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Fragmentation and Redemption: Essays on Gender and the Human Body in Medieval Religion

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Fragmentation and Redemption is first of all about bodies and the relationship of part to whole in the high Middle Ages, a period in which the overcoming of partition and putrefaction was the very image of paradise. It is also a study of gender, that is, a study of how sex roles and possibilities are conceptualized by both men and women, even though asymmetric power relati Fragmentation and Redemption is first of all about bodies and the relationship of part to whole in the high Middle Ages, a period in which the overcoming of partition and putrefaction was the very image of paradise. It is also a study of gender, that is, a study of how sex roles and possibilities are conceptualized by both men and women, even though asymmetric power relationships and men's greater access to knowledge have informed the cultural construction of categories such as "male" and "female," "heretic" and "saint." Finally, these essays are about the creativity of women's voices and women's bodies. Bynum discusses how some women manipulated the dominant tradition to free themselves from the burden of fertility, yet made female fertility a powerful symbol; how some used Christian dichotomies of male / female and powerful / weak to facilitate their own imitatio Christi, yet undercut these dichotomies by subsuming them into humanitas. Medieval women spoke little of inequality and little of gender, yet there is a profound connection between their symbols and communities and the twentieth-century determination to speak of gender and "study women."


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Fragmentation and Redemption is first of all about bodies and the relationship of part to whole in the high Middle Ages, a period in which the overcoming of partition and putrefaction was the very image of paradise. It is also a study of gender, that is, a study of how sex roles and possibilities are conceptualized by both men and women, even though asymmetric power relati Fragmentation and Redemption is first of all about bodies and the relationship of part to whole in the high Middle Ages, a period in which the overcoming of partition and putrefaction was the very image of paradise. It is also a study of gender, that is, a study of how sex roles and possibilities are conceptualized by both men and women, even though asymmetric power relationships and men's greater access to knowledge have informed the cultural construction of categories such as "male" and "female," "heretic" and "saint." Finally, these essays are about the creativity of women's voices and women's bodies. Bynum discusses how some women manipulated the dominant tradition to free themselves from the burden of fertility, yet made female fertility a powerful symbol; how some used Christian dichotomies of male / female and powerful / weak to facilitate their own imitatio Christi, yet undercut these dichotomies by subsuming them into humanitas. Medieval women spoke little of inequality and little of gender, yet there is a profound connection between their symbols and communities and the twentieth-century determination to speak of gender and "study women."

50 review for Fragmentation and Redemption: Essays on Gender and the Human Body in Medieval Religion

