The Gaze and the Grotesque

Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


The body as sign is a prominent feature of the two rhetorical descriptions, discussed in chapter 1. Don Amor’s descriptio puellae, and Trotaconventos’s portrait of the Archpriest are both clearly predicated on a voyeuristic or scopophilic gaze whose pleasure resides mainly in treating the other as an object to be appraised, but which depends also on the tension between the dangers emanating from that object as unknown, unknowable, and threatening, and the potential to knowledge and possession of it transmitted through physiognomy. Such scopophilia is latent in most medieval rhetorical descriptions, and I should argue that it is actualized in the Libro in three ways.1 First, the physical description is relayed by one character with access to higher-level knowledge of the object to another in an exchange intended as informative but embedded in an agonistic debate. Second, although the descriptions correspond to the broad outlines of standard rhetorical practice, they deviate from the norm in ways that convey physiognomic meaning. Whilst such meaning may be considered to individualize rather than objectivize, its function is in fact to create the fantasy that the intradiegetic viewing subject can possess the object without danger. In the case of the Archpriest, the seducible beauty will be sexually available and malleable, and, in that of Doña Garoça, the Archpriest represents a fittingly masculine figure, which, nonetheless, poses a limited sexual threat.


Male Body Social Code Love Object Sexual Connotation Sexual Symbolism 
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© Louise M. Haywood 2008

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