, Volume 9, Issue 2, pp 216–230 | Cite as

Bodies that talk: Julian of Norwich and Judith Butler in conversation

  • Laura Moncion
Original Article


It has become increasingly common to see medieval texts read alongside postmodern theories. Methodologically speaking, these engagements can take several forms, but are often framed within metaphors of ‘applying’ postmodern theories or ‘imposing’ frameworks on medieval sources, introducing a certain danger that the medieval source comes across as incidental to a theoretically performative reading, whether or not this is the scholar’s intention. It may be more accurate and more methodologically helpful when reading medieval texts and postmodern theories to consider each of these encounters as a conversation between past and postmodern, triangulated by the present of the researcher or reader, rather than using metaphors of superimposition. This paper presents one such conversation between fourteenth-century English anchorite Julian of Norwich and twentieth-century postmodern theorist Judith Butler. I argue that Julian and Butler both reject a strict and mutually exclusive gender binary because they both subscribe to an ontology which is queerer than human categories of language, and that the body as a site of discourse is the point at which Butler and Julian meet. This essay shows not only that postmodern theory is a useful tool when reading medieval texts, but also that the medieval has something to say to the postmodern—and will continue to talk back to theory in an unending and continually transformative exchange of perspectives.


Julian of Norwich Judith Butler Medieval Gender Postmodern Methodology Mysticism Queer theory 


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Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Medieval StudiesUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

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