the figure didactic or ironic? How could it have started as one, became the other, and then just as indiscriminately changed back?) In this essay I will take a different tack. Using Wetherbee's discussion as my point of departure, I will suggest that sexuality rather than orthodoxy underlies Genius's specificity as a rhetorical figure.
Taken in its most obvious sense, this suggestion should be unexceptionable. It amounts to little more than a summary statement of some very basic plot details. In each of the three works, Genius's pastoral functions involve mainly encouraging or forbidding various types of erotic behavior, and in each case he carries out this function by employing discursive practices of the church: excommunication, preaching, or confession. Of course, each of these practices are distinct, as are both the taboos with which Genius is concerned, and the stance he takes toward them. In De planctu, he is the excommunicator of homoeroticism, in the Roman de la Rose, the advocate of adultery, and in the Confessio Amantis, the analyst of incest. Nevertheless, in all of these texts Genius marks a series of moments where a single, specific practice of a single, if central, institution confronts a broad area of sexual behavior. These confrontations accomplish two things. First, they point quite emphatically to the dependence of these taboos on artificially constructed regulatory structures that are historically variable in the extreme, although obviously the taboos have a durability beyond their particular instantiations in these texts. Second, the very textuality of these metaphorical confrontations between taboo and institutional form suggest that sexual regulation is itself characteristically discursive. For such forms can only appear in these texts because they are generalizable -- that is, because they have figural dimensions behind their literal, institutional significances. Indeed in this sense, Genius's parodic sermon in the Roman de la Rose is characteristic of the entire medieval tradition: the ex-communication in De planctu, and the penitential taxonomy in the Confessio Amantis are no less figural.
In this way, the figure Genius obviously speaks to an interchange between sexuality and discursive structures that is much more systematic than many students of medieval culture have allowed. The proposition that medieval culture was disinterested in sex retains for many the status of a fundamental truth, and nothing will raise the charge of anachronism more quickly than a claim to the contrary. Nor is this a merely matter of the idealizations of ultratraditionalists. Such current major scholars as Peter Brown and Carolyn Walker Bynum have frequently warned medievalists against imposing what they see as a peculiarly modern interest in sexuality on medieval materials. In the course of a thoughtful response to Leo Steinberg's The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion, Bynum sounds what could be legitimately described as the conventional note of caution:
Twentieth-century readers and viewers tend to eroticize the body
and to define themselves by the nature of their sexuality. But did
medieval viewers? For several reasons, I think we should be cautious
about assuming that they did.(9)
Equally conventional is her move from caution to conclusion some pages later when she declares medieval "religious people ... probably did not associate either penis or breast primarily with sexual activity."(10) The key term here, of course, is "religious." According to such views, medieval spirituality defined medieval consciousness, and one of the hallmarks of medieval spirituality was a transcendent disinterest in all things sexual. This characteristic sharply distinguishes it from modern consciousness, which for Bynum and others holding this view is defined by its sexuality.
While such a view offers itself in the name of scholarly caution, there are good reasons why we should be very cautious indeed about continuing to accept it. The first is its obvious circularity. Since it ascribes to modernity an excessive interest in the sexual, it can always dismiss any evidence of medieval interest in the sexual, no matter how convincing otherwise, as the product of the fevered modern consciousness of the observer. And this raises a second, even more crucial problem. This view not only idealizes the medieval, but also oversimplifies the modern. Bynum twice remarks that modern students of medieval culture will "immediately' jump to erotic conclusions.(11) But there is nothing immediate about modern sexuality, as nearly a century of psychoanalytic thought has been at pains to show. Like any binary opposition, this one begs to be deconstructed. Making sexuality an exclusively modern phenomenon reduces medieval spirituality to the not-modern and the not-sexual.
The tradition of Genius provides a salutory case in point. For Genius is as spiritual in its modern version as it is sexual in its medieval one. The intricate and manifold attention modern culture pays to such geniuses' as Shakespeare, Beethoven, or Einstein is little short of hagiographical. Conversely, medieval readers confronting the various incarnations of Genius as an allegorical figure could not have made it intelligible without contemplating sex, however fleetingly. This is one case, at least, where modernity has made transcendent what the Middle Ages treated as erotic. Rather than the clean break between medieval and modern which medievalists too often treat as axiomatic, we find here a submerged, barely acknowledged continuity. The modern cult of the creative genius looks back to the moment Alain de Lille made Genius a priest.
Like any repressed fragment, moreover, this barely perceptible continuity serves to screen another one much broader, and more scandalous. As the scourge of homosexuality, Alain's allegorical priest anticipates one of modernity's most abiding taboos, one it owes in large measure to innovations of the Middle Ages. Medieval Christianity invented the term sodomy and developed the oxymoronic but profoundly tenacious notion of unnatural sexuality that goes with it.(12) If sodomy, as Foucault famously remarked, is "an utterly confused category,' it is also a category with a discernible history, and that history begins with the Middle Ages.(13) More precisely, it begins with Christianity, and with the cluster of discursive and institutional practices that constituted the traditions of Christian exegesis. It is true, as the late John Boswell has amply demonstrated, that there was nothing inherently homophobic about medieval Christianity. Indeed, it was quite often tolerant, and occasionally even supportive of same-sex attachments, particularly in the period before the age of papal reform.(14) It is also true that serious consideration of the relation between Christianity and homosexuality cannot go forward without recognition of these facts. Nevertheless, it is just as crucial to recognize that modem homophobia has its roots in medieval concepts that were tied to some of the most central practices of the culture. Is it belaboring the obvious to point out that the very term sodomy constitutes a biblical interpretation? Or that the notion of nature as a source of juridical principle owes its prominence to the emergence of canon law during the age of papal reform? The persistence into modernity of these ways of thinking should by itself banish forever any simple dichotomy between medieval and modern views of sexuality.
On this point, it is important to be extremely precise in understanding an even more celebrated formulation of Foucault's, his distinction between the traditional notion of sodomy and the modern notion of homosexuality: "The sodomite had been a temporary aberration; the homosexual was now a species."(14a) Foucault makes this remark in a discussion which concerns medical and psychiatric discourses specifically. The distinction does indeed mark an important break between modernity and the pre-modern, but the break is cleanest within those discourses. For they represent only one regime governing modern sexuality, and not necessarily the most repressive. There is also the legal system. The laws which continue to oppress gays and lesbians, such as the Georgia statute upheld in the U.S. Supreme Court's infamous Bowers v. Hardwick decision, are laws directed not against homosexuals, but precisely against sodomy. The renewed affirmation of these laws have restricted even the limited opening which the medical recognition of homosexual identity afforded. As many commentators have noted, beginning with one of the Court's own clerks, sodomy laws are very selectively enforced. The laws purport to punish acts not tendencies; but those enforcing them exploit the modern conception of homosexual identity to ensure that only gays and lesbians will be punished for committing those acts.(15)
The De planctu Naturae appeared just a few years before a crucial moment of origin in the history of legal repression of homoerotic sexuality in the West. The first fully institutional, comprehensive sanction on same-sex practice was produced by the Third Lateran Council, which was held in 1179, and which Alain attended.(16) It called for clerics involved "in that incontinence which is against nature" to be deposed and laymen excommunicated.(17) The De planctu's anticipation of this fundamental institutional shift is all the more striking inasmuch it imagines this 'incontinence' in exactly the same terms and it calls for exactly the same punishment. The work's founding conceit is that all sin is a crime against nature, and its long, opening consideration of homoeroticism makes its unnaturalness the model for that of all the other sins, which Alain treats more briefly. The work ends with Genius pronouncing a euphemistic anathema on those who make anomalous exceptions from the rule of Venus (qui a regula Veneris exceptionem facit anomalam)."(18) Such euphemism may represent the most striking anticipation of all. Alain accomplishes his attack on homoerotic acts almost exclusively through tropes of unspeakability. They are "unspeakable monstrosities' (monstra nefanda, 808, I, 52), and as Natura explains, "monstrous vices' should be covered with "euphonious speech" (predictis viciorum monstris euphonia orationis volo pallium elargiri, 839, 194-95).
