current research focuses on two specific bodies of literature which,
as they currently stand, might be more precisely described as the severed
appendages of their once flourishing and intact bodies. It is hardly
debatable that their amputated states are a direct result of a general
historical lack of interest in literature written by women. The fact
that these two literary fragments have braved between six to eight centuries
warding off complete annihilation is, however, a tribute in itself to
their relative staminas and pervasive cultural acceptance and celebration.
I will analyze kisaeng and trobairitz conceptions of their
own difference, their otherness as women; and argue that it is possible
to read their poetic manipulation of the jargon of love as a form of
resistance to the patriarchal systems which insisted upon such differences.
My analysis of the Korean kisaeng along with the Occitanian trobairitz
results from my perception of multiple factors that make the two particularly
kisaeng and trobairitz poems compose some of the earliest
extant poetry written by women in both of their relative cultures. The
existing poems of the trobairitz were written during the period
spanning the years 1130 to the mid-thirteenth century, and while the
kisaeng poems are more difficult to date precisely, I focus on
those which were most likely composed during the Koryo Dynasty (918-1392)
and the early Yi Dynasty (1400-1600).
Both the kisaeng and the trobairitz poets were educated
women in their relative cultures, though for very different reasons.
kisaeng were courtesans chosen from lower-class households by
the government for their exceptional beauty and talent and were trained
in "literature, social manners, and ritual music and dance" and sometimes
in the sciences and medicine. The trobairitz, on the other hand,
were members of Provencal aristocracy, "the very ladies at whose skirts
the troubadours had knelt, the wives and daughters of the lords of Occitania."
Though the precise academic regimens accessible to the trobairitz
is somewhat questionable, their works combined with their occasional
literary allusions attests to the fact that they had received substantial
education in the poetic arts. Of comparative interest here is the somewhat
unusual fact that both groups of women were educated at all. An overview
of the Middle Ages and Koryo and Yi Dynasties suggests that neither
Christianity nor Confucianism traditionally advocated or even allowed
intellectual recourse for women outside of her household duties (and
here I exclude monastic women). The poetry of the kisaeng and
trobairitz, then, provides crucial fodder for comparison – as
they did indeed participate in intellectual communities of their eras
and did so while occupying diametrically opposed positions on the social
The primary theme of both sets of texts is that of erotic love. The
majority of their poems are in some way concerned with the power relations
between men and women – and the ways in which these relations are represented
in poetic discourse – and use the form and vocabulary of the love lyric
to open up and participate in a dialogue about such power dynamics.
consider it crucial to understand the complex relationship between author,
poetic voice, and reader. A search for "authentic voices and experiences,"
as I define such terms, implies that such voices and experiences did
at one point in time exist, however fleeting or fragmentary and in whatever
form. I do not mean to suggest, however, that such core "authenticities"
can be located or decoded by contemporary scholars. Yet to uncover as
much of the authentic ideologies of the kisaeng and trobairitz
as is humanly possible, through painstaking attention to the historical,
social, and political circumstances under which they occurred and were
recorded; while simultaneously remaining conscious of the differences
between the author and her poetic voice (as well as my own feminist
political agenda) forms the overarching aspiration of this study.