R. Howard Bloch argues that medieval French comic tales are shocking not so much for their dirty words, scatology, and celebration of the body in all its concavities and protrusions, but moreso for their insistent exposure of the scandal of their own production. Looking first at fabliaux about poets, Bloch demonstrates that the medieval comic poet was highly conscious of the inadequacy of language and pushed this perception to its logical, scandalous limit. The comic function of the fabliaux was intentionally disruptive: anticlerical, antifeminist, and antiestablishment, these tales were part of a sophisticated culture's critical perspective on itself.
By showing how the medieval poet's obsession with the outrageous, the low, and the lewd was intimately bound to poetry, Bloch forces a revision of traditional approaches to Old French literature. His final chapter, on castration anxiety, fetishism, and the comic, links the fabliaux with the development of modern notions of the self and makes a case for the medieval roots of our own sense of humor.