While the term nefandum had been associated with homoeroticism since late antiquity, no one before Alain exploited it anywhere near as systematically or self-consciously.(19) To render something unspeakable is not only to speak of it but to give it a paradoxical prominence, and Alain not only acknowledges this paradox but revels in it. His most common tropes of unspeakability are grammatical conceits: those who sin against nature are both subject and predicate, they commit barbarisms 806,1, 19-22), and solecisms (833, VIII, 20; 846, X, 54-57), conjugating in the reflexive and the passive (847, X, 66-72). Even as these conceits convey the severest of moral judgments, their vehicle ostentatiously declares that unspeakability is a linguistic category before it can be a moral one. Indeed, Alain's tour de force is so complete that one must remind oneself that he never gives a literal name to the sin he so relentlessly attacks. (While scholars conventionally describe the De planctu as an attack on sodomy, it should be noted that Alain never actually uses that term). Monstra nefanda and a regula Veneris exceptionem ... anomalam are as close as he comes. His conceits enable him literally to speak the unspeakable. Although C.S. Lewis found them Alain's 'chief disgrace," for most readers they are one of the chief pleasures of this text, beginning with Alain himself, if Natura's apologia is any indication.(20 )Indeed, they implicate him in the very pleasures he uses them to condemn. If homoerotic desire is to be defined as a troping on. the rules of grammar, then how is Alain's grammatical troping finally to be distinguished from it? Jonathan Goldberg has noted that the trope of unspeakability is always ambivalent: "Sodomy, from its earliest codifications, has been the crime not to be named among Christians-on the one hand, because it seems to be nothing short of world-destroying; but, on the other, because not to name it is a way to allow it."12 In this text, written on the eve of an important instutional attempt to make the unnameable sin less allowable, the ambivalence is at its most profound.
For that reason, the ambivalence is also difficult to characterize. On the one hand, the De planctu Naturae is a relentlessly self-conscious text, its seemingly endless play of allegorical signifiers continually exposing their artifice, and complicating their claims. At the same time, there is no mistaking the work's penitential and regulatory ambitions. Although it is possible to read such a text simply as irremediably split, I have not chosen such a strategy, because it seems to me even the semiotic gaps in this text help motivate its regulatory desires. I can now make Genius's relation to sexuality more explicit. In the reading that follows, I will argue he figures the power of taboo -- that he arrives at the end of De planctu Naturae to signify conclusively Christianity's discursive power to rename and reshape erotic pleasure. He mediates between the transcendent textuality of Christian exegesis and the regulatory aspirations of the institutional Church, and figures precisely the power of such textuality both to produce regulation, and to effect it. Further, I will argue that Genius specifies the power of taboo as at once phallic and discursive, indeed phallic because discursive. I draw my use of the term phallic from Lacanian psychoanalysis, but in particular from the stunning revision of that tradition by Judith Butler in her recent collection Bodies That Matter. In the course of her exploration of the specificity of lesbian desire, Butler argues that "the phallus is fundamentally transferable': that it can achieve its role as "the privileged signifier' which organizes the body's libidinal economy only by virtue of a chain of metonymic substitutions the potential endlessness of which it both conceals and reveals.(22) The phallus's status as the center of a hegemonic heterosexuality is thus not the product of some logical necessity but of a "cultural construction of sexuality" which "compels" its continual reiteration.(23)
Neither the phallus's semiotic status, nor its radical transferability would come as a particular surprise to Alain de Lille. He frequently identifies the genitalia as signs, and through the course of De planctu Naturae, he submits the phallus to his own string of allegorical resignifications: hammer and anvil, the almighty' (prepotens) pen, the pastoral rod, and, of course, Genius himself. Moreover, Alain's sense of sexuality as culturally constructed is particularly acute and literal. His refigurations of phallic dominance implicate nearly every realm of social experience that help shape and maintain it: class relations, marriage custom, natural philosophy, secular love poetry, legal regulation, and the traditions of Christian penance. Most important Genius's phallic significance ensures that the moral transformation he proclaims never loses its erotic charge. As we shall see, the movement of Alain's narrative is not from pleasure to renunciation, but indeed from one sort of pleasure to another, as the unnamable pleasure of the homoerotic is displaced by the unnamed pleasure of power.
2. Poetic Fiction and the Sweetness of Truth
Like many medieval dream-visions, De planctu Naturae has a relatively schematic plot. It consists primarily of four events. The opening lament of the Dreamer gives way to a vision of the goddess Natura. After identifying herself to the dreamer, she ministers to him by explaining the sin of unnatural desire and the other deadly sins. Then she is joined by Hymen, husband to Venus, and four virtues personified as female, Castitas, Temperantia, Largitas, and Humilitas, at least one of whom Largitas) is Natura's sister. Finally, at Natura's behest Genius enters to deliver the anathema which ends the poem. Alain anticipates this final figuration of clerical power from the very beginning. Those guilty of monstra nefanda "deserve excommunication from Genius's temple" (A Genii templo tales anathema merentur, 808, I, 59). Moreover, from the very beginning he also defines these ostensibly unspeakable monstrosities as figurations.
Man made woman blackens the honor of his sex,
The art of a magical Venus hermaphrodizes him.
He becomes predicate and subject, both endings become the same.
He extends the laws of grammar too far.
He denies himself a man of Nature, becomes in art
A barbarian. Grammar does not please him, rather, the trope.
But this transpostion cannot even be called a trope.
The figure better falls under the category of vice.
Femina vir factus sexus denigrat honorem,
Ars magice Veneris hermafroditat eum.
Predicat et subicit, fit duplex terminus idem.
Gramatice leges ampliat ille nimis.
Se negat esse virum Nature, factus in arte
Barbarus. Ars illi non placet, immo tropus.
Non tamen ista tropus poterit translatio dici.
In vicium melius ista figura cadit.
(806-07, I, 17-23)
The slippage from tropus to translatio and then from figura to vicium is telling. For the first three terms all mean basically the same thing in this context, a rhetorical figure. Translatio and figura are each slightly more general than the term succeeding, as Alain struggles to identify homoeroticism with figuration, while at the same time conveying its complete illegitimacy. The problem is that this equivalence could itself be described by all of these terms. If troping and homoerotic sex are equivalent, then Alain becomes guilty of the very sin he decries by making the comparison. Moreover, no matter how general a term he chooses, he is not likely to find some form of figuration that is completely disallowable, because the production of figuration is rhetoric's main function. He settles for the term vicium, which means primarily sin, but which was also the standard term in rhetorical handbooks for stylistic infelicity, as Jan Ziolkowski has pointed out.(24) But even this solution only works by virtue of the pun, another form of figuration. To a certain extent, Alain contains this problem in advance by calling sexual tropes barbarous, drawing on a long tradition in rhetorical commentary, which separated good tropes from bad on the basis of expertise. Poets could depart from the usual rules of grammar if their needs required it, but if the vulgar did so the result was barbarism.(25) While this comparison certainly stigmatizes the homoerotic, it makes avoiding it a matter of discretion rather than moral necessity, and even suggests that the poet's relation to sexual troping may be especially privileged.
Alain vastly amplifies this suggestion during the course of Natura's lament, in which the condemnation of homoeroticism and the elaboration of the grammatical conceit are entirely the same. The needs of her condemnation require her to refine the metaphor ever more intricately; and as each refinement demonstrates in more detail the unnaturalness of the homoerotic, it must necessarily also demonstrate her poetic skill. The pleasure of her figures, her poetic transgressions of the rules of ordinary language, continually competes with her displeasure at the homoerotic, particularly since the very purpose of her figures is to define homoerotic transgression as illicit figuration. As Alexandre Leupin notes, "the text is always on the brink of being submerged in its own enchantment."(26) But even this compelling observation doesn't tell the whole story, for the "brink" this text is on, its attack on homoeroticism, is itself a product of the text's enchantment. In Leupin's reading of De Planctu there is an orthodox core that resists the play of its language. I want to suggest that the play of the language is all: not that the text is not orthodox, but that even its orthodoxy is the product of its transgressive figurations.
This point can be demonstrated in its most general terms in Natura's defense of allegory, which functions simultaneously as a rehabilitation of secular poetry. Although some critics have read this passage as a simple extension of the Augustinian allegoresis, in fact, it effects a subtle but crucial revision of that tradition. While Augustine dismissed poetry as lacking the truth to support Christian exegesis, Alain's Natura assigns it a fictive truth that approaches sacred authority. The opening thus granted to secular poetry is no doubt one important reason the De planctu became such a touchstone for Jean de Meun, Dante, and Chaucer. But this opening emerges directly out of its consideration of homoeroticism. After Natura's first rehearsal of man's erotic disobedience, Alain asks a pointed question about the poetic use of pagan gods.
Recalling the fictions of the poets, I wonder why you arm the stings
of the foregoing attack against the plagues of the human race
alone, when we read that the gods limped with the same exorbitant
Miror cur poetarum commenta retractans, solummodo in humani
generis pestes predictarum invectionum armas aculeos, cum et
eodem exorbitationis pede deos claudicasse legamus.
(836, VIII, 115-17)
He then cites the example of Jupiter and Ganymede, for the High Middle Ages the paradigmatic case of homoerotic love, in addition to Apollo's love for the youths Hyacinthus and Cyparissus, and the cross-dressing of Bacchus.(27) It is hard to imagine a more self-reflexive question. As it exposes the work's central ideological tension, it connects the historicity of Alain's moral critique with the shift the School of Chartres effected in the tradition of Christian allegory. In addition to providing Natura with an opportunity to revise Augustine, the citation of the pagan gods reminds us of the centrality of the homoerotic to the cultures of classical antiquity, and the radical change in sexuality the Church was beginning to effect. The question thus clearly signals Alain's awareness of the historical novelty of his own moral stance. By simultaneously raising the issue of the truth value of the pagan gods, it also places this particular innovation at the center of an even larger question, the historicity of Christian culture generally.