  1. 4 out of 5

    Stephen

    "Let him who does not know how to astonish go work in the stables!" - Giambattista Marino (1569–1628) This collection of essays centering on female mysticism looks at the issue of whether the sacred is to be found within our bodies. Many have tried to memorialize the sacred through their own sacrifice, as represented in art (Emily Dickinson and Van Gogh come to mind). But then there's a question of whether there's something specifically sacred about femaleness, in it a religious response to life "Let him who does not know how to astonish go work in the stables!" - Giambattista Marino (1569–1628) This collection of essays centering on female mysticism looks at the issue of whether the sacred is to be found within our bodies. Many have tried to memorialize the sacred through their own sacrifice, as represented in art (Emily Dickinson and Van Gogh come to mind). But then there's a question of whether there's something specifically sacred about femaleness, in it a religious response to life when put to extremes. It is pointed out that male hagiographers (in the late Middle Ages) viewed female sanctity as peculiarly somatic. This raises a question the scholar is not prepared to answer: who or what should people really be worshiping if this were true, the spirit of Christ (through imitatio Christi) or the mystics of the body (through the same)? Women mystics were valued for the idea that "you have to physically suffer to legitimate one's own sanctity." Without sanctity human dignity has no place to lodge. Simone Weil, as of late, took this idea seriously. Anyone can take suffering to extremes to reach mystical insight, but though many Christians imitate Christ, no one would ever confuse a follower for the real thing. Women mystics are "more human" in this way, and thus we identify with them more for reasons of equality, even though few of us would ever do what they did for insights into the secrets of the universe - they had much going up against them. Bynum is at her best interpreting imagery and symbols through psychology, Women writers did not associate mothering so exclusively with nurturing and affectivity, nor did they use 'mother' and 'father' as paired and contradictory descriptions... To Gertrude of Helfta, Christ's fatherhood includes loving, cuddling, feeding from his breast and teaching the baby soul its letters; Christ's motherhood includes protecting the soul during a storm at sea, clothing it with fine dresses, punishing it, denying it jewels and ornaments, refusing it affection so that it learns patience, and frightening it with ugly faces or masks. Not only are characteristics we would call affective and merciful, on the one hand, judgmental and authoritarian, on the other, distributed randomly between father and mother, but the sets are not usually discussed together or as complements to each other. Sounds like it might be, but this isn't yet another hapless attempt by a scholar to gender-bender our literature. It raises interesting questions classical Greek poets wrote about often, about ecstasies found when we reach out to our other gender within. The literary critic Barbara Johnson, of Bynum's generation, essayed on this territory in intriguing ways regarding poets Baudelaire and Mallarmé. The problem is, as with so much contemporary life, if you are without religion (a spirited way of bringing cohesion to the cosmos), what is the purpose of studying symbols if they cannot be put to use in a unified system of thought? You end up with provocative thoughts, but all under arbitrary rule. Our fetish for the fragmentary in early 21st century life strikes me as bizarre. It does Bynum too, but unlike Johnson who had an ability to write at poetic and philosophic levels while doing cultural criticism, the aims are narrower, the scholarship much less exciting. "Am I my body?" (Master of the Ursula Legend, The Burial of Ursula and Her Companions/Meister der Ursula-Legende und Werkstatt: Begräbnis der Heiligen Ursula und ihrer Gefährten und Gefährtinnen, um 1492 – 1496. The caption to this painting on p. 277 reads: "The story of Saint Ursula and her 11,000 virgin companions, martyred for the faith, was extremely popular in the high Middle Ages, especially in the area of Cologne, where supposed relics of the women were dug up with great frequency. This picture of the burial of Ursula illustrates the medieval concern with reassembling bodies for burial. The carefully collected body fragments, with their neatly rounded edges, already look a good deal like the reliquaries in which they will be preserved.") A look at baby Jesus's penis as depicted in countless European paintings (a symbol, after all) can be helpful or silly in an historicist approach, It is far from clear, however, that artists emphasized Christ's penis 'as a sign of his sexuality and therefore his humanity'. Moreover, there is both iconographic and textual evidence for the argument that late medieval people sometimes saw the body of Christ as female. There is thus better evidence for the assertion that the late Middle Ages found gender reversal at the heart of Christian art and Christian worship than there is for the thesis that Renaissance artists emphasized the sexuality of Jesus. If we as modern people find (scholar Leo) Steinberg's argument more titillating and Steinberg's illustrations more fascinating than those I will consider now, this may suggest merely that there is a modern tendency to find sex more interesting than feeding, suffering or salvation. It may also suggest that, pace Huizinga, twentieth-century readers and viewers are far more literal-minded in interpreting symbols than were the artists, exegetes and devotional writers of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. I do think she makes a good point about our literal-mindedness, judging by the awful state of poetry criticism nowadays (not to mention those who write it). Bynum is not just a medievalist proud of being one but admits she's a product of the 1960s as well. She tells us that she started off rebellious; she kept the following Paris wall-slogan from the student rebellion of 1968 on her bulletin board for inspiration: “Toute vue des choses qui n’est pas étrange est fausse” (“Every view of things that is not strange [i.e., bizarre or foreign] is false”). But like that generation she has become conservative in the sense that she responds only to her colleagues. Much of these essays, unfortunately, are battles among the professionals, not a hard look taken at what women mystics were truly after. ______________________________ You can read a Presidential Address Bynum gave to the American Historical Association about the nature of Wonder at the link: http://www.historians.org/about-aha-a... Medieval philosophers and theologians emphasized wonder as a first step toward knowledge; we, in our postmodern anxiety, tend rather to emphasize how hard it is to know. Medieval devotional and hagiographical writers stressed wonder as the opposite of imitation or possession; we are aware that any response involves some appropriation. Medieval travelers and collectors of marvels argued that awe and dread are situated, perspectival; we share this perception and give credit to feminism and postcolonial theory for it, but we suspect that such awareness shatters the possibility of writing any coherent account of the world... Nonetheless, I would argue, we write the best history when the specificity, the novelty, the awe-fulness, of what our sources render up bowls us over with its complexity and its significance. Our research is better when we move only cautiously to understanding, when fear that we may appropriate the “other” leads us not so much to writing about ourselves and our fears as to crafting our stories with attentive, wondering care. At our best, it is the “strange view of things” for which we strive—

