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Margery Kempe and Translations of the Flesh

By Karma Lochrie

Publication Year: 2012

Selected by Choice magazine as an Outstanding Academic Book for 1999

Karma Lochrie demonstrates that women were associated not with the body but rather with the flesh, that disruptive aspect of body and soul which Augustine claimed was fissured with the Fall of Man. It is within this framework that she reads The Book of Margery Kempe, demonstrating the ways in which Kempe exploited the gendered ideologies of flesh and text through her controversial practices of writing, her inappropriate-seeming laughter, and the most notorious aspect of her mysticism, her "hysterical" weeping expressions of religious desire. Lochrie challenges prevailing scholarly assumptions of Kempe's illiteracy, her role in the writing of her book, her misunderstanding of mystical concepts, and the failure of her book to influence a reading community. In her work and her life, Kempe consistently crossed the barriers of those cultural taboos designed to exclude and silence her.

Instead of viewing Kempe as marginal to the great mystical and literary traditions of the late Middle Ages, this study takes her seriously as a woman responding to the cultural constraints and exclusions of her time. Margery Kempe and Translations of the Flesh will be of interest to students and scholars of medieval studies, intellectual history, and feminist theory.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: New Cultural Studies

Title Page, Copyright

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Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

I am grateful to my colleagues at the University of Hawaii who inspired me to pursue this project in its initial stages, particularly Nell Altizer, Kathleen Falvev, Jay Kastelv, and Judith Kellogg. Many scholars have contributed to this effort with their knowledge, suggestions, and comments, including...

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pp. 1-12

In 1415, Jean Gerson, chancellor of the University of Paris, wrote a treatise in response to the alarming claims of St. Bridget and other women to mystical revolation and prophecy. De probatione spirituum represents Gerson's attempt to provide guidelines for the Church by which it could identify true mystical inspiration and condemn false religious fevor. In this...

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1. The Body as Text and the Semiotics of Suffering

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pp. 13-55

Clare of Montefalco's (d. 1308) persistent meditation on Christ's Passion in thought and in action was rewarded with a physical cross implanted in her heart. She was said to have felt the insigne of His Passion continually until her death. Her sisters so believed in the sign that when she died they tore open her body to find not only the Cross but the completeinsigne of His...

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2. The Text as Body and Mystical Discourse

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pp. 56-96

The reception of the Word which begins in the imitation of Christ is inscribed through signs in the mystic's own body, As we have seen in the previous chapter, imitatio Christi enlists the pow ers of the flesh, including the mystic's desire and affections, in a practice of abjection. In effect, this practice crosses medieval culture's imaginan zones which presenre the...

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3. From Utterance to Text: Authorizing the Mystical Word

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pp. 97-134

The search for authority is a common practice among medieval texts, although the authorizing procedures of medieval texts vary across genres. Fourteenth-century literary texts, for example, often imitated the Aristotelian prologues of scriptural commentary by ascribing the authority of their works to the primary author, God, and to human...

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4. Fissuring the Text: Laughter in the Midst of Writing and Speech

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pp. 135-166

Margery Kempe's desire for acceptance and tolerance from the English clergy); her confessors, her fellow townspeople, and her readers is urgent both in her visionary conversations with Christ and in her disputes with the Church. Considering the unpopularity of her mystical practices, her desire is understandable. Yet, in spite of her insistence on authorizing the mystical...

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5. Embodying the Test: Boisterous Tears and Privileged Readings

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pp. 167-202

The medieval practice of imitating Christ, as chapter I made clear, was not confined to the reenactment and self-infliction of his suffering. Imitatio Christi began in the semiotic pilgrimage of the memory and the imagination through the signs of narrative and pictorial representation to the stirring of the mystic's affections and meditation. Imitating Christ was...

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6. The Disembodied Text

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pp. 203-236

Margery Kempe concludes the first version of her book with an appeal to the "trewe sentens" shown in the experience she narrates. In fact, as she is careful to explain, she never trusted her revelation until "she knew by means of experience whether it was true or not" (220). By testing her feelings against her experience-and against the text, since the mystic text is always...


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pp. 237-248


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pp. 249-253

E-ISBN-13: 9780812207538
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812215571

Page Count: 268
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: New Cultural Studies