Christianity posited its transcendence of the two traditions which comprised it, Judaism and classical antiquity, on the superiority of its reading practices. Reading past the letter of judaic tradition to the Spirit, Christianity found a truth anterior to both traditions. Allegory was the dominant mode of an intricate and manifold Christian exegetical practice that developed initially as a way of extracting Christian truth from the Judaic Old Testament, and then continued as the means of reconciling disparities within Christian tradition itself between later moments and earlier ones. During the early Middle Ages, Christian exegesis for the most part resisted granting classical tradition even the heuristic value it gave the judaic letter. Augustine summed up the dominant view in De doctrina Christiana. "Of what use is it to me," he asks,
. . . if Neptune is not taken as a god but as a sign of all the sea, or
indeed of all other waters that rise from fountains? He is thus
described by one of their poets, if I remember correctly, in the
O Father Neptune, whose aged temples resound,
Wreathed in the noisy sea, from whose beard eternally flows
The vast ocean, and in whose hair the rivers
This husk shakes sounding pebbles inside its sweet shell, but it is
not food for men but for swine. He who knows the Gospels knows
what I mean, What is it to me that the statue of Neptune is referred
to that meaning except to show that I should worship neither?(28)
As a practical matter, the School of Chartres effected nearly an exact reversal of this position. They used the pagan gods in exactly the manner Augustine forbade, as figurations of natural processes. As a vehicle of continuity, however, their allegorical practice enabled them to thematize this reversal as a recapitulation. Natura ends her reply to Alain's question with an unequivocal declaration of the falsity of such poetic fictions and their absolute inferiority to Christian truth. When "a plurality of gods is dreamt up by poets, or these same gods are said to withdraw their hands from the guiding rod of Venus" (a poetis deorum pluralitas sompniatur vel ipsi dii Venereis ferulis manus subduxisse dicuntur), they are no different from the other purveyors of false doctrine that Christianity has entirely refuted.
For since the dreams of Epicurus have been put to sleep, the insanity
of Manichaeus made sane, the wit of Aristotle outwitted,
the lies of Arius belied, reason proves the singular unity of God,
the world proclaims it, faith believes it, Scriptura testifies to it.
Cum enim iam Epicuri soporentur insompnia, Manichei sanetur
insania, Aristotilis arguantur argutie, Arrii fallantur fallatie,
unicam dei unitatem ratio probat, mundus eloquitur, fides credit,
(838-39, VIII, 143-45)
Yet despite this declaration of the finality of Christian truth, Alain himself deploys a plurality of gods in this work, including Natura herself, and Natura's own explanation of the origin of the sexual sins she deplores assigns the blame to Venus's adultery, that is, proclaims that Venus herself departs from her own rule. Thus this conclusion does not so much sum up Natura's defence, as extend the mixture of falsity and truth it must acknowledge throughout.
She identifies three types of poetic falsehood. First, there is "naked falsehood," the "prostitution" of which poets present to their audience so that, "as if enchanted," their "ears be intoxicated with the honeyed sweetness of delight" (poete ... auditoribus nudam falsitatem prostituunt, ut quadam mellite delectationis dulcedine velut incantatas audientium aures inebrient, 837, VIII, 128-30). Second, there is falsehood mixed with the pretence of probability" so that "through imaginary models they might stamp the souls of men on the anvil of degraded indulgence" (ipsam falsitatem quadam probablitatis ypocrisi palliant, ut per exemplorum imagines hominum animos inhoneste morigerationis incude sigillent, 131-33). Third, there is a "superficial" falsity which hides a deeper secret within. Natura describes this category in slightly more detail:
. . . the poetic lyre resounds with falsity in the superficial husk of
the letter but within reveals to listeners a secret of deeper understanding,
so that with the exterior shell of falsity thrown aside, the
reader may discover the sweeter kernel of truth secreted within.
. . . in superficiali littere cortice falsum resonat lira poetica, interius
vero auditoribus secretum intelligentie altioris eloquitur, ut exteriori
falsitatis abiecto putamine dulciorem nucleum veritatis secrete
intus lector inveniat.
The De planctu clearly belongs to this third category. But for that very reason, it cannot be definitively separated from the other two. All three categories begin in falsehood; if the third is distinguished from the first two by the admixture of truth, that is a later refinement. For all of its exteriority, the false letter is what the reader first encounters, and the inner truth is a product of a subsequent exegetical recovery. In the first two categories, poetic falsity constitutes a form of seduction. Poets deploy the sweetness of fiction to lead the listener toward degraded pleasures, in the first case, something approaching the ephemeral exchange of prostitution; in the second, a more lasting indulgence, which Natura characterizes with the same term, incus, that Alain uses in the early stages of the De planctu to signify the passive partner in anal intercourse. In the third category the listener is active rather than passive, a change signaled by the shift from auditor in the second clause to lector in the third. It would seem this lector escapes the seduction of poetic fiction by virtue of his or her exegetical labor.
Yet it is the poetic text which enables the labor, revealing its secret is the same that sounded the false exterior note. Indeed, Natura does not describe it as a text at all, but as lira poetica, a term which not only insists on the passivity of listening, but also pointedly recalls the lyre of "deranged Orpheus," which she invoked earlier in this section to characterize man's disobedience. Only man spurns the "modulations" of her "cithara ... deranged by the lyre of a deranged Orpheus" (Solus homo, mee modulationis citharam aspernatus, sub delirantis Orphei lira delirat, 834, VIII, 54-55). As Leupin notes, this passage invokes a traditional association of Orpheus with pederasty.(29) Natura's word-play extends this association to include his lyre. First, she distinguishes it from the zither, the harmonious vehicle of her own music. Then she puns on deliro, suggesting that, as an essentially Orphean vehicle, the lyre characteristically "delyres" itself -- that is, it dissolves harmony in the course of attempting to produce it. When the lyre reappears in the defense of allegory as the vehicle of the one acceptable form of poetic fiction, the vehicle whereby exegetical labor can work through fiction to the truth, it does so as a vehicle already tainted by the very disorder it would escape.
Moreover, the labor this lira poetica inspires is no less a form of pleasure than the responses the other two forms of poetry inspire. For Natura, the salient feature of the nucleum veritatis is its sweetness. Here paradoxically, Alan draws on the Augustinian tradition even in the course of revising it. After citing a simile from the Song of Songs, Augustine remarks,
Does one learn anything else besides that which he learns when he
hears the same thought expressed in plain words without this similitude?
Nevertheless, in a strange way, I contemplate the saints
more pleasantly when I envisage them as the teeth of the Church
cutting off men from their errors and transferring them to her body
after their hardness has been softened as if by being bitten and
Yet in making that traditional connection, Natura draws her third category closer to her first two, on the very grounds on which she wishes to distinguish it. For the exegetical strategies required to recover the figural nucleum veritatis themselves constitute a tropology, a translatio, like the homoerotic troping Natura is attacking. Alain's question suggests there is something fundamentally queer about poetry; Natura's response acknowledges he is right, even in the course of denying it.
My purpose in noting these slippages is not to "out" Alain de Lille -- quite the contrary. The De planctu along with Alain's other writings, and their historical context all make it clearly evident that Alain was a supporter and perhaps even an instigator of the twelfth-century Church's repression of homosexuality. What I do want to suggest is that Alain was quite self-conscious and even deliberative in his homophobia -- much more so than many of his twentieth-century counterparts. On the eve of the Church's sanction of sodomy, the De planctu Naturae proclaims the profound contingency of such a sanction, even in arguing for its necessity. Natura's defense of poetic allegory strongly acknowledges not only that the repression of homoeroticism is itself tinged with homoetrotic desire, but also that it actually represents an exchange of pleasure, instead of a pure renunciation. The force actually repressing the pleasure of homoeroticism is not some purely transcendent antipathy to bodily desire, but is in fact an embrace of the pleasure of the power in regulation. Within the De planctu's dense allegorical economy, Alain accomplishes this exchange in two ways: a series of refigurations of the phallus; and an examination of the phallus's discursive and cultural construction that focuses on the institution of marriage and the dominant role the Church was coming to play in its regulation.
