Reading Skin in Medieval Literature and Culture by Katie L. Walter (eds.)

By Katie L. Walter (eds.)

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Taken together, then, the chapters in this volume trouble our reliance on the age-old categories of human language, reason, upright body posture, and noble vision in defining medieval subjects and selves. Skin instead emphasizes not the hierarchy, but the interdependency of the senses, and lays bare the intimacy of the human, the animal, the divine, and the monstrous in medieval natural philosophy, pastoral and ethical traditions, and in the literary imagination. But so too—if among skin’s signifying possibilities it “bytokens lufe” (in Bridget of Sweden’s terms), if it invites a felt response or compassion, if it permits others to touch each other, even to stand in another’s place—might it invite or contribute to different modes of relating to the medieval past, to the objects and texts of our scholarly study, in which, as Farina advocates, we might let them touch us back.

6 These meditations not only define a self attuned to the needs of a newly articulated confessional culture, but one that manifests aspects of what we might call, within an Aristotelian framework, consciousness, a word that even today has uncertain meaning. Paradoxically it is prohibitions against touch in literature and art for and about women that generate searching meditations on its metaphysical and epistemological complexities. Such prohibitions, which pervade literature written for and about women in the religious life, predominate in the thirteenth-century Middle English devotional writings known as the AB texts (which include a guide to the reclusive life Ancrene Wisse, and the related five texts that make up the Katherine group: a tract on virginity, Hali Meidenhad, three saints’ lives, and a homily on the guardianship of the soul, Sawles Warde).

21. 22 . 23. 24. 25. 26. , Pride and Prodigies, and are given by page number in the text; for the passages here, see pp. 178, 192–93. Mittman and Kim, “The Exposed Body,” p. 182. Mittman, Maps and Monsters, p. 98. html Suzannah Biernoff, Sight and Embodiment in the Middle Ages: Ocular Desires (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), p. 18. 3. Mittman, Maps and Monsters, p. 105. See Gerald of Wales, The History and Topography of Ireland, ed. and trans. John J. O’Meara (London: Penguin Books, 1982).

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