Feminist Theory, Women's Writing

By Laurie A. Finke | Go to book overview

3 The Grotesque Mystical Body: Representing the Woman Writer

The soul is the prison of the body.

--Michel Foucault

In "A Preface to Transgression," Foucault points to the medieval tradition of mysticism to counter the common belief that only during the modern period has sexuality been the object of anything but a murky representation: "Never did sexuality enjoy a more immediately natural understanding and never did it know a greater 'felicity of expression' than in the Christian world of fallen bodies and of sin. The proof is its whole tradition of mysticism and spirituality which was incapable of dividing the continuous forms of desire, of rapture, of penetration, of ecstasy, of that outpouring which leaves us spent: all of these experiences seemed to lead, without interruption or limit, right to the heart of a divine love of which they were both the outpouring and the source returning upon itself" ( 1977b, 29). Foucault's argument that mystical experience in Western Christianity conflated sexual and divine love is corroborated, in somewhat different fashion, by Lacan. Citing the example of Hadewijch d'Anvers, Lacan says that the "mystical ejaculations are neither idle gossip nor mere verbiage, in fact they are the best thing you can read." Mystics alone sense what is inexpressible--the jouissance "which goes beyond." Their testimony is for this very reason intensely political: "The mystical is by no means that which is not political. It is something serious, which a few people teach us about, and most often women" ( 1982, 146- 47).

The anxiety of modernity began, according to Foucault, "when words ceased to intersect with representations and to provide a spontaneous grid for the knowledge of things" ( 1970, 304). What recurs at the margins of poststructuralist discourse is the figure of the mystic, and primarily the female mystic, as a sign of the failure

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