Gowther Among the Dogs
Becoming Inhuman
archived 11-22-99
Archive file# o112299b
donated by James Vandale

Gowther Among the Dogs

Becoming Inhuman c. 1400

Jeffrey Jerome Cohen
Department of English and
Program in Human Sciences
George Washington University

The Church has always burned sorcerers, or reintegrated anchorites into the toned-down images of a series of saints whose only remaining relation to animals is strangely familiar, domestic.1

Oedipal Canines

Vladimir Slepian writes of a man who decides to become a dog.2 Dogs, he reasons, have more freedom than humans, because they do not suffer the same constraints. One limb, one organ at a time he transforms himself, mapping the affects of the canine body across a human form in the strangest kind of diagramming. Dogs are quadrupedal, and so he ties shoes to hands and feet; when his new paws prevent him from lacing the fourth shoe, he utilizes his mouth, which becomes a dog's clever snout. His metamorphosis almost succeeds, but then he comes to the tail, and can find no somatic analog. For him to involve his sexual organ in this wild fit of becoming would tear him completely from the cultural meaning system that he has begun to flee; who would he be, if the signs of his identity were not readable from his anatomy? In the end he chooses being a man over becoming something other, something freakish or monstrous. A "psychoanalytic drift" descends, he is flooded with childhood memories ("all the clichés about the tail, the mother ... all those concrete figures and symbolic analogies," ATP 259). Suddenly it becomes clear what constraint was being escaped: Oedipus, phallocentrism, molar personhood itself. The man's anti-Oedipal desire was not strong enough, or his powers of analysis not refined enough, to pull the linchpin (Massumi 94).

The man's becoming-dog fails, mainly because he has mapped his escape across a body already too constrained: no freedom animates the household dog.3 Canine bodies, like human bodies, receive their meaning-in-being only to the extent to which they are oedipalized, made to signify within a geometry of familial relations.

Sir Gowther, a rapinous murderer born of a demon and revered as a saint, could have taught our failed cynocephalus that.


It may seem strange to begin an essay on the Middle Ages with an anecdote about a man intent on becoming man's best friend. But readers of the Middle English verse romance Sir Gowther (c.1400) will already recognize in the vignette a familiar story.4 Gowther gains his adult identity as knight, hero, and saint through a similar process of transformation, mapping the potentialities of his unsocialized self across the grid of the canine bodies with whom he shares food and place. Through an equation formulated by the Church and officially sanctioned by the State, Gowther's becoming-animal curves into his being-man. This odd but wonderful little romance plots, through the wilds of identity, a monstrous route to becoming male in the Middle Ages.

Gowther's life does not begin well. His mother and father, the duke and duchess of Estryke (Austria), have been wedded for ten childless years. The text holds the duke as much at fault for the lack of an heir as his wife ("He chylde non geyt ne sche non bare," 50), but he blames only her:

'Y tro thou be sum baryn,

Hit is gud that we twyn;

Y do bot wast my tyme on the,

Eireles mon owre londys bee --'

For gretyng he con not blyn. (53-7)

"I believe that you're barren,

So it would be good for us to part.

I'm wasting my time on you.

My lands are heirless -- "

For weeping he could not finish.

In the duke's rhetoric, culpability falls upon the maternal body, which is indeed destined to become a problematic site of origin in this romance. Yet the father's body does not fare much better. No son exists to carry into the future the family name, the "paternal metaphor" condensed in the ducal title. This impersonal title is the only signifier of identity attached to the duke and duchess of Estryke, who both remain without personal names throughout the narrative.

Aristocratic, familial history is germane to the "ancestral romances" (Guy of Warwick, Beves of Hampton): such stories detail the foundational moments of provincial aristocracies in order to trace the phantasmatic power of family names. "Fair Unknown" romances (Malory's "Tale of Sir Gareth," Lybeaus Desconus) enact the same narrative without invoking the illusory "real" of particularized history. Jacques Lacan's notion of "the Name of the Father" (nom du père)5 is useful in describing the textual mechanics of both genres: these "identity romances" often trace how young men (juvenes) mature into their proper name through a series of adventures -- and, "as it turns out," the adult identity into which they wander exactly coincides with a family name that may have been hidden from them until that point. Even when (or especially when) romance heroes do not know who their father is, their movement into adulthood is dictated nonetheless by the ghostly agency that the Name of the Father embodies in its narrative determinacy: the Name is revealed at the precise moment when the hero becomes the history for which it stands.

Sir Gowther is neither ancestral nor Fair Unknown romance, but plays with the conventions of both in order to create a hybrid kind of identity romance. The Name of the Father, that ghost which passes like Hamlet's father to each son and whispers "Remember me," will stop appearing when the (nameless) duke of Estryke dies, for he has no son to compel with its impossible charge to repeat. The duke despairs, and breaks apart his family. His wife, however, finds a way to reconfigure the circuit of that Name, by invoking a "real" phantasm, an incubus, as well as a larger history than the local one of ancestral romance.6 The duchess prays to "God and Maré mylde" that, through some miracle, she will have a child, "on what maner scho ne roghth" (63). She wanders into the orchard and encounters a man resembling her husband who seeks her love. He leads her to a tree and "With hur is wyll he wroghtth" (69):

When he had is wylle all don,

A felturd fende he start up son,

And stode and hur beheld.

He seyd, 'Y have geyton a chylde on the

That in is yothe full wylde schall bee.' (70-4)

Whe he had worked his will on her,

He leapt up, a hairy fiend,

And stood and looked upon her.

He said, 'I have engendered a child on you

Who, in his youth, will be very wild.'

She runs from the garden, terrified at this supernatural revelation -- terrified that her desires have been simultaneously spoken and realized.

But she is not so frightened that she cannot see an advantage in the impregnation. The duchess informs her husband that an angel has descended from bright heaven to declare that they will conceive a child that night (80-1). The tableau wickedly repeats in secular, imaginary history a foundational moment in salvation history. The duchess speaks as if she were Mary after the Annunciation, declaring the impending arrival through the agency of a Holy Spirit of a miraculous birth. The duke believes his wife, and "he pleyd hym with that ladé" all night, unaware that a "fende" has already "bownden" with her (91-2). Joseph lost his "paternal imperative" to God; the duke loses his to a demon.