3. Sacred Matrimony and Nature's Magisterial Discipline
In the first half of the De planctu, Alain represents the phallus primarily through two images, a hammer striking an anvil, and the pen. He introduces the first image in the opening metrum. He introduces the other in section X, the prose section immediately following Natura's defense of allegory. Here she begins her account of the origin of the sin of unnatural desire by explaining how she delegated to Venus responsibility for "constructing the propagation of earth's living things" (terrestrium animantium materiande propagini Venerem destinavi, 845, 21-22). She gave Venus two kinds of tools: hammers and anvils, and a "pre-eminently powerful pen" (calamum prepotentem, 845, 30). This second image supplements the first and looks forward to Genius and his pastoral rod. It not only connects the power of poetic and allegorical figuration with the power of the phallus, but it literalizes that power, condensing it in the material instrument through which figuration is accomplished. At the same time it retains the more sexually explicit materiality of the first image. Both images are worth examining in some detail.
Alain's initial articulation of the first one occurs immediately after his first articulation of the grammatical conceit, which I cited above:
He strikes on an anvil which coins no seeds.
The hammer itself shudders at its own anvil.
Cudit in incude que semina nulla monetat.
Horret et incudem malleus ipse suam.
(807, I, 27-28)
The image is arguably Alain's most daring, and pushes the dilemma of unspeakablility to its most paradoxical limits. The image is at once explicit and euphemistic; explicit because it focuses primarily on the biological actualities of anal intercourse; euphemistic because it names only one of those actualities: semen. (And even that one is invoked in a curiously negative, non-biological fashion: anal intercourse is held to produce no semen because it produces no offspring.) the image's reference to the other two, penis and anus, is unmistakable but unspoken. The image's morality is indistinguishable from its humor and its wit; yet the very morality which makes the euphemism desirable necessarily renders it excessive. If this act is so horrifying that it cannot even be fully named, what justification could there possibly be for the additional rhetorical labor of wit? Simply imagining the act necessarily involves the moralist in its illicit pleasures, however fleetingly; mixing in the pleasure of wit dilates the imaginary involvement. Clearly, this scandalous interdependence intensifies the horror.
But it does not provide us with the horror's source. For that, we must look more closely at the logic of the hammer and anvil metaphor itself. In particular, we must emphasize the irreducibility of its fiction. For even as the image aspires to put before its readers the actual conjunction of body parts in anal intercourse, it cannot do this without necessarily falsifying its reference to them. The problem lies with the term incus, which must actually conflate two distinct body parts, in order for the conceit to work. It actually treats the anus as a deponent version of the vagina, a vagina that "coins no seeds," a vagina that cannot lead to reproduction. This conflation retains a strong residue of classical sexuality, which, as David Halperin has conclusively demonstrated, was organized around a principle of virility, understood as a class-specific capacity of "phallic penetration."
. . . the insertive partner is construed as a sexual agent, whose
phallic penetration expresses sexual "activity," whereas the receptive
partner is construed as a sexual patient, whose submission to
phallic penetration expresses sexual "passivity." Sexual "activity,"
moreover, is thematized as domination: the relation between the
"active" and the "passive" sexual partner is thought of as the same
kind of relation as that obtaining between social superior and social
inferior. "Active" and "passive" sexual roles are therefore necessarily
isomorphic with superordinate and subordinate social
status . . .
The "proper" erotic "targets" of the adult male citizen "include, specifically, women, boys, foreigners, and slaves." Halperin concludes:
What Paul Veyne has said about the Romans can apply equally
well to the classical Athenians: they were indeed puritans when it
came to sex, but (unlike modern bourgeois Westerners) they were
not puritans about conjugality and reproduction; rather, like many
Mediterranean peoples, they were puritans about virility.(31) If what I have been arguing is correct, the modern organization of sexuality around reproduction actually begins with medieval Christianity. As Michael Warner has pointed out, the principle of reproduction imposes a teleology on sexuality that makes heterosexual desire normative.(32) Alain moves toward this principle through a reworking of the classical one. In treating anus and vagina as interchangeable, equally "passive" receptors of the penis, the malleus/incus metaphor reinforces an even earlier moment of "horror," where Alain declares:
The sex of the active type shudders at itself,
To degenerate so shamefully into the passive type.
Activi generis sexus se turpiter horret
Sic in passivum degenerare genus.
Even the etymology of incus, which Alain revives with the word-play between cudit and incudem, supports this notion of the penis as the sole active sexual organ. The term literally means "the struck against": thus, in this metaphor, the penis becomes that which strikes and any body part it contacts can be simply, subsumed into the single category of that which is struck.
At the same time, however, Alain ties the "activity" of the phallus not to social superiority but to reproductive result. In one respect, this shift actually broadens access to the power of the phallus, which becomes a source of superiority common to all males irrespective of particular class position. Even more curiously and paradoxically this broadening also potentially extends to women. Once phallic dominance is determined by reproduction than it necessarily depends on women in a way that phallic dominance determined solely by penetration did not. I would suggest that Alain's horror, a horror unknown to the ancient world, is a reaction to precisely these paradoxical possibilities. The horror operates as a castration anxiety. Unlike the classic psychoanalytic model, however, this anxiety focuses not on the specific misogyny within the nuclear family, but on the contingency of class/gender relations which produces it. Elicited within the malleus by the incus, it is the fear of one who wields the phallus that it could be deprived of its superiority. What horrifies this malleus is its own (suam) incudem, the fact that it could become passive not by losing the phallus, but precisely by retaining it.
Within the purely "natural" economy of sexual relations which Christianity's teleology of reproduction establishes, the anus poses a new threat to the phallus. As the orifice common to both sexes, the anus offers a mode of sexual "passivity" which the mere physical presence of the penis cannot prevent. Shorn of the support which ancient class distinctions gave it, the phallus must now radically reduce the field of its own desire, for if it targets the anus it breaks the association between masculinity and "activity" upon which its dominance depends. The horror of Alain's malleus is the horror of the phallus that its own desires might betray it, that in desiring its own incus, it could actually desire to exchange activity for passivity. Because it can no longer imagine "passive" males as class inferiors, it imagines them as women: to desire a "passive" male is to expose the possibility that men could become women. This metaphor thus suggests that medieval homophobia was profoundly misogynistic, and that it was horrified by homoeroticism not simply because, as non-reproductive sex, homoeroticism threatened the Christian investment in reproductive teleology, but also because it exposed the volatility and symbolic contingency of the phallic mastery upon which that teleology depended.
To contain the horrifying pleasures of the malleus, Alain offers the pleasure of the pen, the calamus prepotens. Natura's combination of malleus and calamus shifts the reader's attention from the reproductive purpose of the phallus to its discursive construction. The calamus governs the malleus, as the end of the fable of Venus makes clear. The hammers start using the wrong anvils, when, as the result of her boredom, Venus lets her writing depart from Natura's rules of grammar (849, X, 137-46). More generally, Alain conveys the regulatory role of the calamus through the grammatical conceit itself, and the way that conceit connects the reproductive teleology embodied in Natura to the Church's institutional capacity for regulation, especially marital regulation. After largely ignoring lay marriage for most of the early Middle Ages, during the era of papal reform the Church began a concerted effort to become the primary social regulator of marriage. Although this effort had many facets, one key arena was the newly emergent field of canon law, which adapted the methods of biblical exegesis to the production of legal regulation.(33) The power of this calamus prepotens is literally the discursive power of the Church, embodied in the clerical skill of writing. Ziolkowski remarks perceptively that
the entire prosimetrum is steeped in the atmosphere of the schools.
At every level, the allegory promotes the centrality of grammar
and the schools in man's intellectual and spiritual well-being.34
Yet much of the force of this perception is lost if we understand it anachronistically, as Ziolkowski himself unfortunately seems to do. The medieval school was not, as in the modern ideal of mass education, the common experience of some universalized "Man." It was an extension of the Church hierarchy, and as such the mode of entry into medieval society's single most powerful institution, the ideological apparatus of the medieval ruling class. Learning grammar meant beginning to master the source of clerical power. Natura's description of her grammar celebrates this power when she speaks of the "curial precepts of my magisterial discipline" (curialibus preceptis sub magistrali disciplina, 846, X, 39-40).
Indeed, the grammatical conceits themselves celebrate this power by making it the source of the textual pleasure the De planctu offers its readers. They project the institutional power of literacy onto the created universe, reading the discursive disciplines of the Church into the process of natural reproduction. In so doing they affirm not only the natural' authenticity of those disciplines, but also their power to structure and regulate the very reproductive process which authenticates them. Alain's Natura is routinely described as Natura artifex, after the late antique tradition which begins with Macrobius.(35) But the figure could also justly be described as Natura doctor. She sets the process of sexual reproduction in motion pedagogically, by teaching Venus her grammar. This point is important because it connects the De planctu to the traditions of canon law, where the notion of nature as teacher played an extremely influential role. The metaphor can be traced back to one of the most common definitions of natural law, from the late Roman jurist Ulpian:
Natural law is what nature has taught all animals. For this law is
not peculiar to the human race but common to all animals that
are born on land or sea and to birds. From this comes the union
of man and woman that we call matrimony, from this the procreation
and the upbringing of children.
