Guido Reni, Joseph and Potiphar's Wife, 1630

Accusing Women: Gender, Guilt, and Narrative

Instructor: Yitzhak Lewis
The Center for Jewish History
15 West 16th Street New York
New York 10011

From Adam and Eve to John and Yoko, the trope of the ‘woman to blame’ – and the ‘woman who blames’ – has had a remarkably persistent purchase on both pre-modern and contemporary imaginations. It has played a key role in fundamental social dynamics of gender to this day. In the Western literary tradition, tropes of accusation and false testimony surround the question of sexual impropriety, and modern literary-cultural dynamics continue to draw heavily on religious traditions of misogyny from antiquity through the late medieval period. What is this literary-cultural dynamic and how does it underpin discussions of the visibility and invisibility of women in contemporary culture?

In this course, we will explore the trope of accusation across the Western canon, from ancient monotheistic texts to major 20th century works. We will begin by examining the Biblical story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife, as well as its retellings in other monotheistic writings. We will also read Euripides’ tragedy Hippolytus, looking at a parallel example in the ancient Greek world. Examining texts from the Church Fathers, including the salacious compilation, The Book of the Wiles of Women, students will explore the further development of misogyny in late antiquity. Alongside these, students will study the counter-accusation in medieval philosophers like Christine de Pizan, amongt the first European thinkers to speak up for women as such. Similarly, we consider representation of women in early modern literature from the proto-feminist writings of Maria de Zayas  as well as re-encounter the story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife in Cervantes’ Don Quixote. Finally, we will turn to Michel Foucault’s The History of Sexuality, Jorge Luis Borges’ “Emma Zunz,” and Gayatri Spivak’s “Can the Subaltern Speak?” as we consider the contemporary legacy and continuing of this trope.

Course Schedule

Thursday, 6:30-9:30pm
July 13 — August 03, 2017
4 weeks


Registration Open

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