Recently, on academia.edu …
von Christof Rolker · Veröffentlicht · Aktualisiert
Recently, on academia.edu, Francisco Vázquez García sent me a kind message, which started the below dialogue. Read on, if you want to learn about (and perhaps join) our discussion! My review of Hermaphrodites in Iberia raised some points of criticism, but as you can see below, I also have to correct my own critcism – and given that the review was public, it is only fitting that its correction is likewise made public.
I have seen on internet that you have published a review about our book “Sex, identity and hermaphrodites in Iberia (1500-1800)”, in the Zeitschrift für Historische Forschung, 42 (2015), 4, p. 758. It would be possible to have a copy of your text? I am very grateful to you in every case; your works about hermaphroditism in Medieval and Ancient time are really interesting.
Francisco Vázquez García
thanks for your kind message. For a short version of the review (in German), see here
and I will upload the full (print) version at academia.edu in the next days. As you might have seen already, I do not fully agree with all aspects of your book, but enjoyed reading it a lot and would be very interested to discusse these issues with you. Also, you might be interested to learn that a colleague of mine found another case of hermaphroditism in 18th c. Spain on which he will publish soon on my blog.
Sorry you have to struggle with German (an horrible language to learn). My basic criticism can be summarized as follows:
1) Laqueur’s model is more flawed than you thought – hence, some of your claims on the continuity of the model are not well founded. For example, the oath for which you quote Tómas Sánchez was well established already in the Middle Ages, while some ‘Galenic’ concepts were indeed novel around 1500. (You see, I’m speaking as a medievalist here; and I think we do agree that the scholarly consensus is significantly more critical of Laqueur than it was when you wrote the book.)
2) Not so much scholarly consensus, but my own observations make me doubt the idea that people were “accused of hermaphroditism”. It may be true that ambigious anatomy could get you into trouble, esp in the 16th century; but often it would not, and strikingly, “hermaphroditism” could be used in the Middle Ages and in early modern times as a defence strategy. Your books provides excellent examples of how people improved their situation if they sucessfully claimed to be hermaphrodites; as a consequence, I would argue, one should not even speak of “accusations of hermaphroditism”. Even if hermaphrodites had been at a special risk of being accused of sodomy (something I seriously doubt, but I am ready to change my mind in the light of new evidence), as a legal historian I would stress that there simply was no legal basis for such accusations.
Needless to say, I appreciate your book despite my disagreement on certain aspects. Perhaps I should also take the opportunity to stress what I really like about your books: while scholars like me tend to focus on this or that primary source, you really do combine general arguments and ideas (about state, society, bodies) with historical narrative. We need much more of this kind of historical enquiry.
I really apreciate your criticism because it helps us to improve our future Spanish edition. At the same time, you are truly one of the best experts in this matter, so your review is an excellent gift for us.
Dear Francisco (if I may),
I still consider myself quite a newby to the field, so thanks for the flattering compliment.
More importantly, I am well aware that the focus of your book was neither legal history nor medieval history, so I am all the more happy that you see my criticism (which is mainly that of a medievalist-cum-legal historian) as a contribution to an ongoing debate. We all write so many reviews, and rarely they start a discussion!
Even more importantly, I have to admit that I did understand your book as speaking (as Fouculat and many others had done) of ‘accusations of hermaphroditism’; checking my notes, I have to admit that the occurences of the expression I noted (as on p. 102) are a paraphrase of older literature, and not an assertion that hermaphrodites were persecuted for being hermaphrodites. I may have been carried away by a perceived lack of criticism of Foucault’s assertions in that direction. My apologies if I misrepresented your argument.
May I repeat my invitation to the blog – it has some readers now (3,000 unique visirtors a month), and both contributions and comments are very welcome. In fact, we could very directly contiune our discussion there; it would also be a good opportunity to correct my misrepresentation of your argument in public.
I am very happt with this discussion, even if my writen English is very limited. When Richard and me write together, he translated my part to English, and in the Spanish version, I make the translation of his text. I have commented with him your review and the discussion after too. Foucault misunderstood the legal treatement of hermaphrodites; effectively he thought that hermaphrodites were persecuted by law (and forced to make a choice in every case, not only with “perfect hermaphrodites”), but this is a mistake. On the other hand, the book by Helen King, “The One-sex body on trial”, was published in 2013, so it was impossible for us to read it. Probably this is the most complete criticism of Laqueur work and at the same time, King knows very well the Hippocratic Corpus and the Greek medicine in general. As you say we have to correct this part of our book.
OK, maybe we can move this discussion, the texts of this interchange to your blog. It’s perfect for me and I am very grateful to you if you can cut and paste these comments in the blog.