Gender and Text in the Later Middle Ages

By Jane Chance | Go to book overview
subjection to that very law. Coming from the devil, not God, it is juxtaposed with her "gloryows visyonys" from God, Our Lady, and the saints, only to be discarded, appearing in the form it does because of the necessity for its sublimation. By returning to and insisting on grating domestic hierarchies against the transcendent, Margery Kempe's positive mysticism embarrasses the myth of God's neutral transcendence. And her embarrassing foregrounding of the insistently physical emphasizes the contradictions rather than the miraculous resolution of flesh and spirit in the Passion.By approximating herself to Christ, misrecognizing herself in him, by living a life that is itself a mimesis and remembrance of the Passion, the female mystic may gain access to the Word, or to those more human expedients, words. It is a strategy that never attempts, that is unable to attempt, to break the mold of its subjection. Indeed it cannot, for it is the very equation of victimization, passivity, subjection with femininity, that allows the Christian inversion its paradoxical triumph. But like a serf becoming king, it is a deposition, a usurpation that changes the terms but never the structure; and so the nature of the change must remain severely limited. Indeed, it may be argued that by underpinning that subjection with a heavenly guarantor, that very subjection is validated and perpetuated on earth, if it is not in the heaven deferred to in these writings.A feminist analysis of medieval women's mysticism must seek to explain the historical attraction of neo-Franciscanism for women. In doing so it must move beyond the sanctification of the marginal to an interrogation of the structures of power, the boundaries and definitions that enforce marginality onto women.
Notes
1. This term is notoriously vague because of the extended use to which it is put across a diverging range of theoretical discourse, from de Beauvoir's existentialist categorization to Lacan's psychoanalytic reformulation. The term has been redeployed by French feminist theorists such as Cixous and Irigaray, who use a version of Derrida to deconstruct the sexual hierarchies they see in all binary oppositions. This sense (the one I use here) carries the meaning of the Other as a fantasy, because there is no stable site of meaning over against which a stable identity can differentiate itself. (See second epigraph.)
2. See Toril Moi (in Aers, chap. 2) for a feminist examination of Capellanus Art of Courtly Love, which demonstrates how this process of differentiation and construction operates at the level of class as well as gender. There is also a fascinating account of the relationship between the Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale, read as a redeployment of courtly love from an ideology concerned with the cultural con-

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