Vision Beyond Measure: The Threshold of Iacopone’s Bedroom

  • Cary Howie
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


There is a sense in which medieval visionary literature offers its readers a lesson in visual hyperbole: in these texts one does not just see; one pushes vision to its breaking point. In Julian of Norwich’s writings, for example, it is a question of a dialectic of the seen and the hidden, intensified by meditation: “At one time,” she writes, early in her Revelation, “I saw how halfe the face, begyning at the ere, overrede [overrode, overspread] with drie blode til it beclosid to the mid face, and after that, the tuther halfe beclosyd on the same wise.”1 This chapter argues that—for a tradition of medieval piety that extends from Julian’s lexicon of enclosure perhaps as far back as Augustine, whose epiphany with Monica takes place, after all, precisely at the window of a villa—a mode of spatial intensification might accompany this kind of sensory intensification. More specifically, the following pages attempt to delineate the contribution of the Italian poet Iacopone da Todi (d. 1306) to a spatial optics that would also be a kind of poetics. That vision is, for certain modes of medieval devotion, not necessarily discrete from the other senses, especially touch, has been eloquently argued in a recent book by John Milbank and Catherine Pickstock. Their claims, made vis-à-vis Aquinas, will haunt this chapter as it addresses to what extent sensation, in the lyrics of this radical Franciscan, might participate (never immanently but analogically) in transcendence, and to what extent this participation might be figured in terms of space.2


Sensory Intensification Divine Transcendence Manuscript Diffusion Masculine Subject Queer Space 
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    Julian of Norwich, A Revelation of Divine Love, ed. Marion Glasscoe, rev. edn. (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1993), p. 14.Google Scholar
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    See John Milbank and Catherine Pickstock, Truth in Aquinas (London: Routledge, 2001), p. 77. Space in this essay is never to be taken as absolute space, along the lines of the utter spatialization Pickstock describes and denounces in After Writing: On the Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), but rather as space within the absolute.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Moore offers a disturbing complement to Bynum’s account of Jesus as mother in his study of Yahweh as bodybuilder: “So hypermasculine did he become that his body ceased to be merely male, and began to sprout female parts. Far from being assuaged, his insecurities about this masculinity now had something new to feed on—a pair of female breasts”; Stephen D. Moore, God’s Gym: Divine Male Bodies of the Bible (London: Routledge, 1996), p. 100.Google Scholar
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© Emma Campbell and Robert Mills 2004

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  • Cary Howie

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