Naked before God: Uncovering the Body in Anglo-Saxon England ed. by Benjamin C. Withers, Jonathan Wilcox (review)
- Comitatus: A Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies
- University of California, Los Angeles, Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies
- Volume 35, 2004
- pp. 251-254
- Additional Information
REVIEWS 251 marginal place of the mystic, and particularly the female mystic, in the context of the “regular” church. Meltzer’s analysis of the process of transcription, which exhibits itself in the church’s insistence upon the creation of readable text that allows for formal exegesis , adds force to her reference to Freud’s analogy of the criminal to the hysteric. Her reading here is both subtle and sophisticated . And equal emphasis on textuality is present in Regina M. Schwartz’s “From Ritual to Poetry: Herbert’s Mystical Eucharist.” Careful readings of Herbert’s poetry along with a serious consideration of the importance of liturgical practice help to substantiate Schwartz’s claim, “Reformation poetry becomes the new cit of transubstantiation of the Word”(142). Finally, Susan Schreiner’s comparison of the writings of Martin Luther with those of Teresa of Avila suggests that shared textual references—in this case Luther’s and Avila’s concern with Corinthians 11.4: “For even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.”—can demonstrate profound affinities between unlikely individuals. Her readings are persuasive and she sets them within a larger socio-historical context that suggests that the anxieties of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation are inextricably connected. All told, this is an interesting, albeit difficult, volume of essays. While in some cases the pieces aim at an extremely limited audience, for the most part the questions being raised about the relationship between experience and language , presence and absence, even the potential use of post-modern theory in explaining and understanding the ecstatic are worthy of serious consideration. Being unwilling to look at our relationship to the mystic poses a threat that David Tracy describes in the “Afterward” of “a new forgetfulness [that] will continue to affect too much of Western though and practice …”(243). Considered in that light, an unwillingness to struggle with difficult issues has very high stakes indeed. CHERYL GOLDSTEIN, Comparative Literature, UCLA Naked before God: Uncovering the Body in Anglo-Saxon England, ed. Benjamin C. Withers and Jonathan Wilcox. Medieval European Studies 3 (Morgantown: West Virginia University Press 2003) xii + 315 pp., ill. An interesting scholarly discussion began a few years ago centering around the perception, depiction, and metaphorical use of the body in the Middle Ages. The conversation was urged along by Caroline Walker Bynum’s several works on the female and male body. In recent years many other scholars such as Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, Sarah Kay, Gail Kern Paster, Roy Porter, G. S. Rousseau and Miri Rubin have joined the dialogue. Naked before God continues this discussion while focusing on the Anglo-Saxon body, one that is difficult to assess given the limited sources from which to glean an accurate picture. This collection of essays is a nicely focused work examining body imagery both in and around Old English texts. As Benjamin C. Withers, points out, “While the body in general occupies an important site at the intersections of many discourses, the naked body, because it so readily captures both attention and censure, can provoke the reevaluation of those discourses in ways that the clothed body cannot.” In the spirit of Withers ’ commentary, this collection examines unclothed bodies either in AngloSaxon words or images, which appear in sacred texts or in sacred surroundings REVIEWS 252 having been displayed and constructed in, on, or by a church or monastery. Suzanne Lewis, in her beautifully written introduction, addresses the apparent contradiction between Anglo-Saxon Christian prudery and their still-pagan tribal spirit, sense of justice, and the tension between “self-consciousness and awareness.” The concepts behind Anglo-Saxon law and the body as a record for those dealing out justice are explored further in Mary P. Richards’s essay. Richards looks at how justice, including both punishment and compensation for bodily harm, was meted based on what the arbitrator and the medical examiner could find on the body. The body served as a “text” of the crime: the more severe or visible the injury, the greater both the compensation and the punishment. Richards describes “injury tariff” catalogues that were organized head to toe in a fashion similar to medicinal leechbooks. An interesting question raised by Richards is whether the victim...