Critical Inquiry 16 (3):572-590 (1990)

In order to recuperate these two representatives of medieval frauenlieder, The Wife’s Lament and Wulf and Eadwacer, a feminist poetics must acknowledge the medieval attitudes toward authority and authorship that allow the medievalist to privilege the voice of the text over the historical author or implied author. The modern concept of authorship, derived from a modern concept of the text as private property, valorizes the signature of the author and the author’s presumed control over and legal responsibility for his or her text. With reference to modern literature, contemporary theory has interrogated this “author-function” quite aggressively in an attempt to pry the text away from the author and to valorize the functions of the reader, as Roland Barthes’s “Death of the Author” illustrates,13 or to reconsider the privileges of the subject, in order to “seize its functions, its interventions in discourse, and its system of dependencies,” as Michel Foucault’s essay “What Is an Author?” propoes.14 Foucault’s proposals concerning the place of the subject and the author-function directly challenge modern assumptions about the text as the property of an author: “We can easily imagine a culture where discourse would circulate without any need for an author. Discourses, whatever their status, form, or value, regardless of our manner of handling them, would unfold in a pervasive anonymity.”15 13. See Roland Barthes, “The Death of the Author,” Image, Music, Text, trans. Stephen Heath , pp. 142-48.14. Michel Foucault, “What Is an Author?” Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews, trans. Donald F. Bouchard and Sherry Simon, ed. Bouchard , p. 137.15. Ibid., p. 138. Indeed, Foucault does press his argument to the limits of its implications for the subject, and he ends his essay with a question that challenges the voice of a text as well as its author: “‘What Matter who’s speaking?’” . Nancy K. Miller engages directly in the implications of this position for feminist theory. She states: “What matter who’s speaking? I would answer it matters, for example, to women who have lost and still routinely lose their proper name in marriage, and whose signature—not merely their voice—has not been worth the paper it was written on” . Marilynn Desmond is an assistant professor of English, general literature, and rhetoric at the State University of New York—Binghamton. She is the author of Reading Dido: Textuality and Sexuality in the Late Medieval Reception of Aeneid 4 ; her current work is a study of ekphrasis in late medieval literature
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The Participation of Women in the Anglo-Saxon World: Judith and The Wife's Lament.Jennifer Brookbanks - 2008 - Innervate: Leading Undergraduate Work in English Studies 2.

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