Gender and Text in the Later Middle Ages

By Jane Chance | Go to book overview

2

The Use of Gender and Gender-Related Imagery in Hadewijch

Saskia M. Murk-Jansen

Images are multivalent, and none more so than images of gender, which not only reflect a multiplicity of meanings to any one reader but also mean different things to men and women. Furthermore, gender-related images are not always primarily, or even at all, about gender, about the differing roles of women and men apparently reflected by the image.1 In this respect, Ricoeur's theory of imagery is a more satisfying explanation of the way in which gender images function than that put forward by those who see symbols and images as models of the world or society as they are, or models for the way they should be. Analysts who subscribe to this interpretation of images have analyzed the imagery in medieval texts for what it can reveal about the actual role of women in medieval society, about the authors' underlying conceptions of women, or about the author's subconscious desires concerning the role of women.2 Ricoeur, on the other hand, suggests that symbols give rise to thought, not that thought or experience gives rise to symbols. For Ricoeur, symbols and images point beyond ordinary experience to an experience so "other" that it cannot be discovered except by analogy.3 I will argue that this is certainly true of gender-related imagery in Hadewijch, and that Ricoeur's theory more adequately explains the function of such imagery in Hadewijch than does the other. This article will focus not on what Hadewijch's use of gender-related imagery might reveal about her conscious or subconscious desire for fulfillment as a woman, but on how she used such imagery to create a language to speak to women about the relationship between the soul and God. It is in the language developed by Hadewijch and other women writing in the vernacular that much of the theological interest of their texts lies.

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