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ENGL719B Seminar in Renaissance Literature: Sex Education: Women, Sex, and Gender in the Early Modern Period

Women’s and gender studies have evolved into fields of inquiry that have energized the study of the early modern period; but they are not engaged in the same inquiry.

Feminism begins with the assumption that the sexed body changes the interaction of the subject in political space, regardless of other considerations of subject position. Indeed, how other social categories inflect the position of woman as a social actor and political subject in many ways defines the discipline of feminist inquiry. Gender studies, by contrast, typically elides biological sex, inquiring into how gender identity and identification crucially alter social and political engagement, and how gender is imbricated in the social, political and even epistemological arrangements and assumptions of culture. But we now occupy a historical moment when the sex of the body can be altered to adhere more closely to the gender identity of the subject; when calls have been made to appropriate the long-shunned science of biology for feminist analysis; when the political moment—in terms of both policy and rhetoric—has intensified focus upon the organs that determine our sex.

Our current political moment also allows us to reassess the gap between embodiment and representation because the distance between sign and signified is now repeatedly breeched in political discourse. It is precisely because neither subjectivity nor identity exists prior to other political formations that a graduate English course focused on early modern texts that foregrounds embodied experience is tuned to a political moment when representation and embodiment are coming in closer proximity. Through an examination of the works that early modern women read and wrote, in which they are represented and in which they represent themselves—religious and medical tracts, domestic and conduct manuals, travel narratives, poetry and drama—we will explore the debates and directions of feminist studies and its methodological practice.

0101 -  Kim Coles

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