Fallen Bodies: Pollution, Sexuality, and Demonology in the Middle Ages

Fallen Bodies: Pollution, Sexuality, and Demonology in the Middle Ages

Fallen Bodies: Pollution, Sexuality, and Demonology in the Middle Ages

Fallen Bodies: Pollution, Sexuality, and Demonology in the Middle Ages

Synopsis

"That rare conjunction of impeccable scholarship, brilliant synthesis, and innovative intellectual insight. It is a far-ranging work."--Mathew Kuefler, San Diego State University

Excerpt

This book is purposefully situated on slippery and shifting terrain. Its central concerns are twofold. First, it attempts to reveal aspects of the clerical intelligentsia’s reinterpretation of inherited sexual and religious traditions within the altered conditions of the high and later Middle Ages. Out of necessary deference to tradition, this reinterpretative effort frequently employed obfuscation, subterfuge, and disavowal. Second, the work as a whole suggests various forms of sullen self-maintenance by which the past resisted eradication and even reasserted itself within the very discourses intended to effect its suppression. Certain discursive zones attract attention to themselves by their extremes of repetition or emotional intensity, revealing the persistence of a sensitivity that is noteworthy even when one grants the intractability of past discourses. Rather than confirming existing or newly promulgated areas of belief, these zones evoked a mixed or irresolute response, and their affective product was anxiety in the beholder. For the western church, ritual pollution, sexual regulation, and the status of the demonic were three areas within which such irreducible and anxietyproducing kernels were carried forward, even within the stream of rationalizing high medieval discourse. These particularly obdurate zones resist neat reconceptualization. Instead of gradually differentiating themselves in ways amenable to the resolution of interpretative difficulties, such areas became increasingly interconnected as the Middle Ages progressed.

Early Christianity is frequently contrasted with Judaism for its cavalier attempt to dispense with many of the complex taboos that differentiated the pure from the impure in social and cultic life. But, as with many attempted revolutions, this was a partial one at best. the human body, frail and corruptible, would continue to be a locus of concern that would serve to prolong and extend pollution fears. Thus, in the words of Mary Douglas, “the spiritual intentions of the early Church were frustrated by spontaneous resistance to the idea that bodily states were irrelevant to ritual.” This resistance was differentially applied. Recent work by scholars such as Peter . . .

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