Abyss: Everything is food

  • Karl Steel
Article

Abstract

Medieval death poetry revels in the appetites that proliferate around corpses. Death may be an end for a subject, but the subject is also an object for the appetites of others, which will themselves eventually be food objects for others. Few medieval works show this so clearly as the Disputation Between the Body and the Worms, a debate poem in which a body finds itself at odds with its own edibility and the competing interests of its own biome. A crowd of worms finally convinces the body to give up her self-possession, and to realize that nothing, not humanity, not wealth, not beauty, will let vulnerability be ‘outsourced,’ for all appetites, bodies, and desires, human and otherwise, will be humbled by the appetites and desires of others.

References

  1. Acampora, R . 2006. Corporal Compassion: Animal Ethics and Philosophy of Body. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.Google Scholar
  2. Bataille, G . 1986. Erotism: Death & Sensuality, trans. G. Dalwood. San Francisco, CA: City Lights Books.Google Scholar
  3. Bennett, J . 2010. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Bloch, M. and J.P. Parry, eds. 1982. Death and the Regeneration of Life. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bogost, I . 2012. Alien Phenomenology, Or What It′s Like to be a Thing. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brantley, J . 2007. Reading in the Wilderness: Private Devotion and Public Performance in Late Medieval England. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cerquiglini-Toulet, J . 1999. Les vers comme heritiers: aspects de la poétique du testament aux XIVe et XVe siècles. Micrologus 7: 345–357.Google Scholar
  8. Cohen, K . 1973. Metamorphosis of a Death Symbol: The Transi Tomb in the Late Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  9. Conlee, J.W, ed. 1991. Middle English Debate Poetry: A Critical Anthology. East Lansing, MI: Colleagues Press.Google Scholar
  10. de Quincey, T . 1855. Note Book of an English Opium-Eater. Boston, MA: Ticknor and Fields.Google Scholar
  11. Derrida, J . 2008. The Animal That Therefore I Am, trans. D. Wills. New York: Fordham University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Donatelli, J.M, ed. 1989. Death and Liffe. Cambridge, MA: Medieval Academy of America.Google Scholar
  13. Felski, R . 2011. Context Stinks! New Literary History 42 (4): 573–591.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Furnivall, F.J, ed. 1901. The Minor Poems of the Vernon MS, Vol. 2. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co.Google Scholar
  15. Gide, A . 2000. Journals: 1889-1913, trans. J. O’Brien. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.Google Scholar
  16. Gray, D . 1972. Themes and Images in the Medieval English Religious Lyric. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  17. Gray, D . 2005. London, British Library, Additional MS 37049–A Spiritual Encyclopedia. In Text and Controversy from Wyclif to Bale: Essays in Honour of Anne Hudson, eds. H. Barr and A.M. Hutchinson, 99–116. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Harris, J.G . 2011. Four Exoskeletons and No Funeral. New Literary History 42 (4): 615–639.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hahn, T, ed. 1995. The Awntyrs off Arthur. In Sir Gawain: Eleven Romances and Tales. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications.Google Scholar
  20. Hennessy, M.V . 2002. The Remains of the Royal Dead in an English Carthusian Manuscript, London, British Library, MS Additional 37049. Viator 33: 310–354.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Isidore of Seville. 2007. The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville, trans. S.A Barney, W.J Lewis, O. Berghof, and J.A Beach. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Joy, E.A . 2012. You Are Here: A Manifesto. In Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: Ethics and Objects, ed. J.J. Cohen, 153–172. Washington DC: Oliphaunt Books.Google Scholar
  23. King, P.M . 1990. The Cadaver Tomb in England: Novel Manifestations of an Old Idea. Church Monuments 5: 26–38.Google Scholar
  24. King, P.M . 2003. My Image to be Made All Naked: Cadaver Tombs and the Commemoration of Women in Fifteenth-Century England. The Ricardian 13: 294–314.Google Scholar
  25. Meillassoux, Q . 2010. After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency, trans. R. Brassier. New York: Continuum.Google Scholar
  26. Mooney, L.R., D.W. Mosser and E. Solopova Digital Index of Middle English Verse [DIMEV], http://www.cddc.vt.edu/host/imev/.
  27. Morton, T . 2010. The Ecological Thought. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Roach, M . 2004. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.Google Scholar
  29. Rudd, G . 2007. Greenery: Ecocritical Readings of Late Medieval English Literature. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Shakespeare, W . 2006. Hamlet, eds. N. Taylor and A. Thompson, 3rd edn. London: Arden Shakespeare.Google Scholar
  31. Westerhof, D . 2008. Death and the Noble Body in Medieval England. Woodbrige, UK: Boydell Press.Google Scholar
  32. Wolfe, C . 2012. Before the Law: Humans and Other Animals in a Biopolitical Frame. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Woolf, R . 1968. The English Religious Lyric in the Middle Ages. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Karl Steel
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of EnglishBrooklyn College, CUNYBrooklyn

Personalised recommendations