Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

Redeeming Sexual Difference: Stigmata, the Messenger and Luce Irigaray's Bleeding Woman

Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

Redeeming Sexual Difference: Stigmata, the Messenger and Luce Irigaray's Bleeding Woman

Article excerpt

To affirm in full positivity the existence and capacities of (at least) two sexes--the project of sexual difference--is to acknowledge two things: first, the failure of the past to provide a space and time for women as women, with the consequence that all forms of prevailing practices and forms of knowledge represent the interests and perspectives of only one sex. Second, linked to this recognition is the necessity, in the future, of providing other ways of knowing, other ontologies and epistemologies that enable the subject's relation to the world, to space and time, to be conceptualized in different terms ... Irigaray understands this as a becoming beyond the one, beyond the phallic, a becoming in which the all-too-human is understood as the all-too-patriarchal, and the future is beyond recognition, beyond the dualities of the sexes as we know them today and as they existed in the past. (1)

Elizabeth Grosz, "The Force of Sexual Difference"

[1] The 1999 film Stigmata (Rupert Wainwright) dramatizes the experiences of a female stigmatic and Christ figure: Frankie Paige is an ordinary twenty-three-year-old woman who receives the wounds of Christ's passion. In the course of portraying Frankie's physical and psychological trial, Stigmata illuminates the tensions between the ordinary and the extraordinary, immanence and transcendence, body and spirit. The sometimes contradictory, sometimes cooperative demands of the body and the spirit present a paradox, one that is very much about sexual difference. Considering Stigmata alongside the psycholinguistics of Luce Irigaray foregrounds the difficulties and hazards involved in representing a woman as Christ, and the necessity of imagining new ways of understanding gendered identity within Christianity. What emerges quite strongly is the question of female sacramentality and women's roles--an issue currently prominent in the Catholic church with regard to the exclusively male priesthood. One of the central arguments barring women from the priesthood involves their supposed inability to symbolize or image Christ, and thus act in persona Christi in the Mass. Though it is an ambivalent film, Stigmata surfaces moments that cast doubt upon prevailing views of gender in Christianity, which are often based on a reductive biologism or a rigid two-gender model. Like Stigmata, The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (Luc Besson, 1999) confronts the female body in an attempt to reconfigure the relationship between femininity and the sacred. The Messenger figures the female body as an obstacle, especially in an unusual scene where Joan of Arc transforms into a sort of priest. Both films invoke the "bleeding woman," a figure of lack conceived as a support rather than as autonomous, who paradoxically underwrites and secures that which excludes her--a masculine symbolic.

Spectacular Transformations

[2] Stigmata chronicles the meeting of Frankie (Patricia Arquette) and Father Andrew Kiernan (Gabriel Byrne). Kiernan is sent to Brazil by the Vatican to investigate the miraculous events surrounding the death of Father Alameida, a priest and stigmatic who discovered a lost gospel thought to record the actual words of Jesus. Set in Pittsburgh, Rome, and Belo Quinto, a village in southeast Brazil, Stigmata engages several seemingly discordant pairings: the rural and the industrial-modern; the mundane and the spectacular; the profane and the sacred; humanness and the divine. The most prominent of these oppositions is embodied by Frankie, who receives a rosary from her traveling mother--what seems to be an ordinary souvenir from Belo Quinto--and soon after becomes a stigmatic. In scene after scene of violent imagery she re-experiences the wounds of Christ during his passion: the flagellation, the crowning with thorns, the nailing to the cross. Here we have, then, a troubling illustration--a woman who images Christ.

[3] The problems posed by a female Christ figure evoke all the contradictions and opportunities that questions of immanence/transcendence, particularity/universality put into play. …

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