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Becoming Human

Becoming Human: The Matter of the Medieval Child

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Becoming Human
    Book Description:

    Becoming Humanargues that human identity was articulated and extended across a wide range of textual, visual, and artifactual assemblages from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries. J. Allan Mitchell shows how the formation of the child expresses a manifold and mutable style of being. To be human is to learn to dwell among a welter of things.

    A searching and provocative historical inquiry into human becoming, the book presents a set of idiosyncratic essays on embryology and infancy, play and games, and manners, meals, and other messes. While it makes significant contributions to medieval scholarship on the body, family, and material culture,Becoming Humantheorizes anew what might be called a medieval ecological imaginary. Mitchell examines a broad array of phenomenal objects-including medical diagrams, toy knights, tableware, conduct texts, dream visions, and scientific instruments-and in the process reanimates distinctly medieval ontologies.

    In addressing the emergence of the human in the later Middle Ages, Mitchell identifies areas where humanity remains at risk. In illuminating the past, he shines fresh light on our present.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-4156-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Philosophy, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xxx)

    In an astonishing passage about nativity and infancy located near the beginning of hisConfessions,Augustine meditates on his origins in the impersonal and immemorial event of birth. He begins to confess, in other words, where no autobiography is possible, and may be taken to confess to the fault of not being able to produce one in the first place. Reflecting on his derivation from something so foreign and forgotten as being born introduces a sort of quietus at the center of his mortal being. “For all I want to tell you, Lord, is that I do not know where...

  5. Being Born
    (pp. 1-58)

    At the start of hisConfessions,Augustine is more candid than most about the precariousness of life, peering into the abyssal depths of becoming from which anything at all arises. But his remarks about the amnesiac infant are meant to be instructive, generating further reflection on the mysterious origins and ends of life. For in facing up to the existential limits of the child, Augustine initiates a struggle to apprehend transcendent being: “You, O Lord my God, gave me my life and my body when I was born.”¹ Memory having failed, the confessional subject has recourse to apostrophe and assertive...

  6. Childish Things
    (pp. 59-116)

    An early-fourteenth-century miniature knight on horseback, discovered in the muddy foreshore of the River Thames in the 1980s, now sits on display behind a glass case in the Museum of London (see Plate 6).¹ It is a hollow, three-dimensional man and mount cast in pewter (tin–lead alloy), standing just over two inches tall. City smiths likely manufactured such replicas for the children of a growing urban middle class, although given the taste for chivalric imagery and miniaturization across the social spectrum, adults, too, may have coveted a portable figurine of this type.² The armor and rigging have suggested a...

  7. The Mess
    (pp. 117-174)

    Tables can appear to be no more than convenient, receptive household objects, entirely correlated to human use. Bartholomaeus Anglicus’sOn the Properties of Things,translated into Middle English by John Trevisa late in the 1390s, offers a relevant generic definition: “A borde hatte [is called]tabulaand hath þat name ofteneo, tenes‘to holde.’” In the practical manner of everyday things, tables carry different senses and sentiments depending on context. They are like so many empty placeholders. So we go on to read: “tabulais in oon significacioun a mete bord and nameliche of riche men, as it were...

  8. Epilogue
    (pp. 175-178)

    I have offered what may appear to be a strongly revisionist account of medieval cosmology, ontology, economy, and ethics. But this book is not out to revise the past. From several vantage points (scientific, technological, artifactual, and literary), the human has been shown to become one intercalated and immanent form of matter among others. Fair descriptions of the given phenomena are sufficient to draw the main conclusions. It is true that some dominant voices continued to insist on human particularity and relative supremacy (where humans occupy pride of place in some “scale of nature”), but self-congratulatory assertions tend to ignore...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 179-236)
  10. Index
    (pp. 237-249)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 250-250)
  12. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)