Given Christianity's valuation of celibacy and its persistent association of sexuality with the Fall and of women with sin, Western medieval attitudes toward the erotic could not help but be vexed. In contrast, eroticism is explicitly celebrated in a large number of theological, scientific, and literary texts of the medieval Arab Islamicate tradition, where sexuality was positioned at the very heart of religious piety.
In Crossing Borders, Sahar Amer turns to the rich body of Arabic sexological writings to focus, in particular, on their open attitude toward erotic love between women. By juxtaposing these Arabic texts with French works, she reveals a medieval French literary discourse on same-sex desire and sexual practices that has gone all but unnoticed. The Arabic tradition on eroticism breaks through into French literary writings on gender and sexuality in often surprising ways, she argues, and she demonstrates how strategies of gender representation deployed in Arabic texts came to be models to imitate, contest, subvert, and at times censor in the West.
Amer's analysis reveals Western literary representations of gender in the Middle Ages as cross-cultural, hybrid discourses as she reexamines borders—cultural, linguistic, historical, geographic—not as elements of separation and division but as fluid spaces of cultural exchange, adaptation, and collaboration. Crossing these borders, she salvages key Arabic and French writings on alternative sexual practices from oblivion to give voice to a group that has long been silenced.
About the Author
Sahar Amer is Associate Professor of Asian and International Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
Table of Contents
Note on Transliteration vii
Crossing Disciplinary Boundaries: A Cross-Cultural Approach to Same-Sex Love Between Women 1
Crossing Linguistic Borders: Etienne de Fougeres's Livre des Manieres and Arabic Erotic Treatises 29
Crossing Sartorial Lines: Female Same-Sex Marriage in Yde et Olive and The Story of Qamar al-Zaman and Princess Boudour from the One Thousand and One Nights 50
Crossing the Lines of Friendship: Jean Renart's Escoufle, Saracen Silk, and Intercultural Encounters 88
Crossing Social and Cultural Borders: Jean Renart's Escoufle and the Traditions of Zarf, Jawaris, and Qaynas in the Islamicate World 121
Conclusion: Beyond Orientalist Presuppositions 161