Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Allegories of annihilation: Porete's “Mirror” and the medieval self
by Schuberth, Jennifer M., Ph.D., The University of Chicago, 2008, 233; 3322669
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation argues that Margaret Porete's fourteenth century Mirror of Simple and Annihilated Souls challenges both our understanding of medieval forms of subjectivity and inwardness and marks the horizons of contemporary means available for conceptualizing subjectivity and agency.

Chapter one shows how the Mirror disrupts the paradigms contemporary scholars use to study medieval women's texts. Whereas much of the scholarship on female mysticism privileges the corporeal, the Mirror explicitly rejects the body as the locus of religious experience. By examining its assumptions about the relationship between the reader and text, I show that the Mirror should be understood not as a marginal text without general significance, but rather as an intervention into our understanding of contemporary accounts of fundamental medieval discourses on religious practices. In particular, I focus on a set of issues related to the categorization of evidence and its relation to our assumptions about how language functions. I introduce the term reading practices as a theoretical means of shifting emphasis from the author's intentions to the reader's experience of reading. In chapter two, I place the Mirror within the context of orthodox Christian culture and show the centrality of allegory to medieval reading practices. I concentrate on the Mirror 's manipulation of allegory, comparing its use of the genre to other medieval works by Augustine and Bernard of Clairvaux, and argue that it creates a set of reading practices that corresponds to a new form of subjectivity.

In chapter three, I turn to the problem of how we, as contemporary readers with very different conceptions of reading and subjectivity, might understand a reader's desire to annihilate his or her will. In order to analyze the annihilated Soul as a form of subjectivity, I compare the Mirror 's reading practices with a set of theoretical discourses grouped together under the rubric of psychoanalysis. While psychoanalytic discourse provides a language with which to talk about the dissolution of the will, in chapter four I address the limitations of using psychoanalysis to interpret the form of subjectivity and agency represented by the annihilated Soul by historicizing both psychoanalysis and its conception of agency.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Hollywood, Amy, Davidson, Arnold
School: The University of Chicago
School Location: United States -- Illinois
Source: DAI-A 69/07, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Religion, Philosophy, Theology, Medieval history
Keywords: Medieval, Mirror of Simple and Annihilated Souls, Porete, Margaret
Publication Number: 3322669
ISBN: 978-0-549-74205-0
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