Ius naturale est, quod natura omnia animalia docuit; nam ius istud
non humani generis proprium, sed omnium animalium, quae in
terra, quae in mari nascuntur, avium quoque commune est. Hinc
descendit maris atque feminae coniunctio, quam nos matrimonium
appelamus, hinc liberorum procreatio, hinc educatio ... (36)
While Gratian, the first systematic compiler of canon law, does not himself use this definition, subsequent commentators return to it in order to clarify the definitions he does offer. As Brian Tierney has made clear, what they get from Ulpian is precisely his pedagogical metaphor, nature's agency as a form of indoctrination, "the regimen established in all creatures according to which birds fly, fish swim and so on."(37)
Alain's deployment of this metaphor doubles it back on itself. He takes the figure of Natura doctor quite literally, imagining her instruction as instruction in the Trivium, especially grammar and dialectic.(38) Natura's teaching becomes an exact replica of the ecclesiastical curriculum, affirming not only the authority of clerical knowledge, but the complete fidelity of its structures to the created world it describes. And because that teaching, understood as the ius naturale, is the principle on which the Church bases its regulatory authority, such fidelity suggests the Church's power extends to structuring the very principle which authorizes it. In fact, Alain's doubling back may simply highlight the ideological reflexivity already inherent in the ius naturale. Constitutional historians are fond of pointing out that one of the great advantages of the notion of natural law is that it grants a certain autonomy to human legal and political structures. It thus granted medieval canonists and political theorists an independent intermediate space where they could propose practical solutions to legal and political problems without the pressure of immediately justifying them in directly sacral terms. Yet because natural law was seen as divine in origin, the very autonomy the principle established retained divine authority. A slightly more deconstructive view might point out that natural law enabled medieval authorities to claim divine warrant for particular institutional structures without actually having to demonstrate it any detail.
This circularity gave the principle a great ideological appeal, in addition to its constitutional and juridical value. It enabled canon law, for example, to exercise what Stephan Kuttner has memorably called its "sublime disregard for history," without giving up the support of historically existing institutional structures when they suited its needs.(39) In Ulpian's definition, nature's teaching expresses itself not simply in the imperative to reproduce, but precisely, in the institution of marriage. As a form of extra-social authority, this teaching already has a social form. Thus, when medieval canonists and theologians based their regulatory authority over sexuality on this principle they were free to project their institutional and political needs back on to the very authority they claimed adjudicated those needs. It comes as no surprise, then, that in the field of marriage relations, canon law (and Church regulation generally), for all of its innovation, preserved and largely strengthened male superiority over women, and through that the superiority of the nobility over the classes below them. Indeed, Jo Ann McNamara has argued that in the twelfth century, "the newly celibate clerical hierarchy reshaped the gender system to assure male domination of every aspect of the new public sphere," and Dyan Elliott has shown that the Church reformers countered any claims for female autonomy that the new emphasis on celibacy might have encouraged with new affirmations of the importance of lay marriage and the authority of husbands within it.(40) As a reforming celibate clergy moved systematically to strengthen its own institutional autonomy, it simultaneously offered new affirmations to the structures of lay authority on the basis of male privilege.
As a female figure of authority whose mode of operation is specifically clerical and male, Natura doctor, with her calumus prepotens both draws on and examines these new affirmations. As Natura explains, she gives the pen to Venus
... in order that on fit pages calling for the writing of this
pen -- the possession of which was my generous gift, she might figure the
classes of things according to the rules of my orthography
[right-writing], and not allow it in the least to wander from the path of
proper transcription into the byways of false-writing.
... ut in competentibus cedulis eiusdem calami scripturam
poscentibus quarum mee largitionis beneficio fuerat conpotita iuxta
mee orthographie normulam rerum genera figuret, ne a proprie
descriptionis semita in falsigraphie devia eumdem devagari minime
Natura gives Venus the pen precisely in order to constrain her to the rules it embodies. The pen thus contains its own rules: it generates its own order. Moreover, those rules are founded on the possibility of their own falsification, as the grammar of this compound clause makes explicit The imperative not to commit falsigraphia is simultaneous with the imperative to produce orthographia or right-writing, both constraints governed by the same ut. Paradoxical as it may seem, the power of this pen depends on its capacity to commit falsigraphia, for that possibility secures its generativity. It can produce right writing because its internally generated order gives it the power to produce both right and false writing. Indeed, the pen must necessarily contain the capacity for falsigraphia, because its power to determine orthographia entails the power to distinguish between the two. Insofar as this figure unites the clerical power of literacy with the phallic power of maleness, it signifies the clergy's capacity to generate the very rules which constrain it. Such a characterization in fact sums up the great movement of clerical reform which simultaneously produced a celibate clergy and made the Church medieval society's central regulator of marriage. These changes were the result of internally generated constraints, which, as they were put into effect, increased the Church's power and prestige.
Venus's femaleness dooms her to falsigraphia from the start. As a woman, she cannot control the phallus. As result, neither can she control the discursive structures that hold phallic superiority in place. Yet her failure is of no particular moment, for it actually confirms the gendered essence of those structures. It is worth nothing that when the malleus/incus imagery reemerges at the moment of Venus's downfall, it has much less urgency than it did initially. "Corrupting" Natura's "precept," Venus deprives the hammers of their own anvils and condemns them to "counterfeit" or possibly even "adulterous" (adulterinis) anvils. The anvils decry the loss of their own "proper" (native) hammers and "call for them in tears" (848, X, 135-38). Here, the spectre of male-male intercourse has receded, perhaps disappearing completely into male-female adultery, and instead of the perspective of the malleus, we get that of the incus. The heteronormative female desire for the phallus displaces the horrifying male desire for the male anus. Moreover, the entire scene is presented not as the product of male desire of any sort, but as the product of Venus's transgressive desire to commit adultery with Antigenius. Transgressive though adultery is, it means that Venus's deviation from orthographia still invovles submission to a male figure, a submission that simultaneously affirms the teleological charater of Venus's desire. As Natura explains, Venus gives birth to Antigenius's bastard son, who stands in contrast to the legitimate heir she delivered to Hymen. justified by the solemnities of marriage, Cupid reflects the "courteousness" (urbanitas) of his father, whereas the whoredom of Iocus's birth ensures his vilainie (rusticitas).
Thus, even her transgression is firmly contained by the institution of marriage, and the contrast between her two sons invokes the role of marital legitimacy in maintaining aristocratic privilege. Falsigraphia issues in class debasement; orthographia in the maintenance of a noble line. The ending to this fable not only relates class and heteronormative relations of gender, it also explicitly names that relation as discursive, and makes the clerical power of orthographia its guarantor. The ending may also help explain why the calamus prepotens is a less threatening image than the malleus and incus. Insofar as it imposes a teleology on modes of pleasure, the ideal of a "natural" sexuality is pre-eminently an interpretive or exegetical one. But it must impose that teleology in such a way as to erase its exegetical status. By dwelling on the potential multiplicity of pleasure, the image of the malleus threatens to expose the exegetical dimensions of the teleology motivating it. The calamus, on the other hand, by dwelling on the exegetical actually concentrates attention on the teleology. It protects the radical distinction between genders upon which the heteronormative depends. And its possession by female figures simply reinforces the distinction. Indeed, in somewhat subtler terms, Alain shadows Venus's submission to its phallic power with Natura's own.
Her long opening description owes as much to the conventions of the secular love poetry as it does to those of the Boethian prosimetrum. Alain breaks Natura's body down to its parts, and assigns each an erotic charge. He begins with a paragraph on her hair, which is golden (what else?), and, without leaving the sky did not disdain to smile kisses toward the earth" (terre non dedignabatur osculo arridere, 808-09, II, 6-7). It is so abundant it must be controlled with both a hair band, and a golden comb, which nevertheless gets lost in it. Beneath her milk-white forehead and her golden sparkling brows, her eyes "offered the freshness of twin stars, enticing with their loving clarity" (amica blandiens claritate, gemelli preferebat sideris novitatem, 809, 15-17). As her mouth offers feasts of fragrance to her nose, her lips "invited kisses from the recruits of Venus" (Veneris tirones invitabant ad oscula, 809, 21). Her apple-like breasts "promise the full ripeness of youth" (graciose iuventutis maturitatem spondebant, 809, 28-29) and her arms seem to welcome embraces from afar.
Alain ends his account with a fantasy of Natura's hidden parts that is equally divided between euphemism and leer:
The other things which a private chamber hid away, faith declared
to be even better. For truly, the more blessed features lurked in her
body, of which her face showed the prelude. Nevertheless, as her
features declared, Venus's key had not opened the seal of her
Cetera vero que thalamus secretior absentabat meliora fides esse
loquatur. In corpore etenim, vultus latebat beatior, cuius facies
ostentabat preludium. Ut ipse tamen vultus loquebatur, non Dionea
clavis eius sigillum reseraverat castitatis.