The baby is born and christened Gowther - christened in nomine patris, just as the romance is constructed around the search for a father's Name under which to be. The evil deeds Gowther commits while still a youth cause the duke to sicken and die within a single line: no possibility of inheriting any identity-giving history from someone who has been, all along, a non-entity. Of Gowther's "biological" father we know little, other than that he was the same evil fiend who begot Merlin (95). A prologue in the British Library (MS. Royal 17.B.43) version of the story yields some additional prehistory. Foul fiends, we are told, once roamed the earth, passing themselves off as men in order to have intercourse "with ladies free" (6-7):

A selcowgth thyng that is to here:

A fende to nyeght wemen nere,

And makyd hom with chyld,

Tho kynde of men wher thei hit tane

(For of homselfe had thei never nan). (13-7)

It is a strange thing to hear:

A fiend would lie with women,

And engender a child on them,

Through the mens' forms [or semen] they had taken

(For of themselves they have none).

The creature described here is the incubus, a monster with a complex medieval genealogy. Incubi would temporarily reside in illusory male forms to work their sexual crimes, engendering monstrous offspring before reverting to their disembodied state. Patristic exegesis connected these airy demons to the fallen angels, tracing their history to an ambiguous passage from Genesis:

Gigantes autem erant super terram in diebus illis. Postquam enim ingressi sunt filii Dei ad filias hominum illaeque genuerunt. Isti sunt potentes a saeculo viri famosi. (Genesis 6:4)

Now giants were upon the earth in those days. For after the sons of God went in to the daughters of men, they brought forth children. These are the mighty men of old, men of renown.

According to a tradition dismissed by Augustine but influential throughout the Middle Ages, the sons of God (filii Dei) were angels, the daughters of men (filiae hominum) mortals, and the offspring of this illicit mingling of the purely spiritual and overly physical was the giants, the most wicked and pervasive race of monsters in the bible -- and in romance tradition.7 Trevisa's translation of Higden's Polychronicon (1387), for example, declares that it may be that "Incubus, such feendes" that lay by women "in liknesse of men" once begot giants.8 The Pearl Poet and Andrew of Wyntoun likewise explicate the biblical narrative as an encounter between a devil or incubi (a "fende" or "sindry spretis") and earthly women who fall prey to their sexual lures and give birth to giants.9 From the Annunciation we have moved back to those iniquitous days preceding the Flood.

But we also recede into a specifically English history. Late in the thirteenth century, numerous prose and verse chronicles circulated that detailed the settlement of the island by exiled Greek or Syrian princesses. These popular histories were still well known at the time Gowther was composed. According to these accounts, the oldest of the sisters, Albina, convinced her siblings to murder their husbands in their sleep. Their father punished his transgressive daughters by casting them adrift in a rudderless boat. Arriving after a long journey on English shores, Albina named this new world "Albion" after herself. Before long, the women yearned for the company of men and were visited by incubi or devils who impregnated them with giants, and England thus receives its aboriginal population of monsters. Many years later, the Trojan warrior Brutus arrives to do battle with this evil progeny, wiping England clean for nationhood.10

Unlike the mother in Robert le diable, who vows her son to the devil at conception, the duchess in Sir Gowther is replaying a particularly English scene which wholly transforms the French romance upon which Gowther is based, giving it a "local habitation" along with a new name.11 History repeats: the intercourse of fiend and errant daughters of men in biblical history becomes the intercourse of fiend and transgressive princesses in national history, which in turn becomes the intercourse of fiend and disconsolate wife in the local or familial space of romance.12 But even if these successive repetitions threaten to become a funnel that trickles out smaller versions of the same story, Gowther is nonetheless something of a giant. Like the monstrous progeny of the biblical and chronicle narratives, Gowther grows at a prodigious rate: "In a twelmond more he wex / Then odur chylder in syvon or sex" (142-3). His exceptional growth is the product of the flow of violence that nourishes him as much as the breast milk with which it mingles: his father arranges for him to have the best wives of the country as his wetnurses, and Gowther "sowked hom so thei lost ther lyvys" (110). At the age of one, he has drained nine nurses of milk and life. The duchess is then forced to take over the feeding of this little monster:

 His modur fell a fowle unhappe;

Apon a day bad hym tho pappe,

He snaffulld to it soo,

He rofe tho hed fro tho brest;

Scho fell backeward and cald a prest. (124-9)

His mother suffered a foul misfortune;

Upon a day she tried to breast feed him,

He worried at it so,

He tore the nipple from breast;

She fell backwards and called for a priest.

The physical violence that attends every attempt at nurture demonstrates that no place exists for him within the domestic spaces represented by the parade of nurses and his mother; Gowther, from infancy, resists familialism. Nor does his behavior improve much as he grows older. By the time he is fifteen, he is wielding a "fachon," a sword with a curved blade that signifies both his uncontrolled aggression (he and the sword are never parted) and his alterity (the falchion is an Eastern weapon, suggestive of Saracens and other fiendish heathens). His father knights him, then dies of grief; his mother flees to a fortress where she immures herself against his energetic evil.

Gowther, now a "duke of greyt renown," passes his days happily beating up churchmen, hunting, and chasing away mendicant friars. "Erly and late, lowde and styll, / He wold wyrke is fadur wyll" (172-3): like the young Jesus discovered preaching in the Temple, Gowther must be about his father's business, only he has no idea who his father is even as his actions inscribe him under that paternal Name ("fiend"). In one bout of wickedness he and his men rape a group of nuns who have issued in procession from their convent to beg mercy; he then locks the women in their church and burns them alive ("Then went his name full wyde," 189). The catalog of crime also includes spoiling virgins so that they cannot marry; violating wives, and then slaying their husbands; forcing friars to leap off cliffs; hanging parsons on hooks; slaying priests; and igniting hermits and widows (190-201).

Sex and violence, or sex as violence: sex is the violence directed against women, unprovoked and unsanctioned murder its equivalent toward men. Gowther's crimes are doubly anti-chivalric. If chivalry is that code which regulates the proper construction of masculinity within the domain of bourgeois and aristocratic relations (and is simultaneously a fiction and an effective cultural intervention into "real world" gender codification), then Gowther embodies everything which that code excludes. As the son of a demon and filia hominum, Gowther is the stereotyped giant of romance, that masculine body out of control whose abnormal size signifies rampant appetite, both somatic and social.13 The giant embodies everything Freud labeled "pre-oedipal": his is the body unimpressed by social coding, a playground of unchannelled forces (aggression, orality, desire and drive without boundary) that explode outward in monstrous acts.

