Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Metamorphosis and Identity

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Metamorphosis and Identity

Article excerpt

Metamorphosis and Identity. By Caroline WaUcer Bynum. (New York: Zone Books, distributed by The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts. 2001/2005. Pp. 280. $32.95 clothbound; $19.95 paperback.)

In Metamorphosis and Identity, Caroline Walkr Bynum presents four studies that complement her past research on twelfth- and thirteenth-century attitudes toward the self, corporality and change. Of those four chapters, three have already been published: "Wonder" (American Historical Review, 1997), "Metamorphosis, or Gerald and the Werewolf" (Speculum, 1998), and "Shape and Story" (1999 Jefferson Lecture, National Endowment for the Humanities website). Bynum notes "substantial" revisions to "Metamorphosis" and "Shape and Story." The fourth chapter, here placed as chapter 3, "Monsters, Medians, and Marvelous Mixtures: Hybrids in the Spirituality of Bernard of Clairvaux," further develops suggestions made in the three earlier essays about the relationship between hybridity and metamorphosis in the Middle Ages.

Uniting Bynum's coUection is her conviction that the debates over change and mixture (metamorphosis and hybridity) that she analyzes illuminate fundamental medieval ontological concerns. These worries are admirably summarized in her introduction, where she explores the various ways in which the processes and existence of change influenced many levels of medieval thought. Incorporating materials as diverse as Walter of Châtillon's satires, Bernard of Clairvaux's sermons, and Vincent of Beauvais' Speculum Malus, the four succeeding chapters develop aspects of this thought and suggest how medieval attitudes toward change reveal attitudes toward self. For example, Bynum concludes her chapter on Bernard of Clairvaux by stressing that, for Bernard, humanity is essentially a hybrid, facing constant inteUectual and social tensions based on the dichotomies, contradictions, and oppositions of humanity itseË and humanity's environments. If Bernard's spirituality is seen as a metamorphosis, as some scholars have suggested, Bynum stresses that metamorphosis in that case must mean a return to something, rather than change from something. …

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