Wan-Chuan Kao
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This chapter examines the deformational forces of white precarity. It reads Chaucer’s Sir Thopas through cuteness to shift critical attention from the tale’s generic classification to questions of aesthetic and affect. Thopas, possessing a bread-like white face, is cute and cuddly. The production of cute features through infantilisation and feminisation triggers tender caretaking and sadistic aggression; the cute object is paradoxically held gently and squeezed violently. Cutification is a response to the racialised precarity posed by the religious and racial Other, especially by the Jews in the Prioress’s Tale. Anti-Semitic violence manifests as aesthetic deformation: the white face is squeezed and stretched to the breaking point. Under the duress of the cute response, the Chaucerian narrator, Thopas and the text become deformed. The flattening of physical and textual bodies leads to the obliteration of verticality and depth. Drawing on the superflat movement in Japanese contemporary art, I argue that cuteness in Sir Thopas effects a compression of the text’s narrative layers and semiotic networks. Mirroring the horizontal, non-linear organisation of the poem’s layout in medieval manuscripts, desire moves sideways across Sir Thopas. The lateral mobility and the agglutinating property of cuteness allow it to adhere to and cutify objects in its vicinity; the catalogues of romance tropes in Sir Thopas thereby function as cute object clusters within a late medieval middling household. As much as the narrative itself is pressurised, Sir Thopas makes affective and aesthetic demands on its audience, thereby ‘squeezing’ the audience as they squirm in shameful discomfort.

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