Deleuze and Guattari have argued that the oedipal construct ("Oedipus") is the organizing principle of Western culture, the primary structuration through which desire is regulated into identity.14 In classical psychoanalysis, submission to Oedipus means recognition of the dictative power of the father (Freud's "Oedipus complex"), or of that transcendental principle which the father ineptly embodies, beyond choice or control (Lacan's "Name of the Father"). In the theatre of psychoanalysis, the oedipal drama is a critical success when the dénouement is acceptance of one's place within an identity grid mapped across a triangle of familial relations. Oedipus is a productive prohibition whose outcome is a "global person," an "ego," an "individual."15 The equation for Oedipus might be written as 3+1: the three members of the family triangle, plus a master signifier, a principle "outside the structuration" that acts as guarantor of its truth.16 The oedipalized body which is the equation's resultant is a predictable distribution of forces and affects across a culturally coherent identity. This body can then be exactly placed on a social grid by reference to filiation.

Oedipus works rather differently as a constitutive principle in the Middle Ages, depending on the particular culture employing its organizational power (and sometimes, of course, it does not obtain at all).17 In romances involving juvenes (young men progressing toward adulthood), the moment of oedipalization usually occurs during the fight against the giant. The young hero defeats his monstrous double in a battle whose outcome announces that the knight has learnt to channel the multiple drives that traverse the body, rendering a multiplicity of becoming (only the danger of which the giant encodes) into a unitary being, the one who bows down to the One. Oedipus in identity romance is not predicated upon rivalry with the father for the affection of the mother, with all its various displacements; it perhaps takes Freud's claustrophobic domestic interiors for that family drama to be scripted. Romance geographies are wider, the cast of characters more numerous and less quotidian, but the Name of the Father becomes their cartographer all the same. The young hero learns what expression the historical, sexual, social forces at work upon his body are to take, and willingly steps into that sanctioned role: Yvain becomes master of his castle, settling down after long errantry to be both husband and lord. The romance ideal of masculinity involves a single heterosexual object choice (the requisite loving wife) coupled to an unambiguous situation within the grid of homosocial relations (ideally, as lord or king, the high position a final representational validation of the worth of the attainer). Oedipus ensures that, in the imaginary but culturally effective space of romance, young bodies particularly prone to troublemaking are brought under social ("familial") control -- even if that family is the celibate family of the Holy Church.

The Names of the Father

What happens, though, when the restraints of Oedipus fail to produce a sufficiently docile body? From the point of view of the power structures whose interplay composes a society or culture, that body is unstable, dangerous, monstrous. Scrutiny of such abjected, "impossible" (but nonetheless socially produced) identities yields important insight into what is assumed as the foundation of self-identity. By encoding what one must not become, the monster demonstrates what, in the gaze of its terrifying face, one is compelled to be.

Despite his wicked ways, Gowther possesses this monstrous insight. When an elderly earl accuses him of being the son of a fiend, he is horrified (210). He imprisons the man, gallops to the fortress where his mother is hiding, and demands to know the truth of his paternity. "Who was my fadur?" becomes the central question of the text, which now works with the efficiency of a riddle to resolve it. The first reply is situational: the duchess states simply that he was fathered by the duke "that dyed last" (223). Gowther is not satisfied, and asks again. This time the answer is historical, as the duchess invites her son to witness, through her narrative, the primal scene of his own biological and metaphysical formation:

'Son, sython Y schall tho sothe say:    

In owre orcharde apon a day,

A fende gat the thare;

As lyke my lorde as he myght be,

Undurneyth a cheston tre.'

Then weppyd thei bothe full sare. (226-31)

'Son, since I must tell you the truth:

In our orchard one day,

A fiend begot you;

He looked as much like my lord as might be,

Underneath a chestnut tree.'

Then they both wept, full of sorrow.

The scene of the no longer immaculate conception is detailed, with Gowther as its onlooker: the sexual relation, stripped of its mythology (no courtly love here, no rhetoric of the symbolic to clothe the naked real of the act) reduces Gowther to a genital outcome. This brief but disturbing account functions similarly to the psychoanalytic drama of a pornographic moment.18 The sexual act, Slavoj Zizek argues, works narratively as "an intrusion of the real undermining the consistency of [the] diegetic reality" (111). The love stories that structure identity romances are built around an approach toward the "unattainable/forbidden object" of desire, but the object itself is never supposed to be reached. The sexual act exists "only as concealed, indicated, 'faked'":

As soon as we 'show it,' its charm is dispelled, we have 'gone too far.' Instead of the sublime Thing, we are stuck with vulgar, groaning fornication. (110)

The orchard scene which opened the romance repeats precisely in order to push the narrative "too far," to expose the vulgarity of Gowther's conception as the vulgarity of all conception. Despite its revelatory power, however, the moment of origin remains indecipherable (was it rape? was it desired? a rape-in-desire? how does one judge such an event? how does one represent the real of the sexual relation?). The seamlessness of the Symbolic (the system of representation which structures culture) is momentarily tattered by an intrusion of the Real (the utterly "material," that which resists representation).19 Gowther is faced suddenly with the elemental nonsensicality of his coming into being. Through his mother's testimony he witnesses the act in its inescapable materiality, and now he must find a way to symbolize that encounter, to incorporate it into a meaning-system not reducible to "mere" sex.

A theological reading of the passage must stress that Gowther has just been faced with the stark reality of his human birth into Original Sin, the fallen state of humankind.20 The fiend is not really any different from the duke; indeed, a fiend attends upon every sexual relation. If the "kynde of men" that the incubus steals (12) refers to man's semen rather than man's shape, then the fiend is a disembodied delivery system, the sexual act in effect but not in a particular body; the materia is still the real of the father. Another way of putting it: the fiend is the duke, or at least the "father in reality" (the father in his corporeality, as a sexual and fallible body), as opposed to the the pure and incorporeal function of paternity (as "metaphor," as nom du père). "Who was my fadur?" After the situational and historical responses which his mother provides, the only answer that now remains to the riddle of masculine identity is a purely transcendent one that can leave behind the soiled physicality of this originary moment. Through transcendence lies the only possibility of escape.

Gowther enjoins his mother to make confession, promises to do likewise, and then leaves for Rome. He prays to "God that Maré bare" and "God and Maré hynde": his new family will be the Holy Family, and he will gain entrance through audience with the pope, Father of the Church. He commands Gowther to "Lye down the fachon" (286), and the knight refuses; the sword is too much a part of his identity, a materialization into extrapsychical space of what he inside is. But the next papal commandment Gowther obeys without hesitation:

'Wherser thou travellys be northe or soth,

Thou eyt no meyt bot that thou revus of howndus mothe,

Cum thy body within;

Ne no worde speke for evyll ne gud,

Or thou reydé tokyn have fro God

That forgyfyn is thi syn.' (292-7)

'Wheresoever you travel, north or south,

You must eat only what meat you snatch from dogs' mouths,

Nothing else may come into your body.

