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Martin Kevorkian, Chair CAL 226, Mailcode B5000, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-4991

Fall 2009

E 392M • Chaucer & Psychology of Desire

Unique Days Time Location Instructor


Course Description

Offering an introduction to psychoanalytic theory and its analytic purchase on literary subjects, this course aims to investigate the operations and thematics of desire in the major poetic works of Geoffrey Chaucer. Focusing on his Book of the Duchess, Troilus and Criseyde, and selected portions of The Canterbury Tales, this course introduces students to some of the most significant texts of the late-medieval period and the genres of romance, dream-vision, fabliau, literary confession, etc., their shared and individual conventions, and their critical conversations. Reading the various identifications, renunciations, abjections, misrecognitions, devotions, and sacrifices in Chaucer's poetic works, this course surveys the inscription of desire, and the competing desires, in its texts. We will examine the subject(ions)s of desire in Chaucer's fictions - those who are allowed to desire, allowed to speak their desire, and the subjections such speaking entails - as well as the particular desires of Chaucer’s fictional and highly gendered subjects. Reading thematically, formally, and theoretically, this course will probe the operations of desire—its agents, its objects, its entailments or "subjectifications"—in multiple ways.

In its investigation of the various desires central to Chaucer's medieval poetics - sacred, sexual, ideological - the course will also approach the issue of modern desire(s) for and upon Chaucer. One of the issues at stake in acknowledging and investigating "our" desires for Chaucer remains the historicity of psychoanalytic reading in relation to pre-Freudian and pre- / early modern cultures. We will therefore probe the relation of psychoanalysis to medieval studies more generally in our interrogation of its traditionally historicist agenda. What desires drive medieval literature and culture? How do particular historical desires, and the regimes of renunciation and discipline informing them, underwrite the very discipline of medieval studies and to what effects?


Texts: Geoffrey Chaucer, The Riverside Chaucer, ed. Larry D. Benson (Houghton Mifflin, 1987)

Anthony Elliott, Psychoanalytic Theory: An Introduction (Duke UP, 2002; 1994)

Jacques Lacan, Ecrits, selections trans. B. Fink (NY: Norton, 2003)

Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle (NY: Norton, 1969)

L.O. Aranye Fradenburg, Sacrifice Your Love: Psychoanalysis, Chaucer, Historicism (Minnesota, 2003)

Bruce Fink, The Lacanian Subject (Princeton, 1995)

Judith Butler, Subjects of Desire (Columbia, 1999)

Critical Suggestions:

Marshall Leicester, The Disenchanted Self: Representing the Subject in the Canterbury Tales (California, 1991)

Paul Strohm, Theory and the Premodern Text (Minnesota, 2001)

Shoshana Felman, Literature and Psychoanalysis: The Question of Reading: Otherwise (Johns Hopkins, 1982)


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