The fides which declares, sight unseen, that these inner parts are better and more blessed than any of the outer parts, accomplishes in fantasy the unlocking of Natura's chastity which we are assured has not happened in fact. Moreover, the metaphors in this passage make this fantasy as good as fact, for they give this curiously disembodied fides conceptual dominance over Natura's chastity, and they characterize that dominance as phallic. Even translated neutrally as "chamber", or "inner chamber", thalamus is a vaginal image. But it can also mean "bridal bed," or even "marriage"; the sexual contact which her face presages is thus simultaneously the subordination of a new bride to her husband. This fides is a will to erotic power that makes subordinate to Alain the very authority who has come to set his sexuality in order. The conflation of the key and lock imagery with the image of the seal make the role reversal explicit. Venus is Natura's dependent, yet here the scope of Natura's chastity is defined by the teleology of Venus's key. She waits upon its pleasure, as any lock waits upon its key. Her chastity does not represent some independence from sexuality, but a submission to its needs, and specifically to the needs of a reproductive sexuality embodied in this phallic key. The image of the seal makes her chastity semiotic, emphasizing the discursive dimensions of this phallic power. Both the fides and the clavis Dionea which supports it are additional figurations of the phallus, which Alain manipulates to establish an erotic superiority over the figure to whom he will submit in the dialogue to follow. The disembodiment of these symbols allows this submission to occur; their phallic logic reveals the discursive control he will retain. Genius's entrance at the work's end gives that control a name. As many readers of the De planctu have suggested, Natura must turn to Genius because as a woman, she is barred from the sacerdotal authority to required to execute an excommunication. A reading of the work's erotics reveals there is nothing incidental about this exclusion. For all of her power, Natura ends the work a bit like the feminine anvils in the fable of Venus, crying out for their hammers. Her lack is the necessary prelude to Genius's plenitude. Of course, for that very reason, Genius's plenitude is ultimately troubled by the same slippages.
4. The Anathema
As a priest wielding both generative pen and the pastoral rod (pastoralis virga) of excommunication, Genius unites the spiritual authority of Christian exegetics with the regulatory power of the institutional Church. The possibility of this union has been assumed from the beginning of the De planctu: the allegory implicitly performs it in the very act of figuring sexual reproduction as a grammar. The strength of this anticipation enables Genius to close the narrative in a particularly conclusive fashion. Yet as we have seen, the grammatical conceits were driven as much by their dissonances and tensions as by their correspondences. The same is true here, though perhaps in somewhat more subdued terms. As we might expect of an allegorical fiction, Alain's excommunication is anything but straightforward. Some of the tensions arise from the competing demands within the De planctu. Some of them, however, can be traced back to the ritual itself.
As the "most serious sanction of the canon law," excommunication was a prominent issue for scholastic reflection throughout the later Middle Ages,(41) but perhaps never more so than in the twelfth century, when its growing importance to the papacy as an instrument of reform meant it would undergo a number of intellectual and institutional expansions and refinements.(42) These grappled with and made manageable the fundamental tensions at the heart of this ritual, without ever fully resolving them. As Elisabeth Vodola observes, the ritual's most primitive element is the curse,(43) a form of supernatural manipulation the Christian antipathy to magic would seem to disallow. Christian theology displaced the magical aspect of the curse by understanding its right to excommunicate as part of the power to bind and loose which Christ granted to Peter. It also supplemented the curse's exclusionary aspect with concern for those sanctioned, understanding excommunication as therapeutic rather than purely punitive. But its political purpose remained the same, to police communal boundaries, to protect and define the community through the power of exclusion. Thus as canonists, in the wake of the papacy's politically motivated invigoration of excommunication, strived for ways to strengthen the protections of due process for those sanctioned, they also developed new mechanism to make excommunication's social exclusions more definite. The Second Lateran Council of 1139 instituted a new form of excommunication, excommunication latae sententiae, which for certain crimes took effect immediately upon their commission. It was used particularly to combat heresy.(44) By the middle of the century, the papacy had succeeded in establishing that oaths of fealty would be void during the time lords were excommunicated.(45) By the end of the century, the sanction had been clearly separated into minor excommunication, which involved only liturgical exclusion, and major excommunication, which meant fuller social exclusion.
Major excommunication retained "only a rather artificial link to sin" and was used only to punish contumacy, that is, continued resistance to Church authority.(46) Thus the distinction between major and minor excommunication drew a clear boundary within the Church between its penitential and judicial functions. But the effect of the boundary was to strengthen both, to enable the Church to fight its political battles while preventing those battles from interfering with its pastoral authority. In this way, the elaborations and refinements of the reformers simply returned to the ritual's original purpose and reinvigorated it. In penitential tradition, excommunication had always connected, in a complex but irreducible fashion, two forms of embodiment that were absolutely crucial to the structure of Christian culture. Christian penitential practice policed the particular bodies of Christian believers, but it did so in the name of a community which was itself, under the pressure of its incarnational theology, characteristically imagined as a body, the Body of Christ. If the supervening perfection of this body gave meaning and coherence to the bodily practices demanded from believers, it did so by way of a profound, and profoundly productive, contradiction. For Christ's incarnation secured the unity of the Christian Church at the moment of its own dissolution: Christ's crucifixion, his betrayal by humanity is the event which makes the Church's sacral mediations historically necessary. The Church celebrates this necessity in the sacrament of communion, which commemorates the Last Supper, and specifically the moment which Christ proleptically figured as his own literal disembodiment: "Take, eat; this is my body' (Matthew 26:26). If communion celebrates this moment of divine disembodiment as the foundation of communal unity, then excommunication strengthens the inner coherence of this paradoxical unity through the equally paradoxical strategy of identifying as extraneous some of its members and expelling them. Embodiment depends on disembodiment; disembodiment is the symbolic process that made embodiment possible. Christian thinkers frequently looked for proof of the Church's corporate power in the effects excommunication had on the bodies of the excommunicated. According to Peter Lombard, excommunication withdrew the grace and protection of God, abandoning them to themselves, so that, with the devil raging within them, they would be free to 'sink into the annihilation of sin" (ruere in interitum peccati).(47) Excommunication was not damnation, as canonists were increasingly concerned to point out.(48) But simply by withdrawing its communal support, the Church deprived excommunicates of the internal discipline to resist sin. It deprived them of the mastery of their own bodies, a mastery that proceeded from their membership in the larger body.
This logic of corporeal exclusion undoubtedly explains why excommunication was seen as the fit punishment for the "incontinence against nature." Whatever the exact relation between the decision of the Third Lateran Council and Alain's fiction, they both respond to this same underlying logic. Indeed, Alain synthesizes the newer and older notions of the ritual so as to foreground the interdependence between embodiment and disembodiment. While he responds to the new canonical emphasis of excommunication as a judicial procedure, he also imagines it as entirely in the service of penitential ends. He depicts Genius's anathema as a highly formalized process, following a precise legal logic and adhering to a prescribed set of institutional procedures, whose purpose in separating sinners from from the "single concord of natural things" (naturalium rerum uniformi concilio, 878, XVIII, 145) is to unify and strengthen the penitential disciplining of the body.
Nevertheless, it never becomes entirely clear which of these two goals is paramount. As we shall see, they do not completely coincide. Alain's excommunication is an example of the poetic falsity Natura defends in section VIII. In literal terms, its theology is inaccurate. Of the various categories of sinners it names, only the sexual sinner might actually have been subject to excommunication, even that wasn't true until after De planctu appeared. Nevertheless, the literal inaccuracy of this excommunication is crucial to its function in the text. It provides a more specific version of the form of affirmation effected by the conceit of Natura doctor. It reads Church procedure into the natural world, and makes the structure of clerical authority exactly mirror the structure of Creation. When Natura announces at the end of section XVI that she will enact the excommunication, she offers it as a limited measure appropiate to her own intermediate authority as God's vicar.
... because I cannot exceed the limit of my strength, nor is it
within my capabilities to extirpate the poison of this pestilence
completely, I will follow the rule of my capacities and brand the
men caught in the cycle of the aforesaid sins with the mark of
... quia excedere limitem mee virtutis non valeo nec mee facultatis
est huius pestilentie virus omnifariam extirpare, mee possibilitatis
regulam prosecuta, homines predictorum viciorum anfractibus irretitos
anathematis cauteriabo caractere.