Speak no word, for evil or for good,

Until you have a clear sign from God

That your sin is forgiven.'

Gowther's body is to be completely closed from social intercourse: his food predigested, his mouth an organ that receives and ingests rather than reacts and interacts through language. In order to become fully embedded within the Symbolic (in order, that is, to become a Name divorced from the corporeality a name might signify), Gowther's body must become a passive object, a still surface upon which will be inscribed new codes of conduct and a new organization.

In order to be a man, Gowther is going to have to become a dog.

Transitional Bodies

In acceptance of his penance, Gowther kneels before the throne of the pope: this bowing to the Name is his first gesture of submission. In Rome he eats meat only from the mouths of dogs, wholly obedient to his vow; then he wanders from the Eternal City (the city of the transcendental principle, of Universal Truth) and arrives in "anodur far cuntre" (305). A greyhound delivers a loaf of bread for each of three days. When on the fourth the dog fails to appear, Gowther discovers the castle of a mighty emperor.21 Trumpets resound upon the high wall, knights process into the main chamber, and Gowther follows as if he were that vanished greyhound:

[He] gwosse prystely thoro tho pres,

Unto tho hye bord he chesse,

Therundur he made is seytt.

Tho styward come with yarde in honde;

To geyt hym thethyn fast con he fonde

And throly hym con threyt. (328-33)

[He] goes quickly through the crowd,

Went right to the high table,

And he sat underneath.

The steward came carrying a stick;

He tried hard to drive him out from there,

And threatened him fiercely.

Like a dog, Gowther scurries under the table; the steward, quick to enter the drama of resemblance, threatens to beat Gowther with a stick, like a dog. Yet the penitential knight retains a strange dignity even as he maps the trajectory of his becoming through a domestic, shaggy body: the canine with which he will form an alliance, his point of departure to becoming something other than the son of a fiend, will not be any household pet, but the special favorite of the castle's master. Gowther seats himself under the high table, where the Emperor recognizes that some higher calling may compel this man-dog, perhaps even a penance (343-4). He has Gowther provided with meat and bread from his own board, and watches curiously as the stranger refuses to eat; when the Emperor sees the speechless man snatch a bone from a "spanyell," he provides the hounds with extra food so that Gowther can share in the secondary feast. "Among tho howndys thus was he fed" (364), and at night he is led to a "lytyll chambur" ringed with curtains. He quickly becomes a court favorite, and they name him Hob.

The episode is similar in many ways to Marie de France's lay Bisclavret, whose protagonist becomes the favorite knight of the king by spending many months as his favorite hunting hound. Bisclavret is a werewolf trapped permanently in canine shape after his fearful wife steals his clothing. The king comes across the wolf-man in the forest and refrains from killing him when he makes signs of submission. He adopts the metamorphic knight as a pet, not realizing that the beast was formerly one of his men. Bisclavret endears himself to his master, sleeping with him in his chamber at night and passing the day at his feet. In quadrupedal form, he sees his wife for the treacherous woman she is, and realizes the superiority of the bond that ties him to the king over that which had joined him to his spouse. By learning to be a proper dog (that is, by submitting to his allotted place within the masculine hierarchy) Bisclavret learns to be a proper man; bisclavret, the Breton noun for "werewolf," becomes Bisclavret, a proper name. In Marie's narrative, an antinomy exists between male-male and male-female bonds; Bisclavret is rewarded with his "true" body only after he takes his revenge on his traitorous spouse by biting off her nose to expose her crime. The wife, not the werewolf, is the monster. Rather than lycanthropy being transmitted to successive generations, the wife's noselessness is passed along congenitally to her female children.

Gowther's body receives a "domesticating" (or, better, "familializing") imprint similar to Bisclavret's. He is trained into the functional Symbolic of the court just as a canine or infantile body is made to internalize the regulatory mechanisms that render it (through habit and repetition) coherent, legible, self-same. For both Bisclavret and Gowther, a wild, multiple, "molecular" identity is constrained through a mapping across an animal body, receiving its "molar" being only after this interstitial (transitional, transferential) form has been successfully passed through.22 In both cases, the liminal canine body has as much to do with the anthropomorphization of dogs as the becoming-animal of humans. Dogs are readily incorporated within human meaning systems because their bodies have been bred to be easy to imprint: we like dogs as household pets to the extent to which they act as if human, as if a simultaneously exaggerated and diminutive version of ourselves. Dogs are easy to oedipalize.23 "Docility" is the canine affect that Bisclavret and Gowther become-dog in order to instate. Rather than fight a giant to confront Oedipus, these monstrous knights are oedipalized more slowly, through a grammar of transformation that will fix the undisciplined and metamorphic multiplicity of their bodies into the stasis of a molar identity.

Another way of putting it: Gowther and the hound (or Bisclavret and the wolf) enter into a masochistic relation. They seem simply to be imitating the dog, but in fact are engaged in a more complex process of intersubjective embodiment. To return to Deleuze and Guattari's terminology, the instinctive forces that animate the human body are being overcoded by transmitted forces. D&G provide the example of a masochist who transforms himself through a similar somatic mapping into a horse.24 Why a horse?

Horses are trained: humans impose upon the horse's instinctive forces transmitted forces that regulate the former, select, dominate, overcode them. The masochist transmits an inversion of signs: the horse transmits its transmitted forces to him, so that the masochist's innate forces will in turn be tamed (155-6).

And so with the dog: all of the forces that are transmitted through the canine body rebound to overcode the human. An interstitial monster springs temporarily into being: a dog-man, a cynocephalus, a werewolf. But once the overcoding "takes," the body passes out of its freakish hybridity to be inscribed more fully than ever into the secure space of the Human.

Gowther's becoming-dog ultimately follows a rather different trajectory from Bisclavret's, or at least a more geometrically complicated one. A trigonometry unites not only Gowther and the animals under the table, but also the knight and the Emperor's daughter, who is likewise mute ("was too soo dompe as hee" 372). Her body is the next mediating "partial object" which will pull him closer to a full identity. Conjoined by their mutual affect (silence), Gowther and the princess use the canine bodies as the bridge across which they communicate, beginning a new diagram that allows Gowther to leave these docile animals for new transitions. When the princess sees that he takes his food only from dogs' mouths, she reacts with kindness: she calls two fine greyhounds to her side, washes clean their mouths with wine, places a loaf of bread in one and some meat in the other, and sends the pair to Gowther, who devours the food eagerly. The dogs become mediating rather than restrictive forms, and through the princess' intercession Gowther begins the final process of transubstantiation. For the first time, Gowther's own corporeality is inserted into the text through a vigorous exclamation: "That doghthy of body and bon" (447). No coincidence, then, that the bread, wine, and "flesch" she sends to him have their analogs in the Eucharist, where "lofe" and "wyn" become a body, the "flesch" and blood of Christ.

