Vision Beyond Measure: The Threshold of Iacopone’s Bedroom

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

Abstract

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

Keywords

Europe Testosterone Avant Trop Blindness 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Julian of Norwich, A Revelation of Divine Love, ed. Marion Glasscoe, rev. edn. (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1993), p. 14.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    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
  3. 5.
    See for example Gianfranco Contini, Poeti del duecento, 2 vols. (Milan: Ricciardi, 1960), 2:62.Google Scholar
  4. 9.
    Francesco Santi, “La mistica di Iacopone da Todi,” in Iacopone da Todi: Atti del XXXVII Convegno storico internazionale, Todi, 8–11 ottobre 2000 (Spoleto: Centro italiano di studi sull’alto medioevo, 2001), p. 66 [47–70].Google Scholar
  5. 10.
    Saint Bonaventure, Itinerarium Mentis in Deum, trans. Philotheus Boehner, (Saint Bonaventure, NY: Franciscan Institute/Saint Bonaventure University, 1956), p. 45 (I.11). It is worth noting that the Platonic ascent is classically driven by vision: see Plato, Phaedrus, trans. C.J. Rowe (Warminster: Aris and Phillips, 1986).Google Scholar
  6. 11.
    “La stupenda descrizione del ‘mezzo virtuoso,’ in 43, chiarisce in modo inequivocabile che il faticoso raggiungimento di tale ‘mezzo’ passa attraverso un coinvolgimento senza riserve negli opposti estremi dell’amore e dell’odio…eccetera: rovesciamento radicale dell’aristocratica e ragionevole mezura”; Elena Landoni, Il “libro” e la “sentenzia”. Scrittura e significato nella poesia medievale: Iacopone da Todi, Dante, Cecco Angiolieri (Milan: Vita e Pensiero, 1990), p. 40.Google Scholar
  7. 12.
    Peter T. Ricketts, Les poésies de Guilhem de Montanhagol (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1964), p. 111 (11, ll. 28, 30).Google Scholar
  8. 13.
    Evelyn Underhill, Jacopone da Todi: A Spiritual Biography (London: Dent, 1911), p. 84.Google Scholar
  9. 14.
    For a detailed philosophical account of Eros and monastic anxiety vis-à-vis the Song, see Denys Turner, Eros and Allegory: Medieval Exegesis of the Song of Songs (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1995). Also useful is E. Ann Matter, The Voice of My Beloved: The Song of Songs in Western Medieval Christianity (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990).Google Scholar
  10. 15.
    “Cataphatic” names the affirmative, predicative strain of mystical (or, really, any) discourse. Turner explains: “there is a very great difference between the strategy of negative propositions and the strategy of negating the propositional; between that of the negative image and that of the negation of imagery. The first of each of these pairs belongs to the cataphatic in theology, and only the second is the strategy of the apophatic”; Turner, The Darkness of God: Negativity in Christian Mysticism (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995), p. 35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 19.
    Paul de Man, “The Rhetoric of Temporality,” in Blindness and Insight: Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983), pp. 187–228 (esp. 191, 209).Google Scholar
  12. 20.
    Bernard of Clairvaux, On the Song of Songs, trans. Killian Walsh and Irene Edmonds (Kalamazoo: Cistercian, 1971), 7.2. Stephen D. Moore’s provocative reading of this passage, and the Song of Songs commentaries in general, shares my sense of the queerness of mystical erotics, while concentrating on earlier material and diverging significantly from my rhetorical concerns. See Moore, God’s Beauty Parlor, and Other Queer Spaces in and around the Bible (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001), pp. 21–89.Google Scholar
  13. 23.
    See Oliver Davies’ account of Eckhart in “Later Medieval Mystics,” in The Medieval Theologians: An Introduction to Theology in the Medieval Period, ed. G.R. Evans (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001), pp. 226–27 [221–32]. Iacopone may not be unique among male mystics in using the language of childbirth to speak of mystical union, but his emphasis on generation does break with what Caroline Bynum has described as the Cistercian preference for the nurturing aspect of motherhood. See Caroline Walker Bynum, Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middle Ages (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981), p. 150 [110–69]. Bynum’s reading remains useful in mapping the differences between the Cistercian tradition and the later affective literature, especially Franciscan, inspired by it. On the Franciscan debt to the white monks, specifically in their “devotion to the person of Jesus,”Google Scholar
  14. R.W. Southern, Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages (London: Penguin, 1970), p. 273 [240–99].Google Scholar
  15. 25.
    Sarah Beckwith, Christ’s Body: Identity, Culture and Society in Late Medieval Writings (London: Routledge, 1993), p. 52.Google Scholar
  16. 27.
    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
  17. 29.
    See Plato, Republic, trans. Desmond Lee (London: Penguin, 1974), pp. 422–26 (596b–598d).Google Scholar
  18. 30.
    Jean-Luc Nancy, The Sense of the World, trans. Jeffrey S. Librett (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), p. 37.Google Scholar
  19. 32.
    See Kaja Silverman, The Threshold of the Visible World (London: Routledge, 1996), pp. 10–37.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Emma Campbell and Robert Mills 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Cary Howie

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