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Medicine, female mystics and illness experience
Umeå University, Faculty of Arts, Department of language studies. (UGPS)
2018 (English)In: Revisiting gender in European history, 1400-1800 / [ed] Elise M. Dermineur, Åsa Karlsson Sjögren and Virginia Langum, Routledge, 2018, p. 100-120Chapter in book (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

The relationship of the physical, gendered body to mental health is a common theme in literary studies, which have sought to understand historical and contemporary narratives by female authors. Medieval mystics, in particular, have invited psychological and medical intrigue, both in their own period and much later. While both male and female mystics often write in highly embodied imagery, female mystics often write in immediate relation to their own bodies. Mystics sought personal experience, or what is called mystical union with the divine, through certain practices, which ranged from contemplation to extreme fleshly mortification. In the later Middle Ages, between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries, women took a particular role in shaping mystical practices and texts through their works in various languages. Not only their own contemporaries but also far more recent readers have offered various biomedical and psychosomatic diagnoses for these medieval female mystics. This chapter outlines these attempts, while arguing for a new interpretation of the texts using the women's own use and understanding of medicine. From the outset, the range of diagnoses from various readers from the fifteenth century to the twenty-first century seems vast and incompatible—from medieval accounts of demonic possession and humoral balance, to late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century notions of hysteria, to more current diagnoses of temporal lobe epilepsy and botulism. However, I argue that they have a common clinical core. They assume that these women are bodies and minds to be diagnosed by various authoritative standards, whether religious or biomedical. This chapter considers contemporary and anachronistic diagnostic tools for mystical experience through the works of two mystical women of late medieval England: Margery Kempe (ca. 1373–ca. 1438) and Julian of Norwich (ca. 1342–ca. 1416). Despite the wealth of criticism on these women, which refers to their contemporary and later authoritative discourses of religion and medicine, the women's own medical knowledge and the way they negotiate it in terms of their own experience has not yet been considered. I argue that these texts stand witness to two women attuned to medical knowledge and capable of diagnosing themselves. Rather than clinical narratives, these texts represent illness experiences, and as such the interplay of their own contemporary biomedical knowledge and their own lived embodied experience. They are at once doctors and patients.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Routledge, 2018. p. 100-120
Series
Routledge research in gender and history ; 31
National Category
History Gender Studies
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-144756ISBN: 9781138731547 (print)ISBN: 9781315188966 (electronic)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:umu-144756DiVA, id: diva2:1182494
Available from: 2018-02-13 Created: 2018-02-13 Last updated: 2019-08-22Bibliographically approved

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CiteExportLink to record
Permanent link

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Cite
Citation style
  • apa
  • ieee
  • modern-language-association-8th-edition
  • vancouver
  • Other style
More styles
Language
  • de-DE
  • en-GB
  • en-US
  • fi-FI
  • nn-NO
  • nn-NB
  • sv-SE
  • Other locale
More languages
Output format
  • html
  • text
  • asciidoc
  • rtf