But first Gowther's desire must alight upon the princess as object, for without the connection of desire he cannot be pulled by a new investment of force from his place beneath the table. This process is initiated through mimesis. No sooner does Gowther first see the Emperor's daughter than she is constituted as object of desire through the gaze of another: a "sawdyn" (sultan) of great might declares he shall wage war against the Emperor "dey and nyghtt" until the princess is given him (376-84). The Emperor refuses with the resonant phrase "Y wyll not, be Cryst wonde, / Gyffe hor to no hethon hownde!" (388-9). The declaration demarcates for us Gowther's third relational body, connected to him both by its rhetorical contiguity to the dogs he imitates ("hethon hownde!")25 and by its fascination with the Emperor's daughter (dumb, like him; object of the gaze, like him). This third body will break the closed circuit of his identity diagramming. Gowther is connected to the animal and feminine bodies by relationships of becoming and movement; this new enemy will teach him the necessities of abjection as differentiation, as entrance into stable being. The Sultan takes the place of the giant which Gowther no longer is.

A series of miraculous transformations occurs as the sign from God that Gowther is triangulating his passage well. When the Sultan first attacks the Emperor's lands, Gowther retreats to his chamber and prays for all the material signifiers of knighthood (weapons, armor, a horse). These are the first words he has spoken since undergoing his penance, and the utterances have the potency of a speech act ("He had no ner is preyr made, / Bot hors and armur bothe he hade" 406-7). That which he names is instantly materialized: signifier and signified are united. Gowther is close to being his name.

Nor is he any less effective on the battlefield. With his beloved falchion he bursts enemy heads (422), spills blood and brains (426), and decapitates scores of heathens. Having ensured that the Emperor's men will carry the day, Gowther returns home, where his black horse and black armor vanish. He enters the hall where the Emperor's men are celebrating their victory and promptly seats himself "too small raches betwene" ("between two small hunting dogs," 441). No one knows the identity of the mysterious Black Knight but the princess, and she cannot speak her knowledge.

The Sultan repeats his assault the next day, and this time Gowther is dressed by God in red armaments. Again he dismembers Saracens by the dozen, but this time it is his enemy who is "blake" ("black"): Gowther is moving through an alchemical process, becoming refined, impurities removed. His slicing of the Sultan's men into little bits has an analog earlier in the poem, when on the day of his wedding the duke cracked men's skulls ("mony a cron con crake," 45) during a nuptial tournament. Gowther's violence is similar ("Mony a crone con he stere," 422), but sanctioned in ways that his father's could not be. Gowther's aggression is not for celebration. The self-effacing space of the battlefield substitutes for the performative arena of the tournament.26 Gowther is most strongly himself when he learns the power of masochism. In self-denial is his self-assertion. The falchion that was the symbol of his unrestrained violence now becomes the visual signal of his proper control, the weapon by which those bodies antithetical to Gowther's new ethos are torn into pieces. This psychomachia upon the battlefield has its analog in miniature upon Gowther's body, with real effects: he suffers. After the battle and after the customary dinner among the hounds, the battered knight retreats to his chamber to rest his wounds and meditate upon the sins that they signify.

The alembic process of Gowther's transformation is completed on the third day, when he charges into combat dressed in white. Gowther is as white as the alimental milk that he drained from his wetnurses along with their lives, only no trace of the monster now remains. The Emperor thinks that multiple mysterious knights have been coming to his aid (520), and in a way he is correct: these are multiple Gowthers in that they are "Gowther under process," Gowther the fiend becoming Gowther the savior through a series of transubstantiations that culminate in this final version. Just as white is not a single color so much as the spectrum of all possible colors, Gowther as the white knight is the product of a long combinatory equation whose alchemical outcome is an elemental hero who has passed through a multiplicity of difference to become the sanctioned One. The battlefield Gowther is the continuation and culmination of all these other Gowthers, of the narrative's manifold past that is moving its multiplicity toward a unity.

Gowther Triumphant

When the Sultan succeeds in capturing the Emperor, Gowther rides to his liege's rescue. The sequence of events (623-30) is extraordinary in its toppling domino effect. Gowther strikes off the head of his enemy, overcoming and vanquishing the very thing he once was, renouncing monstrousness forever. In the exultation which this liberatory feat provokes, he is reminded all the more forcefully of his corporeality: even as he praises God for constructing his body from the raw materials of flesh and bone, even at the triumphant moment when he experiences a transcendence from the fleshliness of that frame, his body is transfixed by an enemy weapon. The somatic chain reaction culminates in the princess for the first time finding her voice, a visceral response to the visible sign of Gowther's vulnerability -- and to his being fixed, metaphorically and literally, in place.

The princess' fall into the signifying chain has its price: she tumbles from the window of her tower and lies dead. When the pope arrives to pronounce her obsequies, a miracle occurs: "scho raxeld hur and rase" in order to speak "wyse" words to Gowther (652). The message she delivers is straight from God, who declares through her that the mute knight who still eats among the dogs is forgiven all his sins; that he may now speak without fear; that Gowther should eat, drink, and "make mery"; and that he is numbered among the chosen of heaven (656-60). To her father she announces Gowther's true identity as the knight that fought as his polychromatic ally for three glorious days. The pope consecrates these proceedings by declaring to Gowther "Now art thou Goddus chyld" (668), no longer a "warlocke wyld" ("wild devil," 669). With the assent of these two new earthly fathers (the pope, the Emperor), Gowther marries the princess and becomes heir to the land. Gowther is inscribed beneath a new family Name, a mightier one: Emperor, rather than Duke.

But Gowther is not yet ready to remain in place. He journeys back to Estryke and marries his mother to the old earl who precipitated his metamorphic journey. He finds something satisfying in returning the country to the normalcy of the family triad. Simple domestic bliss is not the interest of this romance; indeed, this return to the maternal only prepares for a second and final renunciation of it. He memorializes and expiates his early sins by building an abbey where monks will pray "unto the wordus end" for the nuns he victimized. Nuns to monks: as the maternal vanished, so does the feminine. The narrative now moves toward the eternal, the immutable, the transcendent, as Gowther assumes his full identity as "Goddus chyld." Full of remorse as he recalls the crimes of his youth, Gowther can escape the return of the romance's triply enfolded past (biblical, national, familial) only by finding a way to stand outside of it.

