Eliza Zingesser

Columbia University

Lovebirds: Avian Erotic Entanglements in Medieval French and Occitan Literature

The central claim of Lovebirds is that birds, rather than functioning as mere symbols, performed actual work with respect to the erotic experience in the Middle Ages. The book investigates the ways in which eroticism was frequently made possible by birds, and especially by birdsong. Each chapter turns to a different confluence of birds and human subjects (confluences I propose to call “entanglements”) and to what those confluences enabled with respect to the erotic experience. I argue that human-avian entanglements made possible: a type of language that foregrounds the corporeal and sensorial over the semantic (chapter 1), erotic drives and emotions such as desire and pleasure (chapter 2), erotic self-conception and the pivoting of love objects (chapter 3), and memory of the love object (chapter 4). Like the quills that mediate our knowledge of all medieval human subjects—and their self-expression on the parchment page—, the presence of birds (imagined or otherwise) was frequently integral to the conception and functioning of medieval eroticism.

Eliza Zingesser is a specialist of medieval French and Occitan literature, with a particular focus on animal studies, cultural and linguistic contact, and gender and sexuality. Her first book, Stolen Song: How the Troubadours Became French (Cornell University Press, 2020), argues for the creation of an alternative point of origin for French literary history—a body of faux-archaic Occitanizing songs.

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