Margery Kempe and Translations of the Flesh

Margery Kempe and Translations of the Flesh

Karma Lochrie
Copyright Date: 1991
Pages: 268
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    Margery Kempe and Translations of the Flesh
    Book Description:

    Selected by Choice magazine as an Outstanding Academic Book for 1999 Karma Lochrie demonstrates that women were associated not with the body but rather with the flesh, that disruptive aspect of body and soul which Augustine claimed was fissured with the Fall of Man. It is within this framework that she reads The Book of Margery Kempe, demonstrating the ways in which Kempe exploited the gendered ideologies of flesh and text through her controversial practices of writing, her inappropriate-seeming laughter, and the most notorious aspect of her mysticism, her "hysterical" weeping expressions of religious desire. Lochrie challenges prevailing scholarly assumptions of Kempe's illiteracy, her role in the writing of her book, her misunderstanding of mystical concepts, and the failure of her book to influence a reading community. In her work and her life, Kempe consistently crossed the barriers of those cultural taboos designed to exclude and silence her. Instead of viewing Kempe as marginal to the great mystical and literary traditions of the late Middle Ages, this study takes her seriously as a woman responding to the cultural constraints and exclusions of her time. Margery Kempe and Translations of the Flesh will be of interest to students and scholars of medieval studies, intellectual history, and feminist theory.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0753-8
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    In 1415, Jean Gerson, chancellor of the University of Paris, wrote a treatise in response to the alarming claims of St. Bridget and other women to mystical revelation and prophecy. De probatione spirituum represents Gerson’s attempt to provide guidelines for the Church by which it could identify true mystical inspiration and condemn false religious fervor. In this treatise, Gerson warns against the religious appetites of women and adolescents (whom he lumps together) which make them prone to unbridled speech and passions.² In the quotation above, Gerson specifically addresses the problem of woman’s speech in conjunction with the appetitive faculties, of...

  5. 1. The Body as Text and the Semiotics of Suffering
    (pp. 13-55)

    Clare of Montefalco’s (d. 1308) persistent meditation on Christ’s Passion in thought and in action was rewarded with a physical cross implanted in her heart. She was said to have felt the insigne of His Passion continually until her death. Her sisters so believed in the sign that when she died they tore open her body to find not only the Cross but the complete insignia of His Passion, from crown of thorns to the vinegar-soaked sponge offered to slake His thirst on Calvary.¹ Although her Franciscan confessor denounced the story as a fraud, it carries its own important insignia...

  6. 2. The Text as Body and Mystical Discourse
    (pp. 56-96)

    The reception of the Word which begins in the imitation of Christ is inscribed through signs in the mystic’s own body. As we have seen in the previous chapter, imitatio Christi enlists the powers of the flesh, including the mystic’s desire and affections, in a practice of abjection. In effect, this practice crosses medieval culture’s imaginary zones which preserve the masculine integrity of the body by excluding the perviousness of the flesh, body, and language. Drawing upon the “heaving powers” of the flesh, the female mystic breaks taboos against the female body and defilement. In addition, she places language back...

  7. 3. From Utterance to Text: Authorizing the Mystical Word
    (pp. 97-134)

    The search for authority is a common practice among medieval texts, although the authorizing procedures of medieval texts vary across genres. Fourteenth-century literary texts, for example, often imitated the Aristotelian prologues of scriptural commentary by ascribing the authority of their works to the primary author, God, and to human auctores.¹ Nevertheless, their reference to authority differed from the authorizing idioms of exegetical texts in that their self-conscious manipulation of auctores drew attention to their own creativity. The art of preaching, by contrast, drew its authority not from any personal creativity or from ancient authors, but from the office of preacher...

  8. 4. Fissuring the Text: Laughter in the Midst of Writing and Speech
    (pp. 135-166)

    Margery Kempe’s desire for acceptance and tolerance from the English clergy, her confessors, her fellow townspeople, and her readers is urgent both in her visionary conversations with Christ and in her disputes with the Church. Considering the unpopularity of her mystical practices, her desire is understandable. Yet, in spite of her insistence on authorizing the mystical discourse of her Book and the “truth shown in experience,” she seems continually to undermine her own efforts. By reporting her ordeals of writing the book and of finding only grudging acceptance from many, including the Archbishop of York and her second scribe, Kempe...

  9. 5. Embodying the Text: Boisterous Tears and Privileged Readings
    (pp. 167-202)

    The medieval practice of imitating Christ, as chapter 1 made clear, was not confined to the reenactment and self-infliction of his suffering. Imitatio Christi began in the semiotic pilgrimage of the memory and the imagination through the signs of narrative and pictorial representation to the stirring of the mystic’s affections and meditation. Imitating Christ was conceived of as a kind of reading and remembrance. Whether one embarked on an actual pilgrimage to the Holy Land, heard a sermon on Christ’s Passion, viewed a retable or cycle play about the Crucifixion, or read a devotional treatise, one engaged in a reading...

  10. 6. The Disembodied Text
    (pp. 203-236)

    Margery Kempe concludes the first version of her book with an appeal to the “trewe sentens” shown in the experience she narrates. In fact, as she is careful to explain, she never trusted her revelation until “she knew by means of experience whether it was true or not” (220). By testing her feelings against her experience—and against the text, since the mystic text is always engaged in the act of self-verification—Kempe firmly positions truth in that experience, rather than behind, beyond, or above it. This is consistent with her expressed purpose of writing a treatise which would demonstrate...

  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 237-248)
  12. Index
    (pp. 249-253)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 254-255)