Gowther journeys "hom" to the demesnes he rules as Emperor, and spends his life performing good works. The princess is never mentioned again after the marriage. Nor is the existence of an heir: the body disappears as a textual concern in preparation for a final transfiguration out of all corporeality. Gowther dies, is buried in the abbey he constructed, and is worshipped as "a varré corsent parfett," a true saint (721). Pilgrims seek his shrine and are rewarded with divine metamorphoses of their disfigured bodies: the blind see, the mute speak, hunchbacks are straightened. Because "geyton with a felteryd feynd" (742) and sanctified after a long journey through a series of transitional bodies, Gowther has come to signify a transformative, corrective, normalizing principle. Gowther in triumph is Gowther abstracted, the hero who becomes an incorporeal Name under which miracles are performed: from inhuman origins to superhuman transfiguration, an inhuman end.

"Who was my fadur?" Gowther has at long last found his purely transcendent answer to the riddle of paternity. God is his father: this simple fact guarantees his legitimacy, the truth of his identity, by allowing his body to be placed outside of the chains of filiation that would otherwise delimit him as the son of a fiend, the son of a nameless duke, the son of an all too human father rather than of an abstract principle that looks down upon him from heaven and smiles. The British Library manuscript of the romance rightly ends with the phrase explicit vita sancti, "here ends the saint's life": from identity romance through multiple transformations into an eternity of hagiography.27

The "transcendent principle" is the same as the "master signifier" that ensures the truth value of Oedipus; in the equation 3+1, it is that exterior One which allows belief in the interior structure. This disembodied principle as it works its transfigurations on Gowther is equated with the Holy Spirit: "For he is inspyryd with tho Holy Gost, / That was tho cursod knyght" (731-2). Perhaps this "inspiration" allows us to see why the mother and the princess vanish so suddenly from the text. Gowther is oedipalized into the celibate family of the Church, where the place of the feminine body in the triangle has been usurped by a pure and mysterious spirit. The Holy Trinity of familialism is supplanted by the Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and sexless disembodied Principle. Gowther submits to this sacred trignometry by learning to disavow the merely corporeal, aligned in the beginning and then in the end with the maternal and the feminine. His reward is to be rendered not a hero, but a saint.

As Opposed to What?

We know nothing about a body until we know what it can do, in other words, what its affects are, how they can or cannot enter into composition with other affects, with the affects of another body, either to destroy the body or to be destroyed by it, either to exchange actions and passions with it or to join with it in composing a more powerful body. (ATP 257)

We may as well reformulate Sedgwick's famous question about nationalisms and sexualities, and demand "Oedipus, as opposed to what?"28 I am not arguing that Gowther had any choice within this long process of oedipalization; after all, even if such things as choice and intentionality do exist, he is a textual representation of a subject that does not see outside of his own generative text (a fact which perhaps makes him more human, not less). Oedipus was probably the same structural inevitability in England c.1400 as it is in the United States c.2000, but as this essay demonstrates, its phantasmatic workings were at once very different and equally complex. By tracing the genealogy of oedipal configuration, and mapping its affects across the body of Gowther, this essay argues that gender is constructed and that bodies are sexed in culturally specific ways. Freud and Lacan depict the unconscious as a classical theatre whose secret dramas are played out externally by actors who keep repeating the same roles before dying and leaving them to understudies. This model is in many ways deeply Christian (especially in Lacan's formulation), and fits well with medieval ideas like the sacred Trinity because it derives in part from them.29 But I would like to suggest that the Middle Ages are far more complicated than they are often made out to be. Before it hardens into the armor of his final identity, Gowther's plastic body illustrates well two of the most remarkable assertions of Deleuze and Guattari: that the body is a site of multiplicity, process, and becoming ("a discontinuous, nontotalized series of processes, organs, flows, energies, corporeal substances and incorporeal events, intensities, and durations"30); and that the unconscious is not a theatre but a factory (Gowther's body is the sight of endless production that grinds to a halt only at the imposed limit of saintliness, at the transubstantial death that is the reward for a successful embrace of transcendentals). Gowther before Oedipus can only be represented as a monster, because romance is a normalizing genre; but Gowther as monster, as a playground of somatic signification, is a site as intriguing in its multidirectionality as it is frightening in its excess.

Just as the dogs with which Gowther shared his meals and identity were interstitial (transitional, transferential) bodies for him, Gowther's own body has been interstitial for this essay, the corpus between the Middle Ages and the Post-Modern Ages where some identity exploration followed an eccentric trajectory. We could even go so far as to say that the process of engaging the romance is the process of becoming-Gowther, of mapping how Being acquires its cultural meaning only as it ceases to become; it is the process also of finding a line of flight within that performative mapping, despite the fact that some determinative telos strives to freeze its meaning into place. Gowther among the dogs teaches that bodies, genders, and identities have no limits other than the illusory "final," "stable" selves that culture manufactures and sanctifies, and which never in the end constrain.


1Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, {available on this link} A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, tr. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 248. Originally published in French as Mille plateaux, v. 2 de Capitalisme et Schizophrénie (Paris: Les Editions de Minuit, 1980). Further references will be marked ATP, followed by the page numbers in Massumi's translation.

2"Fils de chien," Minuit, no. 7 (January 1974). The story is retold in ATP 258-9 and further explicated by Brian Massumi in {available on this link} A User's Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari (Cambridge, MA: Swerve Editions, MIT Press, 1992), 93ff.

3What would success have been like? Massumi offers his own vision: "The man, having superposed human and canine affects, faces a choice: fall back into one or the other molar coordinate, or keep moving toward the great dissipative outside stretching uncertainly on the wild side of the welcome mat. He may either revert to his normal self or suffer a breakdown ... or he may decide not to look back and set out instead on a singular path of freakish becoming leading over undreamed-of quadrupedal horizons" (95). The Middle Ages suggests another possibility: a Cynocephalus, an exotic body where human and canine affects play - and the body, also, of Saint Christopher, at least in many Eastern accounts (see John Block Friedman,{available on this link - Out of Print Book Search} The Monstrous Races in Medieval Art and Thought [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981], 72-5; and David Gordon White,{available on this link} Myths of the Dog-Man [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991]), especially pp. 1-70.

