Date of Award

Spring 2007

Document Type

Dissertation - Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Curran, John E.

Second Advisor

Bodden, Mary-Catherine

Third Advisor

Machan, Tim W.


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. ln 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). During my dissertation defense, Professor Tim Machan asked me to choose whether my dissertation is about Margery Kempe, subjectivity, or medieval literature. Despite his insistence that I choose one from among these three choices, I maintain that it is finally about all three (though it is likely more about literature generally, pursued from my starting point of medieval literature). My interest in pursuing this dissertation topic stems from a long-standing fascination with the impression each of us carries of our subjectivity or inwardness. In my thinking about subjectivity, I purposely have distanced myself from the more traditional psychological and deconstructionist renderings of the self. Instead, I have sought an alternative (non-Saussurean) semiotic foundation in the work of Charles Sanders Peirce. In doing so, I hope to have avoided the potential trappings of "mentalist" paradigms of the self born of Cartesian philosophy. Others, too, have followed this track.' My interest in the construction of subjectivity also sterns from observing how language can trap us and, similarly, how we can subvert language to be used for our own purposes, an interest particularly honed in Professor Mary-Catherine Bodden' s course Theft of Language...



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