Visible and Invisible Bodies and Subjects in Peter Damian

  • William Burgwinkle
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


Peter Damian is not the first figure that comes to mind when compiling a list of medieval queer theorists. Though he is often cited as a key figure in the formulation of the sin of sodomy and as an innovator in disciplinary discourse, he is not usually considered an advocate for what I would call, following Foucault, a queer aesthetics of the self.1 Yet when grated against Leo Bersani’s Homos, specifically against Bersani’s reading of André Gide, Peter emerges as an important theorist of male communities whose views resonate uncannily with Foucauldian concerns about the power and fantasy of control through sight and the disciplinary effects of being seen.2 The Peter Damian in question is, of course, the author of the by now infamous Liber gomorrhianus [Book of Gomorrah], probably the first comprehensive guidebook to Christian homophobia, but also of the De laude flagellorum [In Praise of Flagellation], a work of incredible daring which he wrote in the last years of his life. Both works were written in a defensive mode, as justification for his own versions of the Law and as public denunciations of those who had other ideas. It would not, in fact, be inaccurate to call them angry texts, Peter himself having confessed that anger was the one vice he could never truly extirpate.3 The Gomorrhianus was written as an open letter to Pope Leo IX in 1049, and the Flagellorum around 1070.


Latin Text Disciplinary Effect Death Drive Disciplinary Discourse Lacanian Psychoanalysis 
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  1. 1.
    Peter (1007–72) was a prolific writer and preacher whose career included high church office (as a papal ambassador) and involvement in contemporary politics (writing on such burning issues as the Investiture controversy and the role of simony). His first work was the Vita Romualdi, dated to 1042, followed by several volumes of letters, sermons, and some fifty-three letters and treatises. An inveterate reformer, he has been seen by scholars as both a very stern and saintly figure and an unhappy neurotic who acted out in his writings his personal sufferings and grievances. See Lester Little, “The Personal Development of Peter Damian,” in Order and Innovation in the Middle Ages: Essays in Honor of Joseph R. Strayer, ed. William C. Jordan, Bruce McNab, and Teofilo F. Ruiz (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976), pp. 317–41.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See Michel Foucault, Surveiller et punir: naissance de la prison (Paris: Gallimard, 1975) and the essays collected in Foucault Live: Interviews 1961–1984, ed. Sylvère Lotringer, trans. Lysa Hochroth and John Johnston (New York: Semiotext(e), 1989).Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    Mark Jordan calls attention to this same technique in his excellent discussion of this text in The Invention of Sodomy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), pp. 45–66.Google Scholar
  4. Other important recent reevaluations of Peter include David Lorenzo Boyd, “Disrupting the Norm: Sodomy, Culture and the Male Body in Peter Damian’s Liber Gomorrhianus,” Essays in Medieval Studies 11 (1994): 63–73Google Scholar
  5. Conrad Leyser, “Cities of the Plain: The Rhetoric of Sodomy in Peter Damian’s ‘Book of Gomorrah,’” Romanic Review 86.2 (1995): 191–211Google Scholar
  6. Larry Scanlon, “Unmanned Men and Eunuchs of God: Peter Damian’s Liber Gomorrhianus and the Sexual Politics of Papal Reform,” New Medieval Literatures 2 (1998): 37–64.Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    According to Lacan,“the masochist prefers to experience the pain of experience in his own body, the sadist rejects this pain and forces the Other to bear it” Jacques Lacan, “Kant avec Sade,” in Écrits (Paris: Seuil, 1966), p. 778 [765–90], cited in Dylan Evans, An Introductory Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis (London: Routledge, 1996), p. 168.Google Scholar
  8. 11.
    For biblical sources see Damian, Letters 31–60, ed. Blum; Owen J. Blum, St. Peter Damian: His Teaching on the Spiritual Life (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1947).Google Scholar
  9. 12.
    See Harvey Whitestone, Arguments and Icons: Divergent Modes of Religiosity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000) on the differences between doctrinal and the imagistic modes of transmitting ritual.Google Scholar
  10. 24.
    Leo Bersani, Homos (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995), p. 97.Google Scholar
  11. 25.
    For a fuller discussion of this Foucauldian notion as it relates to theology, see Jeremy R. Carrette, “Male Theology in the Bedroom,” in his Foucault and Religion: Spiritual Corporality and Political Spirituality (London: Routledge, 2000), pp. 63–84.Google Scholar
  12. 29.
    Leo Bersani, “Is the Rectum a Grave?” in AIDS: Cultural Analysis, Cultural Activism, ed. Douglas Crimp (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1988), p. 218 [197–222].Google Scholar
  13. 30.
    Judith Butler, The Psychic Life of Power (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997), p. 143.Google Scholar

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© Emma Campbell and Robert Mills 2004

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  • William Burgwinkle

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