  2. 5 out of 5

    Aveugle Vogel

    "filling the mouth with honey" "filling the mouth with honey"

  3. 5 out of 5

    Siria

    While it has been built on in a number of significant ways since its publication, Fragmentation and Redemption is still a stimulating and subtle look at the interplay of gender, religion and conceptions of the human body in medieval Europe. Bynum's main themes are the asymmetry of gendered power relationships, and how that created more fluidity/subtlety of gender construction than moderns tend to attribute to the Middle Ages; the forms of women's creativity and religious expression; and the medi While it has been built on in a number of significant ways since its publication, Fragmentation and Redemption is still a stimulating and subtle look at the interplay of gender, religion and conceptions of the human body in medieval Europe. Bynum's main themes are the asymmetry of gendered power relationships, and how that created more fluidity/subtlety of gender construction than moderns tend to attribute to the Middle Ages; the forms of women's creativity and religious expression; and the medieval conception of how we inhabit our bodies. I really like her rejection of the simple binary, and her attempt to write history in the 'comic' mode, which are both approaches I hope to bring to my own work. As a collection of essays, Fragmentation and Redemption mostly holds together well. The last five are neatly linked thematically; the first two, however, suffer a little from addressing 'specific' questions and feel a little limited by that.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Aeisele

    This is a very interesting book, especially for someone like me, who is fascinated by all things Medieval. Bynum especially looks at the practices of the middle ages, things like the cult of saints, the debates about the resurrection of the body, etc. What is best about her work is that she doesn't just reduce the experience of Medieval peoples to modern cliches, i.e., that they had "repressed sexuality", they "hated the body", they were completely misogynist. While she does say there is some tr This is a very interesting book, especially for someone like me, who is fascinated by all things Medieval. Bynum especially looks at the practices of the middle ages, things like the cult of saints, the debates about the resurrection of the body, etc. What is best about her work is that she doesn't just reduce the experience of Medieval peoples to modern cliches, i.e., that they had "repressed sexuality", they "hated the body", they were completely misogynist. While she does say there is some truth to those things, she really tries to understanding what medieval people, especially women, actually experienced, and relate that to their theological and philosophical thinking. For anyone who wants to understand why purgatory was so important, or transubstantiation, and a host of "weird" concepts, this is the book.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    Neato!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Taiba

    Skipped chapters two and three out of the seven chapters because I was reading for a class.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Luiza

  8. 4 out of 5

    K

  9. 4 out of 5

    Mandy E

  10. 5 out of 5

    Susan

  11. 5 out of 5

    Søren

  12. 5 out of 5

    Renee Martin

  13. 5 out of 5

    Flora

  14. 5 out of 5

    Rachel S

  15. 4 out of 5

    Andrea

  16. 5 out of 5

    Phoebe

  17. 4 out of 5

    Tiffany Sprecher

  18. 5 out of 5

    Justin Brumit

  19. 4 out of 5

    Mrs.pinkeyes

  20. 4 out of 5

    Delyth

  21. 5 out of 5

    Vanessa Crosby

  22. 4 out of 5

    Wendyb

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kat

  24. 5 out of 5

    Megan Ayers

  25. 4 out of 5

    Brian Covey

  26. 4 out of 5

    Element TL

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

  28. 5 out of 5

    josephine cameron

  29. 5 out of 5

    Dgpeth Petherick

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jennie

  31. 5 out of 5

    Karl Steel

  32. 5 out of 5

    Amy Barlow

  33. 4 out of 5

    Maggie

  34. 5 out of 5

    Andrea Fraser

  35. 4 out of 5

    Celeste

  36. 4 out of 5

    Kat

  37. 4 out of 5

    Jason

  38. 4 out of 5

    Theodora

  39. 5 out of 5

    Ish

  40. 5 out of 5

    Dana Lutters

  41. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

  42. 5 out of 5

    Heather

  43. 5 out of 5

    Tracy

  44. 5 out of 5

    William

  45. 5 out of 5

    Lanny

  46. 5 out of 5

    Elzibub

  47. 4 out of 5

    John

  48. 5 out of 5

    Amelia

  49. 5 out of 5

    Sharon Bailey

  50. 4 out of 5

    Heidi Nemo

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