Form and Foreskin

Form and Foreskin

Medieval Narratives of Circumcision

A W Strouse
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Why did Saint Augustine ask God to "circumcise [his] lips"? Why does Sir Gawain cut off the Green Knight' s head on the Feast of the Circumcision? Is Chaucer' s Wife of Bath actually-as an early glossator figures her-a foreskin? And why did Ezra Pound claim that he had incubated The Waste Land inside of his uncut member? In this little book, A. W. Strouse excavates a poetics of the foreskin, uncovering how Patristic theologies of circumcision came to structure medieval European literary aesthetics. Following the writings of Saint Paul, "circumcision" and "uncircumcision" become key terms for theorizing language-especially the dichotomies between the mere text and its extended exegesis, between brevity and longwindedness, between wisdom and folly. Form and Foreskin looks to three works: a peculiar story by Saint Augustine about a boy with the long foreskin; Sir Gawain and the Green Knight; and Chaucer' s Wife of Bath' s Tale. By examining literary scenes of cutting and stretching, Strouse exposes how Patristic treatments of circumcision queerly govern medieval poetics.
Form and Foreskin is accessible, fun, and provocative . . . Strouse' s linked, essay-like chapters engage wonderfully odd stories and include many incisive new analyses. * Adrienne Williams Boyarin, University of Victoria * Form and Foreskin is a new, original, and compelling experiment in close reading. Looking through the lens of circumcision at pastoral literature and poetry in Latin, Middle English and English, Strouse writes in a dynamic, engaging manner that will be of interest especially to scholars of Middle English literature and those who work on queer studies and studies of masculinity. * Anna M. Klosowska, Miami University *
A. W. Strouse is a poet and an adjunct professor of medieval literature, as well as the author of many scholarly articles, poems, and art projects.