IMC 2013: Sessions

Session 1217: Pleasures of Devout Pain: Suffering and Torture in Religious Writing

Wednesday 3 July 2013, 14.15-15.45

Moderator/Chair:Sue Ellen Holbrook, Department of English, Southern Connecticut State University
Paper 1217-a'Painful Pleasure': Saintly Torture on the Verge of Pornography
(Language: English)
Sarah Schäfer-Althaus, Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, Universität Paderborn
Index terms: Gender Studies, Hagiography, Religious Life, Sexuality
Paper 1217-bSuffering for Joy and Enjoying Suffering: Agnes Blannbekin's Interpretation of an Ascetic Lifestyle
(Language: English)
Amanda Jeffreys, Independent Scholar, Erith
Index terms: Lay Piety, Monasticism, Religious Life
Paper 1217-cPleasures of the (Tormented) Flesh: Holiness, Luridness, and Audience Participation in Medieval Virgin Martyr Tales
(Language: English)
Wendolyn Weber, Department of English, Metropolitan State University of Denver, Colorado
Index terms: Gender Studies, Language and Literature - Middle English, Sexuality, Women's Studies

Paper -a:
Within female hagiographical narratives, stimulating, pornographic and often sadistic endeavours can be detected, gendering the tortured body parts such as the tongue, teeth or the breast and thus supporting the development of (negative) erotic fantasies. The paper will explore the connection between pornography, torture and hagiography and investigate the ambiguity of this ‘painful pleasure’, which despite any assumptions is not only enjoyed by the male torturer when cutting off these symbolically significant body parts, but recurrently so it seems also by the saint herself, who more than once cheerfully exclaims that ‘the pains are my delight’ (St Agatha).

Paper -b:
Agnes Blannbekin’s Life and Revelations celebrates suffering while condemning ecclesiastics who express happiness or joy rather than dwelling on the suffering of Christ. In this paper I will explore the dichotomy Agnes draws between positive and negative suffering and positive and negative joy, in that positive suffering is suffering for God and that joy can only be achieved through such suffering. In order to thoroughly analyze her views on suffering and joy, I will be drawing on the legacy of St Francis of Assisi. Throughout her work Agnes argues for the superiority of Franciscan piety and the exulted place in heaven they will achieve through their suffering. Living less than one hundred years after his death, this analysis of St Francis will also provide insight into the transmission of his teachings to this Austrian beguine.

Paper -c:
Focusing particularly on the Old and Middle English accounts of Juliana and Middle English accounts of Christine and Catherine, and drawing from Foucault’s and Scarry’s discussions of the functions of torture, this paper explores the ways in which the virgin martyr tale engages its audience through a complex of binaries (pleasure versus pain foremost) and reversals (of expectations, of power relations). While the martyr herself enjoys the privilege of experiencing the passion of Christ in her own martyrdom, the audience’s pleasure lies rather in experiencing vicariously both the martyr’s triumph and the persecutor’s frustrated, but creative and lurid, efforts to subdue her.