Gender and Text in the Later Middle Ages

By Jane Chance | Go to book overview

9

On the (Un)Representability of Woman's Pleasure: Angela of Foligno and Jacques Lacan

Cristina Mazzoni

Trasumanar significar per verba non si porìa; però l'essemplo basti a cui esperïenza grazia serba.

Dante, Paradiso 1. 70-72

[The passing beyond humanity cannot be set forth in words; let the example suffice, then, for those to whom grace reserves the experience.]

The subject of the following discussion is the "controversy" regarding the possibility (or the impossibility) of representing, typically through the use of language, the female body and particularly its relation to pleasure. Can woman's pleasure be articulated through human language and transcribed in a written text? Or is this an experience that cannot be set forth in words because, as Dante puts it, it involves "passing beyond humanity"-- or "transhumanizing"--and is therefore beyond signification? With these questions in mind, I propose a comparative reading of the medieval Italian mystic Angela of Foligno ( 1248?- 1309) and of the twentieth-century French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan ( 1901-81). Is such a reading a "permissible" one, or does the distance between the two writers--cultural, religious, sexual, or what have you--turn it into an ethically dubious enterprise? In their respective theories--mystical for Angela, psychological for Lacan--these two authors lay claim to an atemporal validity that I propose to "turn against them." In the 1290s, Angela of Foligno describes in her autobiography (the Memoriale) a theological, an ethical, and above all an affective experience that in no way restricts itself to a devotional book addressed to her contemporaries alone. Likewise Jacques Lacan, in his seminar on femi-

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