4The romance exists in two manuscripts, National Library of Scotland Advocates 19.3.1 and British Library Royal 17.B.43. The latter is generally held to be the superior version, and I have relied on it throughout in the edition of Maldwyn Mills ({available on this link} Six Middle English Romances [Rutland, Vermont: Everyman's Library / Charles E. Tuttle, 1988]). The Middle English version retells the French Robert le diable story, but with important differences; see Laura A. Hibbard, {available on this link - Out of Print Book Search} Medieval Romance in England (New York: Burt Franklin, 1963) 49-57; Mortimer J. Donovan in J. Burke Severs (ed.), {available on this link} A Manual of the Writings in Middle English 1050-1500 I (New Haven: The Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1967), 141-2; and Shirley Marchalonis, "Sir Gowther: The Process of a Romance," The Chaucer Review 6 (1971), 14-29.

5Malcolm Bowie describes this difficult concept well: "The Name-of-the-Father is the 'paternal metaphor' that inheres in symbolization and thereby potentiates the metaphorical process as a whole; and it is an essential point of anchorage for the subject" (Lacan [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991], 109). The Name of the Father is the illusory coherence sutured around a name that binds the symbolic into a genealogical identity-system with individuated, historical, familial subjects. Its nearest equivalent in the Middle Ages is the ancestral title (e.g., "Duke of Gloucester") in its mythy existence outside of particular bearers. On ancestral romance and the ubiquity of family crisis, see Susan Crane, {available on this link - Out of Print Book Search} Insular Romance: Politics, Faith, and Culture in Anglo-Norman and Middle English Literature (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986), 16-17.

6Margaret Robson writes that the romance "could be said, from some points of view, to be [Gowther's mother's] story;" it is disturbing, then, that the maternal should so quickly become a vanishing point in the narrative. Fathers abound; by Robson's count, Gowther has five. See "Animal Magic: Moral Regeneration in Sir Gowther," The Yearbook of English Studies 22 (1992), 140, 146.

7On the complex history of this biblical passage, see Nicholas Kiessling, The Incubus in Medieval Literature: Provenance and Progeny (n.l.: Washington State University Press, 1977); James Dean, "The World Grown Old and Genesis in Middle English Historical Writings," Speculum 57.3 (1982), 548-68; and Walter Stephens, {available on this link - Out of Print Book Search} Giants in Those Days: Folklore, Ancient History, and Nationalism (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1989), 76-84. On giants in romance see my essay "Decapitation and Coming of Age: Constructing Masculinity and the Monstrous," {available on this link} The Arthurian Yearbook III (1993), 171-190. On medieval incubi, see Augustine, {available on this link} De civitate Dei (City of God) 15.23 (PL 41.468) ; Thomas Aquinas, Quaestiones de potentia Dei, 6, 'De miraculis,' 8, {available on this link} Opera omnia and Summa theologiae I.51.3.6; Kiessling; and Andrea Hopkins, {available on this link} The Sinful Knights: A Study of Middle English Penitential Romance (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), 165-8. Hopkins' book contains the most useful discussion of Gowther and the mythology of the incubus.

8Polychronicon Ranulphi Higden monachi Cestrensis, together with the English translations of John Trevisa and of an unknown writer of the fifteenth century, ed. Joseph Rawson (Nendeln, Liechtenstein: Kraus Reprints, 1964).

9See "Cleanness" in {available on this link} The Poems of the Pearl MS, ed. Malcolm Andrew and Ronald Waldron (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979), ll. 269-73; Andrew of Wyntoun's Original Chronicle, ed. F. J. Amours (Edinburgh: Scottish Text Society, 1903-14), Book I, l. 297ff. Andrew, like Trevisa and Higden, cannot decide between the orthodox, Augustinian interpretation of the story (in which the sons of God and daughters of men are all mortals) and the older, fallen angel or incubus version, so he provides both. The Pearl poet gives only the anti-Augustinian narrative. As a result of the survival of this tradition, in romance giants were often described as the sons of fiends. In Torrent of Portyngale, for example, "There ys a gyant of gret renowne, / He dystrowythe bothe sete and towyn / And all that euyr he may; / And as the boke of Rome dothe tell, / He was get of the dewell of hell, / As his moder on slepe lay" (ed. E. Adam, EETS-ES 51 1973), ll. 921-6.

10The Albina story was widely popular, appearing in Anglo-Norman, Latin, and Middle English versions, but has received little critical attention. See Des Grantz geanz: An Anglo-Norman Poem, ed. Georgine E. Brereton (Oxford: Basil Blackwell Publishing, 1937); An Anonymous Short English Metrical Chronicle, ed. Ewald Zettl (EETS-OS 196, 1935); {available on this link} The Brut or the Chronicles of England, ed. Friedrich W. D. Brie (EETS 131, 1906 [rpr 1960]); and "Constructing Albion's Past: An Annotated Edition of De Origine Gigantum," ed. James P. Carley and Julia Crick, Arthurian Literature XIII (1995), 41-114.

11See Andrea Hopkins' thorough discussion in The Sinful Knights, 147.

12This localizing movement finds its best expression in the Royal MS, which conflates Gowther and "Seynt Gotlake" [St. Guthlac], the heroic hermit who fought legions of airy spirits (fiends, demons, perhaps even incubi) and founded the abbey of Croyland. E. M. Bradstock argues that there is little continuity between the two "saints" ("The Penitential Pattern in Sir Gowther," Parergon 20 [1978], 6), but I disagree: both fight for a coherent identity versus a fiend of legions of fiends that represent a dangerous multiplicity of becomings and desires.

I label romances like Gowther "familial" simply because their scope tends to be limited to discovering the ways in which intersubjectivity configures personal identities, rather than (say) proving how manifest destinies dictate national histories through exceptional bodies, such as those of heroes. The familial in romance tends to exist as an "exterior," idealized fantasy space that pulls the hero through and out of the "real" horror of actual family space: for example, the knight Gregorius is the offspring of brother-sister incest who unknowingly marries his own mother but turns out well in the end (Hartmann von Aue, Gregorius: Bilingual Edition, ed. and tr. Sheema Zeben Buehne [New York: F. Ungar, 1966]).

13Decapitation, p. 178 and note 11.

14See especially {available on this link} Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, tr. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983 [L'anti-Oedipe: Capitalisme et Schizophrénie (Paris: Les Editions de Minuit, 1972]), but also ATP. The translator's note to L'anti-Oedipe explains "Oedipus" well: "The term Oedipus has many widely varying connotations. It refers, for instance, not only to the Greek myth of Oedipus and to the Oedipus complex as defined by classical psychoanalysis, but also to Oedipal mechanisms, processes, and structures" (p. 3). Or, as Massumi summarized in the earlier quotation, Oedipus stands for "phallocentrism, molar personhood itself."

