Advertisement

postmedieval

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

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

  • Laura Moncion
Original Article

Abstract

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.

Keywords

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

References

  1. Aers, D. 2009. Salvation and Sin: Augustine, Langland, and Fourteenth-Century Theology. South Bend, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.Google Scholar
  2. Aquinas, T. [c.255] 1961. On Being and Essence, trans. A. A. Maurer. Toronto, ON: The Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies.Google Scholar
  3. Albertus, M. 2008. Fathers of the Church: Questions Concerning Aristotle’s On Animals, trans. and ed. I. Resnick and K.F. Kitchell, Jr. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press.Google Scholar
  4. Augustine of Hippo. [c.398] 1991. Confessions, trans. H. Chadwick. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Augustine of Hippo. [c. 417] 1956. On the Holy Trinity, trans. ed. A. W. Haddan. In Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church Vol III: St Augustin, 2–228. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  6. Bonaventure. 1978. ‘The Soul’s Journey Into God,’ trans. E. Cousins. In Bonaventure: The Soul’s Journey Into God, The Tree of Life, The Life of St Francis. New York: Ramsey.Google Scholar
  7. Butler, J. 1993. Bodies that Matter. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  8. Butler, J. 1994. Contingent Foundations: Feminism and the Question of Postmodernism. In The Postmodern Turn: New Perspectives on Social Theory, ed. S. Seidman, 153–70. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Butler, J. 1990. Gender Trouble. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  10. Butler, J. 1991. Imitation and Gender Insubordination. In Inside/Out: Lesbian Theories, Gay Theories, 13–31. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  11. Butler, J. 2003. Undoing Gender. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  12. Bynum, C.W. 1991. Fragmentation and Redemption: Essays on Gender and the Human Body in Medieval Religion. New York: Zone Books.Google Scholar
  13. Bynum, C.W. 1982. Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the Middle Ages. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  14. Cadden, J. 1993. Meanings of Sex Difference in the Middle Ages: Medicine, Science, and Culture. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Colledge, E. and J. Walsh, trans. 1978. Julian of Norwich’s Showings. New York: Paulist Press.Google Scholar
  16. Dinshaw, C. 1999. Getting Medieval: Sexualities and Communities, Pre- and Postmodern. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gillespie, V. and M. Ross. 2011. The Apophatic image: The Poetics of Effacement in Julian of Norwich. In Looking in Holy Books: Essays on Late Medieval Religious Writing in England, 277–305. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols.Google Scholar
  18. Holloway, J.B. 2016. Julian Among the Books: Julian of Norwich’s Theological Library. Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Press.Google Scholar
  19. Julian of Norwich. [c. 1380] 2006. The Writings of Julian of Norwich: A Vision Showed to a Devout Woman and a Revelation of Love, eds. N. Watson and J. Jenkins. University Park, PA: Penn State University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Julian of Norwich. [c.1380] 1978. Showings, trans. E. Colledge and J. Walsh. New York: Paulist Press.Google Scholar
  21. Krylova, A. 2016. Gender Binary and the Limits of Poststructuralist Method. Gender and History 28(2): 307–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. McAvoy, L.H. 2004. Authority and the Female Body in the Writings of Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press.Google Scholar
  23. McNamer, S. 1989. The Exploratory Image: God as Mother in Julian of Norwich’s Revelations of Divine Love. Mystics Quarterly 15(1): 21–28.Google Scholar
  24. Meijer, I.C. and B. Prins. 1998. How Bodies Come to Matter: An Interview with Judith Butler. Signs 23(2): 275–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Peterson, C. 2006. The Return of the Body: Judith Butler’s Dialectical Corporealism. Discourse 28(2/3): 153–77.Google Scholar
  26. Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite. [c. 500] 1980. The Divine Names and Mystical Theology, trans. J. D. Jones. Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Salih, S. 2008. Julian’s Afterlives. In A Companion to Julian of Norwich, ed. L.H. McAvoy, 208–18. Suffolk, UK: Boydell & Brewer Ltd.Google Scholar
  28. Sinfield, A. 1994. Cultural Politics – Queer Reading. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Tauler, J. 1985. Sermons, trans. M. Shrady. New York: Ramsey.Google Scholar
  30. Turner, D. 2011. Julian of Norwich: Theologian. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Watson, N. 1993. The Composition of Julian of Norwich’s Revelation of Love. Speculum 68(3): 637–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Watson, N. 1996. ‘Yf Women Be Double Naturally’: Remaking ‘Woman’ in Julian of Norwich’s Revelation of Love. Exemplaria 8(1): 1–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Wogan-Browne, J. 1994. Chaste Bodies: Frames and Experiences. In Framing Medieval Bodies, eds. S. Kay and M. Rubin, 24–42. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Medieval StudiesUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

Personalised recommendations