‘postmedieval’

For the month of May the inaugural issue of postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies is available online for free download.

Highlights include the abstract to Jeremy Jeffrey Cohen’s essay “The Life of Stone” and the essay by Karmen MacKendrick, “The multipliable body”. Including short essays, responses to them, parenthetical citation, and few footnotes (and those on the outer margins) seems entirely appropriate for the tone of the journal: philosophical, theoretical, and fresh. I’ll definitely be following this one closely.

There seems to be healthy space for philosophizing medievalists at the moment.

For the past few months I have been slowly and carefully reading MacKendrick’s book, Word Made Skin: Figuring Language at the Surface of Flesh (New York, 2004). Her work on text and somatic theory – bodies, wounds, markings, tattoos, folds, organs, innards, and skins – is driven by a distinctive narrative voice with more first-person than we usually expect. It works. From her introduction:

“I have come increasingly to suspect, as well, that I say the same thing whenever I write. What I say when I write has to do with pleasures, though perhaps that is not quite the right word; it has to do with desires, though that term is almost too mild. It has to do with intensities and with limits. It has to do with bodies and with words. One of these days, I sometimes think, I may perhaps figure out what it is that I’ve been trying to say, or to whom.

Until then, I go on writing. In all that follows, I have tried to sort out my singular obsession in terms of word and flesh. After a few remarks on methods and on my sources, I shall hint at a discussion of the mutual constitutiveness of self, desire, and limit. “Hint,” rather than properly discuss, because in fact this discussion is one that unfolds throughout the course of the book, returning explicitly in the conclusion. In the chapters between I shall set forth a set of stories and of figures of speech that trace the dual paths of bodies and words: the story of the risen body in the fourth gospel of the New Testament and the figure of touch; T. S. Eliot’s poem ‘Ash Wednesday’ and the figure of the fold; visions and images of the Sacred Heart and the figure of the cut. The possibility of thinking together body and language (I wish that I had some clearer way to state this connection, but I have never found one) is framed for my by my ongoing interest in questions of desire and limit, questions that outline the paths to be followed here.” (p. 2)

It is revealing that she finds herself on the far edge of articulation when she struggles to express “thinking together body and language”: what is it about the issue of text/body that challenges the limits of human communication? Is there some kind of physiological failure of language capability that finally presents itself when we try to articulate it?

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