Touching on the Past
"Tell me, Daddy. What is the use of history?"
Marc Bloch, The Historian's Craft
This book is about several interrelated groups, real and fictional, in
late-fourteenth- and early-fifteenth-century England - groups that
in particular had some contact with the tenets of the heretical Lol-
lards.} It is about the ways these groups constituted themselves as
communities, the phenomena they necessarily cast out in those con-
stitutive processes, and the afterlives of those abjected phenomena.
And it is about ways in which some people in the late-twentieth-
century West make relations with those very phenomena from the
past in constituting ourselves and our communities now.
The focus in the analyses that follow is sex: how do communities,
then and now, form themselves in relation to sex? Sex is hetero-
geneous, multiple, and fundamentally indeterminate; such qualities
have complicated, undermined, and frustrated not only critical efforts
to define an object of study but also community efforts to build dis-
tinct and unified associations on the basis of sex. But those very
slippery characteristics, I argue throughout this book, are the con-
dition, not the failure, of historical analyses and of the formation of
selves and communities.
pursue historical analyses that embrace the
heterogeneity of sex. And I follow what I call a queer historical im-
pulse, an impulse toward making connections across time between,
on the one hand, lives, texts, and other cultural phenomena left out
of sexual categories back then and, on the other, those left out of
current sexual categories now. Such an impulse extends the resources
for self- and community building into even the distant past.