(870-71, XVI, 171-74)
As she continues, her concern with juridical procedure grows more precise. Genius must execute this excommunication, because he assists her in the "priestly office." Assisted by her judicial power, and with the consent of the assembled virtues, whom Alain seems to imagine as a kind of council, Genius will, with the "pastoral rod of excommunication," expel these sinners from the "catalog of natural things" and the "boundaries" of her Jurisdiction."(49)
Nor does Alain's fascination with institutionalized procedure stop here. Genius must be summoned by means of a formal legation, which Natura entrusts to Hymen because he holds her council's executive power (quem examinantis consilii locatur armarium, 871, XVI, 180). She then draws up a letter -- Alain is careful to specify even that she uses reed-pen and paper -- which in both its salutation and closing seems to suggest the standard form of a chancery document, with an attendant attention to issues of authority and authenticity. The opening sentence identifies both Natura and Genius, and specifies their authority, Natura, "by grace of God, the delegated protectress of the worldly city" (dei gracia mundane civitatis vicaria procuratrix, 871, XVI, 187), and Genius her alter, or other self (871, XVI, 188). The closing enjoins Genius to exercise his office, but does so in vaguely hostile language that seems inappropriate to this situation, and may have been designed instead to recall the boiler-plate threats that close many medieval charters:
... entreating you with prayers, directing you by virtue of your
obedience, I both warn as I command you and command you as I
warn to make a speedy approach to us, putting aside all pretenses
of excuse ...
... te precibus melliens, tibi obedientie virtute precipiens et iubendo
moneo et monendo iubeo quatinus, omni excusationis sophismate
relegato, ad nos matures accessum ...
(872, XVI, 209-11)
Then she has the letter sealed with a signet, a comparatively recent innovation, and one which arose expressly as a way of dealing with the great increase in the production of official documents.
Alain's presentation of the excommunication itself is equally scrupulous. Genius dons his sacerdotal robes, and although the order is oral, called forth from the "inner chambers of his mind" (a penetralibus mentis), it nevertheless contains the formalaic language of a written instrument. Genius begins with another specification of authority:
"By authority of Absolute Being and His Eternal Thought, with
the assent of the Celestial Host, united with the recommendation
of Nature and of the ministery of the other officiating virtues ...
"Auctoritat superessentialis Usye eiusque Notionis eterne, assensu
celestis milicie, coniuncte Nature etiam ceterarumque officialium
virtutum ministerio suffragante . . ."
(878, XVIII, 140-43)
After he finishes uttering the anathema, it is approved by Natura's council, who then throw the candles they are holding to the ground. This final detail is a last touch of verisimilitude; candles were commonly thrown to the floor at the end of anathema liturgies to signify "the excommunicate's delivery to Satan."(50)
This fascination with procedural and ritual detail expresses a regulatory desire which drives this conclusion throughout, even at its most fictive. The anathema's content converts all sin to the condition of unnatural sexuality, which is were Genius begins his enumeration. "Those who make an anomalous exception from the rule of Venus will be deprived of the seal of Venus" (Qui a regula Veneris exceptionem facit anomalam, Veneris privetur sigillo, 878, XVIII, 150 ). The exact significance of the term Veneris sigillum is ambiguous. If we take it to mean the "sign of Venus" then the sanction would be castration, deprivation of the organs that mark men as sexual beings. Drawing upon a common conceit in anti-sodomitical writing, Alain frequently imagines those who engage in same-sex practices as men who have been "unmanned" (for example, 806, I, 6). The second, more literal significance submits the power of the phallus to the teleology of reproduction. If we take Veneris sigillum as "seal of Venus," then Genius's sanction would mean that these sinners were to be deprived of offspring, since the metaphor of sealing has been used throughout De planctu Naturae to mean generation. What seems most likely is that Alain intends both meanings at once: that homoerotic sex being unreproductive sex, engaging in it is tantamount to "unmanning" oneself. The anathema responds to the castration anxiety of the opening metrum by projecting castration back on to the homoerotic practices that aroused it. It is as if non-reproductive sex no longer deserves to be considered sexual: in refusing to embrace the goal of reproduction taken to be sexuality's proper end, it desexualizes itself. In this way, Genius's punishment reads the biological fact that homoerotic sex does not result in reproduction as Nature's judgment on homoeroticism, a judgment to be understood as if it were an excommunication. Biological fact becomes moral result. The anathema projects the penitential system of Christianity onto the natural process of human reproduction, finding the efficacy of that system confirmed by the facts of the process.
The rest of the anathema aspires to the same form of confirmation. The punishment it names for each of the sins it lists are punishments which will occur in this world, as if the workings of the natural world and that of the divinely ordained system of penitential justice were entirely coterminous. The gluttonous will become beggars, the drunken will be perpetually thirsty, the avaricious will always be poor, the proud will be humbled, the detractors of others will always be even more dissatisfied with themselves, and flatterers will be rewarded with false gifts. In this way the anathema recapitulates the narrative trajectory of the allegory as a whole, beginning with the problem of sexual deviance, and then moving from there to an encyclopedic view of all sin. But it also makes much more explicit the dependence of the latter on the former. Nature's ostensible repudiation of non-reproductive sex becomes the model for her repudiation of all the other sins. This is the natural "truth" lurking beneath the anathema's literal falsity, and it serves as as the hard evidence that all sin is unnatural, that Christianity's penitential system is upheld not just by the ultimate course of Divine justice, but also by the immediate workings of the natural world. Genius's general regulation of sin is enabled by his specific regulation of the homoerotic. Nature has itself become a body, a body organized around a phallic regime, symbolized one final time in Genius's pastoral rod of anathema.
Yet herein lies a final problem. What is the relation between this body and the body of the Christian believer? If Nature punishes sin in this world, what happens to redemption? More immediately to the point, what happens to the therapy of Christian penance, a therapy that ostensibly includes excommunication? As we have seen, even in the primarily juridical and punitive from of major excommunication, the ritual still theoretically retained a therapeutic purpose. If Genius's anathema is purely punitive, then the therapeutic intent is gone.
One solution would be to suggest that this dilemma characterizes the actual ritual as well, that it, too, functioned primarily to to punish, and that its ostensibly therapeutic concerns were little more than an ideological fig leaf. Indeed, there is probably more truth to this suggestion than some historians of canon law are willing to acknowledge. But even so, in the case of homoeroticism even this suggestion doesn't finally help. For Church prosecution of sodomy was fitful and episodic -- much less systematic than the prosecution of heresy, for example, to which it was sometimes linked. We are back to the problem which Goldberg defines so neatly. The severity of the stigma which Christianity assigns to sodomy seems to be a radically contradictory method of limited toleration. (And this mode of Christian thinking has certainly persisted in modern secular institutions: its latest avatar is the exquisite stupidity of the United States military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy.) But that would mean that on this point the text of the Third Lateran Council was just as fictional as Alain's. That is, rather than prescribing some policy to be followed according to a routine institutional procedure, the decree may simply express a less focused aspiration to regulate desire. From this perspective, Genius's anathema becomes less a fictionalization of the literal truth of the Lateran decree, than a repetition of the same fictional gesture. This perhaps is Genius's final lesson, one he still has to teach: sexual regulation is itself a species of desire.
(1.) In this essay, I use the term sexuality in the sense intended by Michel Foucault: "la correlation, dans une culture, entre domaines de savoir, types de normativite et formes de subjectivite" (Histoire de la sexualite, v. 2: L'Usage des plaisirs (Paris: Gallimard, 1984), 10). Noting that the term itself did not emerge before the nineteenth century (9), Foucault himself tended to see this correlation as exclusively modern. Nevertheless, he is by no means as univocal on this question as some of his expositors have assumed, and many scholars working in pre-modern fields have found his notion of sexuality as a culturally variable complex of knowledges, norms, and subjectivities extremely enabling. Cf. Jonathan Goldberg, "Introduction" to Queering the Renaissance, ed. Goldberg, (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1994), esp. 5-7.
(2.) Most scholars have placed it between 1168-76. See Alan J. Sheridan, tr. and ed., Alan of Lille, The Plaint of Nature (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1980), 32; and Nikolaus M. Hring, ed. "Alan of Lille, "De planctu Naturae,'" 797. Robert Bossuat, on rather impressionistic evidence, dates it between 1179-82 (Alain de Lille, Anticlaudianus (Paris: Textes philosophiques du moyen age, 13).
(3.) Winthrop Wetherbee, Platonism and Poetry in the Twelfth Century: The Literary Influence of the School of Chartres (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972), 175. For an overview of the medieval tradition and its classical antecedents, see Jane Chance Nitzche, The Genius Figure in Antiquity and the Middle Ages (New York: Columbia University Press, 1975).
(4.) The "Cosmographia" of Bernardus Silvestris, tr. Winthrop Wetherbee (New York: Columbia University Press, 1973), 126 (II, 14).
(5.) Wetherbee, Platonism and Poetry, 208-10.
(6.) Christine Battersby, Gender and Genius: Towards A Feminist Aesthetics (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press), 71-145.
(7.) Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, tr. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage Books, 1974), 167 (III, 108).
