Edited By Alexander Schwarz, Catalina Schiltknecht and Barbara Wahlen
Versions of the glorious body: language and corporeity: Petya Ivanova
PETYA IVANOVA (GENEVA)
Versions of the glorious body: language and corporeity
1.Religion, culture and the lump-child
If our impossibility to imagine a pre-discursive body is widely accepted1, the Middle English text with which I would like to start my discussion on the theological concept of the glorious body performs the unthinkable: it offers for contemplation a human lump of flesh and stages its transformation through religious discourse and ritual into a human child. The King of Tars is a 14th-century romance which features the marriage of a Christian princess and a heathen Sultan, whose offspring is a lifeless and formless lump of flesh.2 After undergoing the ritual of baptism the lump is transformed into a beautiful and “well schapen” (l.785) child, which entails the conversion of the Sultan and the militant imposition of Christianity over his entire realm3.
Here language and the shape of the body are intimately related, not only from the point of view of religious doctrine and liturgy conferring a human shape to the “flesh”4, but in a more complex network of misused or displaced language, which affects the body’s appearance. When the princess is delivered of a misshapen lump of flesh, the Sultan blames the misfortune on her “false belief” (1.590), ← 353 | 354 → that is his own religion, which she accepts “with her mouthe”, but not in her thought (l.505). The two textual variants of the poem, extant in different manuscripts5, already reflect a different degree of...