Technologies of the late medieval self: Ineffability, distance, and subjectivity in the "Book of Margery Kempe"

Crystal L Mueller, Marquette University


This dissertation examines the late medieval self as a conjoined construction of socially negotiated identity and privately differentiated subjectivity; in so doing, it calls attention to the complex, emphatic, deeply defined subjectivity that emerges in the Book of Margery Kempe. This consideration of Kempe's Book is informed by study of late medieval works that feature self-construction in parallel modes to Kempe's: testing in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, pilgrimage in The Canterbury Tales (most particularly The Wife of Bath's Prologue ), and mystical visions in Julian of Norwich's Shewings. In these texts, identity emerges as a social negotiation and subjectivity as a site of inaccessibility. But, none of these selves is constructed with such complexity as Margery Kempe's, nor is the subjectivity in any of these other texts so emphatically defined as hers. Finally, the dissertation traces the continuity of self-construction that extends into literature of the Renaissance, studying selected poems of John Donne ("A Valediction of Weeping' and "Holy Sonnet VII" ["Spit in my face you Jewes"]) and prose of Margaret Cavendish (A True Relation of My Birth, Breeding, and Life and The Description of a New World, Called the Blazing World ). Given Kempe's emphatically defined subjectivity even among these Renaissance texts, the dissertation urges careful consideration in establishing and defining criteria for periodization, especially in light of the ongoing critical debate about when the self was "invented." Methodologically, the dissertation draws on modern social criticism (Aers; Beckwith; Carruthers), modern mystic criticism (McAvoy; Hollywood; Lochrie; Atkinson), and select literary theorists (Foucault; Peirce; Irigaray).

Recommended Citation

Mueller, Crystal L, "Technologies of the late medieval self: Ineffability, distance, and subjectivity in the "Book of Margery Kempe"" (2007). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3263795.