At the center of the female mystic experience is often a sense of postlapsarian inability to come close to a true representation of the divine vision. Yet, the literary elements in works of women like Hildegard of Bingen, Elisabeth of Schönau, and Julian of Norwich are often overlooked. This paper presents a reading of these mystics that argues they themselves were aware of and exploiting their own fictionality. Through a study of the language of ‘unknowing’ and their frequent proclamations of ‘insufficient language’, I will show that these authors present a kind of careful fiction, one that engages with apophasis and the humility topos of illiteracy.
In the Late Middle Ages many female saints were known for their putative ability to subsist on nothing but the Eucharist for certain periods of time. This phenomenon has been studied by Rudolph Bell (1985), Carline Walker Bynum (1987) and many other scholars. What has largely gone unnoticed in previous studies, is the fact that medieval sources present this radical fasting as public behaviour. In my research I analyse medieval inedia from a performative point of view, which means that I pay attention to power relations between the fasting women and their audiences as described in the sources. In this paper I will present some of these dynamics.
I will study in my paper the concepts of ‘jouissance’ and ‘syncope’ (borrowed from feminist scholars, especially from Morny Joy, Luce Irigaray, Julia Kristeva, and Catherine Clément) as means of accessing the sacred in the case of Christina of Stommeln. I suggest that their ideas of jouissance and syncope offer a fresh aspect to the medieval world. They can be seen as methods of gaining access to the sacred. Jouissance may be described as ecstasy, desire, and pleasure. Syncope could be described as disruption, break in the usual or in medical terms: fainting, or losing consciousness. I argue that the German Beguine Christina of Stommeln (1242-1312) was able to perform the touch of the sacred with the help of jouissance and syncope and convince (e.g.) her confessor, Peter of Dacia, of her holiness.