The Look of Love: The Gender of the Gaze in Troubadour Lyric

  • Simon Gaunt
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


The gaze is often central to troubadour love lyric. As Jean-Charles Huchet observes of Bernart de Ventadorn, who is perhaps the troubadour to give himself up most completely to the rituals of fin’ amor:

Chez Bernard de Ventadorn, plus que chez tout autre troubadour…la Dame se donne à voir. Le regard s’y arrête, tourne autour de cet objet qui le captive avant de faire retour sur soi.1

[With Bernart de Ventadorn more than with any other troubadour…the Lady gives herself up to be seen. The gaze lingers on her, circles around this captivating object before turning back on itself.]


Symbolic Order Film Theory Courtly Love Mortify Property Lacanian Psychoanalysis 
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  1. 1.
    Jean-Charles Huchet, L’Amour discourtois: la “fin’amor” chez les premiers troubadours (Toulouse: Privat, 1987), p. 183.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Simon Gaunt, “A Martyr to Love: Sacrificial Desire in the Poetry of Bernart de Ventadorn, “Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 31 (2001): 491–94 [477–506].CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 5.
    Lacan repeats the aphorism frequently, but for an example see Jacques Lacan, Les Quatre Concepts fondamentaux de la psychanalyse: le séminaire livre XI (Paris: Seuil, 1973), p. 261.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    For good expositions see Slavoj Žižek, The Sublime Object of Ideology (London: Verso, 1989), pp. 105–28 and Enjoy Your Symptom! Jacques Lacan in Hollywood and Out (London: Routledge, 1992), pp. 55–60.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    Jacques Lacan, La Relation d’objet: le séminaire livre IV (Paris: Seuil, 1994), p. 431.Google Scholar
  6. 10.
    L.O. Aranye Fradenburg, Sacrifice Your Love: Psychoanalysis, Historicism, Chaucer (Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 2002), p. 5.Google Scholar
  7. 11.
    See, for example, Jacques Lacan, “Subversion du sujet et dialectique du désir,” in Ecrits, 2nd edn., 2 vols. (Paris: Seuil, 1971), 2:151–91, where he remarks that the formula he uses to indicate the subject’s relation to the Other—S(A)—is the “signifiant d’un manque dans l’Autre” [the signifier of a lack in the Other], p. 180, and, even more more bluntly, that the subject being deprived of enjoyment would be “la faute de l’Autre s’il existait: l’Autre n’existant pas, il ne me reste qu’à prendre la faute sur le Je” [the Other’s fault, if it existed: but since the Other does not exist, I can only lay the blame on myself], p. 182. See also, for a pertinent account of the gaze as the gaze of the barred Other in Lacan, Joan Copjec, Read My Desire: Lacan Against the Historicists (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1994), p. 36: “The subject instituted by the Lacanian gaze does not come into being as the realization of a possibility opened up by the law of the Other. It is rather an impossibility that is crucial to the constitution of the subject—the impossibility, precisely, of any ultimate confirmation from the Other.” See further, Fradenburg, Sacrifice Your Love, p.30.Google Scholar
  8. 12.
    See Lacan, “L’Amour courtois en anamorphe,” in L’Ethique de la psychanalyse: le séminaire livre VII (Paris: Seuil, 1986), pp. 167–84; and “L’Anamorphose,” in Quatre Concepts, pp. 92–104.Google Scholar
  9. 17.
    Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” in Visual and Other Pleasures (London: Macmillan, 1989), pp. 14–26CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Jacqueline Rose, Sexuality in the Field of Vision (London: Verso, 1986). For Mulvey, woman is “image,” man “bearer of the look” (p. 19)Google Scholar
  11. 18.
    See Copjec, “The Orthopsychic Subject: Film Theory and the Reception of Lacan,” in Read my Desire, pp. 15–38, and Dylan Evans, An Introductory Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis (London: Routledge, 1996), pp. 72–73. For a further concise, but useful summary see Margaret Olin, “Gaze,” in Critical Terms for Art History, ed. Robert S. Nelson and Richard Shiff (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1996), pp. 208–19.Google Scholar
  12. 19.
    Jacques Lacan, Encore: le séminaire livre XX (Paris: Seuil, 1975), p. 52: “L’Autre, dans mon langage, cela ne peut donc être que l’Autre sexe” [The Other, in my terminology, can be nothing other than the Other sex].Google Scholar
  13. 21.
    For the troubadours’ tendency to construe themselves as objects of the lady’s desire, see Sarah Kay, Subjectivity in Troubadour Poetry (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990), pp. 96–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 22.
    This type of contradiction captivates Bernart and courtly writers more generally. See Sarah Kay, Courtly Contradictions: The Emergence of the Literary Object in the Twelfth Century (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001), and on Bernart in particular pp. 3–8. Also, for a stimulating use of Lacan’s notion of the gaze in reading medieval romance, see pp. 269–83.Google Scholar
  15. 25.
    On the gender politics of this lyric see further Simon Gaunt, Gender and Genre in Medieval French Literature (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995), pp. 131–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 30.
    See Slavoj Žižek, “Courtly love, or, Woman as Thing,” in The Metastases of Enjoyment: Six Essays on Women and Causality (London: Verso, 1994), pp. 89–112.Google Scholar
  17. 33.
    See, among other things, Rouben C. Cholakian, The Troubadour Lyric: A Psychocritical Reading (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1990); Gaunt, Gender and Genre, pp. 135–47.Google Scholar

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© Emma Campbell and Robert Mills 2004

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  • Simon Gaunt

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