(8.) As does, for example, Denise Baker, in "The Priesthood of Genius: A Study of Medieval Tradition,' Speculum 51 (1976): 277-91.
(9.) Caroline Walker Bynum, Fragmentation and Redemption: Essays on Gender and the Human Body in Medieval Religion (New York: Zone Books, 1992), 85. For a representative instance of Brown's views, see The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), xvi-xviii, and 420-22.
(10.) Bynum, Fragmentation, 87.
(11.) Bynum, Fragmentation, 85, 86.
(12.) The earliest Christian articulation of this notion is Romans 1:24-27. As early Christian thinkers began to expand it they drew on the Stoics. See Vern L. Bullough, The Sin Against Nature and Homosexuality" in Sexual Practices and the Medieval Church, ed. Bullough and James Brundage (Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1982), 55-56. Bullough is right to argue that the term sodomy was not coincident with the notion of unnatural sexuality, although the relation between the two was not quite as chaotic as he seems to believe. That there was range of meaning in both cases does not mean the range itself was without any shape or hierarchy. In any case, the gaps between the two are less crucial for this essay, since, as I argue below, Alain strongly associates unnatural sexuality both with male/male relations and with anal intercourse.
(13.) Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, v. 1: An Introduction, tr. Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage Books, 1980), 101.
(14.) John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1980); and Same-sex Unions in Premodern Europe (New York: Villard Books, 1994).
(14a.) Foucault, History of Sexuality, v. 1, 43.
(15.) The clerk's name was Daniel C. Richman. See Jonathan Goldberg, "Introduction" in Reclaiming Sodom, ed. Goldberg (New York and London: Routledge, 1994), for a brief discussion and further bibliography. See also Janet Halley, "The Politics of the Closet: Towards Equal Protection for Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Identity" and a reprint of the decision in the same volume (145-204; 117-42).
(16.) Boswell, Christianity, 310. (17.) Cited in Boswell, Christianity, 277-78:
"Quicumque in incontinentia illa quae contra naturam est, propter quam
venit ira Dei in filios difidentiae, et quinque civitates igne consumpsit,
deprehensi fuerint laborare, si clerici fuerint, ejiciantur a clero, vel ad
poenitentiam agendam in mosteriis detrudantur; si laici, excommunicati
subdantur, et a coetu fidelium prorsus alieni."
(18.) Alain de Lille, De planctu Naturae, ed. Nikolaus M. Hring, Studi medievali, 3rd series, 19 (1978), 806-07, 878. All citations are to this text; page, section, and line numbers for subsequent citations will appear in the text. Translations are mine unless otherwise noted.
(19.) Jacques Chiffoleau, "Dire l'indicible: remarques sur la categorie du nefandum du xiie au xve siecle," Annales 45 (1990), 295-96.
(20.) C.S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love: A Study of the Medieval Tradition (London: Oxford University Press: 1936), 106.
(21.) Goldberg, "Introduction" in Reclaiming Sodom, 5.
(22.) Judith Butler, Bodies that Matter. On the Discursive Limits of "Sex" (New York and London: Routledge, 1993), 82-83 and 57-91. For Lacan's discussion of the phallus as privileged signifier," see Jacques Lacan, "The Meaning of the Phallus" in Feminine Sexuality: Jacques Lacan and the "Ecole Freudienne," tr. Jacqueline Rose, ed. Juliet Mitchell (New York: Norton, 1985), 82.
(23.) Butler, Bodies, 89.
(24.) Jan Ziolkowski, Alan of Lille's Grammar of Sex: The Meaning of Grammar to a Twelfth-Century Intellectual (Cambridge, Ma.: The Medieval Academy of America, 1985), 39-42.
(25.) Alexandre Leupin, Barbarolexis: Medieval Writing and Sexuality, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989), 15.
(26.) Leupin, Barbarolexis, 72.
(27.) Sheridan, Plaint of Nature, 139, n. 29. On the medieval tradition of Ganymede, see Boswell, Homosexuality, 243-66.
(28.) St. Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, tr. D. W. Robertson, Jr. (New York: Macmillan, 1986), III, vii, 85-86.
(29.) Leupin, Barbarolexis, 65. The tradition begins with Ovid (Metamorphoses, 10.79-85).
(30.) Augustine, Christian Doctrine, II, vi, 37.
(31.) David M. Halperin, One Hundred Years of Homosexuality: And Other Essays on Greek Love (New York and London: Routledge, 1990),30-31. The work by Paul Veyne that Halperin cites is "La famille et l'amour sous le Haut Empire romain," Annales (E.S.C.), 33 (1978): 55; and "Homosexuality in Ancient Rome," in Western Sexuality: Practice and Precept in Past and Present Times, ed. Philippe Aries and Andre Bejin, tr. Anthony Forster (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1985), 26-35. Later Roman culture began to move away from this principle, particularly under the influence of Christianity. See Boswell, Christianity, 61-166; James Brundage, Law, Sex, and Christian Society in Medieval Europe (Chicago:
(32.) This argument is part of Professor Warner's current book project, of which he presented an overview in a paper entitled "Repro Culture and Cultural Reproduction," on October 22, 1994, at a conference at Rutgers University entitled The Politics of Research.
(33.) See generally Georges Duby, The Knight, the Lady and the Priest: The Making of Marriage in Medieval France, tr. Barbara Bray (New York: Pantheon, 1983); Medieval Marriage, tr. Elborg Forster (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978); and Christopher N.L. Brooke, The Medieval Idea of Marriage (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989). For an overview of the canonists treatment of marriage, see Brundage, Law, Sex, 229-416.
(34.) Ziolkowski, Grammar of Sex, 142.
(35.) For a brief discussion, see George D. Economou, The Goddess Natura in Medieval Literature (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1972), 16-20.
(36.) Corpus Juris Civilis (Leipzig,1887), Digest 188.8.131.52. Translation Brian Tierney in "Natura id est Deus: A Case of Juristic Pantheism?' in Church Law and Constitutional Thought in the Middle Ages (London: Variorium Reprints, 1979), 309.
(37.) Tierney, "Natura id est Deus," 316. Gratian offers two definitions, identifying natural law first with the Law and the Gospel and then, somewhat confusingly, created reason. (Gratian, Concordia discordantium canonum, v. 1 of Corpus iuris canonici, ed. Emil Friedberg, (Leipzig, 1879, repr. Graz: Akademische Druck Verlagsanstalt, 1959), Dist. 1 dictum ante c. 1, Dist. 1 c. 1, Dist. 5 dictum ante c. 1. Cf. Tierney, "Natura id est deus," 309-10.) Nevertheless, I would argue Ulpian's metaphor hovers behind Gratian's text as well, precisely in the ambiguity of this double formulation. If natural law originates both in the command of the Divine Word, and in the internal workings of created reason, that can only be because reason has been instructed by this command, and has internalized it. There is still an intermediary stage more amenable to human control than God.
(38.) Cf. Ziolkowski, Grammar of Sex, 77-107.
(39.) Stephan G. Kuttner, Harmony from Dissonance: An Interpretaton of Medieval Canon Law (Latrobe: The Archabbey Press, 1960), 35.
(40.) Jo Ann McNamara, "The Herrenfrage: The Restructuring of the Gender System, 1050-1150" in Medieval Masculinities: Regarding Men in the Middle Ages, ed. Clare A. Lees (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 1994), 11; Dyan Elliot, Spiritual Marriage: Sexual Abstinence in Medieval Wedlock (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993),132-94. The work of these two scholars raise serious questions for Duby's "two-model" thesis, which presumes that the aristocracy and the church had little in common in their approach to marriage.
(41.) R. H. Helmholz. "Excommunication as a Legal Sanction: The Attitudes of the Medieval Canonists," Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiffung fur Rechtsgeschichte. Kanonistische Abteilung. 99:68 (1982): 204.
(42.) This process begins in earnest with Gregory VII (1073-85). See Elisabeth Vodola, Excommunication in the Middle Ages (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: U. of Cal. Press. 1986) 20-43.
(43.) Vodola, Excommunication, 2-3.
(44.) Vodola, Excommunication, 28-35.
(45.) Vodola, Excommunication, 23.
(46.) Vodola, Excommunication, 35-43.
(47.) Sententiae, IV, D. 18, c. 6. Cited in Voldola, Excommunication, 46.
(48.) Vodola, Excommunication, 1-2, 42-43; Helmholz, "Excommunication," 207-11.
(49.) 871, XVI, 175-78: "Genium vero, qui michi in sacerdotali ancillatur officio, decens est sciscitari, qui a naturalium rerum cathalogo, a mee iurisdictionis confinio, mee iudiciarie potestatis assistente presentia, vestre assentionis covivente gracia, pastorali virga exommunicationis eliminent."
(50.) Vodolo, Excommunication, 46.
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|Publication:||The Romanic Review|
|Date:||Mar 1, 1995|
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