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Demonic Possession, Vulnerability, and Performance in Medieval French Drama


Andreea Marculescu

Just like the modern hysteric, a figure that catalyzes clinical vocabularies confirming medieval theological anxieties, the demoniac has been considered an "anomalous" and "abnormal" manifestation of womanhood. Incapable of self-governance, both linguistic and corporeal, the medieval possessed is placed in the category of the pathological. The symptoms of possession are part of a multilayered discourse coined by medieval theologians, authors of exempla, hagiographers, and natural philosophers. The subjectivity of the demoniac becomes, thus, a fetishistic construction which allows medieval male intellectuals to ponder questions about demons, the supernatural, and the human body. Demonic Possession, Vulnerability, and Performance in Medieval French Drama advocates for an affective and ethical framework of reading the vocabularies of possession in which the demoniac’s convulsions, contortions, shrieks of pain, and snapshots of disarticulated language are not conceptualized as "pathological" but as a model of intercorporeality built around modalities of sensuous exchange between the bodies of both the possessed and of those whom she comes in contact with. Can we think of a corporeal agency of the "anomalous" body of the possessed independent of reason and articulated language? What happens when such distorted bodies enter zones of visual, haptic, and aural contact with abled-bodied individuals? Can possession be considered as a producer of a sensuous type of knowledge that alters the way sovereign subjects perceive themselves? Taking as primary sources a series of late-medieval French Passion Plays and hagiographical plays authored by poetic and religious figures such as Arnoul Gréban, André de la Vigne, Eustache Mercadé, and Jean Michel, this book argues that the lyrical capaciousness of the plays as forms of narrativized poetics allows us to understand demonic possession as a series of bodily narratives of pain, of healing, of witnessing, and, ultimately, of vulnerability.

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Writing a scholarly monograph involves a very great deal of solitary work. Yet I would not have been able to accomplish this project without the help, advice, and encouragement of my academic mentors and friends from both Europe and the US. This monograph has grown from my dissertation which I defended at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore in 2011. I am very grateful to my advisor, Stephen Nichols, for the unique ways in which he has always known how to challenge me intellectually and professionally. His mentorship over the years has been central to my formation as a scholar. I also wish to thank him for welcoming my work into the series he is directing at Peter Lang. At Johns Hopkins, Walter Stephens has been a great mentor from whose knowledge on medieval and early-modern demonology I have benefited tremendously. Other faculty members at Hopkins—Elena Russo, Wilda Anderson, Bill Egginton, Gabrielle Spiegel, and Herbert Kessler—have inspired and challenged my work in significant ways. At Harvard, Virginie Greene has been a constant source of support and inspiration. Her optimism and sense of practicality are contagious. I am grateful to Jane Newman, a wonderful pedagogue, scholar, and mentor, who has made me feel extremely welcomed in the UC Irvine community and shown a great deal interest in my work. At University of Oklahoma, Sufang Ng, Kenneth Hodges, and Joyce Coleman have shown a great sense of hospitality and provided priceless advice about the structure of this book. ← vii | viii...

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