Monstrous Topoi

  • Michael Uebel
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


The relation of St. Thomas’s coffin to Muhammad’s is not (only) an issue of historicity—the question of which “came first”—but an issue of temporality— how such a relation was to be grasped as an event possessing immediate analytic attention (in a “here and now”). Or, put another way, the question is: how was this “here and now” defined vis-à-vis its relation not only to the past or to the other, but to another relation per se (that of the two tombs)? Grasping the relation of the two tombs suggests foremost a process of identity formation, where at work are acts forming an identity on the move, always implicated in the convergence and relation of the specific cultural histories conditioning those acts. Identity, Stuart Hall points out, thus emerges “at the unstable point where the ‘unspeakable’ stories of subjectivity meet the narratives of history, of a culture.”2 This passage from “unspeakable” to “speakable,” from silent narratives of the single self to resonant myths of collective history, assumes in medieval culture a form that is necessarily incomplete, open to what might be called the “expression of a possible world.”3 In this expression of the possible inheres the utopic, that middle ground between the founding of subjectivity and its displacement, between the establishment of identity and its transgression, and, as I have suggested in the introduction, between the positioning of subjecthood and its perversion through fantasy and play. If, as Michel de Certeau has said, “every story is a travel story…a spatial practice,”4 then utopie stories trace special trajectories through space: movement from place to no place, from the world that is to a world that could be.


Precious Stone Primal Scene Imaginary Representation Familiar Home Medieval Culture 
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© Michael Uebel 2005

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  • Michael Uebel

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