Before Affection: Christ I and the Social Erotic

  • Lara Farina
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


Any understanding of the role of the erotic in medieval devotion must begin with monasticism, for the simple reason that no other form of Christian practice so influenced medieval understandings of devotional ritual. Indeed, monastic life is devotional ritual; it is a life given over to the performance of ascetic discipline. Asceticism and eroticism may seem contradictory practices to many. Gothic novelists, for example, love to employ monastic settings as a means of opposing “purity” and sexuality. From the eighteenth-century onward, their fictions have suggested that the erotic gets abjected from the saintly life of the monk or nun, only to return in its most violent, perverse forms.1 As any reader of “affective” theology knows, however, monastic writers in the Middle Ages incorporated the erotic into the ascetic, in sophisticated and highly self-conscious ways. A more sensitive view of this context recognizes that asceticism, while demanding that its practitioners exercise forms of restraint (concerning food, sex, ownership of property, and the like), should be considered an extensive retraining of desire and pleasure. Ascetic performance denaturalizes supposedly instinctual behavior and insists on an artifice of the senses. It is less about the denial of gratification than it is about the artificial creation of exaggerated sensory response, and therein lies its erotic potential.


English Poetry Hide Space Lyric Sequence Heroic Poetry Exeter Book 
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© Lara Farina 2006

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  • Lara Farina

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