15Oedipus, argue Deleuze and Guattari, produces "a definable and differentiable ego in relation to parental images serving as co-ordinates (mother, father). There we have a triangulation that implies in its essence a constituent prohibition, and that conditions the differentiation between persons ... But a strange sort of reasoning leads one to conclude that, since it is forbidden, that very thing was desired. In reality, global persons - even the very form of persons - do not exist prior to the prohibitions that weigh on them and constitute them, any more than they exist prior to the triangulation into which they enter" (Anti-Oedipus, pp. 70-1).

16"This common, transcendent, absent something will be called phallus or law, in order to designate 'the' signifier that distributes the effects of meaning throughout the chain and introduces exclusions there ... This signifier acts as the formal cause of triangulation - that is to say, makes possible both form of the triangle and its reproduction: Oedipus has as its formula 3+1, the One of the transcendent phallus without which the terms considered would not take the form of a triangle" (Anti-Oedipus, p. 73). Even though this "transcendental signifier" appears to be exterior to the structuration it sanctifies, it is actually generated by an interior necessity.

17How, for example, would Oedipus work in the early Germanic sex/gender system described by Carol J. Clover in "Regardless of Sex: Men, Women, and Power in Early Northern Europe" (Speculum 68 [1993] 363-87)?

18My remarks derive from Slavoj Zizek's analysis in {available on this link} Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture (Cambridge, MA: October Books / MIT Press, 1992), 107-22. Cf. the similar but more graphic moment in Chaucer's Merchant's Tale ("And sodeynly anon this Damyan / Gan pulled up the smok, and in he throng" ({available on this link} The Riverside Chaucer, 3rd edition, ed. Larry D. Benson [Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1987] ll. 2352-3).

19In Lacanian psychoanalysis, the Symbolic refers to the meaning-system which orders signification, that makes "reality" possible through representation. Bowie usefully describes the Real as "that which lies outside the symbolic process, ... to be found in the mental as well as the material world: a trauma, for example, is as intractable and unsymbolizable as objects in their materiality" (p. 94).

20Dorothy S. McCoy uses the various versions of the Robert the Devil story to gauge differences in attitude toward human sexuality, and resists such a generalized, theological reading of Gowther: "For his own restless reasons, the Devil intervenes directly in the sexual act. This evil intrudes upon the Duchess from another world; it is external" ("From Celibacy to Sexuality: An Examination of Some Medieval and Early Renaissance Versions of the Story of Robert the Devil," in Human Sexuality in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, ed. Douglas Radcliff-Umstead [Pittsburgh: Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies of the University of Pittsburgh, 1978], 29-39). I am arguing that it is necessary to read through the monster here, rather than dismissing it as an "external," extraneous evil: the fiend embodies in inverted form the transcendent principle of Original Sin as embodiment.

21Hopkins sees in the daily deliveries of bread by the hound an echo of the sojourn of Elijah in the wilderness, where he was fed flesh and bread by ravens (1 Kings 17:6, Hopkins 154).

22A good idea of what D&G mean by molar (and its relation to "personal" bodies) is conveyed by Steven Shaviro: "The relations of power in our society ... select and organize the singularities of an anarchic, molecular sexuality, subject them to the laws of morality and the signifier, arrange them hierarchically, distribute them around a statistical norm, and finally construct heterosexuality as a majoritarian standard or as a transcendent model." ({available on this link} The Cinematic Body [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993], 71).

23"Puppies are cute and cuddly (just 'like' a baby! Both have to be toilet trained). Soon, they learn to wait whining at the door for the return of their master (whose voice of authority they always recognize, 'like' a good wife). Love and regression in a fur coat" (Massumi, 97). D&G speak of dogs as oedipal animals in ATP pp. 28-9, 240, 248 (Massumi 179 n.5).

24See ATP 155-6. I treat this episode in my essay "Masoch/Lancelotism", forthcoming in New Literary History.

25Dogs were associated (via "lurid Christian propaganda") with Islam throughout the Middle Ages, and numerous manuscript illustrations of Muslims depict them as cynocephali (see Friedman 67-9, and C. Meredith Jones, "The Conventional Saracen of the Songs of Geste," Speculum 17 [1942] 201-25). Stories involving Christopher, Mercurius, and the wonderfully named cannibal Abominable detailed the conversion of such dog-headed men into proper Christians; on some level Sir Gowther is reworking of these narratives. Gowther's becoming-animal is, then, also a complex way of his becoming-other, becoming-monstrous.

26Donna Crawford contrasts the violence against the Saracens with Gowther's earlier agression against nurses and nuns, finding in the former a rejection of the diabolical, but we may as well call this rewriting of violence a rejection of the paternal. See "'Gronyng wyth grysly wounde': Injury in Five Middle English Breton Lays," in {available on this link} Readings in Medieval English Romance, ed. Carol M. Meale (Cambridge, UK: D S Brewer, 1994), 45.

27The status of Sir Gowther itself as a kind of interstitial monster, a hybrid of romance and saint's life, has caused much critical anxiety; see especially E. M. Bradstock, "Sir Gowther: Secular Hagiography or Hagiographical Romance or Neither?" AUMLA: Journal of the Australasian Universities Language and Literature Association 59 (May 1983) 26-47.

28Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, "Nationalisms and Sexualities: As Opposed to What?" {available on this link} Tendencies (Durham: Duke University Press, 1993), 143-153.

29On Lacan and Christianity, see (for example) Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York: Routledge, 1990), 56; and Franco Rella, {available on this link} The Myth of the Other: Lacan, Deleuze, Foucault, Bataille, tr. Nelson Moe (Washington, DC: Maisonneuve Press, 1994), 21.

30Elizabeth Grosz, "A Thousand Tiny Sexes: Feminism and Rhizomatics," in {available on this link} Gilles Deleuze and Theater of Philosophy, ed. Constantin V. Boundas and Dorothea Olkowski (New York: Routledge, 1994), 193-4. Grosz argues that Deleuze and Guattari's work is useful to feminists as a way to reconceive bodies "outside of the binary polarizations imposed on the body by the mind/body, nature/culture, subject/object, and interior/exterior oppositions. They provide an altogether different understanding of the body than those that have dominated the history of Western thought in terms of the linkage of the human body to other bodies, human and nonhuman, animate and inanimate; they link organs and biological processes to material objects and social practices while refusing to subordinate the body to a unity and homogeneity provided either by the body's subordination to consciousness or to organic organization (194).

My thanks to Mary Cain, John Block Friedman, Connie Kibler, Sarah Higley, Juris Lidaka, and especially Michael Uebel for assistance with this essay.

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